A pannier is a hot Italian sandwich, filled with all sorts of impossible fresh ingredients, that’s been pressed in a very special appliance made just for that purpose. A pannier is a person who gives you psycho-emotional pain simply by virtue of their presence. Pannier is also an adjective you might apply to a wok when asked the question, “Is this thing a pot?” Answer: “No, it’s pannier.”
This is another bike term I’m not even really sure how to pronounce. How French do you make it? Do you say “pan’-ee-ay” or do you say “pan’-ee-ur?” Does it depend on how much cheese and how many baguettes you have in there? The word comes from the Old French panier, which means ‘bread basket.’ Apparently, you can have panniers on a mule, or a motorcycle, or a Miyata, the latter has been building bikes in Japan since the late 19th century. They also make fire extinguishers, because of course they do.
I confess, I have never once thought to myself, “I could use some panniers.” This is based more on style than substance. To me, panniers are the bike-version of cargo shorts. At best, they’re a fanny pack.
When I see a cyclist sporting a pair, I always wonder what they’ve got in there. I suspect they belong to that breed of rider who really feels inclined to bring everything with them everywhere they go. You know the type. They’re likely to have a pedal wrench and a spare derailleur hanger with them. Also probably a sandwich, a rain jacket, a paper map, a sextant, and a divining rod, all of which might be useful if your plane crashes in the desert, but possibly less so on a 20-minute commute.
We are, all of us, hoarders though. No other species lugs around as much crap as humans do. We build these stupid big shelters and pack them with tools, memories, and ephemera, as though we were each constructing a museum of ourselves. “Come on in! These are all the books I ever read! Here’s a ceramic dolphin I bought in Florida in 1986! And photos of the whole family doing nothing in particular!” Attendance at these odd museums, not surprisingly, remains low, despite a pair of insouciant gnomes in the front yard and a couch on which you could land an airplane.
I’m not better than you. I keep the ashes of my last dog on the mantel.
Panniers, like the whole human lifestyle, are predicated on the idea “wait, what if I need this later?” Oh, I get it, if you’re going touring or bikepacking you need cargo space. On the side of the prescription bottle for panniers, those are primary usages. Everything else is off-label, and that doesn’t make them wrong. It just makes them amusing.
In my perfect world, panniers are primarily delivery vehicles for roving bakers, called Panniers. Like I can make my morning coffee and then sit on the front steps waiting for the Pannier to come by. I can buy some baguette and croissant for a few coins and exchange a cheerful word about the weather. The Pannier wears a tall white hat, not at all practical for cycling, but hey, that’s tradition, and we’re just that sort of quirky society that likes our fresh bread and our tall white baking hats.
Of course, in reality, we prefer to eat bacon from vending machines or have it delivered by drone. Our coffee tastes like the dregs of a house fire. And we’re all late for a Zoom call with a lawyer.
No wonder we’ve lost sight of what panniers might be good for and instead fill them with cyclo-commute-related bric-a-brac, tchotchkes and geegaws. I’m just a simpleton wearing a backpack with a loaf of bread sticking out. I couldn’t possibly be prepared for life.
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