Probably, another debatable question from my side.

When carrying items while riding, like water bottle, repair kits, pumps, or other stuffs that you might need, What is the best option.... to carry them?

  1. On your cycle at saddle bag, handlebar bags, or pannier bags or etc.
  2. or, On backpacks, like hydrant pack, or simple travel pack.

While loading on cycle, it will increase the weight of the bike, thus affect a lot of things, like speed, traction, more reactive on corners. Like while using pannier bags.. it will increase rear weight, making it difficult on uphill.

Also while loading on backpack, it will tire you down fast if its a big load, decreases your flexibility, agility & etc.

So what is right way to do it?


The type of ride I generally, go to are commuting, mountain biking, & trailing. And the items I generally carry are

  1. Commuting: Water bottle(x2), Laptop (17"), books, copies, repair kits, hand pump, few other accessories.
  2. Mountain Biking & Trailing: Water bottle(x2), repair kits, extra tubes, hand pumps, candybars & few other accessories
  • What kind of biking do you talk about? Commuting, treks, or endurance racing?
    – jv42
    Jan 13, 2012 at 15:11
  • 3
    If you find that you have enough weight to carry that it gets uncomfortable to have it on your back on your rides, your question pretty much answers itself. (That depends on the kind of riding, the kind of bike, and your body, so it's hard for anyone to tell you where to draw the line!)
    – Cascabel
    Jan 13, 2012 at 17:15
  • @jv42, Please check my update. About endurance, When I am returning from a ride, I put up a endurance tests, almost always (not seriously, but I do love to push myself)
    – Starx
    Jan 17, 2012 at 0:35

7 Answers 7


I divide between two extremes:

  • Riding long distance with lots of stuff on good pavement: load the bike;
  • Riding short distance with not so much stuff and/or on rough road: load the back;

Of course, there are some additional considerations:

  • If the road is so harsh you must stand up to manoeuver (off-road, back-country, XC, etc.), load yourself. The bike suffers less (tires specially), and you can avoid falling from lost control;
  • If you have lots of gear and proper tires, loading the bike help to ride more stable and comfortable, since the cushioning effect of the tires (suspension) is enhanced by the added bicycle mass;
  • If you ride short, loading back is much more pratical. But if you are touring, loading the back becomes a huge source of discomfort and even health problems.

Tire choice is important, also. On a skinny-tire road bike, I would not feel safe or comfortable to put a rear rack in nothing but the smoothest of paved roads. In the other hand, I have already made loaded touring in roads that looked like the moon surface. How much is too skinny, or fat enough, depends on each person/bicycle/road.

In the end, the answer is "it depends", but I think the three (four?) parameters mentioned here are the most important about "what" it depends on, IMO.

Hope it helps.

  • I don't quite understand your point about tires -- it's the same weight on the tires in any case. Jan 13, 2012 at 18:06
  • 2
    With loaded bike, tires absorb all the impact, besides the deformation of load itself (clothes and food inside bags, for example). With the load in your back, you can stand up and use your body (legs and arms) to keep some impact away from the poor bike, specially modern-skinny-road-racers - or any bike traversing a stretch of very harsh terrain. Jan 13, 2012 at 18:48
  • But as Mark Yergin suggests, having the weight on your back vs in a pannier makes it harder to control bike+rider on rough terrain. Jan 14, 2012 at 13:05
  • I think it depends. From personal experience, after you learn to use your arms and legs as suspension on really irregular terrain, it is WAY easier and safer to control the bike. It does not mean it won't make you tired if you do it too long. Anyway, lotsa loads AND rough terrain will always make you tired and might be preferrably avoided (but not always, like remote-areas trekking, for example). I for one, would only go fast downhill, offroad, with a backpack (and not with panniers over a rack). Jan 14, 2012 at 19:14

My preference is to load the bag. I say this since I ride multiple bikes and like to have one toolkit, rather than multiple kits. And often, rather than load a bag, I stick the kit in a jersey pocket. This approach reduces the stuff on the bike itself, which also another preference.

  • Yeah, definitely keeps you from forgetting item while switching bikes
    – Starx
    Jan 13, 2012 at 12:07

Whether you put the weight in a backpack or a pannier, it's still weight on the bike -- makes no difference in the effort needed to move the bike (other than the differences in wind resistance).

