The Debate: Backpacks Vs. Panniers

Is it better to add your luggage onto the bike, or onto the rider?

Is it a matter of personal preference, or is there a logical reasoning why one luggage option is better than the other?

It’s been an ongoing debate for years amongst cyclists. What’s better: backpacks or panniers, and why? How does each effect the rider, and the performance?

With so many people hopping on two wheels and cycling to work, it’s important to consider what the most effective option is for carrying your daily essentials.

The main difference between panniers and backpacks is where the additional weight is placed: you or the bike.

We take a look at the pros and cons for each to see if we can work out whether there is a better choice.


Arguably, backpacks are the easiest option, and the first that comes to mind when you need to select luggage. Usually because you already own one, it makes sense to just go with that.

Along with convenience, they are easy to throw on your shoulders and get pedalling with, without any faffing around with clips, straps and racks.

Backpacks for Commuter Cyclists

However, with the weight on the rider, this can lead to sore and aching shoulders, especially after clocking up a number of those riding miles.

Having a weighted bag on your back may also cause your movements to slow which can be problematic for reaction times. Carrying out safety manoeuvres, like looking over your shoulder, can also be difficult with a heavy weight and visual obstruction.

Generally, you can’t carry as much weight or volume on your shoulders as you would be able to in panniers. Not ideal if you’re thinking of heading to the supermarket for a weekly shop, or if you have a lot of essentials to carry.

Perhaps one of the most unpleasant downsides for wearing a backpack on the bike is being prone to a serious case of sweaty back. Not something you want to start your day in the office with. With the warmer days quickly setting in, this is definitely something to consider.


The second commonly seen alternative to the backpack, are panniers. These sit on a rack to the rear of the bike, over the back wheel.

The advantages of panniers over backpacks is that they enable you to carry a lot more weight, and more volume. Ideal for shopping, change of clothes and work essentials.

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By adding the weight to your bike, you’re freeing up your body and taking the strain off your shoulders. This will give you the full freedom of movement around the bike as well.

However, panniers have their own disadvantages. By adding weight onto the rear of the bike, you’re effectively creating an anchor for yourself. Making the bike heavier requires more pedal power, and can become a hindrance on the uphill.

Another drawback of having panniers is the additional cost involved to purchase a quality bag and rack for the bike. It’s more expensive to kit yourself with panniers than with a backpack, and there’s more effort involved with installation, removal and attachment of the bags.


Both backpacks and panniers are suitable luggage options for commuting with, both of them have their pros and cons.

It would seem that for light loads and small objects, a backpack is cheap, easy and functional for the job. However, larger and heavier loads may be better suited for panniers as they would be less restrictive on riding performance, although may slow you down somewhat.

Ultimately, it’s down to personal preference and what’s best suited for your commuting needs.

Experiment with varying bags and panniers to find a suitable fit and comfort for you. Of course there are other alternatives also: crates, baskets and saddlebags to name a few.

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