Sunday, April 10, 2011

Philosophy Panniers: Two Versatile Classics

Just as I was lamenting the difficulty of finding classic commuter panniers that fit a variety of bikes and racks, a new company appeared offering just that: Philosophy Bags, based in Portland, OR. Handmade in the USA out of locally sourced materials, the description and looks of these bags were almost too good to believe, so I had to see for myself. Philosophy sent me their two pannier models to review: The Intrans satchel (above left), and two versions of the narrow Burnside (above right). We agreed that I would purchase the ones I wanted to keep, if any, and return the ones I did not.

Overview of the Models

The Philosophy Intrans is a traditional satchel design that will look familiar to all. I asked for the brown and tan model, but there are several other colour schemes to choose from as well. Its dimensions 14.5x12x6", the Intrans will fit a full sized laptop and more.

The proportions of the pannier itself are equally suitable for heavy-duty Dutch bikes and for more delicate roadbikes or mixtes. Although large, it does not give the impression of overwhelming a bike, as many other panniers do. And despite its size, heelstrike can be avoided on the majority of bike and rack combinations thanks to the adjustable hooks of the mounting system (details later in the review).

To my eye the Intrans looks most "at home" on a large, classic, upright bicycle - but this is a matter of personal taste.

Once opened, the satchel reveals a slight, expandable "roll top" - making it a bit more roomy than it appears to be when closed. The inner fabric is off-white. Inside is a suspended compartment with two medium pockets. A wooden ruler is attached to the base of the outer flap and acts as a support for the leather handle.

The Philosophy Burnside is a more unusual pannier. Narrower and longer than the Intrans, its outside dimensions are 11.5x14x6". The narrower design makes it ideal for bicycles with short chainstays and small racks.

Though it does not look out of place on a heavy upright bicycle either. It is not a small pannier, just a differently oriented one. A clever design that is both roomy and avoidant of heelstrike.

Inside is the same suspended double-pocket as on the Intrans, only narrower.

The genius of the Burnside design is its expandability. While on the outside, it looks like a classic pannier, once opened it reveals itself to be a roll-top, offering considerably more room than one would have expected (the expandability feature is more dramatic than on the Intrans).

Here is the Burnside with the buckles open. Because the roll-top expands upwards, there is no possibility of heelstrike when the bag is opened; you can fill it will groceries and keep cycling.

This is what the Burnside looks like filled with 1.5 bags worth of groceries.

Features

Both the Intrans and the Burnside panniers have a number of distinct and appealing features. The US-made 23oz tri-ply cotton is water resistant, oil resistant, and breathable. The leather is vegetable tanned and likewise made in the USA. Buckles and D-rings are stainless steel.

Detachable messenger straps are included with both bags, as are leather teathers for the optional attachment of rear reflectors. The reflector can be moved from one D-ring to another, depending on what side of the bike you attach the pannier to.

The buckles feature snap-closure attachment, making the bags fast and easy to open and close on the go.

The snaps are heavy duty and secure.

The satchel-like Intrans pannier comes standard with a leather handle, and such a handle can also be added to the Burnside as an optional extra feature.

Mounting System

Philosophy panniers feature the Rixen & Kaul Klickfix mounting system - a well-tested system that is also used by Berthoud and Carradice. Having tried several other pannier mounting systems previously, this is my favourite one so far. It took me a few minutes to understand how to operate the hooks so that they close around the rack tubing, but once I got it they were simple and quick to use.

The R&K system is adaptable to racks with a variety of tubing diameters (8-16mm), making it extremely versatile. The hooks are not only large enough for racks with thick tubing, such as my Gazelle, but they are also sprung - which allows them to close just as tightly around racks with thinner tubing, eliminating bouncing.

The hooks are attached to a long aluminum rail, along which they can be slid to a position that avoids heel strike even on bikes with shorter chainstays.

The lower hook is supplementary, and helps keep the bottom of the bag from bouncing or flapping. The plastic side-hook slides along the rail and clips to the racks stays.

