What's The Best Bag For Commuting By Bike? Saddle Bag Vs. Panniers Vs. Backpack

What's The Best Bag For Commuting By Bike? Saddle Bag Vs. Panniers Vs. Backpack

What’s the best and fastest way to commute to work by bike? We went to the wind tunnel to find out…

What do you want us to test next? Let us know down in the comments.

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Thanks to Stefano Giappino and the team at the Politecnico Milano.

Commuting to work by bike is great. You’ll save money compared to the alternatives. Plus, you get to ride your bike, making it a win-win in our books.

But, let’s face it; most of the ways of actually carrying your work stuff aren’t exactly aero-looking. Your bike can be as aero as possible, but, if you have your work clothes and laptop in a huge backpack, could that be holding you back?

We wanted to find out, so we pitted the backpack vs a full bike packing setup vs panniers. If you’ve read this far before watching the video, comment with your predictions.

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To find out more about the fastest way to commute, check out “Pimp My Commute” here: http://gcn.eu/yK

Photos: © Bettiniphoto / http://www.bettiniphoto.net/ & ©Tim De Waele / http://www.tdwsport.com

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  1. Mark Johnson on June 27, 2019 at 8:27 pm

    Hi Emma – Can you use your saddle pack with a carbon seat post? Cheers

  2. Brian A on June 27, 2019 at 8:29 pm

    where’s the handlebar bag?

  3. michael falk on June 27, 2019 at 8:31 pm

    I use af lightweight MC aero backpack/rucksack

  4. Riflemanm16a2 on June 27, 2019 at 8:31 pm

    1:55 Rubberdome keyboard but $190 trackball.

  5. David M on June 27, 2019 at 8:35 pm

    After about 40 years and 250,000 km of commuting this is my preferred solution: https://youtu.be/DuAEZlxyBAQ

  6. Adam Morris on June 27, 2019 at 8:35 pm

    I ordered a saddlebag in the middle of watching this video when it was first uploaded.
    Best thing I’ve done for my cycle commuting, I’ve squeezed trainers, beer.. You name it, it’s been stuffed in.
    An sometimes be a bit weighty behind but generally feels sound as.

  7. Loon Atic on June 27, 2019 at 8:35 pm

    I usually carry my (big!) lunch, a laptop, a semi big folder, a multitool, a 3kg chain lock, my purse, some clothing and every other day (gym day) gym shoes, towel etc.
    And I used to commute 20km each way.

    So a rucksack never was an option, because of the weight, a saddle/frame bag is far too small. Not having the weight on your back and instead low on your bike for a low centre of gravity and (very importantly:) completely realiably dry in Ortlieb panniers has made the commute enjoyable. If I wanted I could even grab some groceries on the way home without any problem.

    Now my commute is less than 10 minutes, so I can just ride home for lunch or between uni and gym – therefore everything fits in a rucksack and its weight doesn’t bother me on this short ride. All the fancy aerodynamics talk in this video is only helpful for people with little luggage on semi-long to long commutes.

  8. Him Bike on June 27, 2019 at 8:38 pm

    I’ve ridden across USA 4x with a backpack. I travel lite, maybe 15lbs.
    My philosophy is simple, “take lots of breaks and keep on going.”

  9. Korup7ion on June 27, 2019 at 8:39 pm

    a small saddle bag is all i need for the bare essentials if i need more than that i use a backpack because i don’t like stuff on my bike

  10. Chris Pitchforth on June 27, 2019 at 8:39 pm

    I’m new to cycling to work.
    I’m not sure if it’s my imagination but I think it makes a big difference only have one pannier compared to two.
    I was hoping you would test that.

  11. The1trueDave on June 27, 2019 at 8:39 pm

    I’m surprised how high the power requirement was even with no bag. 27N x 11m/s (40kph) is the best part of 300W, and that’s just the wind force. Mechanical and rolling resistance could easily add another 15-20%… 350 watts to sustain 25mph seems quite high. Parts of my (admittedly quite short) commute are at around 25mph (with rucksack) and I’m damn sure I’m not putting out that kind of power!

