The bike’s ready and your route is planned, but is your bag packed? Or do you even need one? Let’s figure out what you should bring with you for your commute!
Choosing a Bag – Backpack or Pannier?
If your bike doesn’t have rack mounts to hold a pannier, then this is a very simple question to answer: backpack! But if your bike does have a rack or mounts for one you could still go either way. Neither option is superior to the other, and they both have benefits and downsides. I have used each for extended periods of time, and while I prefer a pannier because I can get the weight off my back and can expand my carrying capacity with a second bag when needed, I occasionally miss the convenience of a small backpack when I want to hop into a store for a minute on my way home and now have the hassle of awkwardly carrying the pannier with me. While backpacks are easy and can be cheap to buy if you don’t have one already, you should strongly consider panniers if you intend to expand your bike commuting beyond riding to work; I often use mine to carry packages to the post office on my way home from work to save trips.
Unless you’re one of the fortunate few with an incredibly short commute and the perfect temperature and humidity level for riding bikes, you’re probably going to want to change when you get to work. And I don’t just mean that you’ll be riding in bike shorts and a jersey – you just might not want to work all day in the same clothes you ride in, especially if you are riding in a stifling hot summer or a freezing cold winter.
Packing clothes is straightforward regardless of what you need to bring with you, and the only thing I am concerned about when packing is minimizing wrinkles. My employer currently has a rather casual dress code, so I’ll fold over my jeans, place the rest of my clothes on top (shirt, underwear, socks), and then fold the jeans over again as if you’re making a “sandwich” with your clothes. When my workplace was much more formal I did much the same with dress clothes, instead taking dress pants and making the “sandwich” with a dress shirt all the same. The only additional tip I can offer is that, especially with dress clothes, don’t fold up your bundle until right before you pack your bag – leaving the bundle folded overnight in your bag will likely result in very wrinkled clothes!
As for shoes, I’ll stack them together with soles facing outwards so that they take up as little space as they can. If possible, leave a pair of shoes at work at your desk or in a locker, as it’s one less thing to carry each day!
If you bring a lunch to work each day, it’s best to pack your lunch in its own bag first (re-using a plastic grocery bag is perfect) as a precaution to contain any spills before placing it in your pack or pannier with the rest of your stuff. The last thing you want is for your clothes to smell like the spicy garlic sauce from your take-out the night before! I typically pack all my lunch items in re-usable plastic containers to prevent any items from getting crushed (my commute has a lot of rough roads), and to again minimize spills.
And what about items that may be more prone to spilling, such as soups? Freeze it the night before! Frozen soup in a container won’t spill, and you’ll be able to thaw it before lunch.
Other Items to Consider
As I mentioned in the first article in this series, baby wipes and a small hand towel are recommended in case you break a sweat on your ride. Being able to wipe down when you get to work can help you feel a whole lot better before you start the day!
In addition to packing for work, you should also make sure to have a few emergency repair items for the bike just in case you get a flat on your way. A basic kit should include a tire lever or two, a spare tube that’s the correct size for your tires, and either a mini-pump or CO2 cartridges. I would never take anything less than this on a bike ride; they take up practically no space in your bag (if you don’t carry them on your bike already), and when you need them, you will really need them!
Time to Pack!
When packing your bag, it’s usually best to place the heaviest items at the bottom of the bag for stability, which for me is usually my bundle of clothes. Then pack the rest of your stuff – be it your shoes, a lunch bag, or even a book or laptop. If you’re using a backpack, make sure the straps are adjusted so that it’s comfortable when on the bike in a riding position – the height of the backpack for standing upright while walking or hiking may leave the bag in an extremely uncomfortable position when you’re leaning forward on the bike. If you’re using a pannier, make sure it and the rack are both secure and that the bag doesn’t bounce around when loaded.
Coming up next week: Equipping Your Bike: Making sure your bike has all the things it needs for a comfortable and safe commute.
Rob is a New England native who has been living in Charlotte, North Carolina, since 2012. Upon learning how to ride at the age of five he quickly found that everything is better on a bicycle, and hasn’t stopped riding since.