Should I Carry a Bag While Cycling?

Should I Carry a Bag While Cycling?

I understand the need to transport items while cycling.

However, carrying a bag comes with some downsides.

Will it impact your balance and aerodynamics? Will it lead to discomfort?

In this article, I discuss the pros and cons of using different cycling bags so you can decide what works best. Backpacks are common but can cause sweating and strain.

Panniers transfer load to the bike instead of your body.

I share tips from my own experience carrying bags by bike.

How to choose the right bag style and properly secure and position it.

Let’s explore how you can haul cargo comfortably!

Should I Carry a Bag While Cycling?

I mean, it depends on what you’re using the bag for.

They can definitely be useful if you need to haul stuff. But the extra weight can also make your ride tougher.

Carrying a bag while cycling is very common, especially if you’re commuting or need to transport items.

However, it does come with some downsides.

The main drawback of cycling with a bag is the impact on balance and aerodynamics.

Lugging around extra weight, especially if it’s not distributed properly, can make your bike feel less stable.

A bulky bag can also catch a lot of wind resistance, slowing you down.

Bags can also cause sweating and discomfort, as the extra weight presses on your back.

They limit your range of motion, which can feel restrictive. The swinging motion of a loose bag can also be distracting.

However, I don’t want to make it seem like you should never use a cycling bag!

They are extremely useful.

Just keep these cons in mind and choose a bag style suited to your needs. Prioritize stability, comfort, and airflow when shopping around.

For example, I like to use compact messenger bags for shorter city rides.

The crossbody style keeps the bag stable but it’s small enough to not feel cumbersome.

For longer commutes, I break out my rack-mounted pannier which transfers the load to my bike instead of my body.

Should I Cycle With a Backpack?

Umm, only for short rides under 5 miles. For longer rides, consider alternative bags to avoid discomfort.

Backpacks are versatile, easy to use, and great for carrying a range of loads.

However, some backpacks are definitely better suited for cycling than others.

The main downside of backpacks is comfort and sweat.

The bag sits right against your back, which can lead to an uncomfortable ride and a sweaty back after a few miles.

It also puts extra strain on your shoulders.

If you want to cycle with a backpack, I recommend choosing one with:

  • Padded, breathable back panel and straps
  • Chest and waist straps to stabilize the load
  • Streamlined design that won’t catch wind
  • Reflective details for visibility
  • Hydration reservoir compatibility is a nice bonus

I’d avoid basic school backpacks or bulky hiking packs. Look for something designed specifically for cycling.

For example, I really like my Osprey Radial 26 pack which hits all the criteria above.

Pack the backpack intelligently too.

Heavier items go right against your back, with softer items against the straps.

Take the time to adjust the straps for a snug, centered fit every time. It makes a huge difference in comfort!

With the right backpack and packing method, cycling with one can be pleasant.

But I still limit use to shorter rides of 5 miles or less where carrying capacity outweighs comfort concerns.

Can You Bike With a Hiking Backpack?

I don’t recommend cycling with a hiking backpack if you can avoid it.

They are bulky, heavy, and tend to have loose unsecured straps that flap around.

Hiking packs are designed for carrying 50+ pounds over rugged terrain.

That level of durability and cargo capacity is overkill for the average cycling application.

The rigid frame and extensive padding that make a hiking pack great for trails also limit airflow for cycling.

If you already own a hiking pack and want to use it on the bike, look for ways to streamline it.

For example:

  • Remove the rigid frame sheets if possible
  • Tighten and secure all compression straps
  • Clip up any loose strap ends
  • Only pack what you must carry
  • Consider a strapless chest pack for valuables

You can make hiking packs work as cycling bags but they will never be as comfortable or aerodynamic as a purpose-built cycling backpack.

I would only use a hiking pack to cycle if you already own one and don’t want to purchase another bag.

Even then, use it sparingly for short trips.

How Do You Carry a Backpack While Cycling?

To carry a cycling backpack properly:

  • Use both shoulder straps. Slinging it over one shoulder negatively impacts your balance and posture.
  • Position the pack high and centered on your upper back. Low placements cause the load to pull you backwards.
  • Take the time to properly tighten the straps. They should be snug but not uncomfortably tight.
  • Use the sternum and waist straps if available. They distribute weight away from the shoulders.
  • Pack the bag strategically. Dense heavy items against the back panel, soft lighter items against the straps and back.
  • Periodically readjust straps on long rides as your posture changes.
  • Consider a strapless chest or waist pack for quick access items like your phone, keys or wallet. Reduces need to take backpack off.
  • Loosen shoulder straps fully when not riding to avoid discomfort and restricted circulation.

