“Alexa, Don’t Send Me That Bike Shopper Pannier”

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May 2021 UPDATE: I ordered the panniers and had them sent to my sister’s in the Netherlands with the aim to pick them up in spring 2020. But then COVID hit and they are still sitting at my sister’s. It looks like I will not be able to pick them up until spring 2022 (!), so I ended up buying one pannier from MEC for not too much (zipper, no roll top). Orange no less, matching my bike!

I am looking for a pannier to use on my trips through Ottawa. I have been using the cheapies, but eventually the bottom starts to deteriorate, netting starts to fall apart and hooks start to come off. The current one’s back is sometimes touching on the spokes, when it is loaded with groceries. As a good pannier is really only as expensive as a tank of gas for your black Ford 150, I figured I should upgrade my material a bit.


I looked at some different suppliers, one of them Ortlieb, a well known German pannier brand. I also looked at some US websites and of course our own Bushtukah, MEC and Arkel, a high end Quebec brand.


Unfortunately, the more I read the harder it becomes to take a decision. I really only need one pannier bag, but if I take two, will it be cheaper per pannier? Do I need weatherproof, waterproof or water resistant? How often do I really ride in the pouring rain? Rarely, come to think about it. Should I order in Germany but what is the shipping cost? Are the import duties really gone since the introduction of CETA? It is not always clear from the online imaging how the inside pockets are organised. O, and then the colours….

Before CETA

A few years ago, before CETA (the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada), I was slammed with 70 dollars in import duties for a $120 purchase of two wheels in Germany. I protested this and got more than half my money back by explaining that the invoice was really only $120. The box had been opened and some custom officers must have thought that it was worth a lot more, starting an unneccesary process. The process was very cumbersome, involving sending documents by mail and then again more documents by mail. In fact, all correspondence was by mail. It feels like it was designed to discourage Canadians to appeal customs. In theory, virtually all cycling stuff from Europe should now be charged 0% import duties

Bike Ottawa discount

Ortlieb definitely stands out, but the pannier I eyed is not available everywhere. The MEC pannier looks like a good buy, with its clip-on for bike lights and pockets, but the reviews are mixed and MEC doesn’t give a 10% discount to Bike Ottawa members (Bushtukah does, but doesn’t have a great selection). I looked at Amazon, which offers the Ortlieb pannier for outrageous prices.

Some prices at different suppliers
Some prices at different suppliers for some models

Go to Europe instead?

Or should I just wait until I am in Europe next year and buy something locally and bring it home? That requires even more research, and I should really limit the options somewhat.

Pannier screen shots

Here are a few screen shots. One take away is clearly that one should definitely not ask Alexa to send you an Ortlieb pannier. I might go to the MEC store after the holiday season to check out the bags because I feel like I want to actually touch and feel before I buy. But MEC has suppliers in the weapons industry, so do I want to research the weapons industry and read up on the Koch brothers before I buy a pannier? Ortlieb has a PVC free pannier now, which opens a whole new can of environmentally conscious worms.

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  1. I just bought home some Ortlieb classic back rollers from a bike shop in Amsterdam. I got the version with the store logo on it for 110 euro. I was impressed with them after cycling for a week in Holland. Very nice

  2. Buy Canadian! Arkel all the way! (not to mention they are made in Canada too so it saves our climate too fewer fossil fuel to get them to you! (The biggest issue with Mec is their plastic hangers, 300 km into your trip and you’re buying a set of arkel or ortlieb)

  3. Hi Hans, I bought a pair of Ortlieb front roller city panniers in 2012 for 100USD from Bikesonline. I wasn’t charged additional duties, other than 22USD shipping for a big order that included other things. In general, I’m really happy with the panniers, which have gone through heavy daily use, including most winters, for six years. They are simple, clip easily onto the rack, and are pretty sturdy. They are on the smaller side but I find that they easily fit my stuff for a daily commute (or I can take two). I did manage to get a small hole in one, but only because I managed to scrape it quite hard against a concrete wall during a slippery winter ride. My only complaint is that the clips broke eventually, but I got them fixed recently for a reasonable price at Atelier Hors Piste in Gatineau. I also have a pair of old touring panniers from Arkel which I bought second hand – awesome construction, pockets, etc., but somehow I don’t tend to use them much for day to day commuting because they are more awkward to get onto the rack and it’s reassuring to have the waterproofness of the Ortliebs. Not to confuse matters further, but if you end up in Europe (or are willing to pay shipping but not see the panniers before buying them), Crosso makes great panniers similar to the Ortliebs that at least in 2009 were of great quality and still appear well-priced. Some food for thought…

  4. Hans I’m of little help here. I’m still using a 1990ies circa Serratus (14L). However, one thing that I will pass on – I commute with a laptop quite a bit. My bag is not waterproof but I use a combination of a neoprene laptop sleeve for it and larger ziplock bags for anything that I want to keep dry (clothes etc). I would love to upgrade to a newer bag but can’t find the right balance of small enough and waterproof. I was in Bushtukah last night and I’m pretty sure that they had the first one on your list – they don’t seem to have it on their website: https://shop.bushtukah.com/product-list/panniers-bags-racks-1154/panniers-bags-1633/ though some other models are there.

  5. Hi Hans. I’d second Arkel as a brand. They have a lifetime warranty and are mostly made in Quebec. Their Shopper or the Signature V are both very versatile and were quite popular when i worked at Tall Tree Cycles. I’d recommend you ring them to see if they’re in stock and go see.

  6. I’m very happy with my Arkel bug. Decent amount of space, locking mechanism is great, and works well as a normal backpack while not riding – it’s great not needing to hold onto it while using racks on buses. About $180 at Joe Mamma Cycles (and probably several other local shops)

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