If you use your bicycle for transport or commutes it is essential that you can carry a good amount of loads easily. As we get many questions about what the options are and what works best we thought it’d be worthwhile to give you the pros and cons – what works for some may not work for others.
You should also know that none of the products/companies mentioned below have paid us or provided free goods.
Packing your gear or shopping into a backpack is probably the cheapest quick-fix – that is, if you already own a backpack, of course. I’m personally not a fan of riding with a backpack as it gets hot and heavy on my back. As I have back issues and prefer comfort over speed I’ve always been keen to explore other options of transporting stuff on my bicycle and luckily there’s plenty of other options.
Having said that, anything else will require your bike to have a penny rack installed. For the weight conscious rider (that is the weight of the bike, of course) this may be a thorn in their eye as it adds a fair few grams, which means it’ll slow your ride down. There are lightweight bike rear carrier options available though and if weight is a concern for you than it’ll be worthwhile searching for lightweight options.
Also, your bike will need to have attachment points to fit a rack. If that means absolutely nothing to you, ask your bike shop if it’s possible to add a bike rear carrier.
Basket (on the back)
I like a sturdy basket (as you can see on the picture). This is a wire/mesh basket that is attached with four screws and holds a decent sized shopping bag, or a small Maltese, which is what I mostly carry with me. The dog loves it, but the shopping has been observed to bounce out of the basket, which is terribly inconvenient. A good bag prevents groceries from vanishing and anything else you might like to take with you fits easily.
But, there’s a lot of cons for me too. Firstly, I like to use different types of gear on my bike rear carrier and exchange the basket with something else takes a moment. That moment is usually fifteen minutes I didn’t plan into my routine and can be annoying.
When I use my basket I can’t swing my leg over the back of the bike either. Usually puppy’s head is in the way or groceries are sticking out so that I have to move my leg over the bike’s middle bar. It’s also not a biggy, but it’s annoying.
And lastly, similar to the backpack, the centre of gravity is quite high. That means, if any of your goods role or move you start swaying on your bike. Just a little bit. Enough to be a bit annoying and unsettling for the puppy.
As the basket is the only option for doggy to come along I’ve made my peace with the gravity issue and have looked around for a basket that’s solving my biggest issue: the ex-changeability. Low and behold, Ortlieb have produced a basket that’s using an easy clip on/off system. It’s just big enough for the puppy and takes seconds to attach and take off. Yay!
In comparison to my mesh basket the only down side (as far as I can see for now) is the cost. It’s been a bit of an investment!
I’m not a fan of baskets in the front as most systems attach to handlebars, which annoys me so much that I’m not even contemplating it. If you like the look of front baskets please be aware that any weight interferes with your steering and it should be kept to the absolute minimum.
I do love the idea of baskets in the front that are attached to the frame, not the handlebar, which doesn’t pull so badly. My bike doesn’t cater for those though. Similar to the back rack your bike frame needs particular attachment points to allow the rack to secure in place. It’s certainly not impossible, so check with your bike shop if you’re keen.
Hands on my heart, I love my panniers. If you have a bike rear carrier and you like shopping for handbags that match purposes and looks then you may share my love. I have a set of small and large Ortlieb bags that clip on within split seconds. They are waterproof and I can chuck in almost anything (apart from the dog). Goods sit tight and neat and don’t roll or bounce around. The bags have a strap so I can use them as a normal bag too.
For work days I have less sporty panniers from CycleChic. I’ve had different versions and all of them work well and look gorgeous as handbags. The waxed canvas bags are water-repellent and big enough for a laptop, if you need to carry one with you. The sizes are generous handbag sized and don’t work for a lot of shopping, but that’s when my sporty versions help out.
What I love most about panniers is that no matter how heavy your load, the low centre of gravity means that your ride gets smoother and more stable. My biggest ‘aha’ moment with panniers was when we packed gear for a weekend trip camping, loaded the bikes with at least 20 kilos of tent, mattress, food, water and other paraphernalia and rode down a hill. Zooom! Yes, it’s weight you have to push up, but once your going it’s such a lovely sensation to just cruise and feel the weight working in your favour.
I don’t own permanent panniers. That’s a version that is attached to your penny rack and stays on. You can throw your gear in or put it in bags that you take out and with you when you’ve parked your bike. I personally prefer flexibility and changing things around, though I have seen very pretty versions that made me contemplate a purchase.
The downside of panniers? They’re not cheap and you need a bike rear carrier.
What is your favourite way of carrying your stuff with you?