Friday Group Ride #48

Papa needs a brand new bag. I mean that literally. I need a new commuter bag. I have three or four jammed into the front hall closet, but none of them is answering my needs quite the way  I would like.

I have a North Face day pack. It’s small, and it makes my back sweaty, and I have packed it full of climbing shoes and chalk bags and tape and harness and all that other stuff that makes it not usable for bicycle commuting, but pretty good for quick rock climbing trips.

I have a small messenger style bag made from used sail cloth and salvaged inner tubes made by Teamwork Bags. I stenciled an image of Fausto Coppi on its pristine white surface, and it’s very stylish, but also very small, and not entirely water proof, and it just won’t do for wintertime transit.

I have a medium-sized courier bag from Chrome, the Metropolis, which is capacious and durable, but not that comfortable. I am a fan, generally, of the courier bag, because it allows me to access storage while in the saddle, but the one-shouldered burden begins to wear me down and the cross strap constricts my breathing (when tight enough to secure the load), which makes climbing difficult. We have a love/hate relationship, like Oprah and cake.

There have been other bags of course, either handed down to nephews (my original courier bag), or given away to a friend (a Pearl Izumi, purpose built courier backpack), but none of them has been so overwhelmingly awesome that I’d buy a replacement.

This week’s Group Ride asks the questions: What bag do you ride with? Do you love it? What do you love about it? Why did you buy it? What could be better about it? What would you buy right now, if you were buying a bag?

I am hoping that your valuable input will guide my search and Santa’s sleigh. Most of my riding, since the arrival of those two irascible little demons I call my sons, is commuting and/or errands. I carry a bag on the bike so often that when I don’t, I feel a bit naked. So this is an important question.

My current thinking is a largish, waterproof backpack, but I am swayable. I defer, mostly, to your wisdom. The only thing I will not consider is panniers. I just don’t like the way they feel (or look). BUT…if you’re a pannier-devotee, I want to hear about that too. Tell us why.

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  1. amityskinnyguy

    I use a homemade backpack that I created from a waterproof stuff sack and 1″ and 2″ webbing. It’s comfortable enough for the loads/distances that I ride with it, it was inexpensive and best of all, it fit in a jersey pocket when empty. It makes no fashion statement, but it works great!

  2. dvgmacdonald

    I’ve got a North Face day pack (actually a few of them) that my wife picked up for practically free on a recent trip to Vietnam. They are my normal choice for on-bike carrying. They do a good job, but I won’t pretend there aren’t times that I wish I had something more purpose built. The worst part is that when they are reasonably heavily loaded, it’s hard to keep the load from swaying from side to side. On the plus side, they’re mostly waterproof, capacious, and reasonably comfortable when not carrying more than 10 lbs. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to carry a laptop, though.

  3. Rick

    Bailey Bags from Portsmouth NH! Great strap release design.. Designed, made and sold right in their factory store on Islington Street. If you go to their store at the factory you can meet the owner and talk to the ladies sewing up the bags. Can’t get bettah than that….

  4. MJR

    Bailey Works is the only bag I will use anymore. Great strap system (as noted above), waterproof, smart details like a reflective strip on the flap and also on the bottom (which faces traffic as you ride), lots of options. Easily swapped from lefty to righty. The only gripe I have is that the light clip could be sewn a little tighter to minimize drooping.

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  6. RS

    question for the group: how do you deal with the inevitable build up of stench that results from sweating into a backpack twice a day for weeks/months. I have a great comfy Osprey backpack with all the right pockets and try to wash it occasionally, but the straps and backpanel are just disgusting now and beyond hope. I really can’t use it EXCEPT when I’m riding, and can’t even wear it on days when I don’t ride. I’ve replaced this thing 2x now (once per year), but that isn’t a sustainable solution. Maybe there’s a better material out there? Help a brother out here…

  7. James

    I used to do the commuter bag thing but just hated the one strap gouging my neck and swinging around. So, I graduated to the day pack but, again didn’t like all of that weight on my shoulders and restricting my movement. The only way to go is panniers! I know you hate this but you have freedom of movement, you can use one or two depending how much junk you carry around (I use one just to haul my lunch and clothes)and your back isn’t sopping wet when you arrive. I use a couple of small Ortlieb bags that have not allowed a single drop of water inside despite living in Portland, Oregon and I ride all year everyday rain or shine! I really don’t have any issues with the way the bike handles because there really isn’t that much weight in them. If you can get past the vanity issues they are, really, the best option.