I have tried the R&K Klickfix system on four bicycle racks so far: The Velo Orange Constucteur Rack with thin tubing, the handmade Bella Ciao rack with medium tubing, the Gazelle rack with thick tubing, and the Pashley Roadster rack with monstrous (even thicker than the Gazelle) tubing. On the Pashley Roadster rack, the R&K hooks are a tight fit, possibly too tight for recommended use. On all the other racks, the mounting system fits without issues. Regarding the Pashley Roadster rack, note that the large Ortlieb QL-2 hooks fit equally tightly, and note also that the Pashley Princess does not use the same rack as the Roadster and the R&K system should fit it easily. It's possible that the tubing of this particular bike's rack is simply too thick for any pannier.

Criticisms

It took me several weeks to take all the pictures used in this review and to test both panniers, and during all this time I have been trying to come up with something critical, but not having much success. As far as functionality goes, I can't really think of anything substantial. One point to note, is that when I wore the Burnside over my chest "messenger style" off the bike, the lower (supplementary) sliding hook got caught on some of my clothing - namely the hems of cardigans. This only happens when the bag is in some positions, not others, and it does not happen when the bag is worn over one shoulder. I'd prefer it if the Burnside had a leather handle and I could simply carry it in my hand - and as mentioned earlier, Philosophy informs me that this is now an option. My only other suggestion would be to possibly reconsider the colour of the interior and the shoulder strap: The off-white is attractive, but a darker colour would hide stains and age better. Other than that, I honestly cannot think of anything. These panniers are exactly what I wanted in the sense that they are classic, roomy, and can fit all of my bikes without heel strike or rack compatibility issues.

Which to Keep?

The Co-Habitant will be returning the black Burnside, because he does not feel comfortable with the hooks' tight fit over his Pashley's rack. And as much as I love both the Intrans and the Burnside, I will keep just one pannier, as I neither need nor can afford both of them. It's a tough call. The Intrans is a more traditional satchel design and feels somewhat better balanced in my hands. The Burnside fits all of my bikes in such a way that the hooks don't need to be adjusted from one bike to another, which makes it more convenient for multiple-bike use. I think that this feature may end up winning, and I will keep the Burnside while tearfully returning the Intrans. Or maybe not! Either way, Philosophy panniers are high quality, well though-out, versatile and classic products that are well worth their price and are unlikely to disappoint. Best of luck to this new company.

37 comments:

  1. Pashley really should consider a re-design of their rack tubing. I have their Roadster rack on my DL-1 and the tubing is quite large. When I bought it, I didn't know it was so large that no one had a pannier that would fit. I was so glad to find a rack that actually fit the ole girl, it never occured to me to inquire about panniers.

    Thanks for the review of these nice bags. Your recommendations for improvement are spot on.

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  2. It's a Pletscher rack, I think. But I haven't seen it on any other bike. It's been a year+ since I've looked into this, so maybe I am misremembering.

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  3. MDI - I doubt the rack on the Pashley Roadster is a Pletscher (you may be thinking of the Princess, which uses the Pletscher Athlete). I suspect the rack on yours is Dutch, maybe a particularly beefy version of a Steco rack.

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  4. It has the rear wheel stand built onto it. If it's a Pletscher, it's the only one I've seen built like that.

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  5. these look wonderful!-Jen

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  6. Have you tried carrying these panniers off the bike and how did it go? I'm curious if the hooks poke your back? I've been focusing my search on panniers that hide/cover the hooks in some way (e.g. Knog, Po Campo, Basil) but the Philosophy bags are beautiful. I'd prefer a classic canvas bag that does this but haven't been able to find one (other than the Carradice Bike Bureau, which is hard to find!).

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  7. Anon 9:03 - Good point, I forgot to include that in the already 'epic' review. The Intrans satchel I carried by the handle and did not feel it necessary to add the shoulder strap, so this was not an issue. The Burnside I did carry on my shoulder, as well as "messenger style". When doing the latter, the lower, "sideways" hook gets caught on some of my clothes, depending on how I am wearing the bag and what clothes. That's why I think both bags would be better off with a handle. I don't carry my pannier very far when off the bike, so this would be ideal. Also, I believe the lower hook can be removed. I will add all this to the text of the review.

    FYI: The Carradice Bike Bureau can be ordered directly from Carradice. They have pretty good customer service.

