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Old 07-28-09, 08:16 AM   #1
EricL
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Messenger bag vs rack and panniers

This is my first real post and it's going to be a bit long so bear with me. Looking for some advice from those with real world experience. I commute 22 miles each way with a messenger bag over my shoulder. In that bag I carry: work clothes, a small cooler full of food, map, tube/levers/patch kit, a couple of tools, wallet/phone/keys etc. and the occasional book or dish or cup.
I'm 6'1" and 190lbs. and I commute on a Trek 2.1. The ride is fairly smooth but I do have some rough spots (If you know Denver and you've been on Bear Creek between Lowell and Sheridan you have an idea) I like the bag because I can control the weight over the rough spots that I can't avoid and because it's mostly behind me so it cuts down on the wind resistance, faster ride. I've just had this notion in my head that the bike won't get as beat up if I wear a bag as opposed carrying a rack and panniers, and the panniers will slow me down.
But .... I wonder how much of that is true and how much is my imagination. I do prefer riding with nothing on my back, and my lower back is kind of messed up, has been for a long time.
Looking for the best combination of comfort and stability with the least amount of wear and tear on the bike.
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Old 07-28-09, 08:21 AM   #2
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You think its bad down on Bear Creek... try some of the streets down where I live (roughly 6th and Downing).

The only way to know if rack and panniers thing works for you is to try it. Go buy some cheap stuff, and see if you like it. If not, sell the stuff on craigslist.
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Old 07-28-09, 08:24 AM   #3
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I'd suggest little seat bag (for the tools) and a rack and rack trunk instead of panniers. a large rack trunk will hold what you need to carry easily. The only thing it can't carry easily is a laptop, which you didn't mention. You have to get a bit creative about folding up pants to fit though. I'd only use a rack trunk if I didn't have to tote around this laptop.

The topeak rack and rack trunk have a little slidey rail thing with a latch that works really well. Bag goes on and off fast, but it stays on when you want it to. Much faster than buckles. They make a variety of bags in different sizes.

If you go with the rack trunk, you can get panniers later if the trunk doesn't work out and you've already got the rack set up. Rack trunks are fairly inexpensive in comparison with nice panniers too, so you're not out much. Plus a rack trunk is handy for non-commuting rides for fun, it'll carry a lot of water, food, and other bits for a fun day out, and it's easier to carry around off the bike if you go somewhere and need to be away from the bike for a bit.
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Old 07-28-09, 08:24 AM   #4
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All I can tell you is that I've used both, and I vastly prefer panniers to mess bags for my 22 mile round trip. In summer heat, a mess bag on my back felt like a Navajo blanket. A pannier sits behind your leg, so a thinner one is not a huge wind catching lump, anyway, but you will likely get a nick or two in the paint of your frame, where a rack attaches to the the bike.
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Old 07-28-09, 09:46 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by mikeshoup View Post
You think its bad down on Bear Creek... try some of the streets down where I live (roughly 6th and Downing).
Nice neighborhood, I was just thru there the other day for fun.

Thanks for all of the responses so far. Maybe I will just get a trunk or panniers and try it out.
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Old 07-28-09, 09:53 AM   #6
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+1 on rack and trunk bag or paniers over a mess bag. Mess bags are for short trips. For comfort over longer distances you should really be putting your stuff on a rack. I find I can handle the bike a lot better and manuver more easily if the weight is SECURED on the back rather than on my body.
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Old 07-28-09, 09:57 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by EricL View Post
I've just had this notion in my head that the bike won't get as beat up if I wear a bag as opposed carrying a rack and panniers, and the panniers will slow me down.
But .... I wonder how much of that is true and how much is my imagination. I do prefer riding with nothing on my back...
I like the fact that my c.g. is lower with the pannier, and the mass is fixed firmly to my bike.

I commute with a rack and 1 pannier (2 if I'm carting in a load of food, etc.). If you are concerned about damage to the bike you can get racks which have multiple bars covering the area the pannier will interface so that your pannier should never touch your bike; look on Nashbar.com for some ideas.

