The Lotus SH-309L CVR Commuter panniers are a budget choice, but budget doesn't necessarily mean good value. Here, the retention system lacks versatility and isn't the easiest to use, they're water 'resistant' rather than waterproof and the seams aren't sealed, and generally I'm left thinking that new cycle commuters would be better off looking elsewhere.
For commuting, I want a pannier that I can get on and off my bike without really having to think, ideally with a retention system that positions the bag in the same place without fail. To get these Lotus panniers on and off either took two hands or a fair amount of fiddling about, or both – not ideal for something you're potentially doing twice a day.
The upper part of the retention system consists of two chunky friction clips and a spring latch, none of which can be adjusted lengthways to suit your rack's stay positions. The clips also only suit 10mm tubing, so bad news if you have chunkier tubes. I found that even when the panniers were full, the friction clips still required a hefty push to get them to locate properly.
Removing the pannier required both hands, one to pull the handle up and one to operate the latch, although those with longer and stronger fingers might manage it one-handed. Lotus agrees that it needs to improve the quick-release aspect – its concern has been more with the panniers staying on securely, but in achieving that, removing them is harder than it should be.
The lower retention consists of a hook attached to a Y of elastic, anchored at the upper clips. The hook goes through a webbing loop at the bottom, and then attaches to the bottom of your rack. It didn't naturally engage the upright stays of my rack, and was a fiddle to get it on; your rack might make it easier/harder/impossible.
The body of the bag is made from woven polyester, with the lid and front pocket made of ripstop nylon; they feel a bit cheap and flimsy to me, and I did have my doubts that they would last particularly well for long-term commuting use, though Lotus assures me the fabric is both strong and reliable and that no panniers have been returned under warranty. The materials are water resistant rather than waterproof, and the seams aren't sealed, so the most you can hope for is that they'll protect against a light shower or drizzle. That's not especially unusual in budget panniers, but there are waterproof options out there – one such, which is only slightly more expensive (sold singly for £29.99), is Lomo's Dry Pannier; the rack attachment system is straightforward too.
The Lotus bags also have no padding or internal pockets, so if you're carrying a laptop it will need its own protection. Again, though, not unusual at this price.
Externally, there's a large secondary pocket on the 'front', and two mesh pockets on the sides. I'm not a big fan of the mesh pockets – there's nothing I can think of that I'd want to carry in them over a fully enclosed pocket – but I suppose you can stuff something in there quickly, and it probably saves weight over a full pocket. There's a single strap handle, but no shoulder strap to carry the bags into the office (something Lotus says it will 'explore' for future production).
As you can probably guess, I'm not a big fan of these. There is a place in the market for cheap, simple panniers for those just discovering the joy of cycling to work, but the basics need to be right, and I don't think these do anything particularly well. I had hoped they would be something I could point friends towards when asked what to get, but I'm afraid I would only advise they look elsewhere – for now at least.
Basic bags need to get the basics right, and these don't really hit the mark
road.cc test report
Make and model: Lotus SH-309L CVR Commuter Double Rear Pannier Bags
Size tested: 34.8 Litres, L 32cm x W 20cm x H 38cm
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Going by the name alone, these are aimed at commuters, so should be suitable for heavy repeated use in all conditions – that's certainly what I'd expect.
Lotus says: "Pair of large pannier bags. Drawstring closure with elasticized lid and buckle fastening. Large front pocket and 2 mesh side pockets, it allows users to store many stuffs."
I'm not convinced that they do a very good job.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Constructed from heavy duty polyester for the main body with rip stop nylon for the top cover and outside pocket. Attachment points are non-adjustable.
From the distributor's website:
600D Polyester & 420D Nylon (rip-stop)
34.8 litre capacity
Size: L 32cm x W 20cm x H 38cm
3M Scotchlite reflective strips
Elasticated lid and buckle fastening
Large front pocket and 2 mesh pockets
Compatible fitting with most pannier racks
Fitted using hooks and straps
Water repellent fabric used
Materials feel cheap and flimsy, though I might be proved wrong. The construction of the retainer especially is a worry.
A good example of cheap not being good value.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Not well. I found them hard to get on and off the bike, and the seams aren't waterproof.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Feel, fitting to the bike, mesh pockets, water resistance...
Did you enjoy using the product? No
Would you consider buying the product? No
Would you recommend the product to a friend? No
Use this box to explain your score
With their fiddly retention clips and a lack of versatility in terms of fitting to other tube diameters and adjustment, these panniers can only achieve a low score. I'm torn between 3 for 'poor' and 4 for 'below average'; if they fit your rack they're probably a 4, but if not, they're a 3 – though you're unlikely to buy them if they don't fit.
About the tester
I usually ride: Kona Dew Drop My best bike is: Ribble Sportive Bianco
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general town riding, exploring