11 Reasons NOT To Buy Panniers

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After a good few years of fighting with motorcycle luggage setups, I decided to share my internal struggle and comprise a list of 11 reasons not to buy panniers.

And more importantly, why you should just buy a roll bag instead!

I get the feeling this is going to cause quite the controversy!

The Disappointment Of Panniers

The first time I got panniers, they were underwhelming, disappointing and (surprisingly) inconvenient.

And then the second time I got panniers, they too were underwhelming, disappointing and (unsurprisingly) inconvenient. 

I’ve fought with panniers for a few years. And after considering the pros and cons, I came to a personal decision that I was no longer going to use them.

I’m a fair man, and there are positives to owning panniers. So I’ll include those as well.

Cue the haters!!

dirt bike in desert - reasons not to buy panniers

1. Reasons Not To Buy Panniers: Price

Cost is unequivocally the top reason not to buy motorcycle panniers.

I believe the panniers on my 2016 bike were around the £1,000 mark. On my 2019 bike, the cost of a full luggage setup (if I’d bought it) would have been over £2,000.

On my 2022 bike, it’s once again close to £2,000.

Now, if you love panniers, that’s fine. I’m not saying you’re wrong. But £2,000?

You could buy a full tour with that money. Hell, you could buy another bike!

Panniers vs Roll Bag: Cost

My roll bag, on the other hand, is a whole different ball game.

I paid around £50 for my Oxford Aqua T-50 roll bag in 2014.

I didn’t buy it with the intention of longevity or anything else like that. I bought it because I needed one and it provided a solution to a problem I had at that particular time.

Eight years later, three sets of panniers have been and gone (along with the bikes.) But I still use the roll bag regularly.

From a pure standpoint of money, the roll bag beats the panniers every time.

2. Reasons Not To Buy Panniers: Volume

Considering they’re so large, I’ve always been surprised at how little I can fit in panniers. And the more I think about it, the more I decide this is one of the main reasons not to buy them.

They sit proudly on my bike, and they look good. But in terms of getting stuff in them, they always seem like a bit of a letdown.

The manufacturer’s specs of my 2016 bike quoted a combined capacity of 70L from the panniers. So why can I fit more stuff in my 50L roll bag?

The last time I used my panniers, one of them became a home for my laptop case. And that’s all I could fit in it.

Yes, an entire pannier to hold one laptop.

Despite holding less overall volume, the roll bag wins.

groups of riders on desert road
Image: Zakaria Zayane

3. Packing With Precision

Because I can hardly fit anything into my panniers, I’m usually left with a load of stuff that I need to pack still lying on the ground.

So inevitably, I start to shove things in wherever they will fit.

This results (as you would expect) in one pannier being accidentally more loaded than the other.
Worse still, the panniers aren’t an equal size; one is 40L, and the other is slightly smaller at 30L to accommodate the exhaust and heat protection.

So you can see how this pans out. I invariably cram more stuff into the 40L pannier. And as a result, I can feel that one side is heavier than the other when I ride.

As far as I’m concerned, bike instability is one of the many good reasons not to buy panniers.

Pannier vs Roll Bag: Volume & Weight

By contrast, the roll bag sits squarely on top of my seat.

There is a minimal overhang on either side, meaning the bag is loaded equally over the bike’s centre of mass.

Plus, everything fits in it quickly and easily.

4. Reasons Not To Buy Panniers: Expensive Racks

When I first started riding, I chose some panniers and a top box online and waited with excitement for them to arrive. It was only when they arrived that I realised specific racks and fitting systems were needed to attach them to the bike.

Invariably, newbies will buy the wrong one, which means they will have to send it back and swap it. And then they will need to wait another week for the replacement to be delivered.

It’s an incredibly expensive faff.

Of course, if you pay the ridiculous amounts listed above, the racks and fittings come included in the manufacturer’s price. And this means you no longer have to spend hours messing around trying to get them on your bike. Yay!

The problem with this is that the technicians at your chosen garage will have to mess around trying to fit them instead. Time which you, the customer, will have to pay for.

Panniers vs Roll Bag: Racks & Fitting

The roll bag comes with straps that you use to attach it to your bike. If you wish, you can spend an extra few pounds on some Rok straps for added security. No technicians needed whatsoever!

Roll bag wins.

bmw on single track mountain road - reasons not to buy panniers
Image: Glenn Innes

5. What About Your Other Bike?

Okay, so you’ve paid for some panniers. You’ve paid for the racks and fittings, and you’ve paid to have them professionally installed at the manufacturer garage.

If you have another bike, then you better get ready to go through the entire process all over again!

Because even if the panniers do fit on the other bike, you will have to find and pay for the correct racks and fittings on that bike, too. And then you’ll have to get them fitted to the bike before you can fit the panniers.

And that’s not to mention the colour.

My previous panniers were bright red – colour-matched to the bike. But I couldn’t put them on, say, a black bike, because they’d look odd.

If you have colour-matched panniers, you can only use them on a bike with the same colour.

If they don’t fit on the other bike (regardless of the colour), you better start clearing out the shed. Because you’re going to need yet another set of panniers.

And that then means you’ll have 22 reasons not to buy motorcycle panniers.

Paniers vs Roll Bag: Compatibility

Simply take the roll bag off the bike it is currently on. Then reattach it to whatever bike you want it to be on.

Job done.

6. Reasons Not To Buy Panniers: Storage

Right.

So after all you’ve been through above, you decide you don’t need your panniers on both bikes all the time.

You need to put them somewhere, and I can tell you from experience that panniers don’t just fold up neatly on a shelf somewhere.

Panniers are big and cumbersome and take up a lot of space. And you can’t just shove them anywhere (remember the cost?), so they need to be stored somewhere safe.

