Bike bag
April 21, 2005 4:58 AM   Subscribe

Suggestions on a good bike bag? Other comments on commuting by bike to work?

I'm looking for a pannier-type bag for the back, for use while commuting. I'd like it to be detachable, with a handle, and water-proof, the type with the rubberized coating on the exterior. Any suggestions on the best place to purchase one of these (preferably on-line)? Any comments on your experiences commuting by bike to work? I need a way to take my work clothes with me on the bike. My commute is 6 miles.
posted by cahlers to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I commute to work by bike in the summer. I've got both a mountain bike and a road bike, and find that I use my mountain bike more, simply because I feel safer on the single road I have to take to my lab.

Personally, I have two approaches. One, I drive in on either Monday or Friday, and leave a bunch of clothes for the week in my office. Otherwise, I have a real nice Dana Designs messenger bag that will hold the days clothes. I always leave a pair of shoes in the office because bringing them in my bike bag makes the bag bulky.

The messenger bag option works for me, and allows me to bring certain items home (wouldn't dream of placing my heavy 9 lb laptop in it, though), or alternatively, to take my lunch into work. The only drawback to the bag is that it can be hot on the way home. It settles in close to your body, and contains a strap about your waist to secure it (in addition to the shoulder strap). However, this close fit, which really helps with a load of clothes, makes your back less able to breathe in the hot summer sun.

I work with a guy who uses the setup you talk about. He bought his from Bike Nashbar ( Bike Nashbar). Panniers are also availbale from Performance Bicycle (Performance Bike).

There are really only two problems with commuting by bike. First, the weather. Rain is nasty. I have a backup plan to get home if there's a chance of bad weather. If it's raining in the morning, I'll just drive in. Screw it. The second problem is working late. If I get caught up with something and leave late, darkness can be a problem. For me personally, this is not two big of a deal, since I only need to ride down a mile of semi-rural road before hopping on the bike path. The bike path then drops me off on my street, so traffic isn't horrible, but your situation may be different. I have a light and relectors in my bag that I always carry. I sometimes need them on the way into work as well.

The only other thing to be aware of is sweat. If you push yourself on the way into work, and work up a sweat, be sure to have a way to deal with it. Otherwise, it'll be a long day.

Sorry to run on. Hope this helps.

posted by kungfujoe at 5:21 AM on April 21, 2005

I've tried panniers on my commute (~6 miles), but I always find myself returning to a backpack. The backpack's versatility, centeredness, and roominess always seem to win me over. The panniers I've used have been good, as they go, but they never quite meshed with my style or whatever. One issue was bike-racks on the city buses (in Austin, TX): I had to remove the panniers when I put it on there. Not a huge problem, but felt like I was spending more time futzing with the bags than necessary, so now they sit in the garage. For touring, it's a different matter.

One type of pannier I really *do* like, though, are the collapsible, open-basket types, specifically for grocery shopping...not waterproof or particularly fancy, but they are a great way to transport stuff from the store to the house.

And don't forget lights! Even if you aren't planning to travel at night, you'll probably get stuck doing it at some point, so be prepared. This taillight is awesome. I'm conflicted about the best front light (although I'm leaning toward helmet/head mounts), so I can't really give great advice on that.

Other than that, always have the obvious tools: tire lever, pump, patch and/or tubes, allen-wrenches. I also carry a set of zip-ties, which can be used for all manner of ad-hoc repairs until you get where you're going.
posted by abingham at 6:03 AM on April 21, 2005

1. Wearing your work clothes while you ride is not unheard of, especially for a commute as short as 6 miles. I've done 5 mile rides wearing a business suit. Sweat, contra kungfujoe, does not have to be a big problem if the temperature is moderate -- just ride slowly. This is transportation, not the Tour de France.

2. If your only cargo is a change of clothing, also consider a trunk bag (Topeak is a good brand) or a plain old messenger bag or backpack.

3. That said, Carradice panniers are pretty good and seem to fit what you are looking for. They are not made of rubber, but are still waterproof.

4. You should have a seat wedge. In it should be tire levers, a multi-tool (like the Topeak Alien), a patch kit, and perhaps a spare tube. To the back of the seat wedge, you should attach a red blinking LED light (reflectors are no substitute). If you anticipate riding in the dark, get a light.

5. You should either have a pump with you, or a CO2 cartridge in the seat wedge.

6. Helmet!

7. If you ride on routes that you will be sharing with pedestrians, have a bell. Seriously; they're not just for ten year old girls anymore.

