What is better for your commute? A cycling backpack or panniers? This post will quickly give you an idea of what works and why. Hopefully by the end of it, you’ll know which will work better for your commute!
A never-ending debate in the cycling world is that of cycling backpacks vs panniers for commuters. While both serve the same purpose, their utilization is different and it's often a matter of preference by commuters (hence…never-ending debate).
Cycling Backpack VS Panniers: Major Considerations
In determining whether a backpack or panniers is better for cycling, there are high-level factors that can help with your decision. Of course, this is not a be all and end-all list as many factors will be entirely personal, but this should create a much clearer picture on what to consider if you’re trying to pick between the two options.
Of course, as a prerequisite for either option, you will need a bike that allows you to wear a backpack (no recliner bikes!) or attach a pannier bag (and a pannier rack). And you should be comfortable riding your bike! Both a backpack, and pannier bags will affect the way you ride, so it’s important to be comfortable on a cycle before deciding on either one.
And if you’re just looking for something to carry small essentials like your phone, a backpack or pannier bags might be overkill. Check out How to Carry Your Phone While Cycling.
You definitely don't want to break the bank trying to get something to carry your things in. Depending on the amount of money you have available, you may find that you get better bang for your buck opting for one product over another. Ideally, you want quality materials and workmanship in producing either the backpack or pannier. And it’s always worth mentioning, a higher price point doesn’t necessarily mean better quality.
Money can be pretty pointless when you can't find what you're looking for. You need to first check the market and weigh your options - if one option is more easily available than the other, then you might consider saving your time and effort.
While both backpack and panniers are used for carrying your things, there is a difference in how each option functions while cycling. In choosing what you should opt for, you need to consider how much weight it can carry, and whether you will be able to bear the weight when cycling – don’t get me wrong, I think you’re fantastic. I just don’t want you to crash or break your back carrying overly heavy loads!
Typically, carrying heavy loads for prolonged periods can impact your spine and shoulders. In the same vein, carrying excess weight could impair the speed of your bike, and thus affect the quality of your ride.
To determine what kind of product to buy, and the weight involved, you need to decide if you'll be cycling long or short distances. If you're constantly commuting long distances, then you need to avoid stressing your back with extra weight. But if you're only going short distances, you can streamline your bike by carrying the weight yourself.
Keeping in mind the criteria above, cycling backpacks check a lot of boxes. They're typically much cheaper. Despite the backpacks being cheaper than panniers, a decent backpack will be made of out of durable materials. They’re also readily available, you can slip into just about any sports store or online store and find a backpack (though some are more suited to cycling than others).
That said the mere fact that backpacks are readily available and are cheaper than panniers doesn't automatically make them the best option. You should think about the weight you'll be carrying.
Backpacks are by default designed to be carried on your back. That means you'll be applying weight and pressure to your back while cycling. Your spine and shoulders have a greater chance of feeling sore after cycling long distances with a chunk of weight on your back.
However, you could readily pick a backpack for cycling if you only travel short distances and you’re not carrying a load that feels heavy to you. (You can always lighten your load by carrying only the essentials in your backpack.)
Panniers are an entirely different experience to backpacks. They come with greater carry capacity, and are designed to be fixed to your bike. As a result, you can usually carry more with a pannier than you could with a backpack.
Furthermore, you can ride using panniers across long distances without threatening your back or spine – the weight is carried by your bike, and means it is less demanding to your body. On the downside, this impacts your bikes rideability – speed, balance, and manoeuvrability are all affected (you are, after all, adding a structure to your bike!).
Panniers are also a little more difficult to find – you’ll need to go to cycling specific location, and find a set of panniers that fit your bike. You may also be required to take the time to fix them (or their required racks) to your bike (or pay to have them fixed to your bike). Offloading your pannier also requires extra effort, and once you’ve taken them off your bike, they may not be as easy to carry as a backpack.
And while you won't go broke buying a pannier, it's typically pricier than a backpack (of a comparable quality). The TimBuk2 pannier set is a good place to start looking!
Which to buy: Backpack or panniers
Backpacks are perfect for shorter rides while panniers are great for long rides. If you need to commute longer distances or carry more substantial loads, then opt for pannier bags on a bike rack.
However, if you're only commuting short distances: pack only the essentials and opt for a backpack to preserve your ride experience. Ultimately, it boils down to personal preference and what you need the backpack or pannier for.
Now you tell me. Which do you prefer? A backpack or panniers for commuting on your bike? Or maybe you like something entirely different. Let me know in the comments below.