The Perfect Commuter Bike : Carrying Things

Handlebar Basket
Our group build is wrapping up. We’ve had the project on hold during the snow, cold and winter. After many discussions about bicycle type, exact frame set, the type of shifting, component type and to have fenders installed, we’ve determined the Long Haul Trucker with a stock build is the bike we are going with.

Carrying Things

One of the most important things about a commuter or utility bike is aiding in carrying your belongings. This could be as simple as keeping your backpack off your back or as extensive as an Xtracycle or cargo trailer hauling all of your groceries and children.

There’s been many setups I’ve tried, probably my favorite to date is the front basket or generous sized front rack from Civia. For everyday small things, throwing a small bag or box in the front basket is easy to use and easy on the mind as you can easily see your belongings. The biggest downfall of this design could be how significantly it changes the handling of your bicycle.

What are your favorite styles, types or experiences of carrying things as you commuted by bike?

Ways to carry things on your bike




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0 thoughts on “The Perfect Commuter Bike : Carrying Things”

  1. Matt says:

    I use a rear rack some of the time and a large Timbuk2 messenger bag some of the time… depends which bike I use, what I have to carry, and how I’m feeling that day.

    The rack I use is a seatpost-mounted one from Topeak that allows a trunk bag to lock onto it… I pay a small weight penalty for that, but the convenience is worth it – I can put it on any bike in seconds and the bag then slides on easily as well.

  2. My definition of front rack is one that is attached to the bike frame, while a handle bar basket moves about as you turn. A front rack can be a basket, depending on the bike model and is quite stable.

  3. Rob E. says:

    I currently use a Topeak rear rack as well (not a seatpost-mounted one, though). I agree that the easy-on, easy-off attachment system makes this rack very worthwhile. I have a Topeak trunk bag and a Topeak basket. The basket is nice when I have need of a backpack or carrying something that doesn’t squish into the trunk bag well. One thing I plan on doing is replacing my rack with one that has a 2nd set of rails for putting the panniers a little lower down. I find that the Topeak basket and trunk bag extend too far out to allow me to use my grocery bag panniers at the same time. I don’t often want all that carrying capacity, but when I do, it’d be nice if it were possible.

    I like the idea of a front basket, too. I have a small front rack, but I’ve been considering something with more carrying ability, like the Velo Orange Porteur rack. Being able to keep an eye on your stuff and access it without dismounting would be really nice. But because my current rack is so small, I really don’t know how a larger rack (with associated luggage) would affect handling. I’ve heard that the LHT handles more weight in the back better than the front, but I don’t know what that means for front carrying for commuting as you’re not likely to approach touring loads.

  4. Rob E. says:

    spiderleggreen, I have heard good things about frame-mounted front racks, but I don’t think they’re the norm. Most front racks attach to the front fork and will turn with the handlebars just like a basket will.

  5. BluesCat says:

    Rear rack on my two commuter bikes (Giant Yukon for bad weather and Sun EZ Sport for sunny skies) so my panniers and rack pack can be moved very easily. I also have handlebar bags on both these bikes for things like wallet, keys, cell phone, etc.

    I use a sling bag when riding my grocery-getting Specialized Hardrock, so I just detach everything (including my quick release seat) and take it with me when I lock it up at the store.

  6. Ryan L. says:

    I use a pair of the bontrager waterproof bags on my rear rack. They’re big enough to fit my large timbuk2 messenger bag. I started commuting I was just riding with the messenger bag on my back. Now that it’s in the rack bag, not having the big back sweat stripe is nice. Plus I can still carry a bag inside.

  7. mk says:

    Rear rack.
    I had tried using a trailer but when it lifts your rear wheel off the ground in a panic stop with only a 50lb load, you quickly reconsider how safe it is.

    I’ll be looking at a cargo bike for bigger loads in the future.

  8. Zen says:

    I have 2 ways to carry things. For big stuff, I use a trailer and for smaller stuff, I have a rear rack & panniers.