8. If you find yourself riding more than two blocks on the sidewalk, you are doing something wrong. The safest place to be riding is on the street, with traffic, obeying all rules of the road. Stay to the right, but stay out of the "door zone" of parked cars.
posted by profwhat at 6:15 AM on April 21, 2005 [1 favorite]


9. Riding in the rain is not impossible, but you should have rain gear (waterproof jacket and waterproof pants, or just shorts and a T-shirt you don't mind getting wet) and full coverage fenders.
posted by profwhat at 6:25 AM on April 21, 2005

I swear by Ortlieb.
I have owned an Office-Bag Medium for appx. 8 years, and it rules.
My daily commute is 2x12km and it rains quite a lot in Denmark. My stuff is always dry.
As for lights, I'd go for one of the more powerful headlamps. I'm using Petzl Zoom and loving it.
The new LED-models look tempting, though.
posted by Thug at 6:25 AM on April 21, 2005

Nashbar Townie Basket It is a collapsable open-topped basket/bag. In a hidden zipper enclosure on the bottom is a stuff-sack type cover that slides completely over the bag to make it rain-proof. The bags easily clip on and off your bike rack.
posted by juggler at 6:32 AM on April 21, 2005

Allow me to counter abingham, as he is clearly wrong, wrong, wrongity wrong, and furthermore wrong.

Panniers are my preferred solution. I've used a predecessor of this pair for more than ten years. They're still in great shape, still waterproof. They've done trips with me, but I most commonly use them for commuting. I've always lusted after the Arkel designs panniers, particularly their Samurai, which seems to be exactly what you want, btw, but haven't been able to justify it because the MEC ones have held up so well.

I've also used the folding baskets. They work ok, and are much cheaper than panniers. If you use them, go with lots of plastic bags and shock cords.

Now, if you insist on being wrong, I've had a Crumpler bag now for about a year, on the recommendation of a few threads on this site. I've been extremely happy with it. If you buy a bag be certain that you can see around it on the bike---this is where courier bags have a huge advantage over packs. You don't want your over-the-shoulder sight-line blocked by your backpack.

Seriously, I prefer panniers for longer distances because I don't like carrying the weight on my back (there's nothing worse than putting on a cold, sweat-soaked pack), it makes the bike more stable and it's less effort to carry more weight on the bike. On the other hand, bags are more convenient if you're doing lots of stops---I use my bag for weekend shopping---and the contents are sprung on you as well as the bike, so that transporting fizzy beverages, for example, is a little less of interesting for the opener. There's a place for both, but for longer distances with few stops, panniers work better for me.

A last few comments about commuting:

Pick a nice route---I go out of my way for pretty scenery. I get to work much happier that way.

Carry a spare tube, a pump, and tire levers and know how to change a tire.

Get good fenders.

If you can, leave your lock at work. Locks are heavy.

Baby wipes are a miracle product if you don't have showers at work.
posted by bonehead at 6:44 AM on April 21, 2005

I'm a keen mountainbiker and I used my bike for a 7-mile commute following a 35min train journey for a contract I was working on at the start of the year.

My cycle-to-work set-up/routine included:
At work all the time: Pair of shoes, deodorant, small towel. 2 locks (left on lock-up post overnight).

Take to work on Monday or split Mon & Thu: 5 pairs of socks, 5 pairs underpants, 4-5 tops.

Take twice a week: Jeans [I used to work in a design studio so smartish-casual was the way.]

Cycling attire: Helmet, cycle top, cycling shots (padded!), socks & cycling shoes (with SPD cleats - always a good investment if you cycle regularly). Weather options: Waterproof over-trousers, Gortex jacket (expensive but worth every penny) & waterproof gloves.

There was a decent-sized single 'restroom' just off the studio which was a good place for a rub down & change when I got to work which helped.

I've used the same Altura rucksack for the past 4.5 years. It has a small rigid frame and a waist strap which helps a lot on a bike. Lots of handy pockets, covered zips with cord pull-tags and so on. I'm not sure if they still make it tho' as I've been unable to find it online.

A good addition/alternative is a handlebar bag.

If you ride a mountain bike get some road tyres and a trackpump. Changing tyres at the weekend might seem like a pain but you get used to it and cycling on a road with road tyres takes a lot less effort. And when get back offroad on your MtB tyres you'll feel like you're driving a tractor!

I'll also second the 'pick a nice route' and baby wipes (a good camping/festival standby) suggestions.

