Full disclosure: I was given these panniers by Carradice in 2007 for my first expedition, in return for feedback and a review. I’ve used them ever since, and extensively rewrote and improved this piece in 2012.
Ortlieb might be ubiquitous, but they’re not the only pannier brand worth looking at. I’ve been using Carradice Super C panniers on and off for
five eleven years now. They’re not for everyone, but I love mine. Here’s why…
Super C is a classic and renowned line of British-made pannier, the design changing little in decades. With an old-world feel, these unremarkable-looking bags are stitched from heavy-duty canvas of the type used for military kit and old-school tents. This stuff is as tough as old boots, and a pair of well-cared-for Super Cs should last a lifetime. I’ve heard of a pair of these being used for upwards of 20 years.
The lidded drawstring design isn’t fully waterproof, which will immediately turn many people over to the roll-top Ortliebs and the like. But panniers are not a one-size-fits-all product, and – aside from fantastic quality and home-grown heritage – there are plenty of practical reasons you’d give serious thought to the Carradice Super C rear panniers. Let’s have a look at some of them.
Waterproofing & Weather Considerations
As I toured the Middle East and North East Africa, I saw rain only twice in six months of travelling. For parts of the world such as this, full waterproofing is entirely unnecessary. Not only that, but a canvas bag actually lets the contents of your luggage breathe in extreme heat and sun. Roll-top panniers, in the same conditions, will cook your equipment and food supplies. And have you ever had a fuel bottle leak into a waterproof pannier? Not nice.
I’ve also used the Super Cs during prolonged rainfall. After a full day of heavy rain, moisture can indeed permeate the fabric (although not as much as you might imagine). That’s why I carry a selection of lightweight drybags for additional waterproofing of my clothes, camping gear and electronics. If rain ever does threaten, I simply bag whatever needs protection and continue on my way.
This setup gives me the best of both worlds, as I can waterproof items at my discretion, leaving things such as food and fuel outside the drybags. If I was embarking on a prolonged wet-weather tour, or expected to ford rivers or negotiate floods regularly, I would probably choose roll-top waterproof panniers instead. But if you’re touring in hot and/or dry conditions, canvas isn’t just an option – it’s a better option.
Build Quality & Durability
The canvas is extremely tough, and has the advantage that if damaged can be patched up easily with a sewing kit. The same cannot be said for the waterproof, plastic-coated-type panniers, which if breached will take a lot more work to make them waterproof again. I have heard reports of a pair of these Super C panniers being used regularly for over 20 years.
After five years my Super Cs certainly look well-used, as you might expect. After a crash (which also put a dent in my bike frame and me in hospital), I found that the front corner of the reinforced base of one panner had come away. The runner that held the clamps was also bent a little out of shape, but it doesn’t seem to have affected the stability of the pannier. One of the two panniers also came away with a small tear.
I have since had all of the damage repaired by a tailor, leaving the panniers functionally as good as new. After five years, there are few pieces of equipment for which I could say the same.
Capacity & Design
The main compartment is easy to access. The lid is secured by a pair of pinch-clasps, adjustable for different sized loads. Beneath the lid, the main body is closed by a simple drawstring.
The positionable clamps securely attach to a variety of racks, and are easily removed during transportation. (Doing this is probably a good idea to prevent them being damaged, as they do protrude and could be easily damaged). On the back of each pannier, there is also a retainer which can be positioned to latch onto the rack’s vertical tubing. I lost one of these retainers during a bus transit, but despite this, the system held firm.
The panniers each have little pockets on the rear side, which are quite small and have loose-fitting lids that are fastened with a plastic pinch-clasp. With the lids open, however, they are just big enough to each accommodate two 1.5-litre water bottles, which is handy. If a few loose items are kept in the bag ends, though, they have a habit of jumping out on bumpy terrain. I just keep the contents of these bag ends in an additional plastic bag, or pack the pockets full to prevent movement. It is convenient to be able to keep a cleaning rag, some chain-lube, a pump, a multi-tool, knife and some snacks in easy reach.
The panniers are more than big enough for my needs so far, with a rated capacity of 54 litres per pair. The fact that they are made from canvas means that they collect mud and grime far more effectively than the smooth, wipe-clean surface of dry-bag-style panniers. This is great, as I think that the more ramshackle, dirty and travelled I look, the better!
These British-made canvas panniers are very tough, and will last you a very long time if you look after them. They would be ideal as a long-term investment if you plan to make many fair-weather tours over a number of years.
They are also suitable for the long-haul, and I’d suggest pairing them up with waterproof liners or drybags for the very wet weather that you’ll doubtless be cycling through at some point during your trip. You’ll then have the advantage of breathable panniers which are hard wearing, easy to repair, secure on the rack, roomy, and can be fully waterproofed. Carradice also make a complementary set of front panniers, if that’s your preferred set-up.