  12. Peter Brown on June 27, 2019 at 8:40 pm

    Interesting video but I really hate the sweaty back from a ruck sack plus it moves my centre of gravity up/reduces stability which I think is a bad thing.  To overcome it I have a Vaude Silkroad plus which sits on a rear carrier so is pretty aero too.  The bag is easily fitted and removed plus doesn’t look mad like the saddle bag to be walking around with on completion of my commute.  In this guise it also has two small, hidden mini-panniers to fill if needed.  Total volume 15l (or 8 without using the side panniers) which is more than sufficient for every day use.

  13. AdeptPaladin on June 27, 2019 at 8:41 pm

    It’s not just aerodynamics… it’s capacity and the propensity of items to shift when moving. Panniers and the narrower bags will more likely keep the bike’s center of gravity in line. A rucksack could easily shift side-to-side, pulling your centre of gravity off the line of the bike. Having the mass higher up makes it a bigger lever.

  14. Johnny Ray Bramton on June 27, 2019 at 8:42 pm

    Wind tunnel testing? Not all of us are going fast all the time and aerodynamics aren’t a big factor. Your channel would do better by acknowledging this. That said, practicality rules for me. Panniers don’t have to be big and are easier to use – which translates to a more enjoyable ride. Panniers also keep the center of gravity low, which maintains stability. You are missing a large number of cyclists.

  15. John on June 27, 2019 at 8:42 pm

    weight on your back = better bike handling.

  16. Kraaf K on June 27, 2019 at 8:43 pm

    Fantastic work, thanks for this!

  17. Bob Torres on June 27, 2019 at 8:43 pm

    This is old news for us old commuters…..I’ve been commuting on my bike since 1991, I started with my road bike and as the years gone by the tires got fatter (less flats), the back pack disappeared and remains to this day with rear rack, I use either a trunk or small panniers. Don’t forget permanent lights and mud guards (fenders)! My weight weenie road bike has morphed into a commuting/touring bike with a lot less headaches. The aero and need for speed thing will be gone after a few thousand miles of too many flats, a broken frame or two, lousy unmaintained roads, traffic lights and miserable motor vehicle traffic.

  18. Truthseeker on June 27, 2019 at 8:44 pm

    I didn’t know you can use your laptop as a mud guard. I’ve learned something..

  19. TheFedericohiguain2 on June 27, 2019 at 8:44 pm

    I just use a backpack . I like to leave my bike as simple as possible, it makes it look better.

  20. Aninto Jati Nugroho on June 27, 2019 at 8:45 pm

    what about box-frame bag?

  21. Ryan Downey on June 27, 2019 at 8:47 pm

    The slowest part of my commute is the dismounting, locking up, and stripping my bicycle of all valuables including lights and saddle bag. That is one reason why I prefer a backpack; however, I do keep the saddle bag on my bike to reduce the weight from my back. If I didn’t have to do all of that, I’d save 5 minutes.

  22. fuego59 on June 27, 2019 at 8:50 pm

    Added benefit of saddle bag: no wet ass! 🙂

  23. WillN2Go1 on June 27, 2019 at 8:51 pm

    I’ve already shifted my thinking from panniers to saddle bag. This surprised me. GCN has already convinced me load behind me saddle bag or on the rack instead of panniers.
    I think about my ruksack as well. My idea, is to make a couple of lightweight panels (low tech carbon fiber, I’ve got some laying around and some epoxy that’s a bit old…). Mount two panels on my rack, so they open left and right. then a waterproof nylon bag in the middle. This will keep them from extending beyond 45 degrees. Then a simple drybag roll closure. Maybe a pocket to slide in my bike U-lock and cable so I don’t have to fuss with a bracket or tying it down. Then pop open the two wings, drop in my day-bag, roll up the opening, clip on either end.. The two panels will close around the day-bag no tying, no bungee cords. The panels may not even be necessary. (The idea with them is that as they close they center the load. Normal empty position should be able to contain the bike lock but leave the panels lying as flat as possible. Just thinking out loud.

  24. Can I die please on June 27, 2019 at 8:52 pm

    Casual t35 in the background 😂

  25. sam robinson on June 27, 2019 at 8:53 pm

    2:37 My Angles??

  26. se7ensnakes on June 27, 2019 at 8:55 pm

    Thats my problem right there. I need to pack a change of clothes: pants, shirts, belt, shoes, socks, tie. When I get to work I shower that means: tower, soap. Then what is called spares: innertube, pump, allen keys and patches. My bag is weighted significantly

  27. AWriterWandering on June 27, 2019 at 8:59 pm

    How about a bag that sits on top of the cargo rack?

