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Pelican Bicycle Panniers by Brett

007 I’ve been commuting to work using my bicycle more and more over the last year or so since I’ve moved to California. It’s been nice so far. I get some stress free outdoor exercise doing an activity I’ve always enjoyed. Plus, now I look forward to the ride home, as opposed to sitting in the car getting aggravated at rush hour traffic.

My workplace is nice enough to have changing facilities, so I ride in comfortable cycling clothes and change at work. When I started out, I used a backpack to hold my change of clothes, wallet, keys, paperwork, ID Badge, music device, camera, and various other things. Most mornings I’d also stop on the way and pickup breakfast at Burger King (hey, its an 18 mile commute, I’ve earned it!), placing (read: cramming, stuffing, and squishing) my croissant sandwich in the bag as well to eat at work (I elect not to chill at BK in my spandex and have a bite, hard to believe I know.) Actually, I rotated between 3-4 different backpacks with different sizes and straps, always trying to find the one that worked best. Funny how it always ended up being the cheap small single strap one.

Like everything else, backpacks have their advantages and drawbacks. They are cheap (you probably have one already!), easy to use, don’t produce a lot of drag when on a bike, quick to attach, and some hold quite a bit. Plus, you already have all the mounting hardware, provided you have shoulders. On the other side though, they put additional weight on you, that weight gets transferred to your back, which means extra weight on your Anatomic Saddle System (A.S.S. for short). There were some days where I would have liked to take something extra, like my laptop or a small package, but it just wasn’t happening with my backpacks. Perhaps the biggest issue I had was sweat. During the summer months especially, backpacks leave your back, shirt, and pack itself wet with perspiration. Sometimes it would even make it’s way inside the bag- not cool if you have important paperwork, laptop, or a change of clothes inside.

I knew about panniers, but I’d never owned a set. Now, I figured hard case panniers would already exist and be readily available, but I was surprised when few turned up in my searches. The ones I did find where all wrong somehow. Wrong size. Wrong attaching system. Wrong material. Interested to see what they have to offer, but not satisfied with the selections in stores or online, I set out to make my own hard case panniers.  Guess if you want it done right, you gotta do it yourself?

I came up with a list of requirements.

  • It had to fit all of my laptops and safely carry at least one at a time (bonus points for extra laptops.)
  • It had to also carry a change of clothes and related pocket items.
  • It had to also have enough room for additional stuff (Breakfast? Paperwork?)
  • It had to quickly attach and remove from my bike (for public transit.)
  • It had to be waterproof.
  • It had to protect the contents in case of a fall.
  • …and most important, it had to fit on my bicycle!

I’ve been a fan of Pelican products since a friend introduced me to them some years CIMG2566ago as a good laptop case and I thought they’d probably make an awesome pannier too. They are waterproof, configurable, tough, and available in many different sizes. I did a quick Google search and found some inspiration from Josh Putnam. After some measurements of my gear,  I purchased a pair of Black 1430’s for about $60 each. They fit every one of my current laptops (at once without padding!), open from the top (so I can get gear in and out without taking them off), and this model has an optional “Boat Bracket Kit” for about $10 a pair that, although I couldn’t find much information on, I thought might make a cool mounting system on the bike (more on this later.)

So plan A was to buy a rack for the back of the bike and figure out a way to mount the  cases on the back using the boat brackets. The Cheap Rack, Pretty Nice ActuallyI bought a cheap rack and began dry fitting the parts as they arrived. This didn’t go so well. Typical to Pelican Engineering, the boat brackets were designed really well not to be easily removed from the cases. They attach by rotating on from the sides, meaning they have to be removed from whatever they are hooked on to take them off the case. They also screw into the case on the bottom. Not exactly quick release.

Okay, just one problem to overcome, so I kept the project moving forward, venturing I could fix the quick release problem down the road if everything else worked out. Next issue, how can I get the brackets to mount to the rack? I bought some aluminum poles and cut it and the rack up to fit together.  The whole thing was pretty ugly, rattled a lot, and I didn’t put a whole lot of trust in it.  Hours of fiddling later and I still didn’t have a solution. The next day, I went to the local mega hardware stores and spent hours playing with parts from all around the store until  I had a headache from the constant intercom interruptions and distracting muzak. 

I came home and stared at my parts for a little while longer. Feeling defeated, I let the project sit for a while. Then, after a week or two, I started back at the research phase. This time, really hitting the internet hard to find the best way to attach the darn cases to my bike. I knew my next plan, Plan B, would roughly involve buying a set of pannier mounts, drilling holes in my cases, and mounting them to the sides.

CIMG2614 CIMG2616

After much debate, I finally decided on the Arkel 10” Cam-Lock system, fancy technology imported from the strange, far away, misunderstood land of Canada. They looked pretty straight forward, got good reviews, and the price was in the budget for a pair. Boy, are they neat! The cam-lock system is really adjustable and when you are building panniers yourself, adjustability is key.

CIMG2649The next thing to do was dry fit the 10” Cam-Lock track to the case. So, I disassembled the hooks and chose a spot on the back of the Pelicans to mount the track. Then I traced over the ridges that I would have to grind down to get the track to mount flush on the side of the case. After that, it was short work with the angle grinder to flatten them out. I was careful to keep the clearance in mind that the top of the hooks would need to slide CIMG2650around on the track. If the track was mounted too high, the hinges there would keep the hooks from being able to use the whole track. The case may look funny right now, but the track will cover most of that up. 

