Saturday, December 19, 2009

Using the Basil panniers

To me, the Dutch-made Basil Kavan II panniers are the best-looking rear-mounted bags available. The natural canvas and brown leather make for a very classic, handsome look.  Whichever bike I put them on instantly becomes the most Euro-authentic-looking member of the stable.

Here, for example, is Takumashi, my Nishiki Citisport, magically transformed into a something you'd expect to see rolling home to an English cottage from a quick spin to the greengrocer.

What's more, they're huge.  Forty one liters of capacity mean a shopping cart full of groceries can disappear into them without spilling over. After a few uses, the leather straps become a bit more flexible, and practice makes the user much quicker and getting in and closing them.

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I placed a full paper bag of groceries into each side.  There was plenty of room left over at the top -- I could have easily divided another full bag between the two bags, maybe even a fourth.

The only thing that comes close to a drawback on these bags is a question of practicality.  First, they're attractive enough to be a bit of a theft magnet... or at least that's my assumption.  I wouldn't want to leave them on a bike left out of sight for more than a short bit.  And, while they're not particularly difficult to install or remove (with a bit of practice), it's simply not realistic to think you'll be able to pop them off and take them into the store with you.

They fasten to a rear rack -- and to chain stays and/or fender struts by good old-fashioned leather straps.  This means they'll go on racks tubes of any width or configuration, which cannot be said of many panniers.  One friend described the installation procedure as a "six swear word" process, but I've found myself getting quicker at swapping them out... I'm down to one or two muttered curses now.

On my first installation, I found there was a lot of leftover strap to deal with.  I couldn't seem to make it disappear the way it had in online photos and reviews I'd seen.  So, I emailed the sales staff at Basil to ask their advice.  I received a friendly answer within a day (in the flawless English that is universal in Holland) with useful suggestions and genuinely warm wishes on my new purchase. That kind of service makes the bags even prettier, in my book.

I wish I could find more occasions to use them.  Determined to find one, a few days ago I put them on Blaise (the Mercier mixte) and set off for the grocery store.

This is Blaise with the Basils empty.

And here they are fully loaded with everything from a six pack of soda to a big box of spring mix.

Any suggestions for how I get more use out of these gorgeous panniers?


  1. Less elegant but certainly capacious:

  2. Well, the Vandal bag certainly gets points for versatility... Was that dude carrying a bike on his back? Also, 12 pack of Red Stripe and a watermelon -- party time!

    I have to say, I'm not a backpack guy on the bike. Besides being sweat-making, it nixes my feeling of freedom, somehow. But that's just me.

    I got a new, single pannier from Basil that is more utilitarian, but still stylish. Review to come!

  3. I am contemplating threading a thin piece of stainless steel cable through mine, then clamping it to the rack, to keep them from "walking" away when the bike is parked. I only use them on one bike (only bike with a large enough rack) so moving them between bikes isn't an issue for me. My primary grocery getter has the Wald folding baskets on it. I use them in conjunction with the tall reusable grocery bags and can get a solid 3 full brown paper bags worth in them. FWIW I pack my own bags at the store, most of the current crop of baggers have no clue how to do a brown paper bag properly. They are only used to tossing things into a shapeless plastic sack.


  4. This site is amazing. I love it when I find a kindred spirit! I was wondering if you could give me some tips on mounting these panniers? I just picked up some Basil Tour XL, which are basically the same design, with different materials, and they seem to be riding low on my rack, and I have a ton of extra strap left over. Do you have an remedies? Thanks in advance! - Patrick

  5. Patrick,
    Thanks very much for reading and for your kind words!

    Installing the Basils definitely gets easier with practice. A couple of things I managed to improve at:

    I save the bottom strap for last. This lets me flip the whole structure up and out of the way, so I can get the top straps secured pretty tight. I do the top section of both sides before doing the bottom straps.

    It's basically a question of fiddling with the buckle apparatus to make sure you're threading it through in a way that won't slip or loosen as you ride. Then, the task becomes cinching it tight enough so that it stays put.

    As for the extra strap hanging around, that bugged me quite a bit. I ended up threading the extra through the slits on the top of the leather section linking the two panniers. Sometimes I did this in two passes, to keep the extra strap out of the way.

    In the end, the best thing I did was learn that I didn't have to get these things looking just like they did on Basil's site in order for them to look good and work.

    I even met a woman riding with them who didn't even strap them on. She let the weight of the panniers hold them on and was surprised and pleased when I showed her how to use the straps. So, they're ultimately pretty forgiving.

    Let me know how it goes and I'll see if there are particular trouble spots you encounter that I remember dealing with.