I’m a backpack kind of person. I always have one on when commuting to work. However I quickly realized that having a mildly heavy backpack on when commuting on a bike kind of sucks. Hurts my neck, shoulders, makes my back all sweaty, etc… I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to commute with my backpack stuff. From personal items to my work laptop, cold weather commute cloths, cycling gloves, hat, bike tools, etc… I just want and easy, organized way to transport my stuff. Here’s my journey to finding the perfect setup.
The Amazon links in this article are affiliate links, if you choose to use them I appreciate it. No annoying popups here or anything like that. Just the links that give me pennies on the dollar to help pay for the hosting of this site.
Attempt 1.0 – My backpack on the rear rack
My first thought was to keep the backpack but mount it on my rear rack. This kind of worked but the straps on the backpack could be dangerous if they wiggled free. I’m a big fan of 5.11 tactical backpacks. Not because I want to be tacti-cool but because they are super functional and super well made. I’ve used the same everyday backpack for over 10 years now commuting to work, travelling abroad and around the country and after aI toss is in the washing machine, it barely looks a week old. I attempted using a bunch of different MOLL-E straps, bands, mounts, etc. but just couldn’t find a system that quickly and securely mounted it to the rack. There would always be some play, flopping around, etc… Given these are “tactical” backpacks they have areas to mount, tie into all over and even then I couldn’t find a secure way to do it.
Attempt 1.1 – Backpack on the rear rack in a milk crate
Honestly this worked really well. The bag sat in there perfectly, it was quick and easy to secure using a couple MOLL-E velcro straps but it made the bike SUPER top heavy. Riding felt ok (albeit a little rear biased) but not a huge difference. The problem with this setup was getting on and off the ferry, one handing doors, and going up and down the elevators at work. That extra top heaviness made it hard to one hand while holding a door open, carding in/out on the ferry, putting the bike in a vertical bike rack, etc…
The milk crate is still an option, I keep one in my office for those days I have to lug a bunch of groceries or other random stuff home.
Attempt 2.0 – Panniers… Am I really that guy?
I never pictured myself as a pannier person… Seriously, I was always kind of like yea, I’m not that guy but you know what…? They work pretty damn well. I ended up purchasing the old classic Ortlieb Classic Back Rollers
They hold a ton of stuff very securely, keep everything dry and having them low on the frame, you barely notice they are there. My biggest gripe with them is the lack of organization. I learned quickly that they turn into a bottomless pit where things just disappear even though you know you just put them in there. I’ve tried a few different ways to remedy this. I raided my wife’s storage area and borrowed some of these reusable food bags. They work great for keeping random bits all together. In my case I use them for bike tools, first aid and straps for securing cargo in the bike tools pannier. The below bags go into the side pouch inside the bag, and any daily use stuff goes in the main storage compartment.
I just resorted to purchasing Ortliebs own Organizer and that has helped a lot. It adds a few pockets, some mesh nets and another laptop sleeve which really helps.
Not a huge deal for all I realize but there is a fair amount of rubbing on the rack and frame when transporting goods on the rack. The panniers were a bit noisy squeaking and making noise over even mild bumps hopping up and own on the top rack rail. My first attempt to remedy this was splitting some old drip line irrigation tubing with an eXacto knife as seen below.
This worked well to not only protect the rail but quiet it down a bit but the tubing didn’t exactly sit flush all the time (temperature permitting, see above) and made it a little difficult to rack the panniers into the rack sometimes.
I made a trip to the hardware store to look for some sort of closed-cell foam, rubber, etc but just couldn’t find something that would fit the bill. Enter Trim-Lok rubber tubing, this works perfect! It’s the right texture, it’s durable, it molds around the tube perfectly and so far no issues with it wanting to lift off or bunch up. I secured it down with some gaffers tape in one spot and some zip ties in another to see which (if either) works better.
You might have also noticed those 2 black blobs. That’s Sugru
It’s basically a sticky glue putty that dries into a soft(ish) silicon. I put those blobs there to hold the milk crate up off the rack and buffer it from vibrations. Working pretty well few times I’ve used the milk crate so far.
On the lower sides of the rear rack there was also some rubbing going on from the panniers. My attempt to remedy this was to use some this “self healing clear paint protection” tape
It’s basically the same type of stuff under your chain to stop chain slap from chipping the paint. If you clean the area well and follow the instructions you barely notice it’s there.
This deserves it’s own section only because these Voile straps are friggin’ awesome. Sure bungee cord works but over time it stretches out, can fling free and can pose a danger if they get caught up in the spokes. The Voile straps are perfect, you can cinch them down super tight but they are still flexible. I just had to them here as I am super impressed with them.
Other Random tidbits
If you have a label maker that connects to your computer and has an app (I love my Brother label maker) you can make these tiny pannier ID tags so you know what’s in each bag. Just Google image search the icon/image you want and append “black and white png” to the end of it. In my case I have a cloths/wallet/keys bag and a bike tool/charger bag.
More to come!