  8. Armchair Cyclist

    There is really only one option if you don’t need to carry /too/ much stuff: Very nice saddle bags that are waterproof and look more stylish than panniers (in my humble opinion). The only downside is that you either leave them on the bike and remove the items, or fiddle around with straps attached to the saddle, or get something like this: And if you do take the bag off the saddle, it’s not the easiest thing to carry due to the lack of a carry strap, although apparently the company are planning on incorporating one at some point in the future.

  9. Stephen

    I commute with the Chrome Ranchero which is their medium sized backpack and really like it. It’s super durable, but only has one small pocket and one really huge one.

  10. Jon

    I’ve been using a timbuk2 medium messenger daily for the past 5 years. Large enough for a laptop, work clothes and sometimes a pair of shoes as well. It has held up well and although it shows signs of use I expect it will be replaced only when I get bored with it.

    Once I figured out how best to wear it it has been very comfortable- even when loaded with 6 bottles of wine, 1.75 l vodka, a bottle of vermouth and a largish chicken.

  11. Dan

    Ortleib Messanger Bag Pro. Comfortable, waterproof, no sway when out of saddle climbing or fixed gear super-RPMs. Nearly no back sweat, huge capacity but works well massively overloaded (case of wine, change of clothes including shoes and a winter trench coat, plus laptop) or nearly empty. No frills stock, but you can add your own bells & whistles if needed. After 3 years with this one I have no desire for any other bag for commuting.

  12. bobyo

    I’ve used the SealLine backpack for the past year. It’s waterproof and cavernous. The fit is adjustable making a heavier load comfortable. I’ve carried my cammies, combat boots, textbook, computer for my 14 mile commute. My back doesn’t hurt when using this bag. When the bag rides lower, you can see over your shoulder. Always a plus in traffic. Drawback, it is hard to see in the bottom of the black bag to find small items.

  13. Randomactsofcycling

    I’ve been using a cycling specific Deuter backpack for 4+ years now and am very happy with it. My apologies that I cannot recall the model name. It’s large enough for a full change of clothes, shoes and towel, has enough little pockets to keep phones/wallet etc and has space for a hydration pack and loops for hose/mouthpiece. It has a curved ‘hardshell’ spine that allows airflow to my back, which I am sure does have some benefit but even riding without a backpack, I get a sweaty back. Straps are comfortable and adjustable, as well as having ‘cross-straps’ to keep the pack from moving around when riding out of the saddle. There’s also a nice elastic lattice-work on the back for extra stuff to tie on. It’s got all the reflective bits and it waterproof in all but the heaviest of downpours. You could donworsenthan look through the Deuter range.

  14. Jon Paul Baker

    The way I see it, I can do the work or let the bike do it. Wearing a bag/pack interferes with keeping warm/cool and limits how much I can safely carry. Also, not wearing a bag at all is far more comfortable than the best bag.

    For small loads, I use an Ortlieb handlebar bag. Works well as long as one doesn’t have carbon handlebars. Also, it is waterproof unless the bike gets turned upside-down.

    On my Roubaix, I use a Tubus Fly rack and Ortlieb roll-top front panniers. They’re small enough they look fine on the bike and are waterproof. I usually only use one for commuting duty. The rack goes on and off quickly, so I can toss it on if I want to ride the Roubaix and need to carry food/clothes to work or take it off when I don’t need it.

    For more serious load carrying, I use a Long Haul Trucker, Tubus Cargo rack, and either Ortlieb roll-top rear panniers or flip-out bags.

  15. Marco Placero

    Chrome messenger pack, not gonna fool with figuring out the name for you, it’s the one that’s kinda like a daypack but kinda square at the top so you look like that weirdo metal full face rocket pack dude from some 1950s TV show. But remember if you buy Chrome you’re banned from bikesnobnyc for a couple days at least.

  16. Jim

    What kind of commuter bag? It’s called “Pockets.” The clothes & stuff stay crammed into a small locker at work with a hygiene kit, the suits & shirts get dry cleaned in a shop downstairs. I invariably need to drive in once or twice a week due to heavy piles of crap that need to go home or into work, and I swap out underwear and socks as needed.

    In the winter I swap out to my large capacity bag, Pockets + Jacket With Pockets.

  17. Lachlan

    I variously use an aging but very spacious and comfortable Ortleib pack thats just a glorified single space plastic sack (and very good for doing that simple job so well!),

    and more often a Rapha backpack. The Rapha one is very well designed in the details and just right for commutes with a laptop. There is enough back ventilation for all but the hottest days, when it’s a bit too hot. The design keeps everything close to you rather than swaying about, but it’s not going to hold very much of a change of clothes (you can only just fit in a change or essentials + maybe some slim/squishy shoes if you try hard).

