Should panniers play a bigger role in cycling promotion?

I learnt to ride a bicycle as an adult. To start with I carried nothing but a whole lot of nerves. Then I started carrying a little shoulder bag with essentials that would twist its way around and end up dangling in front of me. Soon I was carrying a backpack and it made life a little bit more comfortable but I still felt a bit loaded. However, when I started doing my shopping with my bicycle, I soon found that this didn’t suffice and I was doing that dreaded thing of balancing shopping bags on my handle bars… and then there was the time half my shopping fell all over the road. And finally I discovered PANNIERS! And now all I want to do is rave about them and stop people in the street who are straining their back and attempting weird balancing acts, to tell them they need to get some of these miraculous bags.

I wish someone had stopped me in the street (before my shopping burst onto the road) and told me about panniers and gave me a test ride of some. However, without having done any formal study, from my observation I still feel like the backpack is ruling the streets in my city and I suspect it’s similar in others. Panniers are something you seem to learn about through word of mouth or perhaps by starting to observe others. It’s not something that I hear about during cycling conferences, in cycling strategies or in conversations with other cycling advocates. But perhaps there is huge potential for panniers to encourage people to ride and improve those initial important steps to making cycling part of your life. And perhaps panniers could even be improved to play an even more important part of the solution if there was more discussions within cycling circles about what panniers can and could offer.

The need to carry things is given as a reason not to be able to ride a bicycle. A good example of this is school teachers. They may be carrying notes, resources, marking and more. It may seem difficult to carry this on a bicycle. However, what if the schools promoted the use of panniers for the teachers, perhaps even subsidised them to help teachers avoid clogging up nearby parking and provide a good role model for students? Could we see panniers as an option in the school uniform shops (or if you know of anywhere this is already happening let me know)?

For the average worker in Australia, particularly in summer, the sweaty back that comes along with wearing a backpack on a bike (not to mention the discomfort and potential sore back) is not something you look forward to at the start or end of your day. Could the humble pannier be the reason why someone chooses to keep riding instead of giving up after a bit of sweat and back pain? And if so, shouldn’t every workplace with any policy to increase active transport be pushing the pannier? I would love to see workplaces giving out free panniers (and why not include the company’s logo- an idea I’m working on) to help workers have the best, most ergonomic ride to work they can, with plenty of carrying capacity to do the shopping on the way home. And don’t quote me on this, but I have a theory that if panniers are full enough they may also provide some cushioning from cars (an untested theory) :).

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