Thule Pack ‘n Pedal Commuter Pannier Review: Style In The Streets

The Thule Pack ‘n Pedal Commuter pannier exhibits itself as a hip urban bag capable of getting you through your city pursuits, whilst keeping your cargo safely out of the elements. Here in Portland, we put a lot of wear and tear on our equipment, and in case you didn’t know, it also rains every now and then. I took the Thule Pack ‘n Pedal Commuter pannier for a two month test ride, using it daily through everything Portland could throw at me. Was this stylish pannier up to the task?

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Sporting a capacity of around 17l, the Commuter punches in much smaller than other panniers I’ve tried to date. For my usual day-to-day I’ve grown accustomed to Ortlieb’s spacious 40l back-roller Classic. At less than half my normal size, it definitely took some getting used to. One thing I really liked was that though it *technically* only supports up to 15in notebooks, I was able to fully insert my 17in Macbook into the laptop sleeve without an issue – this is something I cannot say about my regular Ortliebs. This is likely due to the Pack ‘n Pedal Commuter having a rectangular bottom, wheras the Ortliebs are tapered. This gives it a less “dorky” look, and really gels with the aesthetics and design of the rest of the bag. When I initially started riding, I was concerned the rectangular dimensions would lead to heel strike issues (I ride a 26in Surly Long Haul Trucker). I found that on my rack I could space the pannier back enough that it wasn’t an issue, however I could definitely see this being problematic on a bike that was smaller than 54cm, or has short chainstays – check first to make sure.

 

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Though Thule is relatively new at making panniers, you can tell they put a lot of thought into their “Urban” design. Some neat features include a hidden exterior pocket for cellphone/wallet, and 1-way fabric on the exterior that lets you stash a light that can be visible when on, and hidden when off so that your lights don’t get nicked. (though I’d advocate that if you were depending on this feature to keep your light safe, you should really be worried about them running off with your whole bag.) This brings me to what I consider to be the most problematic part of the Thule Pack ‘n Pedal Commuter – It’s attachment system.

Thinking outside of the norm, Thule tackled a problem that almost all panniers suffer from – getting poked in the back by the attachment system when using the bag over the shoulder, or as a backpack. Thule’s flip-panel solves this solution nicely by having one side that is smooth metal, and one side containing the attachments. This solution does suffer a weight penalty as it puts more “bulk” into the bag, and as a trade-off requires you to use an attachment system that I’m not a big fan of.

 

Horizontal slots, while neat in theory, have been executed poorly in this iteration of Thule’s Commuter. If you’re used to simply placing your pannier at the side of your rack, letting it slide down to the tune of two satisfying “clicks” as it locks into place, you can think again. The first week I used the bag found me grumbling as I struggled to align both attachments in the dark, rainy night, only to have one of them “connect” and then have to reset the whole bag to get the other. I did get better at judging the angle over time, however this system is on the whole less functional than vertical hook type attachments such as the Ortliebs. After about a month, I started to feel like the bag was feeling “loose” while on the bike, so when I got to the shop, I turned it over only to find that one of the screws holding the hook had started to unthread. If it had unthreaded en-route, My laptop, and camera may have ended up in the road. It was not confidence inspiring. When I threaded the screw back in, I found that I could not find that perfect harmony between “to tight so hooks won’t work” and “loose enough the hooks work, but bolt doesn’t un-thread”. Whatever tension setting Thule used from the factory makes the hooks swivel perfectly, if they could add some blue loctite to the screw threads, to stop them from de-threading, I think this would go a long way. As for me, I never could find that “like new” action, and have resorted to forcefully “coaxing” the bag onto my rack since then.

My final gripe about the attachment system is that they did not include a very well thought out “wear-bar”. Almost all of the bags that I know of include a plastic bar/hook combo at the bottom that hooks into the rack. This allows the bar, instead of the fabric to take the constant beating from rubbing back and forth. The Thule has a small magnet attachment which connects straight to the bag, and thus wear-and-tear is inflicted onto the fabric itself. Over the course of two months, a significant wear pattern exhibited itself on the bag. Nothing broke through, but I wonder about the longevity of the fabric in this configuration. (My guess is that Thule didn’t include a plastic wear bar so that the bag was more comfortable in “backpack/shoulder bag mode” with the included strap.)

