Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer
Back to News & Updates

Backpack vs. Messenger Bag vs. Panniers vs. …?


Ah, the old debate: what’s the best way to carry stuff by bike? A backpack? Panniers? Messenger bag? While there are pros and cons to each approach, and plenty of options over at the bike shop (and even more in the physical shop), we thought it would be useful to some of our commuters to compile the personal thoughts of some of the UA staff. Since they ride in every day, as you could imagine, they had some opinions…

(a full touring setup… which is probably overkill for your daily commute)


Jim C., Head Mechanic

“As an old messenger, I’ve ridden with sling bags and backpacks for years. The single-strap messenger bag conforms to your back and makes looking over one shoulder easier. It’s great for retrieving items quickly, but most aren’t as stable as a double-strap (backpack style) bag. Also, carrying heavy loads on only one shoulder will eventually lead to an overdeveloped muscle on one side of your back. Backpacks and messenger bags are dynamic weight: it moves with you and doesn’t affect the performance of the bike.

Panniers and bike packs are great for keeping your back from sweating. These are also the types of tools that you would most likely be using on longer tours. Good panniers adjust for heel clearance and are weatherproof, but all bags that attach to the bike or racks should be extremely snug fitting. Storage bags for your bicycle are static weight: when loaded, these bags will noticeably affect the performance and handling characteristics of your ride.”

Alex Doig, General Manager

“I rode with a backpack everyday in college. It was ideal for short trips across campus, as I spent a lot of time walking from class to class too. Now that my commute is 30+ minutes each way, and I ride my bicycle absolutely everywhere I go, I’ve totally adopted the pannier lifestyle.

Specifically, I’ve been using the Ortlieb City Roll Top Panniers (which we sell at the shop!). I bought these in October 2016, and over two years later of 50-100 miles of riding a week, all year round, rain or shine, they show almost no signs of wear. These things are 100% waterproof, and extremely durable! (What was the Sham-Wow Guy’s tagline? Something about how “you know the Germans make great stuff”? Well he was right, if these bags are any indicator). And what’s more, they have a unique quick-release attachment system where they clip onto nearly any rack very securely and extremely conveniently. I honestly can’t imagine changing to any other type of pannier.
While these panniers have a shoulder strap, I will say that they’re not the most conducive for walking around town. However, if you wear one of our wool cycling caps when you walk around with this pannier, everyone immediately will know you’re that cyclist guy who rides bikes, and that totally justifies why you’re walking around with a big red rubber bag with sharp hooks digging into your back when you could have a normal backpack like everyone else.
In the end, having a good pannier setup takes the weight off of your back (say goodbye to back sweat and sore shoulders!) and gives you more storage room than a backpack or messenger bag. Get yourself a pair of panniers and you’ll wonder what you ever did before.”

Danny E., Media Manager

“I either ride with a backpack or a handlebar bag. The backpack is great when I’m heading to class, but I prefer a handlebar bag setup with a front rack because it keeps everything accessible and easily visible. That said, I’d be lying if I said fashion didn’t have something to do with it…

As a general rule, however, I always recommend weather-proof bags, which are much more convenient than trying to use individual dry bags (what I used to do), and I think it has a lot to do with distance: the farther you go, the more I’d recommend getting any weight off your back. For my ~18 mile round trip commute, keeping my things off my back makes a big difference in terms of how sweaty I am when I arrive.”


Well, there you have it folks! As always, if you have any questions, just swing by the shop or give us a call at 617.670.0637, and we’ll be more than happy to get you set up with a carry solution that fits your needs.