Panniers can come pretty cheap if you keep your eyes open.

Good luck!
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Old 07-29-09, 09:18 AM   #8
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+1 for the rack and trunk bag. It doesn't hurt to get one with fold-down panniers, just in case you ever need the space. I have the Topeak system and wouldn't use anything else. I think you'll find the comfort advantage far outweighs any aerodynamic drawbacks. Consequently, you'll end up going faster without all that uncomfortable weight on your back. I can't fathom riding 22 miles one-way with a mess. bag...ouch!

Oh yeah, and most trunk bags are insulated, so the whole thing works like a cooler--you won't need to lug that around anymore! As far as wear and tear on the bike goes, I think it's a non-issue in the weight range we're talking about.

Do it. Your back will thank you.
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Old 07-29-09, 09:31 AM   #9
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I've said it before and I'll say it again, as a commuter, once you go rack you'll never go back.

For my commute I used a messenger bag for 8+ years. Now in year 4 with pannier/rack. Why did I wait so long? I can't imagine ever wearing my cargo again. There is no upside to a messenger bag in my world.
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Old 07-29-09, 09:35 AM   #10
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+1 for rack and panniers.

I bunny hop railroad tracks and sudden rough spots (old habit from my road racing days), which essentially eliminates the *slam* of the loaded rear end of the bike - yet another reason to have clipless pedals .

I couldn't imagine a 44 mile round trip with anything on my back ESPECIALLY a messenger bag.
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Old 07-29-09, 09:46 AM   #11
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When I go to my parents about 35mi each way I have done both messenger bag and panniers. I prefer the pannier, I have even done some offroad stuff on the way to the parents just for fun. And only once have I had one of the hooks unlatch but (more to do with a cheap broken rack that I was using). With messenger I can do it but will probably have some light shoulder pain when I get home the next day mainly because I ususally come home with lots of leftovers + normal load. Though I must admit I have never had any problems other than my load shifting a little with the messenger bag even with some off road stuff. I am getting a heavy duty rear rack hopefull this will handle off road with panniers without problems.
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Old 07-29-09, 11:59 AM   #12
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I went from backpack to a single pannier and I'm not going back. No sweaty back and no loss of speed.
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Old 07-29-09, 12:30 PM   #13
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There's been lots of discussions around the pros and cons of panniers, backpacks, and messenger bags.

I prefer a messenger bag for my commute because of the ease of carrying things once I get off the bike. Some panniers are better than others when it comes to this. Actually, I use my messenger bag for hauling stuff to a wide variety of places whether I'm riding my bike or not. To work, I carry about the same as you except that I keep all my tools in seat bags on the bikes themselves. The mess. bag is also waterproof so I don't need to worry about liners or covers. Since my 3 season bike is the same one I use for triathlons I also don't have to worry about constantly taking a rack on and off during the summer.

If I were to have a commute as long as yours though I'd probably go with panniers. The messenger bag is fine for short and moderate distances but I'd be bothered by it after a while.
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Old 07-29-09, 12:37 PM   #14
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stronger wheels, larger tires, rack, and a trunk bag(that sits on the rack instead of hanging from it on the side).

this will fix all of your problems.

honestly i have two bikes that can fit a rack, but one's a fixed gear that i don't want to use for commuting, and one's a mountain bike that i'd have to completely neuter in order to commute on it quickly.

because of this i've been commuting on the mountain bike with the pannier or using the road bike and a backpack converter for the pannier. honestly i totally hear you about controlling the weight over bumps, but that's really just code for saying "my commuter bike is too lightweight and weak."
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Old 07-29-09, 02:34 PM   #15
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+1 for the rack and trunk bag. It doesn't hurt to get one with fold-down panniers, just in case you ever need the space. I have the Topeak system and wouldn't use anything else. I think you'll find the comfort advantage far outweighs any aerodynamic drawbacks. Consequently, you'll end up going faster without all that uncomfortable weight on your back. I can't fathom riding 22 miles one-way with a mess. bag...ouch!

