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I'm planning a cycle tour carrying baggage in panniers on the bike. For at least some of the trip, I'll be alone, and when I need to go into shops/cafes/toilets, I can lock up the bike, but the panniers themselves will be unsecured.

What is a workable way to prevent the panniers and/or their contents being stolen while unattended.

This trip will be in western Europe.

  • I've generally used a piece of flexible steel cable threaded through the pannier somehow and then locked to the bike frame. You can get fairly robust thin steel cable at most hardware stores in the US. – Daniel R Hicks Mar 6 at 13:18
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I went on two bike tours in 2017 and 2018 around North America, for 3000+ miles each, and this is what I did to secure the panniers to the bicycle:

Nothing.

That said, I did take some precautions.

Whenever possible I locked the bike in a highly visible location, preferably with some security cameras pointing at it, and preferably visible inside the restaurant or shop.

Bicycle in sight outside Arby's, Altoona, IA, USA
Bicycle in sight outside Arby's, Altoona, IA, USA

On several occasions I decided not to stop at a place where I couldn't find a place to lock the bike where I could keep an eye on it or where there wasn't a camera pointed at it.

Once or twice I noticed someone showing much more than the normal curious interest in the bike, and all it took was for them to realize someone was watching them and they moved on.

I always brought the bike inside wherever I stayed at night, including directly into my hotel room.

Bicycle in hotel room, Niagara Falls, ON, CA
Bicycle in hotel room, Niagara Falls, ON, CA

Most of the really valuable stuff (laptop, etc.) I had in the backpack strapped to the bike above the panniers. When I had to leave the bike, I was able to easily remove the backpack and take it with me. It also had a change of clothes and some other emergency stuff in case something did happen to the bike.

I never had anything stolen, though I admit I might have just been lucky.

  • Same advice I can give based on my experience in Japan. – L.Dutch Mar 7 at 5:38
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    That's my approach in the UK too, though my panniers are inherently tricky to remove when the bike is fully loaded and the stuff at the top tends to be the lowest in value (actual valuables go into the cafe with me). If leaving the bike outside overnight it would be well locked and the luggage would go in my room/tent. – Chris H Mar 7 at 6:49
  • Did you ever get challenged on bringing your (dirty?) bike inside the hotel room? At least in Europe, one would have to wheel it past reception. I understand in US/CA, there are often outside-facing doors in the rooms – Gremlin Mar 7 at 9:21
  • @Gremlin At one place the proprietor seemed concerned about the bike tires being dirty (they weren't) but he did allow it in. But it usually goes unremarked. – Michael Hampton Mar 7 at 12:55
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    Never underestimate the power of luck - could quite as easily had it all stolen. I think the moral of the story is you have to accept it might get stolen. – John Hunt Mar 8 at 17:08
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As Daniel already mentioned in the comments, you can thread a small cable lock through the panniers. For example this BBB MicroSafe BBL-10 weighs just 46g for a length of 120cm:

BBB MicroSafe BBL-10

Generally I think the risk is relatively low (who wants a pannier full of smelly clothes and worn cooking equipment?) but hard to mitigate since cutting through the panniers is always possible.

Make sure to always take your wallet, smartphone and papers with you.

  • This is a great idea as most pannier thieves are probably opportunists and won't have cutting tools with them. Plus it's cheap! – John Hunt Mar 8 at 17:09
  • I'd just like to point out that a nice pannier's price can be in the triple digits and that is the property you want to be securing. – HAEM Mar 12 at 13:50

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