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I've noticed that lots of courier companies prefer their riders to use messenger bags or backpacks. When a rack does get used its often a porteur rack of the front wheel? Does anyone know why these are the preferred tools of the trade?

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  • They don't want the courier to forget about the stuff being carried. – Daniel R Hicks Dec 12 '19 at 0:46
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    It's a lot faster to hop on and off the bike if you don't also have to fiddle with hooking up/unhooking a panier. It leaves the hands free to grab the lock and snap it on. It's also easier to get into a messenger bag that doesn't need to be clipped closed. – DavidW Dec 12 '19 at 2:14
  • What if the rack let you set it and forget it ? Seriously, I get it. Do riders really walk off without there stuff? – Gordon MacMorran Dec 12 '19 at 4:32
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A big reason to use panniers around town is that it keeps you from getting a sweaty back on a commute. If you're dashing around a city all day couriering you'll get sweaty with our without a backpack, and you're not smartly dressed to start with.

But loading and unloading a rack takes time, and the whole point of bike couriers is to be quick. A few seconds at each end of each job adds up. You've somehow got to get the delivery to and from the bike as well, so loading food into a backpack or parcels into a messenger bag should save time.

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  • The bike deliveries around here that use racks often load them with standardized boxes ("post box", usually 1 or 2 per rack) or additional messenger bags. Boxes or bags are packed beforehand and just put on the bike which is as fast as taking up a Pizza backpack. But this is mostly for delivery rounds that go to many customers as opposed to delivering a single item to a single customer and then getting a new tour. Couriers for big parcels use cargo bikes (of all sizes, the ones with racks being the smallest ones). So different use cases. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Dec 12 '19 at 18:13
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    @cbeleites round here/work it's mostly food and small packets (e.g. legal documents). The former are, as far as I can tell, single destination trips on cheap bikes, many electric. The latter mainly use light cargo bikes similar to bakfiets in design – Chris H Dec 12 '19 at 19:23
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IMHO important criteria are:

  • will the courier be leaving the bike unattended for delivery? E.g. the Pizza courier who has to go up the stairs to the flat where the Pizza was ordered vs delivery goes into the post box. If so, they either need to take the bag with them, or have the possibility to lock the stuff on their racks.
  • Does the company rely on the courier bringing their own bike or do they supply bikes? A private bike probably won't have cargo racks, probably no front rack at all, and no fast possibility to lock the stuff on the rack (and won't carry as much load as a cargo bike).
  • The best suspension on a bike are the biker's legs: if the item should be transported in a well-suspended manner, the biker's back is the location of choice.

So, the backpack (or messenger bag) variant is feasible for couriers who deliver mostly a single, small/light item to a single customer before picking up the next single item.


As soon as we're talking delivery of more items in a "round" or larger/heavier items, cargo bikes with racks come into play:

E.g. courier businesses like messenger or velogista use cargo bikes (didn't find free images of the type of bikes they use, so please see the images on their web site).

Here's an image is from the Danish wikipedia page on bike messengers left and a "meeting" of mail delivery by various companies (right):

danish bike messengers post bikes with racks

Note that these are cargo bikes that are designed to handle loads which far exceed what your average not-too-serious bike/bike rack combination is supposed to handle (I've seen such not-too-cargo-bikeish-looking post bikes for sale with the label saying 200 kg gross weight - compare also to @Maarten's answer warning you of "snake bites" which are a symptom of an overladen tire). They also have front racks which allow faster access of the next item. Boxes are used so the loading and also changing the full box from back to front is fast.

Sometimes, these bikes are combined with courier-bag style bags (I've seen that for newspaper delivery): instead of boxes, further bags are put on the rack.

Here are modern small and big delivery bikes where the cargo compartment is closed and can presumably be locked while one parcel is delivered:

DHL small cargo bike velove

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    As a former bike delivery guy I can confirm your 3 first points. I used a rear rack since I usually delivered food. But it is true that for most items, it takes more time to place the items in the rack, also, when having to deliver one parcel I had to either lock the remaining ones (takes a lot of time) or ask permission to ingress the bike to a safe area wich was not always possible. Our setup actually was a basket on a rack that held a custom made bag (imagine a giant lunch box). It was kind of easy to remove, but a food carrying backpack takes relatively no time for this. – Jahaziel Dec 12 '19 at 22:34
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As a food delivery rider for Deliveroo .. here're some reasons why I used to do it:

1) Speed and time saving

  • I can just dismount and move off to customer immediately
  • I can pack/unpack my food while going up and down the elevator or escalator

2) Space

I'm staying with parents and space is small. Factor in the fact they visit the toilet several times in the night, I wanted to keep the walkway clear. And I definitely DO NOT want to tie-untie the big thermal bag everyday

3) Hassle of setting it up

Since there's no racks that is designed for such a purpose, there's some time and effort and improvisation needed to set everything up properly and securely.