For most people (myself included), this means finding somewhere in the shed to keep them out of the way until you need them.

Panniers vs Roll Bag: Storage

In terms of storing my roll bag, I simply roll it up and then pop the bag on top of the wardrobe. No shed needed, and no space wasted.

Roll bag wins.

rider on bmw gs
Image: Devon Divine

7. Don’t Get Them Scratched!

Let’s say you’re preparing for an upcoming summer tour.

You fish your panniers out of the shed to find that one of the kids’ BMXs has spent the last six months scratching away at your nice new (and very expensive) panniers.

Yes, it will certainly be noticeable when you put them on your bike.

Of course, you can always pay someone to re-spray them. Or risk doing a botch job yourself.

But if you don’t want to pay for annual re-sprays, I’d consider this one of the appropriate reasons not to buy motorcycle panniers.

Panniers vs Roll Bag: Getting Scratched

Every time I use my roll bag, I get a cloth and some washing up liquid. I then wipe down the bag, and, like magic, the scuffs disappear!

Doesn’t cost a penny!

Roll bags beat panniers in terms of scratches and maintenance.

8. Reasons Not To Buy Panniers: Filtering

All bikes are different. All panniers are different. Therefore you could end up with countless combinations of the two.

I’ve toured on sports bikes in the past with small, fabric panniers. And to be honest, the difference in the width of the bike was negligible.

But filtering on my previous Africa Twin could be somewhat of a breath-holding exercise.

Coming home from the Alps the other year, my Dad (on his trusty Honda Deauville) bobbed and weaved through the clogged arteries of the M25 like a grasshopper holding in a fart.

I, on the other hand, often had to stop and had to wait my turn – simply because I couldn’t squeeze through the gaps that he could.

Panniers vs Roll Bag: Filtering

With a roll bag, the overhang is a mere few inches. And this allows me to filter past the pannier-laden bikes that are now queuing up with the cars because they can’t fit through the gaps.

What fun!

fully ladened dirt bike on gravel path - reasons not to buy panniers
Image: Jaume Galofre

9. Practicality

Most people don’t just toss things in panniers. They put stuff in bags and then put the bags in the panniers (mainly to stop everything falling out when you open them.)

If you put two bags in each pannier, that means you need to carry four bags from the bike to the hotel – rather than just one roll bag.

Just one more of the many reasons not to buy motorcycle panniers.

Panniers vs Roll Bag: Off-Bike Practicality

The roll bag is a lot less messy.

Of course, the weight is probably heavier because everything is in one bag. But a roll bag comes with a shoulder strap.

Just pop it over your shoulder like a gym bag, and off you go.

Drop it down by your feet for check-in, and then make your way to your room carrying just one bag.

Easy.

10. Reasons Not To Buy Panniers: Pannier Racks

You’ve made it home from your tour. And after unpacking your bike, you remove the panniers to no doubt store them somewhere in the shed (see point 6 above.)

Once you’ve cleared the shed out to make space for said panniers, you’ve now got to deal with the disgusting sight that is the pannier rack.

You don’t really want to take it off because you’ve already spent a fortune getting it installed by the manufacturer (see point 4.)

So now you have two choices. You can either leave it on (which ruins the aesthetics of your bike), or you can take it off haphazardly, hoping against all hope that you can get it back on when you need it.

That will be another weekend wasted on the fitting and un-fitting of pannier racks.

Panniers vs Roll Bags: Fitting/Unfitting

There are no such issues with the roll bag regarding racks and fittings. Simply remove the bag from the bike and store it away wherever is convenient!

motorcycles on road with snow-capped mountains
Image: Ian Taylor

11. Panniers Can Only Be Used On The Bike

My other half lives in London – around 220 miles (or a four-hour drive) away from where I live in Manchester.

On average, I go down there for four to seven days at a time depending on life circumstances. And I usually take the car because I need it when I get there.

Never in my life have I even contemplated packing my clothes into my panniers and using them as a carrying aid.

Never. Not even once.

But the roll bag? Definitely!

I take it from the top of my wardrobe, throw all my stuff into it, and then carry it to the car using the comfortable and convenient should strap. And then I use it as a gym bag when I get there.

The panniers are used for one thing and one thing only. The roll bag is used for multiple purposes throughout the year.

I even use it to go on holiday. When I check luggage in at the airport, I check my roll bag rather than a suitcase.

The Positives Of Panniers

I’ll admit, I’ve given panniers a bit of a bad rep in this post. However, there are some plus points.

  • They are a million times more secure than a roll bag – just lock them up and walk away.
  • They look better. Panniers look good on a bike. They beef it up and look purposeful.
  • Easy access during the day. You simply unlock the pannier, get whatever you want, then lock it up again.
  • Protection. Some of my friends argue that panniers can act as a form of protection by propping the bike up and stopping you from getting trapped beneath it should you get knocked off (or drop it.) But that’s another argument for another day!
  • Usability – pannier systems on most new bikes are integrated, making them easy to install and remove when needed.
  • Panniers can be used with a pillion. A roll bag sits on the pillion seat, so you can’t have both.
lone rider on mountain road looking at distant mountains - reasons not to buy panniers
Image: Jobin James

Reasons Not To Buy Panniers: Conclusion

There are definitely pros and cons to panniers. But in my opinion, the negatives far outweigh the positives.

The cost alone is enough to put me off.

That said, if I ordered a new bike (which I just have) and it came with panniers as part of the package (which they do), I would happily take them and store them in the shed.

But to be brutally honest, if I had to pay a manufacturer for OEM panniers and have them fitted, I’m afraid I have better things to spend the money on!


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Top image: Lina White

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