When I first started cycling into town, I used a rucksack. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I already had a rucksack, so it was easiest to just use this for cycling. After a few years, I was tired of carrying a heavy weight on my back so bought some panniers. It was a great relief to get the weight off the back and onto the bike, and I’ve never gone back to rucksacks, unless I can help it.
Looking at cyclists in Oxford, there seems to be a rought 70/30 split between rucksacks / other-bags and panniers.
If you can tell such a thing, the more ‘serious looking commuters’ are more likely to have panniers. The more ‘casual looking cyclists’ are more likely to have rucksacks. In a way this is what you would expect. When I started cycling, I use a rucksack for convenience, but as I spent more time cycling, you start to think of investing in better equipment – panniers and pannier rack was one of the first investments.
Advantages of rucksacks
- Most people don’t even have to buy one because they already own one.
- Easy to put on and off.
- Easy to carry around when not on the bike
- There are specialist rucksacks / messenger bags for cyclists, if you want to have a relatively light weight on the back, these specific bags are easier to carry, and don’t hinder neck movement, like some bigger rucksacks.
- For the bike messenger who is jumping on and off the bike, a messenger bag is most efficient because you don’t lose time putting on and off the bike.
- If you only carry small amount of stuff or travel short distance, the weight is not such an issue.
Disadvantages of rucksacks
- It is extra weight on your back, which can become tiring after a while.
- It makes your back sweat more. In summer you can arrive in town with a dripping shirt – with the bag acting as insulation.
- It makes it harder to look over your shoulder and see cars coming from behind. This alone is a reason to try and avoid rucksacks. It just makes movements slower. It can even subconsciously discourage you from looking over your shoulder because it is more effort.
- There is less weight and volume that you can fit in a rucksack.
Advantages of panniers
- Take weight off your body.
- Gives full freedom of movement, vital for being fully aware of what is going on around you.
- You can carry a lot more. For example, if you got a double 20 litre bags – that is pretty much a big weekly shop. I shop with just a 20 litre bag (though I do get Tesco to deliver heavy things like soya milk e.t.c)
- Most panniers come with a shoulder strap so that you can still carry around the pannier in between cycling.
- When I bought panniers, I found my shopping habits change. Rather than buy a small amount of stuff at supermarkets, I could buy a lot more and carry it back on the bike.
- Some people worry about having 1 pannier on the back of a bike makes it harder to manoeuvre. Maybe, but it’s never been an issue. You can always buy two to spread weight.
Disadvantages of panniers
- You have to buy and fix a pannier rack
- A good pair of panniers is an extra cost.
- There is some faffing around putting panniers on bike and taking off (though this can be really quite minimal.)
- If you’re carrying a lot of weight on a shoulder strap when walking around in between cycling, you can place a lot of weight on one side. In this case, a rucksack is more balanced because it shares the weight.
What should I use?
If you commute regularly, it is essential to consider panniers. They are much better for cycling than a rucksack.
The only people who would be better off with specific rucksack or messenger bag are:
- Those who only carry small amount of weight
- Those who cycle infrequently.
- Those who aren’t sure about spending £60 for pannier rack and bags.
- Those who make frequent stops and spend a lot of time off the bike.
Things to consider
Pannier + Backpack
-After years of using panniers, I actually wanted the best of both worlds – a pannier that converts into a rucksack. I got a strained back because I was carrying a lot of weight in a pannier bag with a shoulder strap. What I really wanted was a pannier that was also 2 straps like a backpack. I bought an adapter for an Ortlieb pannier (pictured above)- but it was too much hassle, so I don’t really use.
I still think there is possibility to make a rough rack-sack inbuilt into a pannier.
Panniers attaching to seat post.
If you don’t want to fit pannier rack, you can get panniers which attach to the seat post. These have a weight limit, but it means you can save fitting a pannier rack.
For example, the Topeak QR Beam rack – with side panels.
Topeak QR seat post mount – weight limit 15lbs
Cost. You can buy a pannier rack for £20 and a basic pannier for £20. SO it’s not expensive.
Many cyclists in Oxford get on quite well with a front basket