This question drew my attention to pannier here. I just thought that panniers are things that hung on bike. The Wikipedia definition with Google gives:

A pannier is a basket, bag, box, or similar container, carried in pairs either slung over the back of a beast of burden, or attached to a bicycle or motorcycle.

So can I call every bag that hangs even a little on a bicycle a pannier like a handle-bar bag? Or is it essential that it is in pairs? I have panniers-looking side bags but they are not really in pairs rather separated similar bags, I bought them separately. So what are really panniers? Do they need to be attached to one-another or can they be separated? What about if I lost one, is it still a pannier or is it a piece of pannier? When I have a small bag like triangular bag or something else hung from the bike, is it a pannier? Probably not, is the proper idea to think about panniers like a bags on a donkey i.e. rather large bags?

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    You might also get good answers on english.SE
    – freiheit
    Commented Feb 20, 2011 at 4:26

3 Answers 3


I think that in English a 'pannier' usually refers to something hung next to the wheels, whereas a 'basket' is hung on the front.

But in another language i.e. French a 'panier' is rather a basket, or perhaps a rack.

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    +1 good idea to compare to different language. The word pannier may actually originate from French or some other language, ideas?
    – user652
    Commented Feb 20, 2011 at 4:16
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    Yes, the English word pannier originates from the French 'panier' which means bread-holder. But the stereotypical French 'panier' is different: superstock.com/stock-photos-images/1851-4172 (and, so is French bread if it comes to that).
    – ChrisW
    Commented Feb 20, 2011 at 4:22
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    In French this is called a 'false friend': "language A lends a word to language B, and later the meaning of the word changes in language B": where the words are similar, one derives from the other: but their meaning aren't identical.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Feb 20, 2011 at 4:26
  • I've never heard the differences between the same work given that term, but I like it. It's funny how many of those there are in American English vs. British English
    – STW
    Commented May 14, 2011 at 17:34
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    Interesting, I never realised the connection with bread before :) 'pannier, late 13c., "large basket for provisions," from O.Fr. panier, from L. panarium "bread basket," from panis "bread".' etymonline.com/index.php?term=pannier
    – Hugo
    Commented Jun 18, 2011 at 10:22

In English, panniers originally referred to bags slung across the back of an animal (such as a horse), such that the weight hung down on either side of the animal. This keeps the weight lower so that the animal won't be as off-balance, and distributes the weight evenly.

On a bicycle, the term is used for containers that resemble that, even if it's only on one side. Specifically, bags that hang on the side of a rack. It's also used for containers that aren't bags, such as buckets, baskets, or hard cases; though most often for bags. The term is used equally for bags on the side of a rear rack or front rack.

A pannier could attach itself to the side of a rack (typically via hooks), or you could have a single unit where two side-bags are attached to each other and held on by the attachment between them sitting on top of the rack. The attachment could be as little as a strip of cloth, or as much as a whole third bag that fits on top of the rack. Even if it's one unit, something that hangs on both sides would be pluralized as "panniers" while a single bag on one side is singular ("pannier").

If a bag is designed to fit on top of a rack without hanging down the sides, it's not a pannier. Typically those would be called a "rack bag".

A bag that hangs from the saddle (seat) is a "saddlebag". However, on a motorcycle, saddlebag and pannier both refer to containers hanging on the sides (the saddle on a motorcycle generally extends to the back). On motorcycles, "saddlebags" are commonly hard cases that wouldn't otherwise be called "bags". The huge difference between a motorcycle's "saddlebags" and a bicycle's "saddlebag" sometimes causes people to incorrectly refer to bicycle panniers as "saddlebags" even though they aren't attached to or even near the saddle (seat).


Generally I think people use "pannier" to refer to just one bag on a rack of the bike. It can be on either the rear or front rack. If there is a set of two or more bags, panniers is used to refer to the whole set, but again, one bag on its own is just a pannier, regardless of whether it's a part of a set.

There are other types of bags (not hung on racks) that I have never heard anyone refer to as panniers. These include:

  • frame bag

photo of frame bag

  • handlebar bag

photo of handlebar bag

  • saddle bag or seat post bag (or "wedge")

photo of saddle bag

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    what about front wheel rack? Are the bags on it still panniers?
    – user652
    Commented Feb 20, 2011 at 4:09
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    @hhh Yes, I think so. Commented Feb 20, 2011 at 4:11
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    @hhh If they're on the front wheel then they're front-panniers.
    – Amos
    Commented Feb 20, 2011 at 8:03
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    Pannier is not a term which requires plurality. To say Pannier bag is as correct as Panniers or Pannier bags. The term in correct common usage refers to a bag slung over a rack on bike or motorcycle, and hanging off the side or rack or ride. It can be slung over the top tube of the frame, although this is more common with a motorcycle. Used on a horse, they are called saddlebags. That term is also common as a carryover into motorcycle usage.
    – zenbike
    Commented Jun 19, 2011 at 6:10

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