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Commuting Bicycle commuting is easier than you think, before you know it, you'll be hooked. Learn the tips, hints, equipment, safety requirements for safely riding your bike to work.

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Old 03-13-17, 12:04 PM   #1
tlester
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Starting to commute, need rack & bag advice.

I'm going to start commuting to work. I'm about 7 miles each way. I don't want to cary a backpack, so I'm looking into to racks and panniers. I need some advice on how much space I really need. Here's what I need to carry with me:

- 15" Macbook Pro laptop
- Charger (could leave at home... I have two)
- a few papers/journal
- A change of clothes (I typically wear shorts, t-shirt, underwear, socks, and tennis shoes to work).
- Gym towel
- Shampoo, body wash, deodorant, comb
- gym lock
- Lunch/snacks
- iPhone

In addition (could go in same bag or separate), all the bike stuff.

- multitool
- small first aid kit
- two spare tubes
- to CO2 cartrdges
- tube changing tool
- broken chain thing (link)
- lights
- etc

I was digging the the Ortlieb Commuter bad 3.1, but wasn't sure it that would be large enough alone. My shoes will take up the most space. I'm also looking at the Ortlieb Downtown 3.1. That's bigger and has a laptop sleeve. Does anyone have any experience with either of these bags? Are either big enough?

Of course, I could get a back roller.... but they are really big. They would do the trick and would provide for grocery store runes as well... but not sure if I want something that big for a daily commute.

Thoughts?

I also really dig the 3.1 system. Is there anything better that I should be looking at?
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Old 03-13-17, 12:31 PM   #2
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I've got a Bike-Packer.
It'll hold a full change of clothes incl winter shoes and jacket. And a laptop.
Leaving the thick jacket and the boots, fitting a towel and stuff won't be a problem.
There's very little drawback from using a big pannier when it isn't packed to the brim.
I have a noname rack which is working well enough.
But if I were to buy a new one, I'd get one with that extra loop by the stays to help keep the pannier stable.

Last edited by dabac; 03-13-17 at 12:35 PM.
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Old 03-13-17, 12:42 PM   #3
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I have a pair of these: Nashbar Euro Compact Panniers
The Ortlieb bags you're looking at are a lot fancier, and look easier to handle off the bike. The ones I use are cheap and hold lots of stuff. I sometimes have lots of stuff. I'm not sure you'll fit everything into one of those bags unless you can either leave a towel at destination or at least get one of the super-compact camp towels.

I also have one of Nashbar's Garment Bags for moving work clothes back and forth - I'm not lucky enough to work as casual as you describe. I don't take that every day though, even during the season I bike almost every day. (I'm a few times a week winter bike commuter)

Your maintenance kit will absolutely fit in a seat bag. Lights I usually bring inside with me. In the winter, I shove them inside the pocket of my jacket. Summer, they usually go into the pocket of the pannier that the bike lock came out of.

I usually only carry one spare tube and a patch kit - I hate to keep myself to only 2 fixes, but like being able to quickly switch the first one.
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Old 03-13-17, 01:54 PM   #4
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I have the back roller classic which has around two times the volume as those you're looking at and has a more functional appearance. I tend to over pack but that could be the nature of the bag. When I commuted with a laptop I routinely carried: laptop, charger, shirt, rain pants, bike lock, similar amount of bike repair stuff that you've listed, food, water, towel and sometimes shoes. I still had room. I think if you packed well those bags could work but like another person said, there's little negatives to having a larger pannier. It's also nice when I need to stop by the store and grab some stuff. The only critique of the classic back roller is the straps, out of the box they aren't comfortable (too thin, not enough padding) but this is easily remedied with a softer, more plush pad.

I just use a cheap Planet Bike rack. Has worked fine for commuting.
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Old 03-13-17, 02:24 PM   #5
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I have the Ortlieb Back Roller Classic panniers and highly recommend them. They hold quite a bit. As an example I carry a full change of clothes on one side with plenty of extra room left over. On the other side I carry a large hard lined lunch bag and extra outer wear gear if I need it, also with extra room. I do not carry a laptop, but I could if I needed to and these bags are completely waterproof, a good thing, especially if you are carrying a laptop.
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Old 03-13-17, 03:20 PM   #6
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I have the Ortlieb Back Roller Classic panniers and highly recommend them.

