Choosing a way to carry goods is a daily struggle for bikers of all types.
This article will explain when you should use a backpack, pannier, or saddlebags on your bike.
Wearing a backpack to carry items while biking is a great choice for a huge variety of reasons. First off, a backpack is extremely maneuverable. If you park up your bike at a bike rack, and then walk into class or the office, chances are you will need the items that you have in your backpack. The great thing is, you do not need to pick anything up, you just hop off the bike with everything safe and secure on your back.
You can also use a backpack for a multitude of different activities, even if it is designed for biking. For example, your pack may also be useful when hiking or for general days trips.
Another feature that sets backpacks apart for cyclists is the packs ability to comply with a hydration system. Being as physically demanding as biking is, it is extremely important for cyclists to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Having a hydration system built into a backpack allows cyclists to easily consume water while stopped or riding.
For mountain bikers, a backpack is usually the obvious choice for their equipment carrying needs. Backpacks designed for mountain biking are built with sturdy harnesses that inhibit the packs ability to move around while on rough trails. Some come with built in spine guards that protect the wearer in the event of a crash.
Backpacks usually also have lots of room to stuff other protective gear in and spots to clip helmets to. There are also almost no compatibility issues for a rider with a backpack and a mountain bike. Panniers have to be secured to the actual bike which can be an issue for some bikes (especially full suspension ones). Saddles bags have the same downfall. Many mountain bikes have dropper posts which a saddlebag can interfere with. When a mountain bikes rear suspension is compressed, some saddlebags will even hit the tire. Backpacks remain king in the mountain bike world for those reasons.
The compatibility benefit of backpacks goes much beyond the mountain bike scene. When buying a backpack, you know it will work while riding your bike. However, panniers and saddlebags are different. Some bikes may not fit certain panniers and saddle bags. If you are a rider who likes to swap between different bikes, a backpack is a much easier choice. Otherwise you will have to make sure each bike you ride, will have the proper areas and attachments to fit your pannier, and proper seat for your saddlebag.
Overall, the backpack is a great choice for bikers who want an easy, do it all option for carrying their items.
Pannier is the French word for basket. Bike panniers are similar to baskets as they offer deep pockets for carrying items while on your bike. These roomy bags are often weatherproof which means they provide good protection for your items from the elements.
An important thing to note about panniers is that they almost always secured to a rack mounted to your bike. There are different styles of panniers for front and back racks. This is great for bikes that easily fit racks, but for most mountain bikes, a pannier will be hard to fit. Be sure to check compatibility with your bike before buying a pannier.
Panniers are the best for storage when it comes to touring. Since panniers can hold so much, they are great for carrying clothing for long cycle trips. They also work really well for storing any other items you may need such as camping gear. Most touring bikes will fit panniers without issues.
When choosing a pannier, be sure that it will not be in the way of your pedaling when it is mounted. Some panniers will get hit by your heel when pedaling causing an inefficient, and dangerous riding situation.
The greatest benefit that comes from using panniers is the fact that you can carry large amounts of items without having to wear something on your body. This makes for a comfortable ride and allows your body to move as it needs to without interference.
Unfortunately, panniers usually lack organizational pockets. This means that small items will be hard to find when the bag is packed full. For better organization be sure to use stuff sacks to keep everything together.
Saddlebags are usually small bags that fit under or around your saddle (seat). For the most part they are attached to the rails of the bike saddle itself.
A great thing about saddle bags is that they are lightweight which is perfect for cross county riders or cyclists concerned about the weight of their bike.
Saddles bags are mostly used when only a few items are necessary to bring along. These items can include a tube in case you get a flat, tire irons to help change a tube or tire, a small snack such as energy bar, a multi tool for other mechanics, or a patch kit for leaking tubes.
Many cyclists choose to use their saddlebags as a permanent holder for things that should be carried on every ride such as a tube. Once the bag is mounted and full of what they could need, they leave it on the bike, untouched until it is needed. This method is great because it renders you prepared for the situation you packed it for, without having to remember to pack those items every time you go out on a bike ride.
This does however mean that you will probably have to wear a backpack or use panniers if you find yourself having to carry more items.
For most casual riders a backpack (or waist pack) will be the best choice.
A more serious cyclist may want to look into a nice saddlebag, while long distance riders should definitely consider some nice panniers.