  9. Mark says:

    I live car free, and last year took on a project of building a new commuter bike from the ground up. My commute is 17 miles RT. I talked to Peter Mooney, who designed and built a custom frame. The bike was completed last September, and it now has ~1500 miles on it. Component choices included:
    Tubus Cargo rack
    Honjo Aluminium Fenders
    1×8 drivetrain.
    Bar end shifter on drop bars (Nitto Noodles)
    Phil Wood rear hub, 36 spokes
    Schmidt SON front hub
    Supernova 161S headlight, with Supernova tail light
    Schwalbe Marathon plus tires (700C28)

    If I were to do it all over again, I would not change very much on the bike – I have been very happy with it.

    I have another bike which is more of a cargo/utility bike which also gets fairly heavy use, if I didn’t have that bike, I probably would have done the commute bike differently.

  10. My xtracycle changed my habits in a big way. My bike is now the default mode of getting to and from campus (3 miles), whereas before it was probably third among three options. I tend to carry a laptop, several books, and several notebooks.

  11. Mark Muller says:

    I have carried things a number of ways. For a long time, I used a large saddlebag (Carradice super C), mounted on a Carradice Seatpost QR system (SQR). It works great – easy to put things in, easy to get things out, and with the SQR, easy to put on the bike and easy to remove. Then I started riding a bike that didn’t have enough exposed seatpost to mount the block.

    I have used a bicycle with a large front basket (wald). Very easy – just throw your stuff or any kind of bag into the basket, and hold it down with a bungy or two. The downside is wheel flop while stopped, loading, or unloading. It also may take a small bit of fiddling to get everything secured down.

    These days I just use a pannier (Minnehaha) on a rear rack. Mounts and dismounts faster than any of the above, big enough, and easy to use. I should have gone the pannier route from the beginning. If I need more room, I could always use two panniers, or add a saddlebag. The only downside is needing a rack, but that isn’t much of downside, as the rear of the rack is possibly the best place to mount a rear light. And its not like a bike with a gear hub, lights, and fenders is very lightweight to begin with.

  12. n. says:

    really depends on what the frame is meant for and can handle, no? i’ve been riding a VO polyvalent since january, with the VO porteur rack installed, and i’m a big fan — i like having everything i’m carrying in front of me, the rail on the rack is nice, and with a bungee net i’ve strapped everything from a small bag to a very, very large cardboard box on it. however, i wouldn’t be nearly as happy with it if the trail on the bike wasn’t as low as it is on the poly. the poly *likes* being front loaded, such that she travels better with weight in front than without. that said, the VO porteur rack isn’t made to carry panniers, so i’m waiting for the next batch of pass & stow racks, which have a cross bar. once the p&s is installed, i can use panniers for groceries; piling 40 lbs of groceries up high on the porteur rack showed me the limits of the geometry.

  13. Marrock says:

    I use three different ways, one of which isn’t even on the list.

    Depending on what I’m hauling I use a rear rack, a trailer, and a backpack… sometimes all three at once if needs be.

    At one point I had my BoB loaded with about double it’s rated capacity plus a crate on the rear rack with even more stuff in it… needless to say it was an interesting ride home from the grocery store.

  14. Mark says:

    I prefer to use my rear rack, preferably with panniers. It doesn’t alter the handling too much, although the bike is a bit more likely to tip over when standing still. Either way, it keeps stuff off my back, and the bike stay reasonably stable. Incidentally, it looks as though that photo was taken from the cockpit of a Salsa Casseroll. I, too, ride a Casseroll, and I must say I like it, although in my opinion the fender clearance leaves a bit to be desired.

  15. Meadia says:

    The voting options are missing one that’s important: BOTH front and rear racks!

    My Surly LHT has both front and rear Nice Racks installed. A Wald basket is zip-tied to the front rack. For casual rides or errands, I just use a Rivendell ShopSack in the basket to carry my toolkit, camera, and any other necessities. Things are convenient there, and getting off the bike to access them is not required. When I go grocery shopping, I use Banjo Brothers Market Panniers on the rear rack (great on the bike and in the store!). The lowrider mounting on the front rack allows me to add extra panniers for larger shopping trips.

