How to Pack for Bike Commuting

One of the most common concerns we hear from people who don’t bike regularly is that they would love to make biking a bigger part of their life, but they have too much stuff to carry. 

Now, we are willing to admit, some people really do have too much stuff to carry. Need to bring a stack of lumber to work on a regular basis? I suppose you’ll need a truck. 

But for a huge number of people whose work or daily responsibilities don’t require heavy equipment, bike commuting is a completely accessible option, it just requires a little bit of advance planning. 

Beyond the basics, (laptop, wallet, etc.), there are a few additional items to consider when getting around by bike. 

And first things first, you’ll want to decide what kind of bag you’d prefer to carry them in.

Backpacks vs. Panniers

There are benefits and drawbacks to both panniers and backpacks, depending on your circumstances. 

Panniers, a bag or box that attaches to a rack on your bicycle, have the enormous benefit of taking the weight off of your shoulders and placing it entirely on the bike. For those who regularly ride with heavy items, a pannier is probably a better choice, as the burden of added weight will be less noticeable than if you were carrying it on your back. 

The other main benefit of riding with a pannier is that it eliminates the backpack sweat, which is especially beneficial for those riding in hot or humid climates. 

That said, riding with a pannier requires attaching racks to your bicycle. Some people prefer to keep their bikes rack-free for aesthetic purposes, and others to keep the bicycle as lightweight as possible. 

If you live in an upstairs apartment and have to regularly carry your bike up a flight of stairs or two, keeping your bike rack-free and light is a better option, in which case riding with a backpack is a better choice. 

Some people also prefer to ride with backpack because they regularly make a lot of stops, and find removing their pannier every time they stop to be a burden. In this case, a backpack offers more convenience.

Can’t decide between a pannier and a backpack? You can have both. Click here to check out our line of convertible panniers, and here to get great deals on the 2020 line through Kickstarter.

Extra Clothes

One thing to consider about bike commuting which differs from other forms of transportation, is that you may need to bring extra clothes. 

If your commute is reasonably short, this isn’t an issue. Just ride in whatever you want to wear for the day and don’t worry about it. 

But if you have a long, hot, hilly, or otherwise sweat-inducing ride, you may want to bring a different set of clothes, or at the very least a new shirt, to change into upon arrival. 

The winter also presents an interesting challenge for bike commuting, as any jacket warm enough for the weather will make you sweat as soon as you start pedalling. 

Some people prefer underdressing to start out, so they warm up as they ride and in this way avoid sweating too much. Others prefer to dress warmly enough for the weather and wear an under-layer that they plan to sweat through, and then change when they get where they’re going. 

So depending on the climate and season you’re riding in, extra shirts are definitely something to consider, and you can never go wrong with layers.

Gloves, Hats, and Other Accessories

Speaking of weather, another thing to consider is that the weather will impact you more as a biker than it would if you were driving, taking the bus, or even walking. 

So while 10°C (50°F) wouldn’t be cold enough to need gloves if you were just strolling down the street, it’s definitely cold enough to need gloves when the wind is hitting your hands on your handlebars. 

Similarly, that winter wind can bite your ears a lot faster when you yourself are moving faster, so bringing a thin beanie to wear under your helmet is a smart move in the colder season. 

If you live in a wet climate, it’s always a good idea to keep a lightweight rain jacket in the bottom of your bag just in case. If you live in a very wet climate, investing in a good pair of breathable rain pants is going to save you a lot of hassle in the long run as well. For keeping the rain out of your eyes, get a helmet with a brim or ride in a baseball hat.

For those pedalling in hot or bright climates, bring sun protection and more water than you think you’ll drink, even for short rides.

Bike Tools & Accessories

Beyond carrying a decent bike lock, there are a few tools and accessories you’ll want to bring with you in case anything goes wrong, especially if you have a longer ride or live in an area with few bike shops. 

At a minimum, you’ll want a flat repair kit: tire levers, a spare tube, and a mini pump. It also doesn’t hurt to bring a mini multitool in case anything more significant goes wrong with the bike or you need to make any adjustments. That said, regularly cleaning and maintaining your bike goes a long way towards preventing unwanted mechanical failures on the road. 

You’ll also want to bring a good set of lights. This is especially important in winter, when even running daytime errands can leave you accidentally caught in the dark. Consider investing in two sets of rechargeable lights, then you can always leave one set in the bottom of your bag, and another set charging, and simply swap them regularly so you don’t get stuck riding home with a dead or dim light.

Small bags like saddle bags and top tube bags are great ways to carry your tools, lights, and other little items.

Other Items to Consider

If your ride is long enough that you need to change once you arrive at work, toss a travel towel and a toiletry kit in your bag to freshen up. If your workplace doesn’t offer shower facilities, a packet of wet wipes goes a long way! 

Keeping a few granola bars in your bag is never a bad idea either. There’s nothing worse than realizing you’re hungry in the middle of a ride if you didn’t bring any food. 

Finally, it’s always helpful to leave a little extra room in your bag before you set out for the day, even if this means riding with a second bag. This way you have the option of unplanned errands or a quick grocery run on the way home.

And for those of you thinking, “Wow, this seems like a lot of stuff to carry on a bike,” just remember: The more stuff you carry, the stronger you get! 😉


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