The Blackburn Local Cooler is a saddle bag style pannier with fully insulated storage compartments for toting around hot or cold items while cruising on your bike. This model has more storage than any other townie pannier we tested and is relatively easy to get on and off your rack. While it doesn't have very great security or waterproofing, this pannier is an excellent option for holding refreshments on casual rides to your next picnic or weekly softball game. Though, if you're looking for a more versatile option, we'd recommend looking at the Brooks Suffolk Rear Pannier.
Blackburn Local Cooler Saddlebag Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Insulated, lots of storage
Cons: Not secure, slow installation/removal, highly specified
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Our Analysis and Test Results
With insulated storage and a built-in bottle opener, the Blackburn Local Cooler is a bag that is fully committed to recreational riding. This saddlebag style pannier has plenty of storage for refreshments that need to be kept hot or cold, but can also be used to carry odds and ends during a short commute. The velcro attachment straps are simple but don't warrant the greatest security out of the lineup.
Townie panniers should be easy to mount and dismount from your rack while offering decent security during transit. While the Blackburn Local Cooler was relatively easy to get on and off the bike, we were disappointed with its security. There are no metal or plastic clips to aid in the attachment of this pannier. It relies exclusively on gravity and velcro straps to keep itself in place.
While the Local Cooler offered more straps to secure than did the similarly-styled Timbuk2 Tandem, it didn't always maintain the load from sliding around while riding. Unless the pannier was fully loaded and very heavy, gravity wasn't enough to keep it in place during bumpy rides. Ultimately, we were left feeling rather insecure with this particular mounting system.
With a 2-in-1 construction, the Local Cooler offered the greatest storage capacity of all the townie panniers that we tested. This pannier was able to fit all of the selected items of our storage test with extra room to spare. Because each compartment is smaller than what we found on the Banjo Brothers or Green Guru townies, this pannier isn't able to accommodate a full-sized paper grocery bag. However, it was still perfectly sized for beer cans and boxed items like pasta.
The bonus of the storage in this pannier is that it was insulated, making each compartment an impromptu cooler when you add cold packs or ice with its contents. Similarly, it will keep hot items warmer than other non-insulated panniers. Furthermore, the dual-bag style distributes the weight of your load more evenly than a single-sided pannier.
You wouldn't necessarily expect a townie pannier to be super tough, but we thought this model had the best durability of the townies in this review. The exterior fabric of the Local Cooler is a high-quality honeycomb polyester that handled scuffs and abrasions quite well. The seams, zippers, and webbing on this design were also of notable quality, suggesting to us that they will stand up to repeated abuse.
Relative to its intended use, we found that the Local Cooler had a decent amount of weatherproofing. Though, it certainly isn't completely waterproof. The zipper on top of each compartment doesn't create a complete closure and also doesn't have any waterproof seam or baffle to keep out moisture. During the rain test, we found that a bit of moisture was able to sneak in around these weak spots. However, the external fabric remained resilient and beaded water so it couldn't penetrate the top, bottom, or sidewalls. However, this bag didn't perform well during the submersion test. The incomplete zipper closure was able to let in a considerable amount of moisture.
Unique to this bag is considering how well it holds in moisture, because of its ability to work as a cooler. To test this, we loaded the pannier with beers, whiskey, and cold creek water to see not only how well it kept cold, but how long it could hold water internally. We were very impressed that it was able to maintain beers cold for more than an entire day sitting in the sun. However, at the end of the second day of testing, most of the water had leaked out of the bag.
Ease of Use
As far as ergonomics go, the Blackburn Local Cooler has some strong points to consider. The simple mounting system has no learning curves to speak of and allows for relatively quick mounting. While we wish that the shoulder strap could be removed when not in use, it was comfortable enough when in use; it was also easy to grab. Other user-friendly features include reflective embellishments, two internal zippered pockets, and a bottle opener secured to the outside.
Without sturdy attachment hardware, this pannier isn't exactly suited for running all your errands about town. But it is a great option for casual cyclists who are looking for something to carry their cold beers or picnic items in.
Priced at $80, this pannier was one of the most affordable models in the lineup. We think it's a good price compared to some of the high-end models that sell for more than $100. But for the lack of versatility, to doesn't exactly offer the greatest value. You could get more mileage out of the cheaper Seattle Sports Titan, considering you don't need your pannier also to be a cooler.
This was undoubtedly a fun pannier to use, probably because we used it primarily to haul adult beverages. Its non-traditional construction with insulated sidewalls serves to a unique niche of cyclists who are seeking a pannier that will help them tote hot or cold items safely between origination and destination. While we can't recommend this model to a cyclist looking for a dependable option for commuting or touring, we trust that someone out there will take delight in knowing that a cooler-pannier hybrid exists.
— Rob Woodworth