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.
Carradice have a page on the Super C range. You can get them online from Wiggle.co.uk*.
21 replies on “Carradice Super C Rear Pannier Review”
OK it’s an old thread but interest remains so here’s my experience. I’ve had a full set (front and rear) of Super C panniers for about 8 years now. I’ve commuted daily and toured South East Asia with them a coupleof times including monsoon weather and everything has remained dry inside. I always line the bags with a heavy weight kitchen bin liner just in case. The liner is about the dimensions of the inner of the Super C pannier so dead easy to fill to the capacity of the pannier then twist and tuck the excess plastic down inside the bag . The weak point of these panniers is the lid fit on the side pocket and the main bag, but when well filled so the contents slightly push the lid into a domed shape they protect the contents very well. River fording will not go well due to this design but their well suited to most types of travel/transportation. The side pocket really should be for easy access stuff that doesn’t matter if it gets wet as it is really just a “cap” that sits on top of the pocket. Despite using a plastic liner I’ve never had water soak through the fabric and it’s got me thinking if I could make some elasticated loops to sew on the lids to help cinch them down over the bag contents to improve the fit. Never had issues with the clips but they don’t fit Tubus racks due to the tubing guage so I put a couple of wraps of Gorilla tape on the fixing points and it serves to protect rack abrasion and enables a tight and slightly cushioned contact between pannier hook and rack and obviously is replaceable. Final note — they are fairly heavy and when wet slightly heavier still but that’s not a concern to me. What I like is their toughness and ease of repair and the fact they are hand made in the UK adds to their appeal when so much stuff is made in countries under a cloak of corruption, repression and environmental destruction.
Ironic that these are made in Britain, still I gravitate to traditional and well made stuff and would love to own a whole 5 set of these. The dry bags mean its not really a lighter option than Ortlieb classic etc
I have two sets of supa c’s inhereted from my father in law. They must be at least 30 years old and still in quite heavy use each when we tour. My wife recently (last week) replaced her ‘old, scruffy caradices’ with some sexy ortliebs. A week later she’s not impressed, likes the clip system (our supa cs are the really old clip system) but finds the roll top a faff. I was thinking of going for the carradice supa drys but after reading people’s experience with pvc/waterproof panniers I’ll rewax and stick with the old carradice’s. I love the family heritage of them and I’ll pass them on to my kids, perhaps they’ll break 50 yrs service!
I have to dissent a little. 1) They can let water in. Mine lined with heavy-duty rubble sacks, which provide the waterproofing well (pinging-back off the road type rain included). The lids are not waterproof, though. I’d recommend proofing them with something lightweight (the proofing liquid adds weight, as usual). No expert on this — left mine as-is.
2) Last I used them was just a 10 mile trip from the station, with load (10kg or so, not much versus 20kg touring standard load).
The plastic clips for the horizontal front-to-back rack bar (main load-bearing hooks — two per pannier) — one of them was loose (wouldn’t click into place, just loose). When I got to my destination, I found that I’d been riding with the pannier hanging off the rear of the rack by the remaining solid hook, as the other had jumped-off. This is with EXTREME care to tighten ALL hooks, and especially the retainers to the tightest tolerances possible. To avoid oscillating movement in the load. I like to ride as hard as possible, with as little false feedback from the bike as possible. If something feels wrong or ‘off’, I want to notice immediately so I can pay attention to it for safety reasons. Could be at 20MPH in hostile traffic or 30+MPH going downhill where one DOESN’T want to concentrate on anything except potholes, braking and steering. No margin for error or manufacturer bullshit. The design of these hooks is utter bullshit, because I had a smaller front pair of panniers that had one hook from the FACTORY come like this, too. It’s not robust-enough, the tiny extrusion of plastic that holds them into place (where the hook mechanism clicks SUBTLY into place, instead of slide loosely which is when it is broken/worn). I was lucky I didn’t lose a pannier / damage the wheel / rack / lights (this was at night, the 10 mile transit ride from the train). Or have it fly off and unbalance the bike, or hit a driver, pedestrian. OK, not so likely, the latter given the rural location, but you get the picture.
When they worked, I liked them (on one tour, I humped enough weight with them to lose 1000g of bodyweight per ten days approx. and they did alright). The material can take some abuse from compressing badly-packed stuff, respect for that.
Yet, Carradice need to think about the clips, lateral (vertical rack bar) retainer screws (soft material, easy to burr the heads and whose on-road screwdriver set has a large cross-head that won’t burr so easily?) These need to be locked TIGHTLY into place, because keeping all the retainers and hooks as solid as possible is key to a predictable bike handling experience with ~20kg weight on the back.
