By Jason Heaton
on 5.15.09

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There are basically two ways to haul gear on a bicycle: on your back or on the bike. Each methods has its pros and cons, but whichever way you choose, Banjo Brothers has got you covered. A small company started by two guys in Minneapolis, Banjo Brothers makes some of the most innovative and versatile panniers and packs on the market. They also happen to be some of the most affordable. Recently, I’ve spent some time with two of their panniers and a backpack and I came away impressed.

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I tried two different panniers – the Market Pannier and the Waterproof Pannier. The Market Pannier is so named because it is perfectly suited for a trip to your local farmers’ market or grocery store. Don’t let the name mislead you, though; its features also make it a perfect commuter pannier. It will easily swallow up a full paper grocery bag or the largest laptop. A large top flap buckles down over your gear for protection, and a shoulder strap allows you to throw it on your shoulder for the walk into the office or supermarket. Straps on the sides allow you to cinch the loaded bag down or fold it up flat for empty riding. Inside, there’s a small zipper compartment for keys, cell phone, etc. Two items to note – the Market Pannier is not waterproof and watch out for bumps when you’re hauling eggs.

The Waterproof Pannier is made for the intrepid commuter who isn’t afraid of a little rain but values his laptop computer. Constructed of a bombproof nylon exterior this bag looks like it will stand up to more than a few decades of hard use. The real secret, though, lies within -  a liner that has welded seams for a completely dry cocoon. The liner is removable for dry days or to replace and it attaches to the inside of the pannier via hook-and-loop closures. To keep water out from the top, the pannier rolls down like a kayaker’s dry bag and cinches tight with a beefy buckle.

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If it’s that urban bike messenger look you want, the Banjo Brothers Commuter Backpack is your bag. This is one of the smartest packs I’ve ever slung on my shoulders. Not only does it share the same removable hydrophobic inner liner with the Waterproof Pannier, it comes with a number of other clever and thoughtful innovations.

Designed specifically for cycling, the pack is designed to sit slightly lower on the back so that when you look over your shoulder for traffic, you don’t just see the corner of your pack. Bold silver racing stripes not only look sharp but are highly reflective, for optimum visibility by motorists. A small, angled tab near the bottom of the pack accommodates a clip-on blinkie light and a pouch on the front of the shoulder strap accommodates a cell phone (or a radio, if you’re a real downtown courier). Inside, the pack has the usual assortment of pockets for holding pens and small accessories while on the outside, there is a pocket designed specifically to fit a standard U-lock.

So how does it wear? Compared to the ubiquitous messenger bag, the Commuter Backpack is a dream. A full load sits squarely in the middle of the back, centered by the two wide, padded straps and a removable waist strap keeps things from shifting. The pack comes in two sizes to fit different loads and physiques. The larger size will carry 2,000 cubic inches in its cavernous hold while the smaller size (called “Medium”) can haul 1,500 cubic inches.

No longer can a lack of carrying capacity be an excuse for reluctant bike commuters. If gas prices creep up again this Summer (bet on it), check out Banjo Brothers line of bags and then get out and ride.

Price: Varies by Model

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