4) "Looking good"

Wanted to assure the customers that their food is fresh right out of the thermal bag .. so as not to have any arguments about things like cold/spilled food.


I've mostly stopped doing it now .. as it is really taking a toll on my back.

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There are a few reasons I can think of:

  • When carrying heavy loads on the rear rack this will increase your risk of pinch flat/snake bites on the rear tire. the rear tire is already more susceptible to this type of puncture in my experience. If your bike has front suspension it will make it even more unlikely to get a front pinch flat/snake bite.
  • When carrying big items/bags on the back they can get in the way of your legs when pedaling/getting on and off the bike on some bikes
  • It is easier to reach a bag on the front carrier without having to get off your bike/turn around to do so so it might save time in some cases
  • For carrying expensive delivery items it might also be an advantage that you can see the bag when for instance you are stopped at a red light or somewhere else, so they are less likely to get stolen
  • Having more weight on the front wheel can in theory improve front wheel grip (more normal force on tire contact=more friction force) and thus braking performance (but this will only really help when you have a really heavy bike with bad weight distribution)
  • If you have front suspension the package/bag will take less of a beating when going over bumps/rough roads when compared to being on the rear rack (which can matter when you're for instance carrying food/drinks)

I think in general most couriers which use their own bikes (non-company bikes) will be using backpacks (which can in some cases be strapped to a bike carrier if the courier wishes to do so, whether this is the front or rear rack is up to the courier but I've seen plenty of both. The reason for courier companies providing backpacks instead of rack specific bags is that they don't have to be compatible with each bag/rack size/variation. It's relatively easy to make a 'one size fits all' backpack compared to a 'one size fits all' bag for mounting on a rack. enter image description here Also if your were to make a rack mounted bag and wanted it to be removable it would become a lot more complex and thus more expensive. As mentioned by others having a backpack instead of a rack mounted bag saves time (you don't have to spend time getting the bag off and on) which I think is the main reason for using backpacks.

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    Extra weight on the front wheel is useless for braking, as it moves the center of gravity forward. All it accomplishes is, that the tipping point of the bike is lowered (i.e. the force you can apply to the front brake before the front wheel locks up and you go over the bars). Putting the weight in the back moves the COG backwards, allowing you to put more force on the front brake. Of course that assumes a typical geometry that has the tipping point as the brake-force limiting factor. For a bike that has the COG so far back that it rather skids the front wheel, you reasoning would be true. – cmaster - reinstate monica Dec 12 '19 at 8:03
  • @cmaster in most cases that is correct yes, but in some cases where you have a really heavy bike where you have to inflate the tires a lot to not get pinch flats the front wheel can actually start skidding before the front end dives enough (before there is enough weight transferred to the front wheel) that the rear end starts to lift up. Which is the case for my ebike. Especially when its raining/when on a less grippy surface. In that specific case more weight on the front will increase the initial grip which could prevent front wheel skidding. But yes in general it won't help. – Maarten -Monica for president Dec 12 '19 at 14:11
  • Right. Just what I said. I would just not call it "bad weight distribution", but rather a bike with an "unusually far back/down center of gravity". I happen to own one of those bikes myself (skid-first geometry), and I'm generally more happy with a front wheel that starts skidding than with a front wheel that locks up and sends me over the bars. – cmaster - reinstate monica Dec 12 '19 at 17:26
  • @cmaster up to a certain point I would agree that a skidding front wheel might not be so bad, as long as you've got enough braking power available. A skidding front wheel can cause a fall too though especially when braking too hard in a corner. In general if you learn to properly modulate your front brake you shouldn't worry about flying over the handlebars. I've had 5 bikes with only front brake. On my ebike with the "unusually far back center of gravity" the braking power available before the front wheel locks is insufficient when wet; It takes approx 50 meters to slow down from 45kph. – Maarten -Monica for president Dec 12 '19 at 20:29
  • @cmaster out of curiosity could you tell me what the difference between "unusually far back/down center of gravity" and "bad weight distribution is" according to you? Thank you :) – Maarten -Monica for president Dec 12 '19 at 20:33

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