I'll second this. Great design and well worth the price. I got mine on sale a couple years ago, and they're like new with daily use. They work on a wide variety of racks. Very durable. Easy on and off. Don't settle for water "resistant" material; these are the real deal.
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Old 03-13-17, 07:14 PM   #7
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I can't advocate smaller bags as I have two largish rear panniers on my bike that will sometimes both be full (with a full week's worth of clothes and lunches for a couple of days plus rain gear). However, if you want to keep it lighter, consider what you can leave at work such as your toiletries (if you have a place you can let your towel hang to dry and take it home weekly to wash, there's one less thing to carry, at least on a daily basis).
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Old 03-13-17, 09:23 PM   #8
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I can't advocate smaller bags as I have two largish rear panniers on my bike that will sometimes both be full (with a full week's worth of clothes and lunches for a couple of days plus rain gear). However, if you want to keep it lighter, consider what you can leave at work such as your toiletries (if you have a place you can let your towel hang to dry and take it home weekly to wash, there's one less thing to carry, at least on a daily basis).
I follow pretty much the same routine, riding with two QL3 Ortlieb Office Bags usually packed full. One bag is usually dedicated to rain gear, lunch, and extra bike clothing depending upon the weather forecast for the return trip. The other bag carries my personal tablet, phone, wallet, mini pump, and tools. Since I keep my clothes at work, I usually just pack a fresh wash cloth, underwear and socks for the day in this bag, too. I can shower at work, but I usually sink bathe with the cloth and towel. Since I wear dedicated bike shoes, I also leave a pair of work shoes under my desk. Bonus for this is that my work shoes last much longer. I usually drape my towel and wash cloth on a chair in an unused room, then stow the now dry towel in a desk drawer for the next day.

For the bags, I like the Office Bags. Nice and roomy, with a slot for a laptop among other slots. The slot is not padded, but on the rare times I carry the work issued laptop I just wrap it in whatever extra clothing is in the bag. They are big bags, wider than the more standard Ortlieb panniers like the Back Roller Classic models, which tend to be tall. Think of the Office Bag as a Roller Classic rotated 90 degrees. Has its benefits, like easier to load and unload, but also limits heel clearance, especially if you have big feet. I can attest that the Office Bags are waterproof, although I do use plastic bags on electronics just to be safe. I have been in a few serious downpours with no water found inside.

The QL3 system comes with a plastic/metal bracket that mounts to your rack, and plastic slots on the bag itself. I use Ortlieb's lower end Racktime Add-it models on two bikes, and they do offer a good number of options for mounting. My problem is that my main commuter has a shorter chainstays than the true touring frame I would prefer for commuting, coupled with my big feet (size 48), so mounting the QL3 bracket is limited. I would prefer to have the bags mounted a little lower on the frame but it works. Mounting takes a little effort, in that I occasionally do not catch all three mounting plates, but otherwise is easy, peasy. A quick pull on the bag handles and it slides right up off the rack.

I have been running the bags for two years now on a near daily basis and they re holding up fine. I did take a spill on trolley rails while trying to dodge a driver a bit too deep in their phone and scraped the corner of one bag, but it still works fine (some shoe goo sealed the small hole). The bags stayed attached during that spill, too.

Given my limited mounting options with the wider Office Bag, I do wonder if the Back Roller Classic bag might be a better choice for me. Of course, I would give up the nice QL3 system and easy packing and unpacking the wider bag offers. Sierra Trading Post does have the Roller bags for a $100 per pair right now, as an aside. If I were not limiting my purchases of late I would be tempted, even if the color choices are not to my liking!

Hope this helps. As others have noted, Ortlieb makes nice, sturdy stuff.

Last edited by But its me; 03-13-17 at 09:31 PM.
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Old 03-13-17, 09:36 PM   #9
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Another vote for the Ortlieb office bag. Easier than average access makes it handy to use not just on the bike, but all day long, and my "office" is the cab of a semi truck which is a challenging work environment.
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Old 03-14-17, 06:23 PM   #10
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I think I would leave as much as possible at work. I have a full week's worth of clothing at work. Work shoes just stay there all the time. I think I'd do the same with the extra charger. About the only thing I haul with me as far as clothing goes is underwear and occasionally socks.
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Old 03-15-17, 12:33 PM   #11
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Does anyone happen to know a good online reseller of Ortlieb products that can get the urban bags with the QL3.1 mounts? Plenty of places sell the QL2.1, but I was kind of hoping to find the 3.1 only because I've heard they are a bit quieter (i.e. don't rattle around as much).
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Old 03-16-17, 08:52 AM   #12
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You can't leave some of that gear at work?
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Old 03-16-17, 09:19 AM   #13
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You can't leave some of that gear at work?
Some... but I do take my laptop back and forth. It's really not that much gear. I can put all the safety, tools, etc. in a saddle bag. I just need a pannier or something for my laptop, change of clothes, towel, toiletries, and possibly shoes. I *may* wear my shoes to ride in as well. That's if I don't go get clip-ins.
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Old 03-16-17, 09:22 AM   #14
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Have you considered a backpack?
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Old 03-16-17, 09:29 AM   #15
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Have you considered a backpack?
Yes... and I may still go that way (or a messenger bag... which I have a nice messenger bag already), but I also live in Florida and when it's 100 degrees outside, a backpack is going to get hella sweaty!
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Old 03-16-17, 09:40 AM   #16
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I used a backpack for a short while and hated it. Rack and trunk bag/panniers are WAY better!

