Most panniers are very specialized and do only one thing well–usually the on-the-bike part. That makes sense if you’re cycle touring around Europe, but if your cycling-centric lifestyle has you commuting to work or school one moment, stopping by the farmers market the next and heading to the beach on the weekend, something a little more flexible might be in order. Detours’ Ballard Market Pannier fits the bill.
The Ballard’s flexibility is on full display in the number of ways you can carry it. It clips to a standard rear bike rack, you can sling it on your back as a backpack or, as the name implies, you can carry it like a shopping bag. Detours cleverly designed the strap system to convert between the two off-bike carry modes.
Though the bag is a lightweight compared to heavy duty touring panniers, Detours made wise design and materials choices that make the Ballard punch above its weight. Though the 920-cubic-inch pannier lacks an internal frame, a stiffening sheet and the molded bottom gives it some structure and keeps seams away from areas that tend to get abused. Three outside pockets and one interior zippered pocket help with organization and reflective details aid on-the-road visibility. Though it’s not waterproof, it comes with a high-viz coated ripstop cover.
The majority of my test period consisted of commuting back and forth to school. While I prefer a more specialized briefcase-style pannier for toting a laptop and books, the Ballard was well-suited for carrying a week’s worth of school clothes. However, it really shined on trips to the market and during LA’s recent Ciclavia where we were able to park our bikes, quickly put the Ballard into backpack mode and enjoy the festival atmosphere.
Though the dual mode straps are clever, I think that Detours could make some improvements. Because the backpack straps are really one strap that is free to slide all the way to one side or the other, the pack can be a little awkward to put on. They could also come up with a better way to stow the straps when not in use. Keep in mind, these are minor quibbles raised by a picky designer. Detours’ Ballard Market Pannier does an excellent job at carrying, whether on the bike or on your back.