Inspired by a guest post by our friend Steffan about his beloved fixie and its classic carrying solution, we thought it would be a good idea to look at a couple of ways to carry our wares on our bicycles.
Whether you are commuting, shopping or preparing for a trip into the wilderness, there are many ways to carry all that you need on your journey. Let’s explore the options…
The Rack & Panniers
If your bike has the required mountings, a rack and a set of panniers is certainly a good way to go. Of all the solutions available it provides the biggest carrying potential in terms of weight, at least without adding a separate trailer or investing in a cargo bike. A metal rack such as this one from Topeak is able to carry up to 30Kg –the sorts of loads you really wouldn’t want to carry on your back. Most racks also provide the flexibility to carry a trunk bag AND a pair of panniers, giving you arguably the biggest carrying potential.
However, with great load comes great instability [seriously? you went there…]. You’ll notice a shift in the centre of gravity of the bike as the weight of your load increases, particularly when you rise out of the saddle to build up speed or climb a small incline. However, with time you’ll get used to it and automatically compensate for the shift in balance with your arms. The other downside is that carrying a metal rack adds weight to your load before you even start –oh and they’re not exactly pleasing on the eye, but that’s a minor issue for many.
The same eyelets will also allow you to add a child seat. These can be picked up for around £50 and will support a child up to about 22Kg.
If you have a touring bike you may well have mounts at the front as well as the back allowing you to load up with sleeping and cooking equipment. If you need sleeping and cooking equipment for your commute, good on you… 🙂
The Ruck Sack
One of the downsides of panniers is that not all bikes can take a rack, particularly those designed for racing. However, for carrying a change of clothes and a lock, a ruck sack will work for most. They don’t affect the handling of your bike as much as the pannier option, but they do increase the need for padding around your backside thanks to the added weight pressing down on it.
They also have a tendency to make your back sweaty, even if you get one with a mesh back that allows air to circulate. One for the shorter commutes perhaps.
The upside is that when you arrive at your destination you are already carrying your luggage and don’t have to take time to remove it from the rack. I’ve written about the ruck sack I’m currently using, here…
–The messenger bag
So named because they are apparently popular with bike messengers, these are essentially satchels that allow you to sling your stuff around the back out-of-the-way, whilst making it easy to pull around to the front to access the contents. They have the same sweaty-back problem as the ruck sack, but they’re another variation on this theme.
Also, even with the stabilising strap that many of them come with, they will try to sneak around to the front. Having said that, we’re big fans of Crumpler, mainly because they offer a 30 year warranty and offer impressive protection from the rain.
Compact, ultralight bags
With ultra-endurance races like the Trans Am bike race, the Transcontinental and the Tour Divide combining the need for speed with the need to carry what you need to survive, a third option has appeared. Many of the usual bag manufacturers have their own take on the ultralight scene. Apidura can probably be credited with popularising this particular market as they sponsor most of the big events, but there’s an overwhelming amount of choice now.
We particularly like the Restrap brand, which is handmade in the U.K. to a standard that could probably survive a nuclear war. We’ve actually kitted ourselves out in the stuff ahead of some bikepacking trips we have planned.
The advantage of these bags is that they are light, can be used on pretty much all bikes and often incorporate dry bags to keep your possessions dry. However, they can’t carry as much weight and what weight you do carry has to be carefully positioned.
They’re intended for carrying clothes, essential tools and a sleeping bag & bivy, but beyond that their flexibility is limited. With a rack you can attach boxes & other bulky items with straps and bungees, but you can’t do that with the ultra-light bags.
That being said, there is nothing to say you can’t combine the bar bag with a rack and rear panniers.
The out-of-left-field options
It could be argued that it is a sure sign of a growing bicycle culture, but we are seeing more and more cargo bikes around Cardiff these days, with at least two businesses that we know of using them to peddle (geddit…) their wares. They provide a vast amount of carrying capacity, allowing you to transport everything from boxes to fully grown adults in wheelchairs. We’ve seen a couple of those on the Taff Trail recently.
However, unless you have a garage they’re probably a little difficult to store, given their size. It is an option that we would consider when we get rid of that car though…
There is also the trailer option. There are a number of varieties to choose from, including a sack-truck type modelled by our friend Margaret here:
Alternatively, you would be amazed at the sorts of things people manage to carry on their bikes. A video of someone carrying a fridge freezer on their shoulders whilst riding a bike went viral on Facebook a while ago, but we regularly see people carrying dogs on their backs on the off-road trails too.
Which is right for you?
Well, that depends on the bike you have, your imagination and the strength in your legs. If your bike can accommodate a rack, that’s an exceedingly versatile place to start from. You’ll be amazed at what you can mount to a rack with a few bungee cords or a couple of pannier bags.
For most people a ruck sack or messenger bag should be fine for carrying a change of clothes or some odds & ends from the shop, but make sure the bag you buy is waterproof –nobody enjoys putting on soggy clothes. For those times when you just need to carry a load of shopping or tools with you, a trailer is an affordable and versatile addition to any bike you have, even a Brompton.