  28. Slashley gibbins on June 27, 2019 at 8:59 pm

    Notice the GCN guys never go out on a windy day.

  29. NS23 on June 27, 2019 at 9:00 pm

    "laptop mudguard" ahahahaha

  30. James Rounding on June 27, 2019 at 9:04 pm

    Duration may play a role as well. If you are riding for a longer period shoulder strain may become a problem with your rucksack?

  31. Bob Torres on June 27, 2019 at 9:05 pm

    This is a pretty useless video for serious bike commuters….. real commuters will use the proper bag or bags to carry all of their items plus also have room in case if they have to make stops to pick up other things….If your commute goes through a city with lots of traffic lights, being aero is not going to do anything while waiting for the lights to change….just go out there, ride you bikes and don’t be afraid to install the right size bags needed for your commute….

  32. Nigel Robinson on June 27, 2019 at 9:06 pm

    Interesting results. Time to buy a large saddle bag. Cheers folks.

  33. Energetik on June 27, 2019 at 9:06 pm

    I use one-side pannier for commute. It’s the most convenient for me: no sweat on back and I just throw my ordinary backpack inside pannier, no need to change luggage.
    On my way to home, I can easily fit my jacket and gloves inside, because it’s typically much warmer then.

    I dont care about aero, because my average commute speed is 21-22, not 40km/h.

  34. Jeramy Boileau on June 27, 2019 at 9:10 pm

    LOL I used a Yak trailer w/dry bag for two years!

  35. paolo gentili on June 27, 2019 at 9:11 pm

    First big up for Politecnico. Great strike.
    Second: this type of test is surely good in terms of structure but id doesn’t consider traffic environment. A second fundamental parameter to take in account is the location of Center Of Mass. If in the route you have to do daily there is a lot of traffic you had to be able to handle the heightened COM caused by the extra loading carried at the top of the configuration cyclist+bike. Panniers lower the COM increasing handling in the turning corner. Therefore bigger pannier could be a pain in the *** in tight space of big city’s route.

  36. Ryan Priestnall on June 27, 2019 at 9:12 pm

    Look at the size difference at 1:06 hahaha that made me laugh.

  37. potstab on June 27, 2019 at 9:13 pm

    What about a messenger bag slung at 45 deg with a stabilization strap? It works well for the bike messenger service in the cities….do they still exists?

  38. Brann mac Finnchad Matsukaze Workshops on June 27, 2019 at 9:13 pm

    One other point in favour of racks and panniers. They help protect the bike if you go down.
    I got hit last week…the rack absorbed the impact on non-drive side, and the full pannier kept my derailleur from hitting the pavement on the other.

    I rode it home (after it had been checked at the LBS).

  39. Mr Blue.tit. on June 27, 2019 at 9:16 pm

    I use an aero bag

  40. MWB Gaming on June 27, 2019 at 9:17 pm

    Il stick with a crate over the back wheel

    It offers loads of storage space, excellent protection for your cargo in the event of a crash (assuming you have a lid), and it’s really really cheap

  41. Robert Madgenius on June 27, 2019 at 9:19 pm

    I thought the were saying that panties produced drag. How could a woman in panties have any drag at all?

  42. david m gazda on June 27, 2019 at 9:19 pm

    Interesting video, but when using the giant saddle bag they also used used a bag under the cross bar, but didn’t mention that may also have an aero effect.

  43. Matt Wurst on June 27, 2019 at 9:20 pm

    after this video i might consider a framebag .. nah.. with a Rucksack I can take stuff from my bike to places. ..if I had any

  44. Ib Erik Söderblom on June 27, 2019 at 9:21 pm

    Then there is a market for an specially shaped aero-rucksack !

