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​Smart Ways to Carry Things by Bike

Updated: Apr 12

Bicycles are perfect for short trips that are too long for walking but short enough that driving a car doesn’t really make sense. When traveling by bicycle, numerous options exist for carrying your stuff with you. Options range from low-cost to expensive, with pros and cons for each.

In honor of Earth Day this month, let’s review the choices for carrying stuff by bicycle, which is the most efficient and environmentally friendly form of transportation.

While attaching bags to your handlebars may seem convenient, it poses significant risks. These bags can impede steering, particularly when laden with weight. Moreover, there's a chance of them becoming entangled in the front wheel, potentially causing a hazardous spill over the handlebars.

Use a backpack or messenger bag.

  • Pros: Backpacks and/or messenger bags are available at different price points and sizes, and they can be used on or off the bike.

  • Cons: All the weight is on your body, so heavy loads can be uncomfortable over time. Also, backpacks will often make your back sweaty as you ride. This is a clear choice if you already own a backpack or messenger bag and you don’t want to buy accessories for your bike. This option is far better than hanging bags off your handlebar.

Put a basket or rack on the front of your bike.

  • Pros: Low-cost options are available, although you can spend extra money to get a sturdy rack or a decorative basket that looks more stylish. They can hold the same or more stuff than a backpack, the weight is not on your back, and you can keep an eye on your stuff as you ride.

  • Cons - If the basket attaches to your handlebar or fork, the weight of its contents can make it harder to steer your bike. Baskets or racks that attach to the front of your frame won’t influence your steering, but they may or may not work with your bike. Check with your local bike shop.

Put a rack on the back of your bike.

  • Pros: Most bikes have mounts to attach a rack to the back of the frame. Even if your frame doesn’t have mounts, there are racks designed to attach to the frame without mounts. The biggest advantage of a rack is that the weight of what you’re carrying is off your body and the bike is bearing the weight for you.  Racks are typically sturdier than baskets, and you can strap bags or other containers to the rack using bungee cords.

  • Cons: There are almost no downsides to putting a rack on your bike, except that it

Use pannier bags (saddle bags) with a rack.

  • Pros: These are special bags designed to attach to bike racks. They mount low to keep the center of gravity low. Top-quality models include waterproof options and are very durable.

  • Cons: Good-quality panniers tend to be more expensive, but their durability and adjustability are worth it if you can afford them. Low-cost panniers are typically less adjustable and may not be as durable.

Hook a bike trailer to your bike.

  • Pros: Attaching a trailer enables you to carry much more, and trailers for kids can double as storage for stuff.

  • Cons: Trailers can be expensive and are another item to secure when parking. Some trailer hitches are incompatible with some bikes, and the added weight can be difficult to pull if you don’t have an e-bike. Hot tip: You can often find used trailers for sale on Craigslist, Facebook marketplace, or E-bay.

Consider a cargo bike.

  • Pros: There are many types of cargo bikes for carrying stuff and kids. The best of them can replace a car, especially for short trips. Electric cargo bikes can greatly help when carrying heavy loads, especially in hilly areas.

  • Cons: Cargo bikes can be expensive (but relative to a car, they’re inexpensive). E-cargo bikes are among the most expensive cargo bikes. Storage can be problematic if you live in multi-unit housing without a secure, private garage.

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