Oh yeah, and most trunk bags are insulated, so the whole thing works like a cooler--you won't need to lug that around anymore! As far as wear and tear on the bike goes, I think it's a non-issue in the weight range we're talking about.

Do it. Your back will thank you.
That all makes sense. I've been starting to think that a constant 10-15 pounds over the back won't make a huge difference.

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honestly i totally hear you about controlling the weight over bumps, but that's really just code for saying "my commuter bike is too lightweight and weak."
Yep you're right, it's not a commuter bike at all. I also have an older Trek 1220 from 1998. Maybe I could outfit that to take a bit more of a beating.

I'm definitely going to try out something to replace the messenger bag for commutes. I will however still use the bag for shorter trips for big stuff. Once I do get a setup and give it some miles I'll post the results
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Old 07-29-09, 02:41 PM   #16
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Rack and panniers FTW. Every once in awhile I'm in the mood for speed or traveling light and will take one of my many shoulder bags instead(I was told that they arent messenger bags).
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Old 07-29-09, 03:14 PM   #17
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+1 on Panniers

I only wear the messenger bag when I am carrying my computer. I feel it gets less shock on my bag than attached to the bike, though there are several specialized computer bags that some on the boards swear by. For anything else, panniers are the way to go, unless you need to hop off and on the bike a lot (ie do messenger type work)
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Old 07-29-09, 05:01 PM   #18
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Hmm, I'm wondering why nobody has suggested one of those big Carradice bags yet?
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Old 07-29-09, 05:02 PM   #19
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You think its bad down on Bear Creek... try some of the streets down where I live (roughly 6th and Downing).

The only way to know if rack and panniers thing works for you is to try it. Go buy some cheap stuff, and see if you like it. If not, sell the stuff on craigslist.
If you have REI there, you can buy expensive stuff, use it for a month and still return it
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Old 07-29-09, 05:55 PM   #20
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If you are going 22 miles EACH WAY, make sure that a messenger bag doesn't become painful with day-after-day use. I rode 30 miles once with a backpack and after 15 miles I was in a bit of pain. On my daily commute of only six miles I never noticed it.
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Old 07-29-09, 05:59 PM   #21
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By the way, this is a really good site with great deals, I got my Axiom Pannier here for half of the regular cost.

http://www.ebikestop.com/bags_panniers))130.php?pg=2
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Old 07-29-09, 06:07 PM   #22
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Old 07-29-09, 08:32 PM   #23
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If you are going 22 miles EACH WAY, make sure that a messenger bag doesn't become painful with day-after-day use. I rode 30 miles once with a backpack and after 15 miles I was in a bit of pain. On my daily commute of only six miles I never noticed it.
I've done roughly 2000 miles in the last year with my good ol' bag slung over my shoulder so it's not that painful. Depending on what else I've been doing to my back recently it can get stiff with a heavier load in the bag after 15 miles or so esp. on the way home where the last 4 miles is pretty much all uphill. Sometimes the bag doesn't bother me at all but I'm thinking I'd enjoy a free back more.
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Old 07-29-09, 09:00 PM   #24
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Bags

Personally, I can't wear a bag/backpack for more than 15-20 miles at a time. I once did a 45 miles ride with a backpack with a change of clothes and 2 bottles of water. At around mile 20 my back started aching. The rest of the way I thought about calling off the trip and have someone pick me up but I toughed it out. By the end my lower back was in fairly severe pain so I would MUCH rather have bags on a rack on my bike over it hanging off of my shoulders/back.
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Old 07-30-09, 06:09 AM   #25
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Rack and panniers are the way to go. I have front and rear Surly NIce racks and Lone Peak P-500's on rear panniers and TransIt pro's panniers on back of my Cross Check and it hauls lots 'o' stuff.
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