The Panniers That Won't Quit


anhaica rear viewI don't trust reviews from people who have just bought the product. Still high on their purchase, they rave about a tool that they have barely used, and a review based on such limited knowledge has little value, in my mind. Which is why I've waited several months and 550 miles before writing this review of my Anhaica Bag Works panniers. Since buying my panniers, I've taken them on two tours and used them for around-town errands like going to the library and the CSA.  I'm pretty sure I know them by now. I also want to state for the record that I have no ties with Anhaica Bag Works or its proprietor. She hasn't offered me any discounts, deals or other renumeration for writing this review. This is important to know, because I'm about to come off as the world's biggest fanboy. Because these are simply the best bags I've ever used and the last panniers I'll have to buy.

I've been cycling for transportation and recreation for 40 years now, and have owned panniers from Lone Peak, Nashbar, and others. My panniers have carried books, groceries, bricks, motorcycle parts, and all the goods one needs for a 1-2 week tour. All of them have fallen short in one way or another -- too small, not durable or leaky are the usual culprits.

So when I began preparing for my Great Allegheny Passage/C&O Canal tour, I had a fairly specific set of criteria in mind. I needed size, because I was doing a self-supported camping tour; I needed reliability and durability. I needed an easy functionality; this is a tool I want to use without thinking about. Last, but not least, I wanted good looks.  I looked at all of larger pannier manufacturers, such as Arkel, Ortlieb and others, but I settled on Anhaica instead. I had some prior history with their products, a rack trunk and handlebar bag, which had both worked suitably, and I was familiar with Anhaica's standard of craftmanship -- which is very high indeed. Anhaica is a small shop in Florida, where they make all of their bags by hand. They are designed and used by the shop's owner, who, in addition to being a talented seamstress, is a cyclist herself. Everything they sell, she's road-tested. She tested the Raid panniers, for example, by taking them on a 5-week European tour.

anhaica saddle upThe Raid panniers are made out of waxed canvas, using locally-sourced beeswax, and they are lined with nylon. These bags are undeniably and reliably waterproof. The heavy canvas and attached straps and buckles are durable enough for overstuffed bags to be tossed from bike to train, bike to rocks, rubbed against trees and boulders, carried about on foot and generally mistreated, with nary a complaint. I am, by nature, hard on things, and I expect breakage. These panniers spent a lot of time stuffed to the gills, and not only failed to fail on me after 500 miles of hard usage, but seemed to thrive on the abuse. And, just in case you're wondering if something as antiquated as waxed canvas can be as waterproof as a more modern, synthetic fabric, let me put your mind at ease. These panniers endured a 12-hour soaking, with nary a damp spot inside. So their functionality on that account is assured, even after being repeatedly tossed off the bike onto the ground, or rubbed up against brick in the depths of a dark tunnel. So, durable? Check.

These panniers are simple, which is the way I like my travel gear. I don't see the need for having multiple pockets, quite frankly, because I forget where I've stashed things, and then I forget to zip the pockets closed, and then things start bouncing off. Also, I believe that you do better on expeditions by keeping your gear simple and removing as many points of failure as you can. A simple roll-and-flap set of panniers like these eliminates a lot of weak spots. Open bags also mean weird sized items will fit. The panniers are roomy, measuring 16 liters with the top fully rolled down, which gave me plenty of storage space. Other tourists end up with tents and sleeping bags strapped on their racks...not this guy. Everything fit in the bag. These bags don't zipper shut; you roll down the top like you do with Ortliebs, and then a flap covers the top. This also means you always have a tight load, with nothing bouncing around, and the pannier expands or contracts as needed Just for good measure, I added the Anhaica saddle bag, which carried my extensive repair kit. Size: Check.

One of the nice features -- actually, it turned into an essential feature -- is that one of the bags quickly turns into a rucksack with padded shoulder straps. It's not anything that you would take on a 20-mile hike in the woods, mind you, but if you suddenly find yourself on a ride-share bike with no rack, as I did in Washington DC, this feature is a lifesaver. It's also handy for taking in the grocery store  with you for shopping, then hooking it on the rack for the ride home. The hooks on the bags are very strong, and securely lock to the rack. There's no bottom bungee that you have to hook up, the top hooks do it all. In practice, there's no sway to the bags when cornering. Functionality: Check.

Finally, we get to perhaps the least important aspect of the panniers, the looks. My bike was built with a specific, semi-retro look in mind. British racing green and chrome, upright handlebars with cork grips and bar-end shifters -- you get the picture. I wanted a set of panniers that matched aesthetically with my bike, and these fit the bill perfectly. After use, the canvas has developed a lovely patina.  Believe it or not, on my GAP trip, I had no fewer than three people come up to me and tell me how awesome my panniers looked. Really? When was the last time anyone received compliments about their pannier styling? Aesthetics: Check.

Some features of note: There are some nice touches that Anhaica adds to their bags which I've not seen elsewhere. Like D rings on the tag end of the straps which loop around the working end, so you don't have loose ends flapping in the breeze or, worse, coming undone. The top flaps are also equipped with D rings so you can tie on additional items, like laundry that needs to dry, or a sleeping pad that won't otherwise fit. (That said, I found that all of my camping gear -- tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, stove and pots all fit easily into a single pannier.) There's a reflective stripe on the back for those really, really long touring days. Each bag has a single outside zipper pocket, but that's it. These panniers aren't filled with needless features, they are filled with simple strength and durabilty.

Downside: There isn't any. I'm pretty sure that my Anhaica panniers will outlast me and continue on into the next generation of cyclists in the family. And they'll keep looking good. Really, what more could you ask for.

So, even after all of the miles, and plenty of opportunity for me to become disenchanted with these panniers, I've found that I've only grown more fond of them, and, in fact, can't wait to use them again. Hmmm....Quebec has some mighty nice bike trails I hear...