Image for Katie Bonomo

Zen and the art of carrying things on a bike

Change is hard. It’s so much easier to keep doing what we’ve always done. But how boring, right?

If you’re looking for something to shake up your life in a good way, there’s nothing like using a bike for transportation. It’s a fantastic shift. You’re happier! You’re more fit! You’re saving money!

Yeah, sure, I’d love to bike around town, but…

Even with all these great benefits, in the U.S. only a small (but growing) percentage of people take advantage of this great mode of transportation. Because…change is hard, and there are barriers to overcome.

image_5There are a lot of valid reasons why people are nervous to try getting around by bike. I’ll get sweaty. I don’t know what to wear. I have to take my kids to school. Many of the issues have been addressed pretty extensively by other blogs.

One thing I think deserves a little more coverage is how it’s possible to carry all the things you need for your day on a bike. I’ve been using a bike to get around for about a decade, and that has given me plenty of time to experiment with different ways to carry things.

Learning how to carry stuff on a bike

Carrying a package on handlebarsWhen I first started biking, I used a messenger bag that I already had. It’s no surprise that this style of bag is amazingly useful and versatile for carrying things on a bike. But it can only hold so much. If you need to carry a lot of things, or anything large or bulky, a messenger bag may not cut it.

Case in point, the time that I needed to take a package to the post office back when I was relying only on a messenger bag. I’m sure the people I passed with this rig were smiling at the ingenuity, rather than laughing at how ridiculous I looked.

Tools that make it much easier

IMG_3322Soon after this photo was taken, I got a rear rack. I’m not sure why I had waited years to do it.

I’ve tried a few types of racks and the one I’ve found most useful attaches to the seatstays and the rack mounts near the rear hub and has a spring-loaded piece of metal that’s perfect for holding a jacket…or a loaf of bread. A rack opens up the possibility of carrying a lot more, especially with panniers.

(Side note: With apologies to my high school French teacher, I can’t make myself say pan-yay. There are many who would disagree, but I think pan-near is totally acceptable.)

A rack and panniers make it possible to take a trip to the grocery store without wearing a giant backpack that can make it awkward to ride.

image_4Now, if you’re saying, that’s all well and good for you to ride around with your bright blue messenger bag and your neon yellow pan-YAYS, but I have to look professional for work, don’t worry. There are plenty of options for work-appropriate bags too.

I recently got this pannier that attaches to the rear rack, is water-resistant and looks nice off the bike too.

As cycling becomes a more popular mode of transportation in this country, more and more companies are popping up to fill the need to look professional while riding.

Getting creative

IMG_3540Once you’re set up with a rack and a few bag options, there’s plenty of room to get creative and carry just about anything…even pie.

For those of you out there who have already mastered the art of carrying just about anything on your bike, please share some tips in the comments!

Katie Bonomo

About the Author: Katie Bonomo


Tenly - Reply

Have a few bungee cords in your pan-YAY and you can home from Costco with paper goods strapped to your rack. I’ve done it!

    Katie Bonomo - Reply

    Great idea, Tenly!

prem - Reply

50 years of various load carrying and mistakenly dropping stuff in Boulder led my to make a packboard for my sturdy rack – to which I bungee a citrus size cardboard box which has a wood stay across the top to keep the bungees from folding it… There are more details like a rubber mat to keep the box from sliding etc… I also have a couple of pinwheels poked into the rear side of the box to provide visibility and entertainment for motorists…

    Katie Bonomo - Reply

    Sounds like you’ve really got it dialed in, Prem! Thanks for sharing.

Steve - Reply

Before I rode bikes around, I was packing with horses, we always pronounced it pan-YEARS or maybe pan-YERS, but hey, we were just a bunch of cowboys. I don’t even know if all cowboys say it that way. Just the group I was in. How’s that for making it more confusing.

    Katie Bonomo - Reply

    Thanks for sharing the cowboy versions, Steve. Clear as mud now 😉

Margo - Reply

For all the parents with a little one to tote around get an electric assist for your bike. It makes tackling those hills so much easier. More than one kid? An electric cargo bike!

    Katie Bonomo - Reply

    Thanks, Margo!

Scott Pearson - Reply

I’ve got a great like back pack – perfect for two bottles of wine!!!

    Katie Bonomo - Reply

    Thanks for sharing a good backpack option, Scott!

Molly - Reply

I have a collapsible wore basket on one side of my rear rack and a pannier on the other. Between these two and a stretchy net with hooks I’ve carried many large loads including a canning pot to work for a friend!

    Katie Bonomo - Reply

    Thanks for sharing that tip, Molly!

Tracy - Reply

Campus Cycles (campuscycles.com) proved to be a great help with outfitting my commuter bike with racks and bicycle bags.

    Katie Bonomo - Reply

    Thanks for sharing a shop recommendation, Tracy!

Larry - Reply

48 years bicycling; 25+ years of bicycle commuting, more than 2/3 of that time 100% on a bicycle, and the rest of the time 50-75% on a bicycle… I guess I was (am) way too hard core… However, finally, 6 years ago I purchased a Burley trailer for grocery shopping…what a difference! I now ONLY needed to make a single trip to the store a week; however I still was using a backpack. Then…3 years ago…I finally ditched the backpack and purchased a rear rack and panniers. HOLY CRAP…what was I thinking for all those previous years!

I cannot express enough how riding smarter now, not harder is such a better plan. I use the Burley for all the large stuff…Garneau and Ortlieb Panniers for everyday travel or weekend trips. Now the only thing to finally discuss…today and the 16 previous years of commuting; including backpacks, trailer, and panniers…this has all been on a single speed bicycle (including pulling the Burley).

    Katie Bonomo - Reply

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge of 25+ years of bike commuting, Larry!

Dalton Bourne - Reply

I prefer the TIMBUK2 1108 vintage messenger bag, it’s very sturdy and well constructed: made of strong 150D Poly Tweed, which gives strength and quality to the bag’s overall construction, it has ventilated compartments Smart for you to organize your essentials, storage space for your laptop, phone, notebook and more. It also has a low-profile handle for easy access to the bag, and comes with an air-mesh padded strap.


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