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Bags and racks

Under-the-seat saddle packs (sometimes called wedges) are usually small. These bags are often used to carry tools, spare inner tubes, and other items related to the bicycle itself.

Mini wedge bag under bicycle seat

There are some drawbacks to using a bag like this for commuting. It might obscure a rear reflector. Also, unless the bag has a quick release, you might be inclined to leave it with the bike, which creates a risk of theft. You could avoid those problems by using a fanny pack.

However, I think it's ideal to instead carry all of your items (including a mini pump) in a single bag that you always take away when you lock up. Ideally the same bag could carry groceries or larger awkward items.

Backpacks might seem like an obvious choice. Some of their advantages are:

However, backpacks have significant drawbacks:

It is common for a narrow metal rack to be installed over a bike's rear-wheel, as shown below.

rear bicycle rack

The rack might have a spring-loaded device to grab and hold items, as seen below, or you could use elastic cords to keep things on the rack.

Spring-loaded holding bicycle rack for commute

A rack can also be used for securing various kinds of bags, as I discuss below. The bicycle takes the load, instead of your back, which is wonderful. If you keep more than one bike available for commuting, then each bike needs a rack if you want to always be able to use your bags.

Some people with a lot of bicycle touring experience have experienced rack breakage. This can be very dangerous if the rack gets tangled with a wheel. Those people emphasize the importance of buying a very strong rack with multiple solid mounting connections. When shopping for a rack, it helps to know how much weight you are likely to carry. I once weighed my backpack full of groceries including lots of heavy items; based on that, I decided to get a rear rack which is rated to support 40 pounds (18 kg).

Racks can be attached to the frame using clamps, if your bike frame has no available threaded hole for screws.

If you install a rack yourself, you might find that it was sold without such hardware, but you can buy that separately online or maybe at a hardware store. The rack shown in the pictures above did include clamps, but making use of them would have required more effort. As you can see (in the center of the photo below), the supplied screws were too short, so I would have needed to buy longer screws. Worse, I found these clamps were too small for another bike I had; if I had wanted to put the rack on that bike, I would have thrown away the clamps and bought bigger ones.

Rear bike rack needs bigger clamp

You can also buy racks that attach only to the seat post. Their load capacity is usually limited to roughly 10 kg (22 pounds) or so. You can buy versions where the rack or the attaching bag has a quick release, so you can easily take away your things when you park your bike. Even if the rack and bag have no quick releasing, you have another option: if your seat has a quick release, then take away the seat, rack, and bag all together.

I found a special Tubus rack which has several advantages over an ordinary rack.

Panniers are bags that are designed to mount safely on the sides of a bicycle's wheels. Well-designed rear panniers can usually be mounted on any rear rack.

Removable commuter's pannier - mounted

Unless you will leave a pannier on the bike, it must be easily removable. You can get panniers with one or more straps for over-the-shoulder carrying.

Removable commuter pannier with shoulder strap

I recommend buying panniers that are rainproof or that have a separate waterproof cover. But if you use panniers that are not rainproof, and you want to ride in rain, you could either cover them with plastic bags or spray them with a water-repellent coating and apply a seam-sealing compound to the stitching.

Panniers are often sold in pairs. My first pannier was just a single one made by Jandd, but I later bought a second matching one. I like the fact that they have multiple zippered compartments. In one pannier, I keep various little items in the smallest part, my locks in a slightly bigger section, and gym gear or groceries in the biggest compartment. I only bring the second pannier when I expect to carry a lot of stuff.

Each pannier quickly attaches to and detaches from the rear racks I have installed on my bikes. Actually, when I get home, I leave the pannier mounted and just take away the stuff I need to bring inside. Keeping your stuff inside a couple carrying bags is helpful if you sometimes leave panniers on your bike.

Be aware that using only one pannier will make a bike somewhat unstable when the bag is heavily loaded, especially during sharp turns at low speeds. I can handle the unbalanced load while biking, but I can understand why it bothers some people. Another problem happens when the bike rests on a kickstand; a loaded pannier on either side makes the bike prone to tipping over. It's also unstable if you lean the bike against a wall with the pannier facing out toward you, but it should be stable if you lean the bike with the pannier touching the wall.

Before I bought that pannier, I used a backpack. The backpack had all of the drawbacks I listed above, but I also found myself reluctant to use a U-lock or security chain because I did not want their weight on my back. I also did not like the various methods I tried for hanging those locks on my bike. So I was using a lightweight cable lock instead. Once I ditched the backpack in favor of a rear rack and pannier, I also switched from the cable lock to a U-lock (and sometimes a chain).

Rack trunks (sometimes called rackpacks or trunk bags) are designed to mount on top of a rear rack. The flat horizontal area of a rack is fairly small, so these bags usually are small also; but I've seen some exceptions.

I'm guessing that trunks are good for carrying soups or drinks in containers with lids. If you pack the trunk with extra material to keep the containers from shifting around, the lids should stay on. I've not yet tried this, so I am speculating!

Otherwise, I'm not sure if I'd want to use a trunk, unless it was a big one like those I linked to above.

You can also mount a basket or bag on your handlebar. You can only carry light loads in these; otherwise the bike's handling could be unsafely affected. They should be sized and positioned to avoid blocking any front reflector or headlight you use; if that's impossible, you can get a little add-on bar to let you mount your light and other accessories up high.

There are suit bags, such as one by Jandd and one by Two Wheel Gear designed specifically to let you bring dressy work clothes to an office.

Ortlieb has an interesting assortment of commuter bags, trunks, suitcases, etc., as does Rivendell. Some of the Ortlieb products have hard solid cases that can be padlocked. That would be very handy when you have to stop at multiple places during your trip. You could leave some bulky non-valuable cargo with the bike, rather than having to carry everything with you. That cargo would be protected from casual theft but not from seriously determined and equipped thieves.

If you are ever near the city of Vista in California, I recommend visiting Jandd's office, which includes a retail store. You can check out all their products in person. They sell a variety of bike accessories, plus non-bike bags for travel and mountaineering. They'll have special bargains beyond the specials that you can see on their website. See their main page for the address.