A nice ride to work can set you up for the day & a good blast back home can get rid of any tensions.
posted by i_cola at 7:00 AM on April 21, 2005

I've done some commuting in the past, but plan to be a little more conscientious about it now. I have a 10 mile (one way) commute with some hills. I had tried it before with the road bike (2001 Trek 2300), and did a variation on what kungfujoe did - ride in every other day (Tuesday, Thursday) and bring clothes in the days before (Monday, Wednesday). Then I got the commuter bike (2003 Bianchi Volpe), and it has the rack, panniers, fenders (very important for that unexpected rain) and lights. I've done the commute a few times with this bike, and everything (change of clothes, shoes, lunch and miscellaneous) fits in nicely.

But enough background, now on to my preferences/advice... I will reiterate what abingham said about lights. Get them! Here, in New York, it's the law after dark, but I wouldn't even think about riding at night without them. I have a CygoLite in the front. It cost about $60 from an online bike discount place. It's two lights in one - wide and narrow beam. I don't know what to tell you about the different setups - I've seen them run up to $400! Rear light is a 5-LED type (I think it's a VistaLight) with several flashing modes. Nashbar and Performance are good sources for these. Rack (MTN-2?) and panniers (checking their site, I think they've discontinued panniers) are Blackburn, which seem to work OK for me. Once, when caught in a rain (and hail!) storm, the panniers leaked a bit. Probably not a lack of waterproofing, but a lack of "sealability" - they don't zip shut, but just have a single clip. I might change them in the future. Fenders are very useful - even if you don't get caught in the rain, wet roads make things very messy, and the fenders really help.

A few online places to get stuff:

In the past, when I've commuted in, I've taken a shower at home, then rode. When I got to work, I'd go in to one of the bathrooms, and have a "baby wipes shower". Maybe not as sanitary as some people would like, but I never had any complains. I also keep a "toilet kit" at my desk with all the necessary sundries. But... we now have a small gym in my building, with a shower! So I'll be using that after my next ride in. So I keep a towel and shaving stuff handy as well.

One last thing... How will you store/park your bike? Here, they are cool about me parking it outside my cubicle. But I've heard some stories - guys having to leave their bikes outside with no racks available. Not for my baby!

Sorry for going on. Good luck! Enjoy your commute!!

(on preview: Some really good stuff there. I will definitely check the links for upgrading panniers.)
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 7:12 AM on April 21, 2005

1. Ortlieb pretty much wrote the book on waterproof bags. They have a whole bunch of panniers.

2. I have used grocery-bag panniers from Bike Nashbar. They fell apart after little use. Don't go cheap. I wound up replacing them with JandD grocery-bag panniers, but never used them because you pretty much need a super-extended Jandd rack to hang them on, and I never got around to buying one of those.

3. For carrying smaller loads over shorter (ie, commuting-range) distances, I prefer a backpack to panniers (it's difficult to pin down, but I feel that in stop-and-go traffic, it is easier to accelerate when the load is on my body than on the bike). I've been happily using some of the larger Camelbak products (which are designed for cycling, and sit low on the shoulders) for years; I recently discovered that the Campmor website frequently has closeouts on a few of their models, and picked up a "Zephyr" bag for $45--a good deal. Not sure how waterproof that is, but I think bag-covers are available.

Apart from the religious debate over packs vs panniers, there's a lot of good commuting advice in this thread.
posted by adamrice at 7:29 AM on April 21, 2005

I use the ortlieb back roller classic which is definitely 100% waterproof, but only so-so as a dual-duty pannier and carry-everything bag. There's no possibility of internal organization so things that I put in them end up in a big jumble. The excellent, easy-to-repair modular design ends up putting four big bolts inside the bag, jutting out from the hard, rack-side wall of the bag; the problem being that I would like to put other tall hard things like books and magazines along this wall, and the bolts invariably rub, divot and crumple the paper. It hasn't hurt my computer in its carrying sleeve, though. And it's by far the best (of three sets) pannier set I've used -- the roll-top allows it a ridiculous amount of expansion for groceries, laundry, or lumber. I use it with the tubus cargo rack, which claims a 40 kg (88 lb) capacity -- on a previous trip to the lumber store I managed to bend a cheapie aluminum rack, but so far no problems with the tubus. But this particular rack is not the best match for the particular (great) ortlieb QL1 mounting system -- there's a bit of a reach for the lower anchor.

