You’re a commuter, not a racer!
In order to have a decent, safe and comfortable commute you need to set yourself free from the obsession with weight and looks. Remember, you’re riding for utility, you want to get to work in a safe and comfortable manner while keeping your belongings dry and secure. A proper commuter bike is heavier and slower than most: it has a beefier frame and wheels and has more equipment and accessories mounted on it. In reality 10lbs difference in bike weight is not a huge deal. Look at the bright side: after riding your 40lbs commuter to work for a week, you will be flying on your 20lbs road bike on the weekends! Commuting is a great training for other forms of biking: road cycling, mountain biking or touring. Also, as you get into commuting you will be able to make changes to suit your particular riding style.
How to carry your stuff depends on what you actually need to carry, how long your commute is and whether you’ll be riding in all kinds of weather. If your ride is short and you only ride in nice, dry weather your requirements will be different from someone who will be riding longer distances and in all kinds of weather.
Some people may only need a change of clothes which may fit in a small rack bag. Some may be carrying laptops, books, lunch, some extra gadgets and accessories they need to get through the day. Some need to carry a suit, some just shorts and a t-shirt. Also, factor in some spare tubes, couple of tools and a pump. Finally, some people may like to be able to run errands on their commuter bike: stop by a supermarket, drop off a package at the Post Office, etc.
You have to be able carry what you need, there is no reason to compromise, you can carry more on a bike than you can carry on your person, and easier too. You need to be able to carry it in a safe way, so nothing falls off of your bike while you ride, nothing gets into your spokes or tangles up in your pedal cranks. Also, you need to be able to carry your stuff in a way that it’s protected from accidental damage from an impact, from vibration and from water and dust.
I don’t like backpacks
To set the record straight: I do not like backpacks for commuting. Period. Why? Here is why:
- carrying stuff daily on your back is simply not good for your back, your body is already doing some heavy work, it doesn’t need any extra weight on its spine
- backpack straps will cause unnecessary tension on your neck and shoulder muscles and may contribute to back, arms and hands pain
- a backpack will make you top heavy, therefore unstable; the lower the center of gravity, the more stable your bike will be, for example: touring bikes that are designed to carry a lot of cargo for days have lower bottom brackets to bring the center of gravity as low as possible
- most loaded backpacks will wobble and move sideways on your back, therefore causing additional stability problems
- in hot weather a backpack will make you sweat a lot more and the straps running under your arms will prevent your armpits from getting enough airflow (see the How to stay clean and fresh at work article)
- in cold weather, when you wear extra layers of clothing, besides making you sweat more, backpack straps will constrict your movement and breathing, making riding much harder
The main advantage of a backpack is that it is quick and easy to get it on and off and to carry around when off-bike. Although, there are panniers and trunk bags that come with shoulder straps and are easily detachable from the bike rack. There are even ones that convert to a backpack.
That doesn’t mean you can’t use one. If the above disadvantages don’t bother you then by all means use a backpack. Just don’t ask me for help if your back, neck or arms start hurting;)
In my opinion, the best way to carry your stuff on a bike is to have one or more bags attached to your bike. Please see the Types of bicycle bags article for introduction to various types of bicycle bags.
Baskets, crates, boxes and trailers
Besides bags, commuters have the option of using baskets, but I’ll talk about these in a different article. I see little utility in baskets strictly for commuting, since they don’t offer any protection from the elements. They’re great for shopping or picnicking though and can be combined with various bags to offer some nice flexibility. However, if you have a waterproof bag or a sack you can throw that into a basket as well.
One more category of cargo haulers that are not bags: rigid containers, a.k.a. cargo boxes or bike boxes. Much like motorcycle cargo boxes these are made of lightweight but strong composites that make these probably the most secure and most protective cargo haulers for bicycles. But they’re bulky by their very nature. However, I have absolutely no experience with them, I was never interested in them, I have yet to see a single commuter in NYC using those. Therefore, for the time being I will not discuss this type of bicycle cargo carrier.
Also, bike trailers are out of the scope of this blog. They’re used for serious utility cycling and for touring. I see little use of them in a daily bike commuting. I see few people with trailers on my commute but they use them to carry their dogs However, since I’m going car-light, possibly car-free, and trying to de-clutter my life I may branch out into more general utility cycling for shopping, hauling stuff, running errands.
Cargo nets are small, square nets made of elastic cords (like bungee cords, only thinner) with at least 4 hooks at the corners. They’re used to strap items to the top of the rack or the outside of a bag. They’re better than individual bungee cords because they tend to stay in place more securely, they don’t slide-off and they grab the items more securely. I have one semi-permanently attached to my rack – it makes it easy to quickly stash something without having to get into my panniers – and I always carry a couple of extra ones in my pannier in case I need to carry something that’s too big to fit in the pannier. They’re large enough to hold down a bag with your clothes so they may provide a quick and cheap solution if you already have a rack.
4 Responses to 'How to carry your stuff on a bicycle'
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.