    Also, while it is true that a handlebar-mounted basket can alter the handling, having mine tied to the front Nice Rack doesn’t seem to have that issue … perhaps it’s due to the low fork mounting of this model. I’ve read many complaints about the weight of the Surly racks, especially the front, but I find that having so many options available for carrying stuff more than out”weighs” the extra pound or so. This bike was purchased to replace my day-to-day need for a car, and with the carrying capacity available, it has accomplished that goal, as well as being the bike I gravitate toward for just recreational rides. It’s a truly fun ride!

  16. mark e- I have a Dutch bike with a front rack mounts to the frame. Perhaps it is more workable due to the tall handle bars. I also have an old Schwinn with a basket mounted to the handle bars. It works well but you do have to adjust for the weight shifting, when you turn.

    I think one factor in hauling stability is the weight of the bike. The more I put on my Dutch bike, the more stable it gets. I can’t say that’s true with an aluminum Gary Fisher bike I have. That thing gets tippy when I put some groceries in the panniers.

  17. Ben Teoh says:

    At the moment I’ve got a Topeak rear rack. Most of the time I just use my single all-in-one Vaude pannier for most things, but I’ve also got a rear basket that slides on if I need it.

    I’d love to get and xtracycle to cart my guitar around, but I can’t justify the cost at the moment.

  18. Paul in Minneapolis says:

    A bike that can’t carry is useless to me..
    Bike one – hybrid- rear rack with folding baskets and a front platform rack… also pulls a trailer..
    Bike two – Touring – front and rear panniers w/ handlebar bag… Also use for a grocery getter
    Bike three- Euro – front and rear panniers – can also pull trailer
    Bike four – fast road bike – rear rack and panniers

    Oneday I will add an extracycle and one of those trailers that can carry a couch or a fridge.

    Car-free and bike-poor

  19. Eric says:

    Right now I use a rear rack and panniers. If it’s a light day I’ll use a messenger back but I don’t like sweaty back. Right now I am researching front baskets/racks to replace the rear rack and panniers and shift the center of gravity forward. Plus I like the idea of the ease of just tossing my stuff in the basket and going instead of packing the panniers. Maybe I’m just getting lazy?

  20. I am using a rear rack with two waterproof panniers. I keep my office stuff (laptop, folder, book) in one and clothes and repair kit in the other.

    I do feel that my bike rides like there is too much weight in the back. I am considering a front rack so that I could move some weight to the front to see if that improves the handling.

  21. I use my Chrome Ranchero backpack for whenever I know I’m going to be carrying a larger item sometime during the day, or if there’s a possibility for wet conditions. On most of my commutes, or if I know I’m only traveling from home to work and back, I have a smaller messenger type bag. Sometime in the near future, I hope to purchase a rack from CETMAcargo. I will most likely just use that daily; possibly even with a Bate Crate or something similar.

  22. Paul says:

    I used to have panniers long ago, but my big feet always touched them no matter how far I moved them back. I did use a nice messenger bag for a long time, but the weight/heat is an issue.

    I recently built this front rack (based on the Paul Componants rack) and I really love it. Everything is right there. It balances well. My body is free from any obstructions.

    I have an extracycle too if I need to haul larger items. But it is too slow for everyday commuting.

  23. Maria says:

    Well, this question is easy for me. My Po Campo bags of course! Easy on, easy off, surprisingly spacious and look just as good off the bike as on.

    Oh – and my rear rack is indispensable. I don’t know why anyone who rides for transportation would ride without one.

  24. Matt P says:

    For my commute, I normally put larger things (clothes, lunch, etc) in my messenger bag and smaller items (wallet, cell phone) in my handlebar bag. For really big or heavy items, I use my rear panniers.
    I’m seriously thinking of adding a FreeRadical to my old Mongoose.

  25. eleanor says:

    I’ve just started a mixed-commute, 3 mile bike to a coworkers then she drives us the rest of the way in (working up to more biking). I carry a laptop, change of clothes, and lunch – sometimes in a messenger bag, sometimes in a backpack. I’m wondering if this is causing all the upper back/neck/shoulder problems I’ve been having lately. I thoroughly abuse myself with digging in the garden and hunching at my desk at work, so it’s not the sole cause in any case.

    Aside from the comfort factor, is there any physiological reason a backpack or messenger bag would be rough on my shoulders for such a short commute (it’s 15 minutes, HUGE hills).