If the grinding on the $60 cases made you nervous, drilling holes in the case isn’t going to be easy for you, I know it wasn’t easy for me to do, but that is indeed the next step and it had to be done. The CIMG2653tracks need two holes to mount to the case, one bolt at each end of the track.

The bolts included with the kit were not long enough to fit through the thick walls of the Pelican case. I was able to find longer bolts  at the local mega hardware store that fit the stock metric square nuts that fit in the track. Along with the bolts, I purchased two different rubber washers (large and small) to keep the water from entering my case through the bolt holes and a larger set of fender washers to help distribute the weight across a larger area.

051 050

040After the whole thing was assembled, I did a little happy dance and went out to the garage to test it. It worked! Okay, not that well- but that was mostly due to the cheap rack I still had on the bike from Plan A (that had been cut up a bit mind you.) So I did a little more searching and found the rack that would work the best with my hooks. That is, fat tubes to hook on to and the longest platform I could find (because my commuter bike has the back wheel really forward and I have big feet, I needed to get the cases set back to prevent heel-strike, where your heel hits the pannier because of insufficient clearance.) As a bonus, it also fit better because it was wider, being made for a tandem bicycle and as I learned that's the width my rear mounts required for some reason.

Arkel Cam-Locks in Action

001I took my pannier with me to the store just to make sure the shoe fit. Like a glove- er, shoe! Sold. I mounted it up and clipped on the case. Then I made little stops or as I call them for some reason, indexes, out of hose claps around strips of old inner tubes on the top rail there. They keep the case from sliding forward while riding and make it easy to clamp the whole thing on in the right spot every time.

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To top the whole thing off, I purchased some black 3M reflective stickers and cut them up to not only look ultra cool, but add to my night-time visibility.


My bike may not feel like a race car with these thing on, but it sure does haul ass! There weight isn’t a big deal so far (with the cases at just over 6lbs each empty, total weight is under 20lbs on most days.) Yeah, it takes a little extra effort up hills, but you get it back on the down slope. The most noticeable drag seems to come from high winds, but even that isn’t horrible. The capacity? HEEE-YOUUUUGE! Since the original planning of this project, I don’t have the need to carry my laptop normally, so I find myself putting my cheap backpack in one side (with all work stuff and related) and the other side has my change of clothes (and a small bag with ID Badge, keys, belt, wallet, related pocket goodies) with plenty room leftover for a bag-o-breakfast. This arrangement is working well. I have my backpack for everyday use, then when I’m ready to bike to work, I just toss it in and go. Then when I get there, I take the other case with me to the change room and swap clothes.

I’m so happy with the project so far, I’m already working on design upgrades for 2.0, but that’ll be another article :-)


Andrew Christ said...

Hi! I enjoyed reading your article. I'm interested in finding panniers big enough to hold a laptop in its case. The laptop itself is nearly 15" wide; I haven't got the case for it yet. I imagine the case will increase the width to maybe 20" or so. What do you think? Is it awkward to ride with so much weight on one side? Would it be a safety hazard to have panniers big enough to hold a laptop case that big?

Anonymous said...

I just copied you but used ortlieb pannier attachments. I also only made one and keep it on the left side. It is a bit weird moving the bike by hand, say putting it in a rack or turning it around by picking up the front tire, but riding it with weight on one side isn't a problem. I don't even notice it. And I carry a lot of weight as I am a student and use jam it full of weight.

Anonymous said...

Should have proof read that. lol ... I jam it full of books is what I should have said

Brett said...

Nah, not bad at all. Just be careful about heel strike. The bigger you get the harder it is to avoid. Initially, I just lined the bottom and sides with cushy foam rubber, but now I just have a neoprene sleeve for the laptop and use my clothes as void fill.

Cool! Yeah, I find myself switching between one and two depending on if I'm stopping at the store or think I might have to transport something home. I don't really feel a difference with one or two on though as far as riding difficulty goes. Plus, it's a breeze to strap large boxes on the cases with a cargo net (always carried in one case) when they are both attached (most commonly UPS packages or a large pizza!)

dontgetscammed said...

Ok, after seeing this and thinking it's AWESOME, I happened upon this:


Congratulations!!! (I figure you might already know this was there, sure seems like a cool feather in the cap!!)

Brett said...


Wow. Didn't know that was out there. Thanks for the link!

patharris20607 said...

Thanks for sharing. Great documentary for translating one's vision into reality. Your article proves that solutions to problems don't always come from retail establishments. Looking forward to version 2.0.

Happy Commuting,

Breandan said...

Great post, great walk through. I've done the same, based on your guide.

Brett said...

Awesome work Breandan!

Thanks for the linkback.

Anonymous said...

Finished mine recently.

I got YELLOW Pelicans and Arkel hardware. I did the same as you on the rear with YELLOW solus tape.

I also added the lid organizers. Tubes/tools fit in those quite well.

I'm VERY happy with mine!! I just rode in the Outer Banks with one of them this past weekend before the hurricane hit - Not a drop of water inside! GREAT idea!! Thanks for sharing!!

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