But I also leave quite a bit at work. Towel, wash sponge, body wash (that's all I need for showering) all stay at work. Duffel bag for carrying clothes back and forth to the shower stays at work. Shoes stay at work. The only thing I carry on my bike are the clothes for the day, and lunch unless I brought the lunch for that day on a previous day or I have other lunch plans. Makes commuting easy peasy. But I also don't carry a laptop around. That would make things a bit more difficult. I'd probably have to use regular panniers instead of my trunk bag's fold-out panniers.
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Old 03-16-17, 09:40 AM   #17
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I hear that. I ditched my panniers for a backpack a number of years ago; I use a Marmot Ultra Kompressor which I would suspect would hold nearly everything you have listed except for the laptop. I like that the backpack keeps the weight up high which doesn't affect handling, and that I have nothing to detach from the bike when I get to work. I live in the Midwest and also experience triple digit heat and high relative humidity during the summer...sweaty back does suck but a synthetic top - I wear a tri singlet - helps this.


Either way, best of luck on the new commute, hope all goes well.
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Old 03-16-17, 09:43 AM   #18
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I really don't feel that much difference riding my commuter road bike with a loaded trunk bag, vs. no trunk bag at all. Certainly not enough to have any real negative effects.
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Old 03-16-17, 09:46 AM   #19
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I really don't feel that much difference riding my commuter road bike with a loaded trunk bag, vs. no trunk bag at all. Certainly not enough to have any real negative effects.


My post was about panniers, not trunk bags, but I understand nonetheless. Either way, a backpack works best for me as I commute on a cf endurance racing bike. It seems that a trunk bag suits you and your riding style best. Isn't the free market great?
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Old 03-16-17, 09:51 AM   #20
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good luck sounds like fun. the more you can eliminate the happier you will be. for example, shoes. can't you leave your shoes at work? also the other clothing items are not formal, so can you stock up several of whatever and keep them folded in a locker or a box near your workspace? can you resupply 1 day a week with a car? or maybe on the weekend? is there no place to keep your toiletries & towel at work? be creative & look around. when I bike commuted, I started by carrying absolutely everything to & from ea day I commuted. eventually I found little ways to cut down on the load. for a bag I like my big giant Timbuk2 Hunchback Rack Trunk Bag (discontinued)

back to storage would your employer let you keep somethign like this at work?


after you've loaded your bike bag, you can add a courier bag around your shoulder/chest for some of the smaller (& fragile) items


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Old 03-16-17, 09:58 AM   #21
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at 7 miles you can bike home for lunch
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Old 03-16-17, 12:57 PM   #22
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at 7 miles you can bike home for lunch
How long do you have for lunch? 7 miles can be close to 30 min each way. So it would be close to an hour on the bike not including lunch to do that.
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Old 03-16-17, 01:19 PM   #23
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@tlester, here's what I do for your fist list:

- 15" Macbook Pro laptop

I leave my laptop at home and use a desktop at work.

- Charger (could leave at home... I have two)

You won't need this if you can use a desktop (or another laptop) at work.

- a few papers/journal

I don't carry any papers with me. Try to use online newssites, PDFs and other digital based media if available. Maybe scan them if they are important and have access to a scanner (and enough time)?

- A change of clothes (I typically wear shorts, t-shirt, underwear, socks, and tennis shoes to work).

Work clothing is one of the few things I do carry. But I leave the shoes at work.

- Gym towel

Can the gym provide their own towels? If not, then just leave it at work and carry it home on Fridays. Or maybe give it to a laundromat close to work on Friday?

- Shampoo, body wash, deodorant, comb

I just use the hand soap in the bathroom to clean up. Its mostly for my hair and face. Then just use some baby wipes as needed for the rest. Keep the wipes at work. Also keep an extra deoderant at work. I also keep a brush at work but rarely need it. Benefits of short hair cut and being follicly challenged. The #7 razor attachment is your friend here...

- gym lock

Leave it on the locker at the gym. Or if not allowed, then don't use the locker there. Keep your stuff in a desk drawer.

- Lunch/snacks

I usually buy lunch at work (we have a cafeteria downstairs). But you can carry a sandwich and some chips or whatever if you want to save money.

- iPhone

One of the other few things I carry in the backpack. Only other things are the few bike tools, mini-pump, and two tubes.

Last edited by ptempel; 03-16-17 at 01:24 PM.
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Old 03-16-17, 02:17 PM   #24
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How long do you have for lunch? 7 miles can be close to 30 min each way. So it would be close to an hour on the bike not including lunch to do that.
oh OK never mind. I get an hour & I drive to the gym 1 mile away & eat in my car on the way
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Old 03-16-17, 03:42 PM   #25
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I'm actually not particularly organized. The list of things I must bring each day might be long, but it grows slowly. If I were organized, I would grind coffee in the morning to bring to work, as I prefer freshly ground coffee. Instead, I make coffee at the office from Cafe Bustelo in a vacuum packed brick, as it's the smallest package I can buy. At home, I grind before brewing.

The clothes I keep at work are clothes I brought piece by piece.
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