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Friday, August 23, 2019

Post Tour Review: Arkel Drylite Panniers

Cycling bags are a compromise. For my trips on my single bike, I avoid panniers as much as possible, preferring saddlebags or bike-packing bags to keep the bike as light as possible and without drawing the weight penalty of carrying a rack on top of it.

For this year's tour, I knew Xiaoqin's rental bike would have a rack. With a bike weighing in at 50 pounds, there's no point skimping on weight, and you might as well have panniers. On the other hand, Xiaoqin doesn't ride her bike every day, and certainly wasn't about to go practicing on fire roads the way I regularly do, so I couldn't overload the bike enough to cause handling problems.

Arkel Dry-Lite Panniers are billed as the lightest waterproof panniers ever made. Xiaoqin went for the red color, which actually made them tough to find, as nobody seems to stock them in that color. The panniers are light and fold up really nicely. I didn't weigh them as an e-bike was going to carry them, not me. The tops are the usual dry-bag roller tops, where you fold them over 3 times before you clip them to prevent water intrusion, and there are no compartments inside.

The mounting system is unusual: instead of hooks on the top, the panniers grab onto each other using an intersecting set of velcro: a layer of hooks sandwiched between two loops. The result is that the panniers can go on and off the rack as a pair. Once you figure out the system this is a very fast and easy on-and-off system, though god help you if you get the velcro system mixed up. At the bottom is a hook attached to a bungee cord that helps you stabilize the panniers horizontally. These do a good job but we didn't figure that out until the second week of the tour, and the panniers still never fell off, because the rental bike's rack had a spring-loaded mechanisms that held the panniers down securely anyway.

The capacity is mediocre: Xiaoqin carried her own clothing, some of Boen's clothing, and Boen's PS Vita. Everything else (including bike tools, backpacking towel, Bowen's clothing, my clothing, most of Boen's clothing, raingear, etc) went in my venerable Robert Beckman panniers, which are much more substantial, but of course weighed more and were way more bulky.

For single bike touring, I think the Revelate Designs bags at 517 are lighter (these are spec'd at 540g) and eliminate the need for a rack. These are mostly good only if you're renting a bike that has a rack that you're not going to take off. They are lighter than the traditional English saddlebags (a Carradice low saddle longflap comes in at 904g), but only have similar capacity.  Keep in mind that a typical bike rack weighs north of 600g, so even though these panniers are lighter than a traditional Carradice, after you add in the weight of a rack you're no longer better off. From that point of view the new Revelate Designs bags are substantially better and I'd recommend them over these.

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