I do realize this question is asked a lot and I have looked around but I find my self still struggling with it, for that I apologize.

Recently I decided to commute to work and so I bought a Giant Escape 3, this works fine for my 30 mile round trip ride (Route: http://goo.gl/VxWcHe). I work in IT and so I generally have a laptop, tablet, an assortment of chargers and other materials with me. I estimate that my load is probably around 15 lbs and is 20-25 lbs when I commute with my hobby items.

This bag just isn't working for me, it hurts when I lean forward and causes to much sweat on my back because of no ventilation. I am trying to figure out a bag that would work for my needs whether it is a backpack, messenger, or pannier. If it is a pannier it needs to be able to go onto my back when I am not commuting, and if it is a backpack/messenger I would like it to have some form of ventilation for the back. If possible I am trying to keep the price under or around $100 but I understand I may have to shill out more so I believe my limit for price is around ~$150.

Once again I am sorry for this long post, and often repeated question, but I have issues when it comes to choices (consumer wise) unless there is an obvious winner and I just can't seem to figure out a winner even with the pros and cons posted.

EDIT: Also I live on Oahu, Hawaii. If it isn't raining it is most likely very hot and very humid. Normally I am biking home while it is still 80F+ and 50%+ humidity.

  • How heavy is the load you're carrying?
    – joelmdev
    Commented Sep 4, 2013 at 23:58
  • 1
    I did a google search for pannier+backpack and came up with a bunch of products that are panniers that can be removed and worn as backpacks. It seems to me that's exactly what you're looking for. Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 3:12
  • 1
    OK, now that's not fair, 80F+50% humidity is not "hot and humid"! :-) As far as carrying stuff goes, it might very well be worth it to have duplicate chargers at home and at work. Their weight adds up and the cordage takes up space in your bag. Definitely better to lighten your load to the bare minimum before looking into more drastic changes.
    – Angelo
    Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 16:02
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    You said, "If it is a pannier it needs to be able to go onto my back when I am not commuting". There are panniers which unclip and have a handle, which you then carry like a briefcase or a shopping bag.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Sep 6, 2013 at 6:54
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    How about this: Buy an inexpensive utilitarian pannier large enough to put a small backpack INSIDE? Commented Sep 7, 2013 at 21:25

8 Answers 8


Unfortunately, you're probably not going to find a backpack that converts to a pannier in that price range. And most of them kind of suck for all day use anyway, even the high end ones. You can feel the hooks digging into your back so it's not comfortable for much more than carrying it from the bike rack to the office.

Your best option is probably to use a rear rack and a basket. Then you could simply put your backpack into the basket for your commute. You can get a cheap bike rack for about $25 and a basket for about the same price. That particular rack is rated for 55 lbs and while the baskets don't list a weight spec, the Q&A section below says that people easily load 25+ lbs per basket.

There are lots of other companies that manufacture similar racks and baskets, so it would be a good idea to shop around. Those were just the first ones that I stumbled across.

You could also use a front basket as someone else suggested, but those tend to mount up high which affects your steering. And not in a good way.


I have a similar length commute (which I do on my bike about once a week, in nice weather), and I got fed up with my rucksack (for the same reasons as you), so I bought a triple pannier. The top bag zips on and off, and turns into a shoulder bag which is pretty comfortable to carry. The side bags stay on my bike and carry tools and a bike lock. I've just tried and failed to find the product on Amazon; I'll see if I can find out what make it is when I get home tonight.

EDIT: It's not this one, but it's pretty similar. You get the idea.


I use an Altura laptop pannier, and the shoulder strap is pretty good worn messenger bag style when you get off. It takes my netbook the wrong way round (it's made for big laptops) plus a change of clothes, toolkit, pump, jacket, towel and even a pair of shoes if necessary. If you don't have to carry the junk I sometimes do, and if you use a saddlebag for your toolkit it should take all you want (2 laptops probably, though only 1 in the padded case).

Assuming you use a reasonably large laptop (IT pros generally do) you'll find it easier riding with the weight in a pannier. And I recommend a (reasonably) waterproof one.


A simple alternative to a pannier is using a front basket - the basic Wald 137 baskets are a proven design, inexpensive, and almost universally available. You can then just use your current bag of choice and secure it in the basket with a cargo net or bungee cord.

