If you’re going to travel by bicycle, be it to work, to school, to the shop or around the world, chances are you’ll have to bring a thing or two with you writes Ruth O’Connor
When I invested in my Surly Long Haul Trucker five years ago, the bag setup was the one of the most important decisions I had to make. Did I want to go for classic panniers or a more compact bikepacking setup? There are benefits and drawbacks to both but in the end, the decision comes down to a few factors:
- What kind of cycling you intend on doing (commuting/touring/racing)
- How much gear you intent to carry
With these criteria in mind, there are six main options for carrying gear on your bike so let’s breakdown the pros and cons of each.
Ok, this may seem silly but pockets are an extremely useful way of carrying the basics when you’re out for a spin. Cycling specific tops can hold a surprising amount, everything is easily accessible and you can pick them up for a reasonable amount nowadays. I’ve carried my phone, keys, money, sandwiches, a rain coat and sun cream in my back pockets before so it’s not to be snubbed as an option!
The obvious drawback is that you’re very limited space-wise. It also might not be an option if you don’t want to wear a cycling jersey to your destination.
Pros: Accessible to most people and inexpensive
Cons: Limited space and impractical style-wise for some occasions
Throwing a backpack on your back is a budget friendly way of transporting items on two wheels. This is also handy if you’re walking part of your journey as well or if you’re going on a bike/hike trip. Mountain bikers also tend to favour back packs as most bags are a no-go.
Personally, this is my least favourite option. I hate the feeling of having something on my back while I’m cycling and it pretty much guarantees a delightfully sweaty back.
Pros: Accessible to most people and inexpensive
Cons: Sweaty back and possibly uncomfortable. Limited space.
Sticking a basket on the front of your bike can be a great option if you want to be able to carry some luggage but don’t want to invest in racks and bags. There’s the old-school, wicker style baskets or there are more heavy duty styles. WALD is a company that do great baskets to suit a variety of needs. I have one of their large baskets that are designed for bike couriers. My dog sits in and it’s seriously hard wearing but as a result is quite heavy. With that in mind, remember that adding a lot of weight to the front of your setup can affect bike handling.
Pros: Convenient to use, visibility of gear while cycling, relatively inexpensive
Cons: Can affect handling, might not be suitable for your bike set up
A trailer can be a great addition if you want to use your bike for carrying bulky or heavy loads during the week and head off on camping trips at the weekend. We had a trailer before and used it to bring our dog on trips. She hated it, so we sold it!
Manoeuvring your bike with a trailer attached is the biggest thing you need to consider here. A trailer can essentially double the length of your set up so you need to decide if you’re comfortable with that and then make sure you’re competent at cornering and handling the bike in general.
Bear in mind as well that if you go for this option, when you’re locking up your bike, you’ll need to lock the trailer as well!
Pros: Great for carrying big loads, bulky items or for holidaying. Can be detached easily want to set up camp and head off for a spin.
Cons: Manoeuvring/handling tricky. Can be heavy and expensive. Added security measures needed.
Panniers are the quintessential cycling bags. They require racks to be installed on your bike but, once you’re set up, they are a great way of carrying luggage on your bike. My Ortlieb panniers are 5 years old, have traversed Europe and been through the mill, yet they still function and look just like new. Panniers are a great option if you’re thinking of going touring and are just as useful for a trip to the shop. Having bags on either side keeps the load balanced but I’ve often just taken one bag for a spin to the shop and the handling is just fine.
You’ll be amazed at the amount you can fit in a set of panniers and if you’re thinking of heading off on a big trip, you can even go fully-loaded – two front bags, two rear and a top-rack bag to finish off the setup. Just make sure to spread the weight as evenly as you can and bear in mind though that they can be pain to carry off the bike if you’re fully loaded. If you’re just using one pannier for commuting, you can purchase additional back straps so that you can throw it on your back once you dismount from your bike.
Panniers will make you that bit wider on the road so bear that in mind in an urban setting. If you’re trying to manoeuver traffic and tight spaces, this might not be the most ideal set up.
Pros: 100% Waterproof, Comfortable, Easy to pack.
Cons: Expensive setup. Require a rack to be mounted upon which might not suit your bike. Nuisance to carry by hand. Can affect handling. Wide load.
- Bikepacking bags
Bikebacking bags are soft and don’t require racks to be installed on your bike. They are a great alternative to panniers and are often used by endurance cyclists. I’ve recently discovered the joy of bikepacking bags as I inherited a set from my other half. These bags are very convenient as they attach to the frame of the bike using straps and Velcro. A typical bikepacking setup includes a frame bag, bar bag and a saddle bag. MACK Workshop makes fantastic custom bags that have yet to let us down.
As the bags are close to the bike’s centre of gravity and weight distribution tends to be more even than other setups, handling is generally better with bikepacking bags. They’re also less bulky which is great for aerodynamics but also for manoeuvring an urban environment. Unfortunately, they are not ideal for commuting to work if you’ve to carry a laptop or paperwork. They can also be a bit of a nuisance to pack and unpack.
Pros: Light-weight, can be cheap/homemade, aerodynamic, easy bike handling
Cons: Limited capacity, tedious packing/unpacking
Personally, my ideal set up depends on the purpose of the ride. For touring, I stick with my Ortlieb panniers but replaced my Ortlieb handlebar bag with a sleeker MACK Workshop Bikepacking Bar Bag. I use this same setup for grocery shopping but might throw my top rack bag on if I’m doing a big shop. For a quick spin to town, I’ll just take the bar bag on my handlebars so I can throw my keys, wallet and phone in. When you’re trying to decide what kind of set up to go for, just be honest with yourself about what you want to use your bike for and go from there!
Ortlieb Panniers: https://www.ortlieb.com/de/produkte/fahrradtaschen/hinterradtaschen
MACK Workshop Bikepacking Frame Bags: https://www.mackworkshop.com/
WALD Basket: http://www.waldsports.com/
7th September 2020