Make Your Own Cheap, Hard Shell Panniers – Part 1: Parts

Commercial products are available but are priced at US$300 for a pair. This alternative offers more space for minimal cost, needs only a few simple tools and can even be assembled in a few minutes.

This is Part 1 of a two-part series.  If you are looking for Part 2 it is here.

Background

I need some big panniers for the upcoming Bullitt II. I use them now on my current Bullitt as overflow when I fill my cargo bay on a big shopping run.

While I was pannier shopping, I came across a hardshell pannier called the Coolcave, offered by Specialized. It looks like a very neat product, especially when paired with its lid pack, sold separately, that takes its capacity up to 25L. Unfortunately, each pannier is priced at US$80, a lid pack adds another US$70. So US$300 for two panniers. For a cargo bucket in a middling size, that pricing is well past my pain threshold.

While I was looking at them online, I couldn’t help but notice the Coolcave looks an awful lot like a small trash can, right down to the molded-in feet that let you sit it on the ground.

Hmmmm…

You can see where I’m going with this already, right? How tough can it be to get some nice clean new trash cans and make panniers? Especially since I have a lot of the parts in the garage already, and all the tools I could need to make this project happen.

As I began looking around for the parts I needed, I found I am by no means the first person who has had this idea. Jandd Mountaineering has their Tidy Cat bucket kit. Sellwood Designs has their own bucket and bucket kit available at thebikebucket.com. I am sure there are many more out there. If you are considering a DIY approach, all you need to know is almost any container that isn’t round can be made into a pannier.

Lets get started.

Project Pan-Yay Begins

Let me lay out the ‘final’ parts list on the panniers I ended up making. These are the parts that made the final cut. Further on I’ll comment on some alternatives that would have worked out great, but inflated the cost too much. This build is meant to be budget-minded.

Parts List

  1. Rubbermaid Commercial Products 28-qt wastebasket (US$31.61 for four)

    28 quarts in Imperialist units works out to 26.5 liters each. Why are we buying four instead of two? I’ll get to that later. These commercial wastebaskets are meant to take a beating. They are soft and flexible, yet sturdy. They nest inside of one another snugly.
  2. Two strips of aluminum flat bar (US$6.00 total)

    I used a strip 1.5″ (38mm) wide and cut each to 10″ (254mm) long. Width was dictated by the bolts used for the hooks, and length is the flat width of the trash can. Cost is based on 20″ of an 8-foot bar purchased at the hardware store for about US$28 – that I already had some of in my garage.
  3. Jandd Mountaineering stainless steel pannier hooks (US$18.40 for four)

    These hooks are dirt cheap, easy to install, beefy and durable.
  4. 24″ bungee cords (US$5.16 for two)

    Using bungees to fasten a pannier is old school, like the Jandd hooks. However using one commercially-available, non-DIY cord per side isn’t. Its a nice hack.
  5. 48″ bungee cords (US$7.96 for two)
    I use these flat bungee cords to secure my waterproof, expandable ‘cloth’ lid. It works faster than a traditional buckled pannier flap, and is more easily expandable.
  6. 1/2″ vinyl-lined P-Clamps (US$2.00 for four)

    These are used for mounting the 24″ bungees. They’re available at any local hardware store. Mine were in a cubbyhole in my garage already.
  7. 2″ x 48″ Hook and Loop Cinch Strap (US$8.00 for two)
    I have chosen these 48″ straps as they should be right for one strap to fully encircle the pannier and thread thru the rack stays – I am using straps to bolster the j-hook-and-bungee pannier mounting. They are easy to remove, easy to attach and make the panniers so solid to the rack I could ride with them on a singletrack trail and they’d stay put (pro tip: Use a black Sharpie to make the garish logo invisible).
  8. Two yards of fake leather vinyl sheeting (US$26.99)
    Let me say right off I first used two folded-over garbage bags for lids with my 48″ bungees and they worked fine. Using this waterproof vinyl is a purely cosmetic choice. The 2 yards you get is about 3 times what you need.
  9. Various Stainless Steel Nuts and Bolts (US$20.00 total)
    I used M5 bolts with countersunk heads, oversized M8 washers and M5 nylock nuts. This is a little weird but mounting the bolts so they go inside-out gave me a completely flat surface inside the outer can… but I’m getting ahead of myself mentioning that so I will stop now. I am ballparking the cost here, which you can reduce by quite a bit by using zinc-coated steel parts instead of stainless. I will list the specific nuts, bolts and washers in each part of the assembly instructions.

Total Project Cost

Add up all of the above and you come up with $126.12. Which sounds like a lot for two trash cans, but pretty good versus retail price on two 26.5L-each, waterproof, hard shell panniers – if you could find them for sale at all.

You can cut costs here. Don’t do the nested cans and use two instead of four. Forget about the vinyl and stick to the folded trash bags. Just those two things knock off US$43 from the project cost. Do without the bungees for the lid and you’ve now removed just over US$50. Find a couple things in your garage to use instead of buy and you knock off even more.

Alternate Parts

Trash Bags

Lets get this one out of the way immediately. If you want to cheaply create a waterproof liner for your pannier, then the 7-10 gallon trash bags that are sold everywhere as a direct fit to these trash cans are an obvious solution.

Savvy cyclists know a trash bag makes ANY cloth pannier instantly waterproof. The use of a bag as a can liner can also take the place of a lid. Especially if closed off with something like a reusable OneWrap tie, or a small cinch strap.

Next, when setting up the lid, before I received the faux leather I eventually used, I simply took a full sized trash bag, re-folded into an even-ish square. Then on the rack-side, I tucked it in between the two layered-together cans so it becomes semi-permanently attached (only coming off if I separate the nested cans). This creates a square flap with overlap that I can easily flip off and back on again, using the 48″ flat bungee strap.

On my first day of use, it was raining, so I had to have a lid. The folded trash bag worked perfectly. the only knock against it was cosmetic: I was obviously using a trash bag.

Ortlieb Mounting Hardware

While I was researching my options for the build, I came across this page at Campfire Cycling that lists a wide range of in-stock Ortlieb replacement parts. A complete mounting solution can be pieced together.

  • 4-hole QL1 long rail
  • QL1 top hooks with handle
  • QL 2.1 lower rail
  • QL 2.1 lower hook

You are mixing mount versions top vs. bottom, but thats not a problem. With shipping the cost is about US$80 to ship 2 panniers worth of parts to me in California.

Thats top-quality equipment, but I was not ready to spend that much on a concept I was not 100% certain was workable yet.

Vincita Mounting Hardware

I actually purchased this and intended to use it as my go-to solution on the first build. Unfortunately the shipper reported the package lost, and I got a refund. Some time later a battered package finally showed up on my doorstep.

As such I had the opportunity to inspect the mounting kit, even if I didn’t use it. I had picked the 12mm kit and found it to be of very good quality, and definitely workable with my Axiom rack’s tubes. At less than US$13 per side it would have been an economical option as well. I’m not sure I would have wanted to use the lower mount on its own. I’m pretty sure I would have wanted to use the bungees as I ended up doing here.

SO LETS BUILD IT ALREADY!

We’ll get to that in the next part. This is a good spot to put in a break.

Author: m@Robertson

I'm responsible for the day-to-day operations at my place of business: Leland-West Insurance Brokers, Inc. We do classic and exotic car insurance all across these United States. I'm also an avid auto enthusiast, a born again cyclist (i.e. an ebiker) and participate in medium and long range CMP and NRA sanctioned rifle competitions.

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