  26. jlvota says:

    I use a Bianchi San Jose for commuting and have a Wald Basket attatched to a Nitto M-12 front rack. The basket is what Rivendell calls “Medium” and is a very good fit. I use the Sackville Shopsack inside of it and it works wonderfully. The way that the bag clips into the basket is very nice and it is easy to both secure and remove. For school, I can easily stack books underneath the bag and then clip the bag higher on the rack, so I can actually use the bag as a tie-down.

    The handling on the bike changes with a front load, but I like it much better than a rear rack. You can see the load on the front, access it easily while riding, and it weighs much less than a full rear rack with a pannier.

    I also heard that a front rack is much better for a bike than a rear one. A rear rack puts a lot more stress on the rear triangle and could be problematic for bikes that are not designed to carry such loads (like my San Jose, for instance). A front rack is probably not recommended for my bike either, but I have yet to experience problems and have been using the setup for about a year now.

  27. Rob E. says:

    n., no panniers on the VO rack? That’s too bad. Truthfully I couldn’t see how it would carry them, but I was confused by this part of the description: “Please also note the elegant pannier/tie-down loops above the mounting tangs.”
    While that rack is beautiful, I may have to go with my original, cheaper, and more versatile plan of getting an Old Man Mountain platform front rack and strapping a basket to it. Should I ever actually want to take a real overnight (or longer) bike trip, I can just remove the front basket and load it up in a “normal” touring style.

  28. John says:

    Rear rack guy here. I throw all my crap in an old gym bag and bungie it on. Stays put on the bike and easy to carry off the bike. Works for me. Panniers if I need to carry more stuff. I haven’t really tried front loading yet. Sounds convenient, but doesn’t it impair your ability to lift the front end over potholes, curbs, etc?

  29. n. says:

    rob e — I definitely oversimplified; the VO porteur rack can carry panniers, as long as the attachment system can attach to the rails, but there’s the clearance problem of being right up under the rack platform, plus not all panniers attach that way. I’ve used the minnehaha panniers on the front, but they’re way too small for real grocery shopping, which was what I wanted panniers for in the first place. They look nice, though:

    I want to use Berthoud panniers for all heavy loads, but the attachment system doesn’t work with the VO rack. I need a porteur rack (love the versatility of the platform) with lowrider mounts for the Berthouds (but I don’t like the look of the nitto lowriders). The Pass & Stow rack is something of a rolls royce, but she’s my only bike and I use her for everything.

    ALSO: I use a sackville saddlesack / rivendell kevan bag on the seatpost for all the stuff for which i need easy access (lock, bike room access keycard, pump, multitool, etc). It’s small but holds a ton and looks super sharp:

  30. dgard says:

    I have a Wald 139 zip tied to a nitto m-12, I’m really thinking I need to set up some struts to help stabilize it though. Rear nice rack with wald 582 collapsible baskets attached to it as well. I’ve used panniers in the rear both the touring and shopping variety, but they were a pain to either load/unload or wouldn’t accommodate bulky items. Also didn’t use them for my work junk so if i forgot to put them on or needed to make an unplanned detour to grocery or hardware i had to ride home with bags hanging from the bars. The baskets work great, fold out of the way, and will hold alot. i’ve put 40lb bags of dog food in them and lashed the tops of the bags each other to stabilize.I know they look gomer but the amount of utility I get out of them I really don’t care. I use a large carradice for winter gear and a rivendell shopsack for my work clothes/gear. The load hauling capacity of the long haul trucker is just as it’s name implies. With careful parts selection (qbp didn’t do too bad either) you can ride it in comfort well past apocalypse.

  31. Rob E. says:

    n., Thanks for the clarification. I see what you mean about the rack interfering. I certainly could not use my grocery bag panniers with that rack any more than I can use them on the rear rack when my basket is installed. Still that rack (and the whole bike)looks sharp (what are those handlebars, btw?). I continue to be tempted by it, but your comments keep reminding me that I might more versatility out of a platform rack with a removeable basket on top. Of course, as you say, Pass and Stow is the best of all worlds, but it’s also not in my current budget.