On the more expensive side, the CETMA cargo racks and other porteur racks can handle even more significant front loads. As enumerated by CETMA, some of the advantages to a front load are:

  1. The rear wheel is inherently weaker than the front wheel due to its asymmetrical build, offset hub, and torque input.
  2. The rear part of the frame is where almost all frames break. The thin chain stays and seat stays are notorious weak spots.
  3. Carrying weight on a rear rack makes the entire bike feel unstable and top-heavy. Put a heavy box on a rear rack and try to ride down the street. The entire frame flexes and the bike tries to lay down. Come to a stop and it gets downright scary. Transporting that box becomes a precarious balancing act. It's easier to handle cargo when it's up front near your hands.
  4. Rear-loaded freight remains behind you while you ride (duh), and you can't see if it's shifting or about to fall. It's easier to keep an eye on cargo when it's right in front of you.

Depending on your bike's geometry, the main disadvantage to a front load is that the bike's steering can become sluggish.

  • 2
    I'd actually disagree with at least two of those points: #2: The headset is a weak point in the front, probably more likely to be damaged by weight than the rear triangle. And you mentioned the problem with #3: Riding with something in a basket that high makes steering difficult. It's much easier to control a bike with the weight in the rear. #4 is misleading too since if a load falls you could trip yourself up whereas if it's in the back it's just behind you when it falls.
    – jimchristie
    Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 21:51
  • A colleague has a nice front basket mount on the frame, not the bars, so lower and not rotating about the steering axis. That might be OK but I wouldn't like more than say 2-3kg (7lb) on the bars for any reasonable ride.
    – Chris H
    Commented Sep 6, 2013 at 13:31
  • Putting substantial load above the front wheel is generally not a good idea, since it puts the load high (high center of gravity) and poorly-secured (poor stability). Long-distance touring cyclists often use front panniers, but they mount low and are securely fastened to the wheel. Commented Sep 6, 2013 at 21:33

For lighter loads and a shorter trip I might suggest a messenger bag, but an over the shoulder bag can get pretty uncomfortable as the load gets big or the ride gets long. In both cases I prefer a backpack style pack with two straps.

There are a few companies out there that make or have made backpacks that stand up off of your back. Usually they have a stretched mesh panel that sits against your back with airspace between the mesh panel and the bag itself. They do a decent job of mitigating the heat and sweat problems compared to a standard backpack.

Camelbak and Vaude made them for a while though I believe they've been discontinued; it may be worth looking on Amazon and other stores to see if you can find them on the cheap.

Deuter is known for this type of pack and has a pretty good assortment of sizes and styles, like this one for instance. You should be able to find one that fits your needs in terms of size and will sit on the high end of your budget. I have a 28 liter pack from them and like it pretty well.

  • I have a Vaude pack with mesh I use for longer MTB rides. Its a very good backpack, sits nicely, carries weight and breaths well. However, in 80F you will still get a sweaty back. Due to concern about sweaty back, paniers would be best.
    – mattnz
    Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 4:39
  • Panniers are the way to go, but the OP specified that it needed to go on his back.
    – joelmdev
    Commented Sep 5, 2013 at 13:33

A backpack would provide the best vibration damping and have the least detrimental effect on the laptop's lifespan.

I have heard good things about this style of backpack-rider back interface. It is a thin mesh, supporting the backpack a couple of centimetres away from your body.

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By the way, this backpack has internal frame, integrated rain cover and is in your price range :)

Unfortunately, I have zero experience both with road bikes and with this technology of backpack to human back interface. Please regard this post as an idea, instead of an advice.

  • But if you come off, it's a long way for the laptop to fall and it has your momentum attached to it.
    – Chris H
    Commented Sep 6, 2013 at 13:31

Dank bags. Made by messengers for messengers. I use my civilian size everyday on my 30 mile commute and have no issues. Most comfortable bag I've ever worn. Custom made for you for $150.

  • Could you elaborate a bit more on why this bag is better suited to the OP's criteria than any other messenger bag?
    – jimchristie
    Commented Sep 6, 2013 at 21:59

Something like the Bontrager Interchange Market Pannier might suit you: it's a clip-on/clip-off pannier which can double as a backpack.

Bontrager have other models available. I use an older model of their 'City Grocery Bag' or something like that: which has a carrying handle, but not backpack straps.

To use it you need a rear rack on the bike, which it clips onto.

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