Carrying Your Stuff: Bicycle Bags and Racks

How to efficiently and comfortably transport workday necessities is an essential question for bicycle commuting converts. Many options exist for getting your cargo to the office, and it is important to consider your distance, your load and your style when selecting your type of bag and bicycle attachments. For the commuter that can avoid transporting the majority or his or her office equipment to and from each day, there are many quick and simple options that require little or no bike modification. Here are the basics on bike-friendly bags and their benefits:

Messenger Bags

Ease and accessibility have made the messenger bag extremely popular with bicycle commuters. With a single strap across one shoulder, the bag can be swung from back to front for easy access, and most bike messenger bags are equipped with shoulder pads and plenty of pockets to help you stay comfortable and organized on your trip. There are a number of high quality manufacturers out there, but Chrome makes my messenger bag of choice (the Buran with laptop, the Citizen without). These bags from San Francisco are more than hip cycling gear – they are ridiculously durable, relatively lightweight, and built by cyclists who examine every detail of the design for its intended purpose.


For larger loads and longer commutes, investing in a front or rear bike rack (or both) and bike panniers will allow you to move your baggage from your back to the bike. After securing a rack to your bicycle, the panniers can be attached easily and removed once you reach your destination. You can use panniers of differing sizes and shapes based on what you need to transport, from laptop bags to garment bags to grocery bags. By moving weight from your body to the bike, you not only take stress off of your back, but you also stabilize your ride by bringing the weight below your center of gravity.



With two shoulder straps and often a chest or waist strap, the backpack evenly distributes weight across your body when worn properly. Carrying capacity is dependent on the bags size and the riders comfort, but accessing the contents of your backpack will be nearly impossible while riding. Specific backpacks designed for bicycling offer features such as water bladders, helmet holders and are designed with specific features to make them more comfortable while bicycling.


Frame Bags

These bags attach directly to your bike without a rack, so you obtain the benefits of moving weight from your body to your bike. However, frame bags tend to have lower carrying capacity than panniers and are slightly trickier to put on and to take off.

Seat Bags and Jersey Pockets

For the commuter with a locker or storage area at the office, you can carry your essentials such as wallet, keys, and phone in a bag that tucks neatly under your saddle or in a rear pocket in a cycling jersey or jacket. Laptops and lunch bags dont typically fit in a jersey pocket, but these options can be great for half-days or casual Fridays.


Within each category, there are hundreds of models in various sizes, shapes, colors and capacities, so assess your needs and get rolling. Your local bike shop can help you to determine what type of rack will fit on your bicycle and what type of panniers will fit on your rack. If you already own a backpack or a messenger bag, go for a trial ride and find out what works for you.

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0 thoughts on “Carrying Your Stuff: Bicycle Bags and Racks”

  1. Andreas says:

    Good round-up, much appreciated! Have linked to it from my Twitter. I think I personally need to get myself some panniers as the backpack and messenger bag are good but potentially not able to carry as much.

  2. Ben says:

    messanger bags also make you sweaty, panniers are definitely best for summer. I’m actually using a little altura bar bag at the moment because i have no rain gear to carry. I can fit my lunch in there and puncture repair stuff.

  3. Stacey Moses says:

    Ah, the sweatiness factor. Good point- another benefit of moving the load from your body to the bike. Thanks, Ben!

  4. J Rigdon says:

    I like the idea of having a rack bolted on a bike with removable panniers. At the moment I ride on dirt trails with a sweaty CamelBak, which is designed around a hydration bladder with limited space to carry large items.
    I look forward to the day of commuting to work as I expand my cycling dossier, so for me a frame mounted rack with panniers would make the most sense.

  5. […] Carrying Your Stuff: Bicycle Bags and Racks […]

  6. I love the panniers you show and will definitely check those out. I currently am using fold-up metal baskets that are attached to the back of my bike. Are these not very common? Haven’t seen them mentioned online much. I just load my tote bag, groceries, purse, laptop case, whatever in them, and off I go.

    1. Stacey Moses says:

      Hi Victoria, I’ve seen collapsable metal panniers like the ones that you’ve described- I wouldn’t call them uncommon, but cloth bags (often water-resistant or waterproof) are also pretty popular, and they come in about a million different varieties! If you like flexibility and simplicity, the metal racks as well as basic grocery panniers are great.