  32. marin voth says:

    I don’t want a bunch of extra stuff on my bike, so I carry things on my person in my messenger bag.
    Check out my haul from today:

  33. Thighmaster says:

    I don’t like stuff on my bike, so I carry a huuuge Bailey Works commuter bag. But I like the look of the new thing from Burley… wow.

  34. Paul in Minneapolis says:

    Front and rear pannier loaded can make a bike even more stable.
    During the winter I used my Euro bike all thought it. Of course I had studded tires (wide 35s) and found the front panniers ballanced with the rear made riding on ice, evne up and down hills, easier. I carried 50 pounds.
    From the time the roads were icey to the thaw I rode it 1300 miles and along with the RIGHT clothes it was as easy as could be, even in -10f with a stiff headwind for the 8 miles each way.
    When I go camping or to the grocery on my LHT, a 100 pound load ballanced is also easy.

    Pulling my trailer; most of the time I pull it my bike is also loaded… and (Lucky) I’ve never had to do a panic stop, yet.. I will keep that in mind….. : )

  35. Paul in Minneapolis says:

    I forgot to add- I like the front panniers low as it doesn’t affect the steering as much..

  36. matt says:

    topeak mtx rear rack plus

    1) DXP trunk bag with fold-out panniers. this carries everything I need and then some and is what I use most of the time

    2) basket. use this for trips to the store as I can pop the basket off of the mtx rack and take it into the store, fill it up, and slide it right back onto the bike.

    I used to carry my backpack in the basket, but I found that that much weight that high up made the back wiggle too much. also, I once lost a balaclava and a shirt b/c I didn’ thave them bungeed down (now have a cargo rack)

  37. Allie says:

    I usually carry on me too, but definitely looking for a rack so I can lug groceries. Rear rack might be best for that…

  38. Phil says:

    My main bike is a Yuba Mundo, so I carry everything on the rear rack.

  39. Johnny says:

    Commuting… messenger bag.
    Errands & family stuff… Big Dummy.

  40. Johnny says:

    Oh, and marin voth that is a great haul, but i prefer monopolowa 🙂

  41. Elaine says:

    I LOVE my xtracycle…although getting it set up for rain-riding has been somewhat challenging. My current system is to cover the whole back end with a poncho, held down with bungees. It looks kinda silly, but it works well. (Plus for parking I can use the hood to cover my seat.)

    It makes riding the bike a bit more like driving, where I don’t have to think so precisely about what I’m carrying or might need to pick up while I’m out.

  42. Alex says:

    I ride a Centurion touring bike everywhere, and I’ve got a Planet Bike rear-rack with two Wald folding metal baskets on them. They’re great, especially since they fold up to be out of the way when I’m not using them. And they fit a full grocery bag or 12-pack of beer each. I used to have a milk-crate until my then-girlfriend pitied me trying to swing my leg over it and got me the Wald baskets as a Christmas present (yay).

    As an aside, the combo of vintage roadie bike with milk crate ziptied on rear rack is so ubiquitous here in SF-Oakland-Berkeley that I’ve heard it called a “Berkeley pickup” 😀

    For the rest I also carry a Chrome backpack it’s roomy but built well enough to not kill my back 🙂

  43. Lauren says:

    I just started commuting to work, saves me a ton of money each day. Since I live in the city, I dont need anything special, just something that can get my laptop from point A to point B safely. I actually use a laptop backback that I bought online about a month ago. It’s been amazing, not too bulky and I dont have to worry about my stuff falling out.

  44. Dan says:

    I use matching front and rear WALD baskets attached to R14 Nitto racks on my commute bike.
    In each basket, I place small Timbuk2 messenger bags.

    Works for me.
    Simple and functional.

  45. Robert says:

    I ride a Trek 3900 mountain bike I have converted to a daily commuter. I use a seat post mounted rack and a sunlite trunk bag that velcros to the rack. What particularly like about the bag is that it has built-in panniers that unzip from the sides and fold up when not in use. I can carry a change in clothes and my lunch to work with ease. I think it’s worth checking out, good times!!

  46. Robert says:

    I like the groceries especially the Ketel 1!!
    Nice bag who makes it?

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