Bikepacking kit may have come a long way in recent years, but is there still a place for the humble pannier? I tested out some Yorkshire-made Restrap small panniers to see what I thought.
The Restrap Small 13L Pannier
Made from thick and durable Cordura fabric and made in-house at Restrap’s Leeds workshop, the 13 litre panniers are the smaller of two options, with the 22 litre packs available for even more storage space. These 13L panniers weighed in at 710g each, while the larger available are 910g each.
The design is relatively simple, with a roll-top closure secured fore and aft with adjustable buckle-down straps. On the back of the panniers, there’s a rail along the top with secure, easy-release hooks, and an adjustable lower hook which you can set up according to your rack type. Internally, thicker plastic panels give rigidity to help retain the panniers shape and give stability.
Restrap say that these are suitable for racks with a rail diameter of 10-16mm.
Branding is minimal, with the signature Restrap vegan-friendly leather-esque logo patch sewn on to each bag. Reflective detailing by the buckles both on the front and back of each pannier is a neat addition, and you can choose from either black or khaki colourways.
Restrap claim that the materials used are 100% waterproof, but how would they fare on test?
I’ve been putting the Restrap panniers to the test since early 2021, starting out with trips to the supermarket when bikepacking was off-limits due to covid restrictions, and more latterly on a series of trips on board the Fairlight Faran. I’ve used two different racks: the Tubus Tara, and the Specialized Pizza Rack.
I initially opted for the Specialized Pizza Rack as this is one of the few racks that allow for both side panniers on the front as well as a rack-top bag. Even if you don’t use a rando-style bag on the top, the platform comes in super handy for strapping items of all sizes to: tent poles, fish and chip suppers, charcoal, you get the idea.
Alas, I soon found out that the Specialized Pizza Rack is one of the few racks that doesn’t play nicely with the Restrap Panniers. The distance between rails isn’t quite right for the distance between the pannier’s top rail and lower hook, giving a slightly buckled fit which meant the lower hook was more prone to bouncing free.
This fit wasn’t so bad to prevent use: I could still use the combination for multi day tours around Devon, but I wouldn’t recommend this rack for use with the panniers if you’re starting from scratch.
For our trip to visit Restrap in Yorkshire, I reverted to the Tubus Tara front lowloader rack, which gives a much better fit. Restrap also offer Pelago racks through their online store, which they say are a good match for the panniers.
On vs off-road
There seems to be a trend reverting back to pannier set-ups for off-road use, so I wanted to test (and inevitably push the limits of) the panniers for all different types of terrain.
I soon learnt that it’s on the road that the panniers really excel. On light, smooth gravel they’re great, too, but when you get onto rockier, rootier MTB territory, things can get a little spicy. Although the top rail and fixings always stayed perfectly in place, the rougher trails could lead the bottom hook to become unfastened, leading to flapping dumbo-esque panniers.
Nothing that couldn’t be refitted in a minute or so, but a bit of a pain if you’re planning a long, rough tour. For this reason, I’d certainly use these for smoother terrain only in the future.
The second negative for off-road was the width. Modern bikepacking bags are pretty streamlined in comparison, and these panniers fully packed widen your load considerably.
Hilariously, I found this out the hard way. On a narrow Devon bridleway dodging between ruts to get the smoother line, I got too close to the hedge and came a-cropper when stopped dead on the front pannier by a sneaky low branch, which sent me tumbling sideways. A soft landing thankfully and lots of giggles, but something to consider if narrow singletrack rather than wide and open doubletrack is on the menu for your ride.
Viva la pannier!
Okay, enough of the negatives, what did I really like about the panniers? Simplicity and capacity.
After years of using bikepacking bags, thoughtfully dividing and packing bits and bobs all over the bike according to shape, size and accessibility, the panniers were a breeze. Open up the top and wham! You can just stuff in to your heart’s content.
Even though these are the ‘small’ option, I could fit in SO much. Like little Tardises (Tardi?!) they really do carry so much more than you’d think, easily swallowing up a two-person tent, winter sleeping bag, mat, clothes, toiletries, charging cables, tools, snacks, meals – you get the idea. There was so much space that I ditched my bumbag for once, which was pretty great, and just added a stem bag for items I wanted to keep to hand: my phone, a mask and hand sanitiser.
Of course with all this capacity there is the temptation to overpack, and on my first outing I did end up pretty heavy! The roll-top closures are ace here, as you can fine tune the capacity of the bags to carry a little less or more by adjusting the webbing straps really easily.
Although I didn’t experience any heavy downpours during the test period, I can say that from several stream and river crossings that they proved to be totally waterproof.
The Restrap Panniers verdict
What are the rival options? Well, the Ortlieb Gravel Packs are probably the closest competition, featuring a similar capacity and design, totalling 25L for two (rather than 26L for Restrap) and retailing at £115, rather than £160 for the Restrap pair. I suppose they feature a very different aesthetic, and the Restrap panniers do have the advantage of being handmade in the UK, if that’s something that you’re keen to support.
I’ve been really impressed with both the simplicity and quality of the panniers, which still look as good as new despite some heavy use. They’re really durable, which comes in handy as typically they’re the first thing to hit the ground if you lay your bike down on the side when stopping.
For road touring and really light gravel, loaded on the front on a bike like the Faran that’s optimised for this kind of load, I think that this set up is pretty hard to beat. For rockier and more techy riding though, I’ll be sticking with my old strap-on style luggage system.
I think that these ‘small’ panniers would be plenty enough for most, and would only recommend the larger panniers for riders looking to take on a seriously big trip, or where weight really doesn’t matter, as I think they could be very tempting to overfill!
Restrap Small Panniers£79.99 €95.99 $119.99 each
Last modified: 4th July 2021
Do you think it would be simple enough to reattach the lower rail lower down on the pannier (assuming you’re ok with voiding any warranty etc.) to help it fit a pizza rack a bit better?