  7. Dateline Philadelphia: A Blast from the Past:

    100 or so years ago I was a Suit, living half way down the hill on the other side of Council Crest. I commuted daily, by bike, to Portland City Hall. I did so by navigating then un-trafficked residential streets to the top of the Terwilliger Parkway, then gliding, while overlooking the Willamette, to Downtown and early morning traffic. (Trust me, no bike lanes then.) A glorious ride it was, especially when the sun was rising over Mt. Hood.

    As a vigorous biker with some consideration for my colleagues and the public, and with no access to a shower on the business end of my journey, I needed to carry my official attire with, but not on me.

    My solution? A hacked plywood rack, “L” shaped, that was afixed, somehow — I regretably don’t recall how (and even then being an Open Culture kind of guy, did not think to patent it )– behind the seat and over the rear wheel. It’s only function, apart from standing proud and affording some oomph when the wind was behind my back (and, of course, some resistance when it was not) was to suspend a serious garment bag.

    Said bag accommodated a full set of business clothes, including, on a wooden hanger, a suit , tie and starched shirt, as well as dress shoes, a change of underwear, and miscellaneous stuff. My briefcase was strapped to the horizontal part of the platform

    It met my needs, drew many much attention, most of it positive and established me as a pretty cool guy, at least in the eyes of my family and co-workers (well, some of them, anyway).

    Bottom line: It worked. Should such a set-up “suit” your needs– are there still any out there? — encourage the good folks at Utility Cycling to look into it, or go hack your own!

  8. Stacey Moses says:

    Peter, great story! Sounds like you fashioned yourself an early version of the commuter pannier/rack set up! There are quite a few companies that make excellent racks that fit nicely behind your saddle and over/around your rear wheel, and many of the same companies also make awesome rack-specific garment bags and commuter panniers. Jandd makes both racks and panniers, and Ortlieb makes ridiculously tough commuting bags, just to name a few.

  9. Joe says:

    Great ideas. Also, I wanted to add that a handle bar mounted basket is also an option. I commute with a detachable Wald handlebar mounted basket and a stretchy net to keep my things from bouncing out. It may not be as “cool” as the other options but it’s very convenient. There’s room enough to hold my lunch and a jacket as well as extra room for an impromptu grocery stop on the way home. It detaches very quickly and I carry it into my office with all my stuff.

    Thanks for all you do.

  10. Marc says:

    I have been a commuter cyclist for many years. I ride year round but not in blizzards. I find the most practical system for carrying all my stuff to work and back is a “trunk bag” on my back rack and a handlebar bag. If I need more room, or am stopping at the grocery store on the way home I just wear a back pack too. Unfortunately I have been on a tight budget for years and ride an old Norco pinnacle clunker. I put fenders, a rack, lights and bags on it and it’s good to go! One day I would like to invest in a more practical commuter bicycle that comes with all the bells and whistles (especially a chain guard).

  11. davidg says:

    The fold metal basket are the wald 582 baskets. You can see them at : You don’t see them very often. I use/love them on my rear rack, nice because you don’t need special bags, they don’t rip, groceries bags fit well and don’t let the size fool you. I’ve put a 40lbs feed and seed bag in each side and lashed them together up top for stability. they have the advantage of folding to less than an inch thick when not in use. I picked mine up for less than $30 for both. Also use a wald 139 delivery style basket up front with a rivendell/sackville shopsack for work clothes/gear and lunch. one word; cavernous. A carradice camper longflap keeps tubes/tool/winter gear contained. It does make for a heavy bike when coming home after work and stopping by the grocery, but one becomes used to it quickly. Though it isn’t the set up for skinny tires.

  12. […] For bicyclists with less money to spend, the advantage of being able to get oneself and all of one’s stuff around by bicycle is even more greatly […]

  13. One option you’re not mentioned is the traditional saddlebag (like a Carradice). I used to commute with panniers, but found them a bit of a pain.

    A transverse saddle bag places the weight of your luggage behind you, means you don’t necessarily need a rack, and looks pretty classy too. Mine (a Carradice Lowsaddle Longflap) is a great size for commuting. <Mine on my surly LHT

  14. Stacey Moses says:

    Thanks for the photo, John. I always keep a smaller saddle bag on my bike with a multi-tool and flat kit. The larger saddle bag that you are using looks like a great alternative for anyone who may not have braze-ons for a rack or simply wants to avoid a rack. How easy are those to get on and off?