According to Thule, the Commuter “Fits best on Thule racks, but will work on virtually any bike rack.” I have not had the opportunity to test this bag with Thule’s proprietary racks, but have seen them demonstrated. I feel that including a 1″ by 6″ plastic strip with magnet embedded at the bottom of the bag would make this bag last a lot longer.

If you use this primarily in shoulder pack configuration, you’re probably not going to have this problem, but for anyone that attaches this to their normal rack, Thule really needs to fix this. According to Thule, the Commuter “Fits best on Thule racks, but will work on virtually any bike rack.” I have not had the opportunity to test this bag with Thule’s proprietary racks, but have seen them demonstrated. This appears to be true, however, it is my opinion that Thule is limiting themselves by designing towards optimization of a proprietary system. If they designed their pannier to be excellent in universal compatibility, and then made a rack that took advantage of those design choices instead of the other way around, I feel that they could see much larger market adoption with this pannier.

The fabric that the Thule Pack ‘n Pedal Commuter pannier uses is is actually pretty neat. On the sides, gunmetal grey gives it an industrial look, and the cuts of the side pockets are very stylish. It has more of a fabric, than plastic feel, which is quite nice to touch, and doesn’t smell like PVC when new. This pannier does get it right in the looks department. I also found no issue with the waterproofness of the material. I do wish they used a similar/more durable Cordura type material on the bottom, as the current material already scratched/punctured on my bag. The bottom fabric appears to be a rubber laminate, but it’s not bonded very well and is prone to scuffing off under normal conditions.

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Overall, 17 liters is a respectable city size. I feel the Thule Pack ‘n Pedal Commuter pannier could benefit from keeping the same shape, and expanding a bit in the capacity department. I don’t think it needs to be as big as the monstrous 40l Ortlieb Backroller, however upping it to 25-28l would allow me to carry all of my regular items, and a bit home from the grocery as well. If I were to make it, I’d expand the top fabric by two inches, and make the strap 3-5 inches longer. If this bag is really crammed, you can’t actually get the buckle to thread, and latch, leaving you with an open-ended pannier, lengthening the strap would solve that.

If you routinely carry a laptop, gloves, rain jacket, camera, repair kit, and want to do it in style, the Thule Pack ‘n Pedal Commuter is the pannier you’ve been looking for. If you want to carry that, plus say, a 6-pack, a bag of salad, or something else measuring solid larger than 4″x6″ – you may want to look into something a bit bigger.

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The King of Baskets: Minoura Gamoh Review

This Staff review courtesy of our masterful mechanic, Mike P.

King Carrier1
The Gamoh Also comes in a non-basket version which is great for wider loads

As a recent transplant from Ames, IA I landed in Portland, OR where commuter bikes reign supreme. My main commuter just wasn’t cutting it anymore so I decided to build a new commuter that was better suited to carry out everyday tasks here in Portland. This meant purchasing a robust steel bicycle frame with all the necessary braze-ons for accessories such as fenders and racks. I wanted a front porteur rack or basket that could handle a moderate load so I could carry groceries or the occasional package to the post office all while maintaining the aesthetic of my vintage bike frame. While paging through our parts catalog I quickly came to the decision that a front basket would be a better option for me as I rarely carry anything large enough that would require a rack without some sort of enclosure.

I came across the Minoura Gamoh King Carrier front basket, which seemed to hit everything on my checklist. Minoura makes two models the King Carrier and the King Carrier Jr. Made of durable steel tubing and maximum load rating of 40lbs both of these baskets are plenty strong and are guaranteed to fit 26” and 700c bicycles. These baskets feature a real maple wood bottom, which is weather treated for longevity, and looks fantastic! With all of my stipulations fulfilled my next decision was size. I measured the dimensions of the most common object I would be carrying, a grocery bag, and made my decision off of that. The King Carrier measures 11.4” x 16.9” x 4.3” and the Jr model at 9.5” x 13.4” x 4.3”. It turned out that the Jr model was the best fit so I ordered it.

Upon receiving the basket the first thing I noticed was the build quality. Smooth welds and brilliant gloss black finish perfectly complimented my bike. Installation was a snap; Minoura provides all the necessary hardware and brackets to install on almost any bike, from 26” to 700c. For installation the only tools required are 5mm allen key and 10mm wrench. Follow the instructions and you should find that it will only take you about 15 minutes to install. Once installed you will be able to safely and securely carry just about anything that fits inside! It’s been two months and I have been absolutely thrilled with the performance of this basket.