    The other panniers you mention all have very different mounting systems, so it's like comparing apples and oranges and not just whether or not the hooks are covered. In my experience, Basil panniers are limited in terms of rack compatibility. Plus, the hooks do not close all the way around tubing. Knog I have not used myself but have heard mixed feedback about them. Po Campo is a very new system and I would love to try it.

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  8. I do like the look of these panniers! One question, does it work to keep the shoulder strap attached to the bag while it is on the bicycle? I sometimes do carry by pannier far from my bicycle, and I find it more convenient if I can keep the shoulder strap on the bag at all times. Having the lower hook not covered on the back is something I am used to with my Ortlieb shopper. It can be annoying, but fine with me most of the time, and I would probably be too lazy to cover them up if it was an option anyway.

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  9. Correction to what I said earlier: Looks like I got the Pashley Roadster and Princess racks mixed up. I just looked and my Pashley's rack indeed says STECO under a layer of caked dirt. So it's not a Pletscher. Either way, this STECO rack has some of the thickest tubing of any rack I've ever seen. Incidentally, the stamped metal portions where the fold-down component is attached have always looked flimsy to me, so I still wouldn't want a person sitting on it and it does not look as sturdy as the Urbana (couple posts below) rack which looks like it could support a small house.

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  10. Amanda - Once I attached the shoulder strap to the Burnside, I've kept it there. While on the bike, I've found 2 options for how to deal with it: tuck it into the bag like so (look closely at the pannier), or secure it to the rack. The latter works if your rack has either a rat-trap thingie, or bungees permanently attached to it.

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  11. Very pretty bags! How do the prices compare with Carradice and others?

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  12. Very stylish. Are they water proof or just water resistant? If the latter, that would certainly cut a huge part of their local market out of the picture. It seems 90%+ of commuters in Portland use either Ortlieb or another completely water proof bag like the models from REI or Arkel. How is the durability? Warranty?

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  13. "... reconsider the colour of the interior ..."

    My (limited) experience is that if you have a dark interior colour it is much harder to find things in a deep pannier.

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  14. snarkypup - The Carradice Bike Bureau is sold for around $150, +/- and depending on availability. The Philosophy panniers are $159-199. The Carradice has some features the Philosophy panniers don't (like more compartments) but lacks some they do (like quick release bag closure, multiple colours to choose from, expandability), so it's really about which bag appeals to you more.

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  15. ^Also, forgot to mention that with the Carradice Bike Bureau you have to choose left/right, but the Philosophy panniers are interchangeable.

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  16. These are really nice -- I've been looking for a horizontally-oriented single pannier because carrying a vertical one makes me look like Tiny Freak Girl with Giant Bag. And this wouldn't be embarrassing to carry. How nice!

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  17. I wonder about the waterproofness of these things myself. I've been caught in the rain with Carradice bags once or twice and it was OK generally speaking, and other people regard them as sufficient, but I have to wonder if anything made from canvas is good enough in serious rain? I mean some Ortliebs are like a rubber-lined ziplock bag. You could probably dive with one or fill it with water and it wouldn't leak.

    I can't think of a way to test the waterproofness of these that wouldn't be silly and/or involve a shower. :)

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  18. The weather-resistance is described as follows on the Philosophy website:

    Stay Dry Design - Keeps Weather Out, Lets Dry air in for positive ventilation. Water / Oil Resistant Finish –Barrier from water and resistance to oil stains. 23oz.Tri-Ply Cotton – Tight Weave Twill– Vulcanized Urethane Core - Canvas.

    Beyond that, I really cannot say.

    BTW: I've left my Carradice panniers in the rain for an entire day on numerous occasions, and not once did they get soaked through, so I am always surprised by those who consider Carradice to be insufficiently waterproof.

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  19. My DL1 has a beefy rack(new) with a built in stand and it is a Steco.

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  20. To clarify though, not all heavy-duty Steco racks have tubing that's this thick. If your rack can accept an Ortlieb QL-2 mounting system, it will accept the R&K Klickfix as well; they are rated for the same range of tubing diameters.

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  21. Just thought I'd chime in at this point that Surley's "nice rack" fits very well on my Pashley Roadster due to its adjustable lower stays. It's large, black, blocky and very pannier friendly. My Carradice panniers with the same type klickfix hooks work well on it.

