Monday, June 25, 2007

Pannier or Messenger Bag?

When I can, I ride my bike to work. It is a long ride but certainly not an epic endeavor. It is 20 miles door to door each way and takes me about an hour and 20 minutes. Lately, I am happy to say, I am seeing more and more bike commuters. Usually, I check out the bikes, particularly those that pass me. I am generally fine when I am passed by a Lightspeed or Kestrel road bike. Less so, when I am passed by a 20 year old three-speed Raleigh or Huffy with a milk crate on the rear rack. But, I admit, I am routinely passed by both groups of riders plus recumbents and legions of Treks and Giants.

Lately, however, I am busy looking at how commuters carry their stuff. I have a Topeak quick release road bike seat post rack and small bag with mini panniers. That bag is perfect for carrying a change of clothes--assuming I leave pants and shoes in the office. It also lets me carry a bunch of gear including tools, a tube, and a CO2 inflater. What I can't carry is work. More specifically, I can't carry my laptop or any papers I am not willing to fold or roll. I want to rectify this situation so I can ride more often.

I have been shopping for a briefcase style pannier like this one from Arkel or this one from Jandd. Yesterday, I went into a bike shop and asked the staff about it. The three or four guys in the store unanimously voted for a messenger bag.

I used to ride with a backpack, but I hated it. I did not like things shifting around on my back and it got hot. I have never used a messenger bag.

So, I ask you. Does anyone out there have any advice on the pannier vs. messenger bag dilemma? Keep in mind that I want to carry clothes, legal-size files and occasionally a computer. And, before I get any smart-alek responses, I do know how to put files on flash drive or send them via e-mail. This usually comes up following a trip or weekend when I needed to take my computer.

10 comments:

Nick said...

I recently purchased a single-strap bag from REI that would be perfect for what you need. It's kind of a hybrid of a backpack and messenger bag--what makes it great, however, is its slim profile (in other words, it doesn't make you look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame like other backpacks). For what I've seen, it's probably the best balance of capacity and carryability (of course that's a word).
I personally use the bag for short hiking trips and overnight stays (it carries a change of clothes, toiletries, and laptop pretty easily).

adam said...

I ride with a Timbuk2 messenger bag. They have a few different sizes; one that I have holds legal files and has a computer sleeve. Its comfortable to ride with as long as the securing strap is tight enough. The big downside is that it does get hot on my back. Good luck in your decision.

Anonymous said...

Don't carry anything on your back! I almost had to stop riding because of back & neck issues, and you just should not do that to yourself. Cycling is already hard on your back & shoulders, and you shouldn't add to that by carrying stuff on your body -- that's what the machine you ride is for. Several companies make inexpensive grocery bad panniers, and both Knog and TransIT make nice looking messenger bags that CONVERT to panniers with some hidden straps. Cannondale even makes (made?) a waterproof pannier laptop briefcase. Velo orange (google those 2 words -- it's a small company that makes awesome stuff) has gorgeous ostrich leather panniers that should fit a legal folder or whatever. But this thread really does bring up a big WTF -- why do so few of the supposedly reputable messenger bag manufacturers put pannier straps on the backs of their bags? I don't care if you are 20 years old -- torqueing your back to carry crap while you're riding is dopey. I'm just bitter, because I love the orange and brown that Timbuk2 puts out, but...no pannier straps.

Anonymous said...

Lawrence, Did you choose between the Jandd and the Arkel? I'm a bike commuting attorney in Boise and I'm looking at those two bags. I would love some insight on the difference or if you found something else better.
Thanks

dearj said...

I have a much shorter commute -- 3.5 miles each way -- and have voted for panniers over a messenger bag, having tried both options. I just got way too hot with a messenger bag.

Main issue now is that the briefcase pannier I have now doesn't feel terribly secure, and is somewhat small (Knog Valore Messenger, aka Knog Rak n' Bak) -- probably marginal for any notebook bigger than, say, 12" screen or so. The Cannondale (Cypod, or now it's called the Sidepod) looks interesting, but doesn't appear to be much larger. Depending on the size you need, something like the Jandd Laptop Pannier might be nice.

In the 20+ litre sizes, you may also wish to consider the Ortlieb Office Bag or the Carradice Bike Bureau (both cheaper than the Arkel Briefcase, and to my eyes, the Carradice looks much nicer). Since I have some credit with Jandd, I'm probably going to go after their Commuter Briefcase Pannier.

Lainie said...

I have a situation where we already had a great messenger bag, so I found these - MEC replacement pannier clips:
http://www.mec.ca/Products/product_detail.jsp?FOLDER%3C%3Efolder_id=2534374302693397&PRODUCT%3C%3Eprd_id=845524442618082&bmUID=1221532224986
So you can convert your messenger bag to a pannier.

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Ben said...

Did you get a solution you liked?

For such a long trip I would certainly use panniers. Like the other poster said - your bike is designed to carry stuff, why put it on you back? It will raise your center of balance and be far less comfortable than panniers.

I really think the whole messenger bag thing is as much about fashion as it is utility - your LBS guys included. Twenty miles is a long way to carry something on your back.

I don't usually use my panniers for my super-short school commute because I'm always bringing my bag in and moving from the classroom to shop, etc. I actually use an old army ALICE pack, which is as large as a messenger bag, more comfortable, more durable and a whole lot cheaper ($30). It's great for my short jaunts, and it doesn't move around on my back a whole lot. Still, for longer rides in the summer it would get too hot and put too much stress on my shoulders. Definitely the panniers for what you want to do.

Emily said...

Lainie, would you mind explaining how the MEC clips can attach to a regular messenger bag? I am also looking for a good way to use my messenger bag as a pannier, but I don't understand from the product description how those work. Thanks!

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