Recently, I switched from a rucksack to a rack and panniers in a bid to solve the mystery of my back pain.
This meant replacing my 18-litre rucksack with a 34-litre double pannier.
I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so different. In fact, things that I was expecting to change, didn’t and things I wasn’t expecting to change, did.
Are you wrestling with which one is right for you? Hopefully I can give you some pointers from my own experience.
Most cyclists who are starting out will use a rucksack because, well, they’ve probably already got one lying around.
It’s convenient to carry around
You don’t have to make any adjustments with a rucksack – just lock up your bike and crack on with your day. I particularly like them when I’m travelling because there’s a real sense of freedom in being able to just take a bag and go.
It doesn’t involve any bike attachments
Rucksacks make it easier for people to get into cycle commuting because they normally have one knocking about the house anyway.
Plus there’s no need for a cumbersome style-cramping bike rack.
You can move faster and more smoothly
When I can, I relish zipping around the city like a wee demon. With a rucksack I feel lightweight and flexible which you just don’t get with a pannier.
It aggravates back/neck pain (possibly)
It could be something entirely different, but I reasoned that taking weight on my back wore me down over time, causing me pain.
It has to be said that I carry a hefty amount on my commute: a full change of clothes (including shoes), a couple of bike locks, my lunch, a spare inner tube and some tools along with life bits like purse and keys.
In any case, I wanted to play around with my luggage options to see if my affliction improved and it did, but only a little.
My upper body can feel restricted
I know, I know – I just praised the rucksack for giving me liberation. But being clasped in by what is essentially a shell on your back can be restrictive, especially if it shuffles on a climb.
Depending on the size, your visibility can be impaired with a bag too. This can mean that you have to crane your neck further around to see what traffic is coming up behind you.
Ideal for: less frequent commuters who carry a lighter load
Rack and panniers
Panniers attach to a rack on the back of your bike and fasten using ties or Velcro.
They do call for a spot more shopping around: consider the size of bag you need and what rack will go with it before you buy.
I can carry more stuff
It might not seem logical to carry around more stuff, but depending on the pannier, you can. So if I spontaneously buy bag of spinach on my way home (because I’m such an exciting person), I can fit it in my bag without having to open the packet to release the excess air.
It’s better for longer cycle trips and tours
Well, it’s not the commute, but a lot of Londoners like to get away when they can.
I did a trip from Bath to Bournemouth over the Easter bank holiday weekend and whoa nelly, it was way easier having panniers.
Again, they allowed me to carry more, but as I was travelling longer distances my body felt less of the strain and I could attach the panniers on the back of the bike and forget about them.
I’ve developed the thighs of a Greek God
It’s true! What my back was carrying, my legs are now pulling along, so it feels like my tree trunks are getting even more of a workout than before.
Just call me Zeus.
Loading/unloading takes longer
The weight of the panniers is enough to keep them down, but there are a couple of ties and Velcro straps for extra security.
Unlike throwing on a bag and heading out the door, loading and unloading the panniers takes a bit longer and requires more care to keep both sides even.
They make the bike a little heavier
The rack itself adds additional weight, so even without the panniers I’m slowed down. It’s frustrating, but you get used to it. Although, I will say, having the panniers means that I do more uphill riding out of the saddle, which feels better for my back.
It’s more difficult to transport the bag when you’re off the bike
Contrary to the ease of carrying a rucksack around, we have panniers.
I deliberately want to keep as much as possible off my back, so I opted for panniers that you essentially carry like a hideous double briefcase thing.
Clunky? Yes. Getting about is more difficult and as both sides of the bag are identical, it’s a nightmare trying to remember which one I put my keys in.
Ideal for: commuters who travel frequently and/or for longer distances
Which is best for commuting – rucksack vs rack and panniers?
Based on conventional wisdom, panniers are better for me. They hold more and suit longer trips.
But day-to-day, I still miss the ease of having a rucksack: it’s the absence of feeling weighed down and the sheer simplicity of it.
At least with the panniers I can stop off at the supermarket on my way home. Result!
Do you use a rucksack or pannier for your commute? Do you opt for something else entirely, like a front basket or a dinky saddle bag? Tell us in the comments below.