Think about what you take to and from work on a daily basis. Pack your lunch? Listen to an iPod? What about your phone, keys, etc?
So, how do I get my stuff to and from work if I am biking?
When I drive to work, I carry a backpack. I put my water bottle, coffee, emergency rain gear, iPod and headphones, and the book I am currently reading in a backpack.
In this post, I plan to discuss how to get that type of stuff to and from work. There are a few options and I hope to evaluate each objectively. I do believe that you have to choose the one that works for you.
Backpack: If you are just getting started bike commuting you could snag a backpack and use it. To be honest, I have never used a backpack to carry my stuff on my bike. One of the reasons why I did not use it was because when I mountain bike I use a hydration reservoir in a pack and I could feel the water shift around as I moved on the bike. I thought that would decrease my flexibility to move around on the bike. I also thought that an eleven mile commute would be uncomfortable with a backpack on my back.
Manufacturers do make packs designed for commuting. Osprey is an example of a backpack with a back that lifts the pack off your back and has convenient commuting features. You can start with a backpack on your commute and then decide if you would like to try some of these other options.
Messenger bags: I would love to have a messenger bag to use but I think that it would fall in the same category as a backpack while riding on longer rides. Too hot for me and not stable when riding. If I had a shorter commute and/or got on and off the bike more often they might be a better fit for me. However, some messenger bags do have an extra strap to wrap around your body to keep it in place. You can watch bike messenger videos on YouTube and they predominately use messenger bags. I think the reasoning is that they are on and off the bikes so much as they run their errands.
Panniers: The name is derived from Old French for bread basket. They are usually bags but I have even seen people use kitty litter boxes! They make sense if you are DIY kind of person but I bought a set of panniers from Performance Bike and I have been fairly pleased with how they work (a review to come later).
The bags should be water proof or (you can do like I do) and put all your electronics and paper stuff that you do not want to get wet into ziploc bags. Some panniers are simply large bags that you just put your stuff in but others have multiple outside pockets so you can put the things you access first at work in an accessible pocket. Depending on how much weight you have in the depends on how your bike handles. Some bikes have mounts for a rack to add panniers to the front and the back. I currently only use a rear rack with panniers on the back.
It does not too negatively effect how I perceive that bike handles. Some are definitely a bit difficult to carry while off the bike.
Bike Trailer: Some people use a bike trailer to carry their stuff in at the beginning of the week and then ride a lighter or faster bike on the days they don’t have to carry as much. I would really enjoy having a trailer but I can not think where I would store it on the days I am not using it. The trailer would be able to carry more weight than you can put in panniers. It would change the way your bike rides and handles. I have read about people who bike tour and use a trailer and say they love it. It takes a majority of the weight and puts it on another wheel and the frame of your bike. This would probably the most expensive option though you can get some very expensive and very nice panniers.
Bottom line is that you will need to get your stuff to and from work. For a beginner bike commuter I would suggest starting with a backpack or if your bike has attachment points for a rack then panniers might be best for you. There is no wrong way to do it, just make sure your stuff is secure and will hopefully stay dry. Get riding!
This is part of my Quick Tips for Bike Commuting series. You can find the table of contents post here.