I've been biking to work ~11 mi and my back hurts from carrying books. I was thinking of buying a pannier and putting my books in it. But I'm not sure if it'll be harder to bike, as I live in San Diego, so there are a few hilly/uphill parts (not like SF though!).

Does anyone have experience biking uphill with full panniers?

5 Answers 5


Since the weight will be the same, you won't even notice the change in terms of climbing. You will notice that your back will ache less and be less sweaty. Depending on your bike, it may even balance better with the weight lower to the ground.

Biking up a hill with a few extra pounds won't make much of a difference; you only really notice a difference in climbing or handling when you're carrying groceries or camping equipment or passengers. (Or if your bike is not suited to carrying cargo.)

I suggest you either get two panniers to distribute the weight, or get something like a trunk rack bag so you don't need more than one bag. (You could even get a a basket and toss your existing backpack in it.)

You'll find more general info about the various cargo systems under the cargo tag, or in this article.

  • one downside for panniers is that they increase your unsprung weight. So if you're riding on uneven surfaces you really will notice bashing through the bumps.
    – Mac
    Commented Jul 3, 2011 at 23:29
  • @Mac - So true, but I think with a few pounds this is irrelevant. I notice this with touring loads, not so much with a few doodads in a pannier. Different cargo options make sense for different people. Commented Jul 4, 2011 at 1:18
  • I'm definitely not suggesting panniers are not appropriate. I use them a lot and find them much more comfortable than backpacks for any more than trivial loads. Just wanted to note that it can cause issues if they are loaded up too much. By the way, I can't figure out what your username is (so I can @ mention you). Do you know what it is?
    – Mac
    Commented Jul 4, 2011 at 3:56
  • @Mac - Username is Neil Fein, like it shows. @Neil or @Neil Fein works. I got a notification of your comments anyway because it's my answer. Commented Jul 4, 2011 at 15:03
  • 1
    I did some research and found the reason for the weird behaviour. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/97283/…. So when I did get @Neil right, SO was removing it. Thanks.
    – Mac
    Commented Jul 4, 2011 at 22:56

A pannier is the best way to carry weight on a bike. It keeps the center of gravity low. While a few people prefer backpacks, most will find a pannier (or two, to keep things balanced) makes for an easier ride (uphill, downhill, or on the level), though at the expense of eliminating that sexy wet spot on the back of your shirt.

You can also use a rack-top "caboose" pack, but it has a higher center of gravity and makes it much harder to swing your leg over the rear of the bike (if that's how you mount/dismount). A "saddlebag", attached to the back of the seat, also has a high center of gravity and has limited capacity, but is just fine for a few items. Slightly less ideal is a handlebar bag -- best used only for light stuff as weight there affects the bike's handling adversely.

Oddly, though, bike handling is generally better with weight in front panniers vs rear ones, though front panniers require an additional rack (which must be stiffly mounted) and good-quality (though small) panniers, so that the load doesn't bounce around -- a loose load on the front is not good to have, especially going downhill.

For rear panniers you need to be slightly concerned with heel clearance, but this isn't likely to be a big issue unless you have a very short wheelbase bike. For front panniers you likewise need to consider toe clearance. For the most part, once you've figured out how to mount your panniers (ie, how far forward/back on the rack) and adjusted things accordingly you'll have no trouble with these issues, except perhaps on that short-wheelbase bike.

Note that there are a number of panniers designed to convert to backpacks (and back). These are generally neither ideal as panniers nor ideal as backpacks, but they may be a good compromise for your use.


I have 2 side baskets on my rear rack, I use them to haul groceries sometimes, Even heavily loaded (20lbs or more) I don't see a huge difference uphill, I guess it depends on what shape you are in physically. Tire pressure can affect pedal effort when carrying a load, I keep my 26x195 at 50-52psi. Check the sidewall of your tire for maximum psi rating.


This should be a lot easier for you. The bike will have different handling characteristics though. Getting used to this should not take too long, but cycling out of the saddle will feel a bit weird at the start. Plus the front wheel will be lighter on the uphills and when stationary. This isn't a problem, just something to be aware of.

With panniers containing A4 objects you can get a problem with heel clearance so do make sure your panniers are going to be okay with carrying them and that they will fit in without too much void space at the bottom.

Another option to consider is a saddlebag of the old-fashioned 'Carradice' variety. This will have enough space for your books and will not have any problem with the contents 'floating about' or getting in the way of your heels. Plus the option will not require a rack.

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  • if i'm not mistaken, this goes on the front, right?
    – user1714
    Commented Jul 3, 2011 at 19:44
  • Behind the seat. I am not sure what the options are in SF for quality saddlebags, the featured example is a bit of a UK speciality. My school French teacher had one and carried lots of books up and down a big hill everyday. I bought one myself a few years ago and now prefer it to the panniers. The weight is near your own center of gravity which makes cycling feel better, I also like the side pockets as you can have snacks in one and spares/tools in the other. SF is a great city to cycle in b.t.w. - keep it up! Commented Jul 3, 2011 at 19:55
  • Thanks! I'm not in SF, I'm in SD which is hilly, but not as bad as SF. It is great to bike here too :)
    – user1714
    Commented Jul 3, 2011 at 19:56

It may be psychological but i think you can deliver more force to the pedals with a backpack. F=MA. Backpacks are better if you jump a lot of kerbs or carry sensitive stuff like hard drives or soft fruit. That said, I have had a pair of ortlieb panniers for over 10years and think they are great, still waterproof after much abuse . Any system that gets the weight low is best. I also have a well loved BOB trailer that has towed ridiculous amounts of shopping, hardware, other bikes and a chainsaw. Like many thongs in life no single solution the best option all the time. If you can justify buying one less car then you justify buying just about any bike related gear. You can even defer gym membership, grocery shopping was one of my biggest workouts when i lived on top of a 15% hill.

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