How to Carry Things on Your Bike

September 27, 2021 • Transportation

If you’re going to be running errands on your bike or commuting to work, you’ll need places to put things. There are different methods, and the best one for you depends on preference, bike capacity, and what you need to transport.

Think you have too much stuff to haul? We have it on good authority that you can move pretty much anything by bike! How about all the stuff your 4-piece band needs for their cross-country tour, or three kids and camping equipment? One mom in Portland, OR even bikes herself and her six children around on one bike!

Here are some things to get you started:

Backpack
: Backpacks are great because they’re versatile and usually have room for all the stuff you’ll need in a day. And they’re not so great because they sit on your back, and may become heavy or uncomfortable after some time in the saddle. If you live the backpack life already, try to get a small pack with a mesh shelf that sits away from your back (or other ventilation technology) for riding. This allows airflow and will make your ride more comfortable.

Front basket or bag
: Many people like attaching a front basket to their bike so they can haul stuff and keep tabs on it during the ride. It’s helpful to attach bungee cords across the top or have another way of securing your cargo if using an open basket. You may also consider a handlebar bag that attaches in roughly the same way, and can be fully zipped or buckled, but is usually much smaller than a basket, fitting only a wallet, keys, tools, and a snack.

Rack
: A rear rack will support panniers (saddle bags that attach to the rack) to haul laptops, a change of clothes, etc. Make sure the rack you choose can support the weight of that gear plus a lock (about 25+ pounds). The rack alone won’t help you haul things — you’ll need either panniers or some other method of attaching stuff to it. Some people attach milk crates to their racks for a DIY solution.

Panniers
: These are just a specific kind of bike bag that attaches to your rack. Waterproof roll-top panniers are a good option for supporting year round commuting. They’re generally sturdy enough, and can be semi-permanently attached to the rack to prevent theft.

Frame bags
: These usually fit within the triangle shape your frame makes. They can velcro on or attach more securely, depending on the model. They’re great for carrying small items, but probably wouldn’t fit a laptop.

The rabbit hole goes pretty deep on this topic, so if you’re looking to carry stuff on your bike and not your back, check out Bicycling Magazine’s excellent guide.

Cargo bikes

You may find that you need a fully different bike to haul things, and cargo bikes can carry whatever you can put on them. Large and small businesses use them for deliveries, parents use them to carry kids and groceries, everyone uses them for fun.

Longtail: The most common cargo bike style in the U.S. and Canada. It's intuitive to ride and very stable. Size, weight, and length are things to consider and can make storage and transport tricky.

Midtail: One of the fastest growing styles of cargo bikes. With wheelbases closer to standard, they’re easier to store, transport, and maneuver. Cargo capacity is lower due to compact size.

Front loading: Very popular in Europe. These have high cargo capacity due to design and size. They’re typically imported, so are the most expensive cargo bike option. The handling takes time to get used to due to rider position and bike size.

Before deciding on a cargo bike, think about:

  • What do you plan to use it for?

  • Where will you store it?

  • What is your budget?

  • Electric or standard?

Then just like buying a human-powered machine, go to your local shop and test ride, test ride, test ride!

What’s your favorite way to carry things by bike? Drop us a line (with photos) at Anna@BikesMakeLifeBetter.com.

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