Bike Bags Guide
If you want to carry gear or groceries on your bike, having the right kind of bag is very important. This article will explore some of the different types of cycling bags on the market and the best way to use each of them.
When considering cycling bags, you will want to look at a variety of features. Consider the durability of the bag, water resistance, adjustability to various size loads, ease of access to the bag contents, balancing the weight of your bicycle, and the ability to grab your bags quickly when you want to leave the bike behind.
Riding a bike with a backpack is only ok for short distances, for several reasons. First, a backpack puts your center of gravity higher than normal, which makes balancing and maneuvering slightly more difficult. Second, most backpacks aren’t designed to be used for cycling and put stress on the bent spine of the rider. Riding with a pack is only recommended for short rides with a low cargo weight.
There are cycling-specific backpacks and messenger bags available that are designed to increase the comfort of the rider. Many of these models are waterproof and very durable as well.
Many casual cyclists like to mount baskets on their bike, either on the front of their handlebars or on top of a rear rack. The most common baskets found on bikes are wicker designs, which look great but are slightly more expensive, and milk crates, which are often obtained for free but don’t look nearly as good as custom-made baskets.
Bike baskets are nice for transporting small loads, like taking a towel, swimsuit, water bottle and a snack to the beach or carrying little odds and ends around, like your bike lock. For more serious riders, baskets aren’t recommended because contents can bounce out relatively easily and they are not aerodynamic.
Rear baskets, which tend to be bigger and carry loads in a more stable manner, are useful for groceries and running other errands. Needless to say, baskets are not very useful if you want to keep everything dry.
Also known as saddlebags, panniers allow you to carry all of your belongings with little extra effort. Panniers mount onto bicycle racks with a system of hooks, clamps and/or springs. Pannier bags actually add to the stability of your bike by lowering the center of gravity. Ideally, weight in pannier bags should be distributed equally between both sides, especially if you are carrying more than 10 or 15 pounds of gear.
Most commuters use pannier bags to carry a clean set of work clothes, shoes, computer, a lunch, and any other work supplies they need. Some riders can also use a shower at their work to clean up before commencing their day, and carry a set of toiletries for the purpose of cleaning up.
Bikers who are touring tend to use panniers to carry large amounts of gear, like warm clothes, rain layers, camping stoves, food, etc. Larger items like sleeping bags, pads, and tents are often strapped on top of the rear rack to save space in the panniers for smaller items.
Panniers come in both rear-and front-mount options. Front mount panniers are usually only used for long range bike tours, when riders need to carry a large amount of gear, and also because front panniers can make steering more difficult. Rear panniers are much more common and versatile.
It is important that your rear panniers allow adequate space for you to pedal; if they are too far forward, your heels will bump your panniers, which could be dangerous and could even knock your bags off the rack.
Also known as seat bags, saddle bags are small pouches that are designed to nest underneath your saddle and attach to your rails and seat tube. Saddle bags are designed to hold the necessities that you should have on every ride, such as an extra tube, tire levers, patch kit, multi-tool or a cell phone.
For an in-between size bag, many choose a rack trunk (also called a trunk bag), a type of bag that mounts easily on top of the rear rack. Rack trunks strap on top of the rear rack firmly or even slide into place on the rack itself. They hold gear in a more sheltered position than panniers. They can also be combined with panniers for more storage area, all of which can be protected from the rain; like panniers, rack trunks sometimes come with rain covers or are made completely waterproof.
The final type of common bag on the market is the handlebar bag, which unsurprisingly mounts on the front of the handlebars via straps or clamps. This type of bag is ideal for items that you want to have easy access to during quick stops on the side of the road or trail, like a camera, snack, or a map (some models have purpose-built clear plastic pockets on the front of the bag so maps can be mounted for easy viewing even while riding).
Make sure that any handlebar bags you use will not interfere with normal shifting or braking, as this would be unsafe