  45. chengs group25 on June 27, 2019 at 9:21 pm

    honesty, commuting by bicycle is stupid unless is 10 min from ur house to work…

    been there and done that…
    lets say average commuting by bike is 10 to 15km and 30 to 40min each way…
    –u get there all sweaty, need a shower, place to store ur.bicycle or might get stolen, get wet in the rain, need change clothes and cicling shoes sometimes, u face danger from cars and trucks who probably faster and zipping near u at lets say 40kmh ….u inhale old car exhaust fumes…. day in day out..some days u tired or muscle sore but need get home…

    – why dont just get a 50cc scooter….. u get to work fresh, store ur rain coat etc under the seat, takes 15 min covering same distance, less danger cause u going same speed as cara at 40kmh , get grocery before get home, and the time saved u can use in the gym or home workout, can even pick ur gf for a coffee, easy to park , less desirable for thief to rob, some scooter cost less or same price as a good bike…..
    -some countries 50cc dont require license..

    – if u go to asia and Europe u see scotter everywhere cause they are the best form.of transportation bar none

    – 50cc dont look cool? true.. but noone cares…its practical.and great tool….riding bicycle getting all dirty is.not cool either… its about the commute day in day out

    —of all these being said? whats the advantage of cicling comparing to low cc scooteer day in day out?
    – unless the person cant ride scooteer, but in that case he and she probably cant ride bicycle either….and about exercise, the time u save u can go gym or exercise later

    so please…someone enlight me …..70% of world population in asia and europe cant.be wrong right?


  46. mvideoky on June 27, 2019 at 9:23 pm

    I would like to make a case for panniers. Aero notwithstanding, panniers allow you to avoid having a sweaty back, improve your ability to see behind you if you use a helmet mirror and give you extra room for things beyond the essentials. I live in the hot humid southeast United States and riding with a backpack is just unpleasant many months of the year. Panniers also give me the flexibility to stop on the way home and pick up small items from the store. I vote for a more comfortable and safer commute than just speed or aero alone. Thanks for the interesting video.

  47. gingercat6128 on June 27, 2019 at 9:24 pm

    You proceed from a false assumption. It’s not speed that matters but which can carry the most with the least effort.

  48. Jamie Milbourne on June 27, 2019 at 9:24 pm

    I use a Topeak rack bag with stowable panniers. Pretty similar to a giant saddle bag with the panniers stowed but with the benefit of them being there if I need them. Perfect for this time of year when you need a big coat in the mornings but not in the afternoon!

  49. hertz on June 27, 2019 at 9:24 pm

    I have commuted ~10km every day into central London for the last two years. As a uni student, I’ve found that the best set-up involves:
    – Wearing cycle clothing to and fro – changing in a large, accessible toilet upon arrival and before returning home.
    – Keeping large textbooks/items in locker at uni.
    – Carrying (in an ordinary backpack): day clothes, large laptop, books, 2 inner tubes, multi-tool, tyre levers, allen keys, mini-pump, etc. The extra room in my backpack allows me to buy groceries. I prefer backpack to panniers (haven’t tried saddle-bag because it’s volume is inadequate) because I don’t have to worry about leaving my laptop and any other valuables unattended. Having waterproof panniers isn’t that impressive because keeping the contents of your backpack in 2 layers of plastic bags is just as good. Also, panniers make general balance and filtering through traffic more awkward.
    – Showering at uni – keeping towel and toiletries there. *Find somewhere at work/uni/school where you can let your wet/sweaty/dirty cycle clothing and towel air out/dry during the day, unless you want to ride home in sweaty gear or casual clothes.
    – I have two U-Locks (ABUS GRANIT XPlus™ 540) attached to my seat tube which take the weight off my back. I really recommend this set-up because it allows you to safely cycle anywhere without your backpack.
    – My Cannondale QUICK CX 2, which has wide 700x38c tyres, suspension and hydraulic disc brakes, makes me have a lot more control and confidence on some of London’s busiest and most poorly surfaced roads. I very rarely get punctures too. To go faster, I’ve attached Specialized Dirt RodzTM Bar Ends to help get a lower and more secure body position. Also, cycling into uni in my day shoes with flat pedals seems much more practical than carrying an extra pair of shoes everywhere and struggling to clip in and out at the ~15 traffic lights along the way.

    I’d say that my "set-up" is suitable for commutes shorter than 20km. Any longer, I’d swap to a road bike but I’d still keep the backpack. I’d only use panniers if I was working somewhere more remote/safe. As for the saddle bag, it would be hassle having to take it off all the time and carefully pack it. Any Q’s let me know!

  50. Mash Ed on June 27, 2019 at 9:25 pm

    Excellent video!