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Bike to Work Guide
By Paul Dorn/Roni Sarig

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Image of bike basket Like any commuter, you will probably need to carry stuff: papers, reports, tools, books, lunch, a gift for a coworker, a change of clothing. Carrying a load while bike commuting essentially reduces down to a variation of two approaches: bike messenger style or bike tourist style.

Bike messengers are on and off their bikes constantly. They keep their bicycles light, carrying the weight on their bodies in a backpack or a cycling specific messenger bag. The advantage of this is the ease of making lots of quick stops, locking up without having to remove frame pumps, bottles, panniers, and other items. Keeping the bike light also gives you better control; you can "bunny hop" a pothole for instance, or swerve quickly amidst traffic.

Bike tourists, on the other hand, spend more time on the saddle pedaling. Carrying weight on their body would be uncomfortable over a distance of 30 or more miles. So bike tourists carry the weight on their bikes instead of their bodies, using front and/or rear racks and panniers (bags, similar to those in the image below.) One alternative to racks and bags is a wire basket(s) permanently attached to the bike, such as those made by Wald.

I practice both the messenger style and the tourist style. When I began bike commuting I'd carry my stuff in a backpack. But that often made my shoulders sore and turned my backside into a sweaty mess. So I bought a rear rack and attached my backpack with a bungee cord. That wasn't really satisfactory, so I got some foldable, cordura shopping baskets (like the ones pictured above) that attach to the rack. While these baskets carried a lot and are excellent for shopping trips, they had an open top that let rain in and bouncing objects out during everyday travel. Eventually I acquired genuine panniers. After a while of bike commuting I also bought a tough and durable Timbuk2 Classic Messenger Bag made by San Francisco's Timbuk2.

Image of panniers

After 15 plus years of bike commuting and touring, I've acquired all kinds of bags for all kinds of purposes. For everyday commuting, I use a Jandd Commuter Pannier combined with a folding shopping pannier. For day trips into the country, I have a classic English Carradice saddle bag. For long-distance fully loaded touring I use heavy duty touring panniers. For really big loads I even have a Cycletote trailer, which is rated to carry up to 300 lbs.

In general I travel with my stuff--and often quiet a lot of it--in panniers on my rear rack. You'd be surprised how much stuff you can carry on a bike with a little ingenuity and a few bungee cords. My wife and I often bring home a whole "trunkload" of purchases, drawing amazed stares from motorists. I also have one bike equipped with wire baskets in the rear, and many cyclists can use front baskets or a freight rack such as those made by San Francisco's CETMAracks.

Perhaps avoiding the expense of racks and panniers, it seems most bike commuters I observe travel "messenger style." Prospective bike commuters who need to dress more formally might want to consider a bike garment bag, such as those made by Two Wheel Gear,, or Jandd Mountaineering.

Even if you're not a shameless equipment geek like me, rest assured. Whatever way you do it, you can get your "stuff" around by bike, don't worry.

Interview with Lane Kagay of CETMAracks - Bike Commute Tips Blog:
The biking parent: Interview with Jon Winston - Bike Commute Tips Blog


"The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets."--Christopher Morley, American writer and editor, 1890-1957
Comments? Suggestions? Contact || Updated 08.17.11