I am a woman on a quest. It’s a simple enough quest – or at least I thought it was when it began. I want a bag that works both on and off my bike.
When I first started cycling I used to carry all my stuff in a small backpack. That was OK for a while, but then the amount of stuff I needed to fit in it just seemed to keep growing. I have – to use the proper medical terminology – a dodgy left shoulder, the result of an RSI incurred while shifting books in the university library when I was a student. Carrying my over-full backpack around with me, not only on the bike but off it, was getting increasingly painful.
(If that weren’t enough of a reason to look into an alternative, there was also the fact that it was impossible to cycle even the shortest distance with it on my back without sweating underneath it. ‘Sweaty back’ is not a good look. Nor is its close cousin ‘spotty back’.)
Pannier bags seemed like the obvious solution. I would’ve got them a lot sooner than I did, but I was worried they’d either slow me down or maker it harder to manoeuvre through the traffic. As it turned out, they did – but only a little, and that’s probably no bad thing. Once I’d got used to my centre of gravity having shifted back a bit, I was fine. In fact, I’ve got so used to my bag-come-ballast that, when I rode without it recently for the first time in ages, I wobbled all over the place.
My pannier bag – a shiny red Ortlieb – is perfect for my commute. It’s big enough for all my stuff, it’s sturdy, it’s waterproof and it’s practical: it can withstand whatever gets thrown at it during the ride. And for the rest of the day it just sits under my desk, out of the way.
But it’s not so perfect when I’m out for the day, or the evening. It’s awkward to carry round; it’s always banging against my legs, other people and pieces of furniture. It doesn’t fit easily under a bar stool or a theatre seat. It’s not stylish or feminine. In short, it’s not the bag I would choose to carry round with me if I weren’t on my bike.
I have tried a different bag. I was, for a time, the proud owner of a Basil shopper. Although still not perfect – it still looked more like a bike bag than an ordinary handbag – it was a definite improvement. But what it gained in style, it lacked in robustness: the hooks to fasten it onto my pannier rack came off after just a few months of use.
So what else can I do? Despite my experience with the Basil bag, I’m still contemplating a pretty bike bag. I’ve recently discovered the New Looxs brand, and some of their bags are very tempting indeed. However, they’re also quite expensive: £50 is a lot of money to spend on a bag that may prove to be as flimsy as my Basil bag.
The other alternative, of course, is to just use the bag I would have with me if I weren’t on my bike, and then work out a way of carrying it on my bike. I don’t think a front basket would quite go with my bike – nor can I see how I would fit it on – but a rear basket might. There’s also the bungee cord option, although I would be a little worried about the bag coming off.
So anyway, I thought I’d throw the question out there. How do you carry your stuff around when you’re on your bike – backpack, pannier or basket? What else have you tried? What works, and what doesn’t?