Proper backpack positioning and adjustment makes a world of difference in comfort.

Don’t just sling it on haphazardly if you want to avoid pain and soreness.

Take a couple extra minutes before each ride to get the pack centered and secured.

Make pack adjustments as needed during your ride too.

What Size Backpack is Good for Cycling?

In general, smaller and more streamlined is better when it comes to cycling backpacks.

Large bulky packs negatively impact comfort, aerodynamics and bike handling.

For commuting and daily use, I recommend 20-30 liter packs.

This provides ample room for items like:

  • Change of clothes
  • Laptop + tablet
  • Notebook, documents
  • Lunch
  • Cycling essentials like tubes, tools, lock

Larger 35+ liter packs are useful for longer expeditions or if you need to haul more gear.

However, they will feel cumbersome on quick around-town hops.

I would avoid huge 50+ liter mountaineering packs unless you are bikepacking or cycle touring over multiple days.

Even then, carefully consider what you actually need to carry.

Unnecessary weight makes the miles much harder.

If you are only carrying a few small essentials, compact under 10 liter packs are great.

They are barely noticeable while riding.

Just be sure to get one designed for cycling with proper back panels, straps and stability features.

Consider how much you need to carry and choose the smallest pack that will get the job done.

You want enough capacity without excess bulk. Let the intended use guide your volume needs.

For most people commuting or riding around town, 20-30 liters hits the sweet spot of cargo space versus bulk.

But assess your own carry needs and adjust accordingly for the best riding experience.

My Top Picks for Cycling Backpacks

After testing my fair share of cycling packs over the years, I’ve narrowed it down to five all-star backpacks that have stood out from the crowd.

These are my favorite:

Osprey Radial 26

The Osprey Radial 26 is like my trusty sidekick on daily bike commutes.

It’s got ventilation right where you need it with their AirScape backpanel that keeps your back cool and sweat-free.

The padded harness and kickstand are sweet bonuses too – this pack just seems made for cycling.

Deuter Bike One

Deuter’s Bike One backpack is a sleek companion for pedaling around town.

It’s got smart features like ventilated mesh covering, adjustable straps to get the fit dialed in, and a handy rain cover for when the weather turns.

Solid choice for all-around cycling usage.

Timbuk2 Spire Backpack

For short rides where you just need the essentials, I’m loving the minimalist Timbuk2 Spire.

It’s super lightweight and doesn’t feel bulky at all.

Reflective elements make you visible at night, and compression straps keep everything locked down tight.

Thule Pack-n-Pedal Commuter

If you’re looking for a solid laptop bag, Thule’s Pack-n-Pedal gets the job done.

Cushy padded shoulder and hip straps keep you comfy, plus the main compartment and laptop sleeve are nicely protective.

Bonus points for the U-lock holder too!

Camelbak Fourteener 24

The Camelbak Fourteener 24 is ready for some rugged adventure rides.

It’s built tough with integrated tool storage and even a spot for your helmet.

And no need to stop for water with Camelbak’s awesome reservoir system – just sip as you ride!

Final Thoughts

Should you carry a bag while cycling? Well, it depends on your needs and priorities.

While bags can allow you to haul items, the right cycling-specific bag suited to your ride is key.

Take time to properly position and secure it to minimize downsides.

Backpacks work best for shorter rides under 5 miles.

For longer rides, choose alternatives like messenger bags or panniers to avoid back discomfort.

Make sure to pack strategically in your backpack and use all stability straps.

Take a couple minutes to get the pack properly fitted.

Assess your true carrying needs and aim for the most compact, streamlined bag that will accomplish the job. Avoid bulky packs when possible.

With the proper cycling bag choice and packing method, you can absolutely carry cargo comfortably on rides.

Don’t let accessory load prevent you from riding!

Avatar photo
Joey B. Ramsey
Passionate cyclist, father, and blogger.
I've been riding bikes since childhood and enjoy sharing my knowledge with fellow cycling enthusiasts.
My diverse bike collection allows me to write reviews and advice based on personal experience with various bikes and accessories.
join me email cta
Join me
Join me for more cycling related content and deals.

Related Articles