  18. Nick H

    Going to have to put in another plug for the MW Vandal. I bought it this summer to replace my ReLoad Civilian courier mainly because with the heavier loads the single strap started to kill me and the breathing issues when the second strap was employed made it nearly non functional. Prior to that I had (and beat to death) a Bailey Works Courier Pro, as a seacoast NH native that bag will always hold a special place in my heart but I replaced it with the ReLoad to get something a bit more bomber.
    The Vandal is light enough that I when its minimally loaded it doesn’t feel bulky or intrusive (my biggest gripe with the ReLoad) and the internal stays keep the heavier loads from becoming too unwieldy. I’m curious to see how well the MW holds up after a year+ of use but thus far I couldn’t be happier.

  19. Bryan Lewis

    I think I’ve already told you my story, but I’ll ramble on anyway… I too disliked rear panniers. Especially when I realized that the weight of the rack plus fancy waterproof pannier was about the same as the load I was carrying. My old favorite was a roomy 20-year-old Bean backpack that I’d customized over the years, but it does have the sweaty back syndrome. I looked for a new pack and settled on the Vaude Alpin Air (based on a recommendation from an EMS salesperson who didn’t even stock Vaude), just big enough for my laptop. It has an air channel to avoid SBS.

    After a month I cut off the waist straps ’cause I kept catching them on doorknobs and I didn’t see the need for *that* secure an attachment. Has a rain cover, handy side mesh pockets. I liked it… until six months later I developed a persistent lower back ache. I’m pretty sure the backpack was the trigger. I dunno why I never had this problem with the old Bean pack, except the Vaude is a bit smaller and the air channel rests on my back a little higher and more in one place. SBS might have a silver lining.

    I’ve gone back to a rear rack with cheap, foldable Jannd grocery bag panniers. Plus dry sacks for waterproofness and easy packing. It’s been working well for me for six weeks now on my commute bike.

  20. Dan O

    Timbuk2 messenger bag for me – one of the larger sizes. My current one is about 12 years old and is used daily to carry whatever to work and back. Many bicycle commuting miles, (for a few years) much motorcycle commuting – even use it when driving just to carry stuff. Plus it serves as my “suitcase” when traveling.

    The bag is basically waterproof. Takes an hour plus ride in pouring rain to get the inside wet, and then just a few corners are damp. That rarely happens. I dig the way it wraps around your back and distributes the weight. It can get hot on really warm days, but not that bad. Since I live in the Seattle area, not really an issue. On the other hand, keeps you bit warmer and dry in wet weather. You can fit a stupid amount of stuff in it. I’ve actually wedged a fair amount of groceries in there. The optional shoulder pad strap is a must and works well. The cam action deal that adjust the shoulder belt is simple to use – great design.

    For the money, for what I put it through, to how much I use it – one of the best things I’ve ever purchased. It’s all black in color and has only faded a bit. My previous Timbuk2 bag was also used for many years and still looks new. It worked so well, I wanted the larger version.

    I dig the messenger bag over panniers, since I can jump on any of my bikes to commute with. Riding the sweet carbon race rig to work is a blast and helps justify the cost – no? The bag makes that possible.

  21. Henning

    I’ve used a number of bags over the years from Timbuk2, Chrome and Rapha. I recently moved to Amsterdam and decided to replace my decidedly threadbare Rapha, which had served me well for 3.5 years. I considered Chrome’s Soyuz, Mission Workshop’s Rambler and Ortlieb’s Velocity. These are all different types of bags, but I settled on the Ortlieb for it’s waterproofness, minimalism and simplicity. Instead of worrying about pockets, I scrounged a couple of zippered pouches from around the house to hold all the little stuff like cables. I normally commute with a laptop, digital camera, phone, iPod, a couple of notebooks, some rain gear and a few dog accessories. Overall it’s comfortable, reasonably well ventilated along the back and extremely stable while riding. It is, unsurprisingly, good in the rain. After 2 months of use, there are minor signs of use.

  22. CC

    I’ve ridden with all types of packs and messenger bags over the years and have settled on two packs for commuting: a Deuter Futura 28 and an Ortlieb Flight, one for summer, one for the rest of the year.

    When it came down to it, I just got tired of the “sweat swath” that came with a messenger bag. And though they’re constructed/lined with waterproof materials, the plain truth was that they weren’t completely waterproof (when using a flap design). Roll-tops, yes. But many don’t have much in the way of breathable backpanels and the cavern/cylinder design isn’t easy to get into. (The Mahoubar was somewhere between roll-tops and messenger bag, but ultimately the limited opening was my walk-away decider.)

    I’ve been using the Deuter the longest–lightweight, highly breathable back (only real contact points are at hips and between shoulders) and just enough space. The curved internal space can be a little difficult with rigid stuff (books, laptop), but still worth it. I use a SealLine pocket panel to organize small stuff inside. The rain cover is great for unexpected or light rains… but it’s a rain cover and thus has limits.

