May 4, 2005

    Why do bikers overwhelmingly prefer messenger bags? I want to begin riding my bike to work and, in addition to putting a rack on my bike, I'd like to get a good waterproof bag. Thanks!

Kasia P.

    Some might say, "Because they don’t know better."
    After reading the following you might not agree. First, tho, lemme take issue with your "overwhelmingly." In some places, if you look closely enough you’ll see many bikers using baskets and panniers. More on this in a minute.
    I think bikers who do use messenger-style bags do so for these reasons: (1) They started out with backpacks, then found that messenger bags go on and come off more easily. (2) They used to work as messengers or they still get on and off their bikes a lot each day, and don’t want to spend the extra time uncoupling a pannier. (3) They like having a shoulder strap on their bag, and they don’t think they can have that with a pannier.
    By now you see where this has headed. For carrying stuff Mr Bike likes (overwhelmingly) panniers: bags that hang off the sides of a rear carrying rack, or off of a front-mounted rack. You can get ‘em in all different sizes, and they usually come in pairs—tho for just knocking around I usually carry only one. When I do a big grocery trip I’ll take two, and my set can hold the equivalent of three paper shopping bags. (See a picture of this in my book, Urban Bikers’ Tricks & Tips.)
    For carrying my pannier off the bike I’ve added a shoulder strap that I got at a travelers’ supply store. This came in real handy last week when I went to NYC and ended up carrying my bike up and down lots of subway stairs: Before picking up the bike I’d sling my fully-loaded pannier onto my shoulder.
    To keep out water you’ve three options: (1) Put stuff inside the pannier into a plastic grocery bag (the pannier’s outside will still get wet). (2) Buy a waterproof pannier cover, available in several different sizes. (3) Buy a waterproof pannier. Brands include Arkel (what Mr Bike uses), Carradice, Inertia Designs, and Ortlieb.
    Why do people like panniers? First, many think the bike, not the biker, should have to do the work. Myself, I don't wanna bike too far with a heavy messenger bag on my shoulder. That fully-loaded bag can also make it harder (and more dangerous) to look back over your shoulder, a key move to keep from crashing in traffic. Second, panniers lower your center of gravity— thereby making you more stable on your bike.
    All those benefits, however, cost something: A good set of panniers starts at around $100 U.S. Before you make that kind of investment, you might wanna test a cheaper, on-the-bike alternative: wire baskets that hang off of the sides of your rear rack, and that fold up flat when not in use.
    Finally, before you invest in a particular set of panniers it’d help to understand the pros and cons of all the different attachment, closure, and compartment features available. Call some local bike shops and ask if they carry panniers. Then go get your hands on ‘em: Open them up, stick stuff inside them, try mounting them on bikes, and figure how you’d attach a shoulder strap.
    As you can tell, this stuff gets me carried away.

Mr Bike

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