Higher gasoline prices drive people to pursue alternative forms of transportation. Many people walk, others ride the bus or train, and still others ride their bicycles. Many cyclist commuters use panniers.
Panniers are bags that can contain a change of clothes, a briefcase, a laptop, a sack lunch, or any of a handful of other things that a commuting cyclist may want to take to work. Many cyclists eschew panniers in favor of backpacks, of course, but a backpack containing a laptop and some files and some food can get quite heavy, perhaps unwieldy. This is where panniers come in.
Panniers rest in specially made rack systems that fold over a bicycle's rear wheel. The system has a rack on either side of the rear wheel and is held in place with screws or nuts and bolts. Cyclists use one or more panniers to transport their goods.
The idea behind panniers is to get the goods being transported off the cyclist's back, for more efficient – and less backache-causing – riding. The panniers are installed on the rear wheel so as not to cause too much of a drag on the pedals. Also, when using both panniers, a cyclist can typically carry more than would fit in a backpack.
Of course, a cyclist can also install a rack system that folds over the bike's front wheel. In that scenario, a rider could use four panniers, two in front and two in back. The idea with a system of four panniers is the same as with a system of two — to distribute the weight throughout the bike.
Some panniers are actually garment bags, which fold over and keep work clothes from wrinkling. That's an option that wouldn't be possible with a backpack. This ability to keep clothing from wrinkling is attractive to cyclists who need to wear nice-looking clothes at work.
Panniers are eminently portable and customizable, meaning that they can be removed from the bike, along with the entire rack system, if the cyclist wants to eliminate extra weight for racing or just for enjoyment. Also, some cyclists use just one or perhaps just three panniers, if the amount of stuff being transported doesn't necessitate a full set of two or four. The idea is still to distribute the weight, especially off the rider's back.