    Which led to the Ortlieb Flight. Honestly, if it weren’t for the weight and need to maintain/lube the zippers, it’d be my year-round back. The adjustable torso length is a major contributor to this (the Deuter is a little short for my long torso). At Interbike this year, the Flight’s updates looked great and refined the little things that I’d hoped for. Having full-length zippers is a benefit I didn’t appreciate until switching between the Deuter and Ortlieb. The internal pockets are exactly what I need without going overboard. And, of course, the thing is submersible waterproof. The waistbelt is a bit overbuilt and the loops that are supposed to retain the strap ends don’t work (they slip inward toward the buckle, letting the straps flap away on your thighs). Aside from that, the zippers are a reality you have to make peace with. The price, in my mind, is worth it–the pack will last me a decade, at least. I’m curious how the Ergon BC3 stands up (it seems somewhere between the Deuter and Ortlieb).

    1. Padraig

      Everyone: Thanks much for your considered responses. Wow, you’ve given us all a veritable shopper’s guide to bags. I doubt any of the magazines could come close to this (unless they just reviewed all the bags you lot have suggested). For my part, I thought I had something to contribute to this, but I don’t really think I do. My favorite courier bag was made by Cannondale more than ten years ago. It’s waterproof, has some very handy pockets, two main compartments, cavernous capacity and two different ways to run a second strap for stability. I also spent a year without a car in which I commuted on a Specialized Expedition touring bike with racks and panniers. I’d use all four bags for grocery shopping and it taught me some handy lessons about disciplined shopping, not to mention to always, always put the apple cider in one of the front lowriders. Despite these qualifications, I clearly haven’t thought about bags the way you all have been. Keep those recommendations coming. Cheers.

  23. Jason

    I use one of these-

    It has ventilation in the back to prevent too much heat build up, it has pockets on the sides and front to easily access my phone, it has a clip area on the back for my light, it has a slot opening in the top for an H2o bladder, it has 2 sets of straps to help customize the fit and it is very well built. It is not waterproof though. I take care of this with a variety of plastic bags that i put my gear in. I have commuted for years with a variety of different messenger bags and other set-ups and have never been 100% satisfied. This bag gets me pretty close though. There are times when I have it loaded with a full change of clothes, shoes, food and some misc. stuff, and I barely notice that it is there.
    Good luck!

  24. Ben

    I used to use a BaileyWorks courier bag for commuting and loved it. It really came into its own when I started using it as a courier though. Simple (2 big easy access webbing pockets and one large centre compartment), waterproof, no useless gimmicks and hard-wearing. After a long time of hard, heavy use, it was beginning to fall apart, so for conviences sake I went and got a Chrome Metropolis. Didn’t really get on with it so went to Belk Bags and got one of their XL sling bags. I couriered with it for a bit and now am back commuting (I got a proper job!) and while the XL is maybe a litle too big formy needs now it is a top bag with an X strap (removing the problem of too much pressure on one shoulder). They also do cycling backpacks which are top!

    You also cannot go wrong with anything made by PAC which are the choice of many many many couriers (and commuters) around the world for a reason!

  25. james l

    Deuter backpack, these are awesome and they keep the pack off of your back with this mesh tensioned net thing, it works great

  26. Robot

    @All. Wow. Thanks. I think I have my search narrowed to two or three choices, maybe four. All this input has definitely helped me revise my selection criteria and think about bags I didn’t even have on my radar.


  27. slappy

    xtra cycle? how you gonna carry the kids? Mine is a STomparilla race bike so probably to dangerous but my ladyfriends’ rules’ — Surly Big Dummy, 29’r shimano dynamo front with Nokian studded tire. dual avid mechanical disc 3×9 xt drivetrain, stem and bars come off the seat post for the kids, plus bar ends sticking off the front side of the loaders for short legs to stand on and the new padded xtra cycle top deck. Granted we live in Telluride Co which is small, but having the xtra weight on the front studded niner tire is so solid all winter long that it can’t be beat. That and a ski rack that will carry multiple pairs of all our skis, (my Xtra cycle has a golf bag on the back which tends to carry more nordic skis. Anyhow, otherwise i’m quite fond of my REload monster bag although is stupid big and the Ortlieb Vario looks sweet cuz it goes on your back or on a rack.
    Get the weight on the bike. XTRACYCLE

  28. Bikelink

    Panniers for the reason everyone above says. I don’t expect my racing bike to be a commuter. I don’t expect my commuter to do crits. I appreciate them both for being the right tool for the very different jobs they do. I’ve tried messenger bags, backpacks…stop trying to look cool and just do what works (which is cool) :-)=

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