  15. I’m in agreement with Victoria and davidq on the fold-up baskets. They don’t add much weight, can’t be stolen easily, don’t get in the way when not being used, and are always there when the need arises (similar to my built-in lights and built-in lock).

  16. H.B. Bikenut says:

    There’s a whole new category of bike bag you should be aware of. It’s called a Mid-Frame Bike Bag, made by Pcych ( It’s like a cowboy’s saddlebag that mounts in that unused real estate between your knees, fitted out for laptop computers, books, hydration bladders, change of clothes, lunch, tubes, tools, what-have-you.

    Quick on-off ratchets tightly suspend the bag between the steering headset and the seat-post, so it works on any kind of frame architecture in-between, which also makes it shock-absorbing enough for delicate electronics or even your carbonated beverage of choice 😉 The low center of gravity can even improve bike handling.

    The Commuter – Urban Utility model doubles as a shoulder bag off the bike, with its integrated padded shoulder strap. All models can also lock up tight with a common padlock.

    It’s really thoughtfully designed inside and out, and NO it doesn’t get in the way of your legs if packed with some foresight. Satiny-smooth fabric further minimizes any contact that might occur. I use mine daily on my 30-mile round trip commute with no problem.

    Read my own review on REI’s Q&A blog here or another on BikeCommuters’ blog here

  17. Kurt says:

    Does anyone know where I can get a simple side rack to hold a briefcase? I hear all about panniers for this, but I already have my bag, and I just want a rack.

  18. bookbabe says:

    How do you carry a purse on your bike?

  19. […] reviews. Here a few examples of Stacey’s work that stirred up a good deal of interest: What to Wear: Bike Commuting Clothing Essentials & Carrying Your Stuff: Bicycle Bags and […]

  20. matty says:

    how about bike trailers like the burley travoy? kind of pricey but it will work with just about any bike and can carry almost anything you’d need for a day commuting/running errands

  21. Josh Lipton says:


    Funny you mention it. Carrying stuff by bike trailer is one of our upcoming posts.

  22. ATXBikette says:

    A purse? I usually just place the shoulder straps over my handlebars. I used to pack in the back, but kept getting nervous having it out of my sight.

    I found a Coca-Cola crate next to a dumpster that I zip-tied to my back rack. Great for carrying groceries and whatever else. (And if someone steals it, who cares?) If your broke, fishing around for something like that is great. Just be sure to secure it tightly! I didn’t try bungee cords but I imagine those would work well.

    I moved to those reusable grocery bags they sell now and they are great to carry whatever in, I just loop them through my back rack, and they’re like a dollar.

    Having the proper stuff is nice I guess, I wouldn’t know! But these things have worked for me.

  23. Thanks Stacey for your post. You mentioned most of the main types of bike bags. I recently started an online business selling bike bags for commuting, shopping and day touring, Currently carry panniers, rack top bags and handlebar bags from Detours, Banjo Brothers and Pacific Outdoor Equipment. Panniers include utility or shopping panniers and those suitable for commuting. You seem to have left out rack top or rack trunk bags, as well as saddlebags (bags mounted to the saddle and/or seat post).
    My favorite bag for everyday use is a rack top pannier bag with optional drop-down panniers. They’re suitable for both commuting and day touring, as well as light shopping. Currently not carrying bike backpacks, which are suitable for short commutes, though not for long ones or for touring. I know a lot of people use backpacks and messenger bags for commuting, and designs are improving, but carrying a bag on your back when you don’t need to seems unnecessary to me when there are so many panniers and other types of bags available.

  24. […] is our first year selling Lone Peak Bags and we are very excited about these high-quality bicycling bags that are hand-made in the USA. We decided to do a 2 weeks sale offering the full line up of Lone […]

  25. […] to be a commuting pedaling bike, it must be outfitted it to carry stuff and negotiate the Phoenix streets safely. Added accessories for the older-model […]

  26. Matt H says:

    Own a cat? I’ve attached a Tidy Cat kitty litter canister on to my back rack. Just drill a few holes in the bottom and secure it with zip ties. I’m amazed at how much it holds, I never get water in it, and he canister is bright yellow – a definite safety feature. My wife made me cover the labels – an opportunity for reflective tape!

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