Old post, but still attracts comments…
It must be 25 years now that I got a pair of carradice C panniers. There were years I haven’t used them much due to living abroad, but other years they have been on my bike all the time. Mostly used for commuting to work/university or everyday live. Sturdy, simple, faithful. Nothing fancy, but always carrying the load that was put into it. In my experience also waterproof, once you close the lid properly. I have not been easy on them and they have suffered over the years, but still fully functional.
However, not really available in Switzerland, where I live now… so, as I am looking to get an additional pair of panniers, ortlieb it will be then. And I am intrigued by the rucksack carry set — if that proves useful it will come handy when commuting.
Even then, I doubt I will retire the carradice panniers any time soon…
Should have said bought the Carradice shopper which appears to be a roll-top and which hold 32 litres each.
Damn bought from SJS £113 for two. The only one I could find on eBay was a factory second which sold for £55.50. So can’t complain about price.
I am tempted, very very tempted.
Not sure you can call them roll top though.
I have no idea why you are saying these bags aren’t waterproof. I suspect like a lot of people you assume that because the outside gets wet it must pass through to the inside, it never does…ever. I have used mine for over 15 years in UK weather. They are always on my bike, never do i cycle without them. Never do they let in water in. That includes storms where my tent has blown away. I am also a foraging addict at the very least they are filled with firewood. If you want to make sure the outside doesn’t get wet, you can either apply wax or any waterproofing spray. A few years back I decided to do so using granger fabsil canvas waterproofer (applied with a paint brush). One coat last a year. To sum up waterproof no matter how extreme the weather. They will change colour over time, mine are now dark purple. Also I was hit by a motor bike while cycle home 2 years ago, some of the straps were ripped off by the impact with the ground and sliding along it but no rips or tears to the bag themselves. Carradice resowed them for a pittance. JB
PS snapped of the rear stand and badly bent the rack. Although the frame (Santos Travelmaster) was undamaged but was replaced as the bike shop refused to guarantee it. So not an entirely minor accident.
Hi JB. I agree that they are indeed very waterproof under most circumstances, and I’m in my 11th year of using them. But would I wade through a swollen river and expect the contents to remain bone dry? Of course not! Because while the fabric is 100% waterproof, the lidded drawstring design is not – even Carradice themselves don’t claim so. Only roll-top drybag style panniers can offer that level of waterproofing, and then only if they’ve been rolled up properly. That’s why, for readers of this blog who will be riding through a lot more than just UK weather, I suggest using additional drybags for critical gear inside these otherwise excellent panniers. Hope that makes sense!
I haven’t used the the panniers, but the saddlebags are worth every penny, replaced the panniers I used with one and not looked back in the last 2 years, whether on my daily commute or the couple of tours I’ve done.
The best panniers I’ve ever had.
I’ve been car-free for more than 25 years and these panniers are superb.
They always seem to swallow whatever I buy at the supermarket.
I’ve had Ortliebs,etc,but if you want something to last and that is repairable the ‘Super C’s’ rock!
Look better with age.….yes,they do!
I had the cotton duck shoppers for 15 years.I used them everyday on my bike for touring and shopping,I sometimes carried up to 20 2 litre bottles of water back from the supermarket in them.Now I have a recumbent I have Carradice Super C recumbent panniers specially altered by Carradice for me with a few extra features and like my shoppers they get very well used.I also have Carradice cotton duck front panniers,a handle bar bag and a courier bag which have all performed very well.
Great to hear that these panniers really do stand the test of time — thank you!
I always buy Carradice,besides other recumbent panniers don’t fit my bike.Also my ones together are as big as 2 normal and 2 front panniers together.
Tom after 20,000 miles and 5 years of use I can now use my Ortlieb’s to strain my tea, they have had a hard life but I now lose faith with them. As for your recommendation of that style of panniers being good in the wet, I have found you might not be as happy as you thought. I did a spring tour a few years back which was wet very wet, I felt at time like I needed to find Noah. The problem with my Ortlieb’s was that once they get wet they stay wet, it got to the point where I would not open the bags unless I was sheltered as they just got damp and never felt properly dry. I took a tumble and put a hole in one of my front bags, it is recommended to repair them from the inside and then wait 12 hours, total pain, total mess, could not get them truly dry and the patch would not stick, so now I have a seam seal mess on the out side of the bag as it was the only way to stop the leaking en-route. So I intend over the course of this year to replace my Ortliebs with Carradice Super C. It has been a very costly lesson, I hope not to repeat.
Thanks for the advice which has helped me make a decision.Carradice it’ll be then!!
The Carradice Super C’s rock!
Plus,the older they get the better they look!
Absolutely agree with that! Mine have been patched up so many times they’re barely recognisable…