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  22. Hi All, Troy here, I design and sew all the Philosophy Bags. Regarding the water-proofness, I refer to our bags as 'weather-proof'. I classify true water-proof bags as those made of a solid vinyl base material with welded as opposed to sewn seams (like Ortlieb). Mine, while not technically water-proof, is much closer to an Ortlieb than other cotton bags. The three layer base construction (with urethane membrane), and the hand applied paraffin top finish makes it super water repellent. The top paraffin seal also tends to waterproof the needle penetrations that are inevitable in any sewn bag. In addition, our bags still breath and this helps minimize interior moisture vapor issues so common in truly water-proof bags.
    Our panniers have endured many rain storms without water penetration. The flap design as well contributes to keeping contents nice and dry. If your journey on bike doesn't include fording deep rivers I can say with confidence your contents will arrive dry in our bags.
    If you have any questions please feel free to comment further or email me direct philobag@gmail.com I'm always happy to talk bags!

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  23. Kevin - Thanks for that info.

    And thanks for commenting Troy.

    I think in general there is a tradeoff between using natural materials and traditional methods of construction vs the degree of waterproofing an item can claim. But I also don't think that most people, in most circumstances, require vinyl bags with welded seams for their commuting needs...

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  24. For what it's worth, I really like the color combination of the Intrans Satchel and how well it looks and goes with your Mixte. It really stands out nicely and gives the mixte a little classy flair.

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  25. Thanks for the review!! I'm on the hunt for the perfect panniers for my "new" Dutch Bike and these could work:)



    Fiona

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  26. Thanks Sue!

    Fiona, that Sparta is some bike, very unusual!

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  27. I'm probably your target demographic on this, and $160 for a PAIR would be pushing it. For $200, it better have the coach logo embossed on it. Thanks, but no thanks.

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  28. Anon 1:03 - I guess that's a matter of preference and perspective. I would not pay $200 for a made in China, average-quality piece of luggage just because it had a designer logo embossed on it - which is what you would get from Coach at that pricepoint. For a handmade, haute couture designer bag, the cost would be more like $2,000.

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  29. Great review and lovely bags. I am considering the Burnside for my mixte, and wonder about the extra fabric for the roll-up feature--do you find it in the way, bulky, or otherwise annoying when rolled down, especially when packing/unpacking or carrying the bag? Thanks!

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  30. Lyanda - The extra fabric is definitely not bulky or annoying. It simply folds down when you're closing the bag - it doesn't need anything special done to it other than closing the top flap, if that makes sense.

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  31. Wow, those look awesome. I may actually really want to check them out, as I have had some issues on my Raleigh with my current bags rubbing on the shift cable for the SA hub (there's now a small hole in the bag on the drive side). Would be interesting to see if the Burnside could avoid that issue. They're a bit on the spendy side, especially since I'd probably want two, but they do look very nice.

    And, locally made (for me) :)

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  32. where has the philosophy bags website gone? :(

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  33. Pashley chose a 2.3 watt generator for the light and tubing that is so thick for the rack that practically no panniers fit. Why?

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    1. Anon 11:52, who knows? I recently acquired an Azor Opa (Dutch Bike), and the rack is as thick as my thumb. It came with generic Trek panniers that did not fit. After about an hour with vicegrips, they fit now. However, there is no way to secure the bottom of the pannier except to attached the S-hook to the chain stay. Space is at a premium and that is not ideal. I hate to ditch the original rack, but in order for it to be functional, it looks like I will have too. I had a Tubus Cargo on hand, it sits lower than the original rack, so I have not put it on. I did not know the Surly was adjustable, so perhaps I will explore that possiblity.

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  34. Thanks for reviewing these bags! I don't believe I would have found the company otherwise. I just put in an order for the Grey/Black Intrans for commuting in the urban PNW. This seems like exactly the bag I was hoping to find (and made nearby).

    Mike

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  35. Will the Intrans satchel fit the rack on the Pilen Lyx?

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    1. Unfortunately I think not. The Pilen rack's tubing is too thick for standard pannier hooks.

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