Generally, for better handling, it's best to keep weight as low on the bike as possible. And whether distributed front or rear makes little difference on (non-technical) uphills (though some tourists feel that having weight in front panniers actually improves stability on downhills and rough roads, so long as the weight is well-secured and can't flop around).

[On reflection, I can see that a loaded backpack might noticeably improve climbing or accelerating while standing, since the backpack weight would place more weight on the pedals.]

In warm weather or for long rides, the backpack inhibits cooling and collects sweat.

However, there is a major convenience factor to the backpack in that you can easily take the stuff with you when you dismount the bike.

(Note that you should never put any substantial weight in a handlebar bag -- they are universally too poorly secured and flop around, impairing handling. Weight in a seat bag should be well-secured with cinch straps around the bulk of the bag.)

  • Handlebars, are by last choice too. But I don't agree, that having more weight improves handling (if that is what you were trying to imply), cause the steering is always sharper than usually, and the just have the 100% control on the movement as well.
    – Starx
    Jan 17, 2012 at 0:40
  • Front pannier weight is claimed by some to improve stability -- basically the ability to hold the front wheel steady on a rough road. I've done enough riding with loaded front panniers to say that this MIGHT be true, though not enough to really say for sure. Jan 17, 2012 at 1:20

As has been implied, it depends. I rode from Pittsburgh to DC on the GAP and C&O this past summer. On my touring bike, with 700x32 tires as much as possible was in front and rear panniers mounted as low as possible. The bike was stable and I was comfortable with a fanny pack when off the bike for meals, etc. When I commute to work I have a bike messenger bag I can use when riding my touring bike or road bike (with 700x23 tires). If I have a lot to get to work I will use the touring bike with panniers, usually rear. I feel more comfortable, especially on a warm day, if I can put the weight directly on the bike and not on the bike through me. The mechanics of carrying weight on you make it more difficult to stay upright if you hit a bad bump or pot hole as you have to combat not just the weight of the bike but also the mass (notice I said mass, not weight) that wants to pull you from the vertical with a wider swing. I also notice the weight more when it is on me rather than on the bike directly.


I would always recommend panniers rather than a backpack as I think it's far safer.

When I was at college I used a backpack when cycling, unfortunately I had a nasty accident slipping on autumn leaves and I landed awkwardly on my back as I couldn't get out of my toe straps quick enough! I twisted and bent my back quite badly as I landed on my backpack. It was agony for months and ever since then I have always used panniers.


Both actually. It depends on the nature of the ride and which bike I'm riding.

  • Commuting on the commuter bike - Water bottles in the bottle cages. Repair kit in a seat bag. Work stuff in the pannier(s); but at times a pack.
  • Road bike ride on the road bike - Water bottles in the bottle cages. Repair kit in a seat bag. Food and misc in the jersey pocket. And in hot weather and/or in remote areas, sometimes additional water in a Camelback Razor hydration pack.
  • Quick errands on either bike - Usually a backpack or messenger bag. Especially if I'm getting on and off the bike a lot and don't want to deal with the panniers.
  • Grocery shopping on the commuter bike - Pannier(s) and at times a backpack as well for an extra big load.
  • Mtn biking on trails - Water bottles in the bottle cages. Repair kit in a seat bag. Other stuff in a pack and/or jersey pockets. (Panniers are too liable to catch on obstructions.)

What's best? Whatever combination works for the trip.

  • I like this answer. What is your preference? To have a light bike, or be free(yourself without any load)..
    – Starx
    Jan 17, 2012 at 0:22
  • @Starx - For me it's not either/or. For example, I'd rather have heavy groceries or work stuff on the bike and not on my back. For road riding I keep myself and the bike as light as possible with the load split. As a rough estimate, I pretty much don't like to carry more than ~20lbs/9kg on my back.
    – user313
    Jan 17, 2012 at 17:14

I would always go with panniers or a handlebar bag before loading my body up. I live in Woodland Park Colorado where there are only uphills and downhills. I can assure that any weight put on my person will be felt on a climb! I used to commute to work, it was an 800 foot climb in about 3 miles. Nothing extreme, however, it taught me very quickly to put my trash on the bike, not in a backpack. Out of the saddle and in the saddle performance improved dramatically once i figured out how to mount my trash on the bike. No more sore hands, lower back or shoulders.

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