So my system is not ideal, but it's the best I've come up with so far. As long as I keep heavy things on the bottom of the bag, then food, then clothes on the top, it works; small dense things may require some hunting. The ortlieb is cavernous and versatile enough that you can use other inner bags to provide the organization that it lacks.

That ortlieb office bag looks good, but I can't tell if it has the capacity I'd want for touring.
posted by xueexueg at 7:58 AM on April 21, 2005

Mr R commutes (10 miles each way) a couple of times a week. He tried commuting every day last summer, but decided that that was a little bit too much. (Spent too much time commuting (and working on the bike), and not enough time on his other hobbies.)

He tried a backpack, but soon switched to panniers similar to what you're looking for - he got his from Nashbar.

Full fenders and mudflaps make it possible to ride even in the rain. If riding in the rain is a possibility, goggles and rain gear are really good to have, unless you *know* it's going to be a warm rain. Rain gear can be as simple as a pair of windpants and a windbreaker.

What he does for clothes is to leave a pair of shoes at the office; take a roll bag with pants/socks/underwear in as necessary (either when he drives, or strapped on top of the panniers if he forgets); take a shirt in the panniers every day. The office is casual enough that he doesn't need a dress shirt, which would be harder to pack. Leave a toiletries kit in your desk or under it (deodorant, soap, razor).

LIGHTS! Even if you're only riding in the daylight, lights make you much more visible to drivers. Tail lights and headlights both.

Street tires, not trail tires, make the ride a lot easier.
posted by jlkr at 8:06 AM on April 21, 2005

lots of great advice above... but its cold much of the year where i live and nobody's mentioned rox dog ears as a piece of needful bike commuting equipment. rox is an great company, run by cyclists, and these ear covers are wonderful year round if your mornings are cold; they comed off easily for a warmer ride home. this link indicates they may be discontinued... hope that's erroneous... i'm sure there are still sets available somewhere; check with your local shop first.
posted by RockyChrysler at 8:46 AM on April 21, 2005

I don't have much to offer that hasn't been said above, but I'll throw in my two cents as well (my trip is 18 miles each way, and I try to do 3-4 times a week):

1. I go the messenger bag/backpack (depending on what I need to bring) approach, because for some reason I'm more comfortable carrying the weight on my body as opposed to my bike. Both Chrome and Timbuk2 bags get used (both are waterproof, the Chrome is more comfortable but also heavier)

2. I bought a second lock to leave at work, locked to the rack. It's too heavy to carry everyday.

3. I "babywipe shower" at work.

4. I try to carry what I want to wear each day, but I leave my Emergency Clothing Kit at work. It's a full set of clothes that I can wear in the event that I forget something (shirt, pants, etc). I also keep a pair of shoes at work that will go with almost anything I bring (so I don't need to carry them everyday)

I'm generally in a better mood at work on the days I ride. I think most people are. I hope you enjoy it!
posted by monkeystronghold at 9:37 AM on April 21, 2005

Hey, I just want to say thanks to everyone (I think bonehead said it first) about that baby wipes idea. I'm rather ashamed I didn't think of it myself, and now I have one less thing I can use to prevent myself from riding!
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:16 AM on April 21, 2005

It just comes to me now to add that if you need to transport a laptop, panniers, sadly, are sub-optimal. I've heard of people doing it, but stuff on the bike feels every shock and rough patch. Many messanger bags, including Crumpler I love so indecently, have inserts for computers, and are probably a better solution.
posted by bonehead at 10:29 AM on April 21, 2005

RockyChysler, as an alternative, I use a fleece helmet liner, sold to winter climbers. Works great, and was really cheap: <$10. A ski muffler, a strechy tube that goes around your neck, is a nice addition too.
posted by bonehead at 10:33 AM on April 21, 2005

When I lived in Portland I found these pannier clips from a place in Salt Lake and attached them to two white plastic food buckets (square). Those things were so much easier to pack than panniers, and totally waterproof.

pre-made bucket panniers found by googling "bucket panniers"

You could probably make these for about 10 bucks and three hours of your life. The clips I had were locking, which was comforting. The lids on these buckets can be a pain to remove until you learn the trick or tweak them.

/needs to commute, at least part way.
posted by mecran01 at 12:07 PM on April 21, 2005

locking pannier clips

p.s. messenger bags always made my back tense when I rode, leading to soreness and a stiff neck. caveat: I am freakishly tall.
posted by mecran01 at 12:09 PM on April 21, 2005

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