I would be hard pressed to find a better functioning basket on the market right now. If you are in the market for a front basket that will stand the test of time, look no further. Come by the shop today to have a look, we are more than happy to order one in for you!

Gift Cards are Here!

Are you having trouble finding the perfect gift for those bike lovers on your list? Can’t decide between new tires, new brake levers and new all-weather brake pads? Here at Cycle PDX we have made your shopping experience easier by offering gift cards! These gift cards can be used for everything in our shop! Including tours and rentals!

Check out our website and see for yourself how easy your holiday shopping can be! https://www.portlandbicycletours.com/gift-cards/

Winter Tune-Up Special Ends Soon

Do you want to bring your ride back to its prime? Your bike took care of you all year, isn’t it time you took care of it? Through the end of this month we are offering our best tune-up special of the year!

Let’s be honest, your bike has carried you through some rough rides and it’s starting to show. We want to keep you cyclists safe and happy so for only $60 you can get your bike cleaned up, tuned up  and lubed up with our Winter Tune-Up special!

The Tune-Up special includes a full adjustment of:

-hubs

-bottom bracket

-headset

-wheels

-gears

-brakes

Also, frame alignment, drop outs, nuts and bolts are all checked for functionality and safety. Chains, cables and pivot points are lubed. Stem, seatpost and pedals are greased. Finally, your tires are fully inflated and you walk out with a healthy, happy bicycle!

Rusty Bike
Photo Credit: Rowan McLaughlin – https://flic.kr/p/6rxN4n

So, if your bike looks something that looks like this

and you would like it to look more like this

Clean Bike
Photo Credit: James Evan – https://flic.kr/p/edmKgd

Come on in and give your bike the gift of our Winter Tune-Up special! It will thank you for it and you will notice the difference!

Don’t wait until your bike breaks down! Bring it in now and keep it rolling into the new year!

While you are in the shop…

…check out how we can improve your winter commuting experience. From all-weather brakes and fenders to rain gear and lights we can send you out into the elements in comfort and with confidence!

Your Bachelor & Bachelorette Party in Portland – On Bikes!

Cycle Portland is getting MORE media love! Be still our bikey hearts!

We’ve happily hosted many a bachelor & bachelorette party in portland over the years, and now Martha Stewart Weddings has recommended touring with Cycle Portland as an essential addition to your big day. Though many choose our Breweries By Bike tour for their day of fun festivities, all of our offerings provide a great way to explore the city with those you want to surprise.

Whether with family members, wedding parties, friends, and/or out-of-town visitors, our tours bring people together through reveling in all our lovely city has to offer! Love and bikes – a match made in Martha Stewart (and Portland) heaven.

Thanks for the love, Martha!

Cycle Portland – Your Best First Date With Portland!

Want to get up-close and personal with our beautiful city, its history, favorite local spots, and best biking routes? According to the wonderful people over at Trivago.com, a first-hand travel guru and booking site, Cycle Portland is the best possible intro to the City of Roses, and we humbly agree!

From bicycle boulevards to sea captains to champion coffee roasters and brilliant breweries, Trivago and Time and the LA Times and others say our year-round tours offer a terrific two-wheeled taste of all that Portland has to offer. You, too, can explore whichever uniquely-Portland topic suits your fancy by booking a tour with Portland’s original bike tour company (us!) here.

We love spreading smiles and bike love to visitors and locals alike. Thanks again for the praise, Trivago!

Cheery Ho! Cycle Portland Media-Love from Across the Pond

All of us here at Cycle Portland are honored to be profiled in the media yet again! A recent article from Cosmopolitan UK lists their top must-visit Portland staples, and we made the list. Huzzah!

According to the article, our Essential Portland Tour is the “perfect way to get your bearings” and experience Rose City’s bike culture first hand. We humbly agree.

As Portland’s original bike tour company, we’ve always known that exploring our local shops, food, and sights is indescribably different from atop a bicycle, and we continue to be delighted to share unique experiences with locals and visitors from around the globe.

Thanks again for the tip of the hat, Cosmo UK!