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When I search Google or YouTube for this question, I keep ending up with answers on how to carry almost anything on the bike but what I want to know is how do people carry all the different bike bags once they're off the bike.

I have a saddle bag, a triangle bag that goes just above the water bottle, a top tube bag and a handlebar bag which distribute the weight across the bike. I also use these bags for different purposes.

Now I want to know how to carry all of these once I leave my bike behind and go somewhere. How do people do it? Do they grab everything and hold all the bags firmly in their hands while they do their errands? That sounds unwieldy and clunky, there has to be a better solution...? Or am I just crazy for having these many bags and should just have one to two bags at most?

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  • Welcome to Bicycles SE. This appears to be a well-written question that relates to bicycles and cyclists/commuters enough to fit within the boundaries (if a mod thinks otherwise based on precedent or other reason, then I would defer to their direction). A person who deals with the same issue you are curious about would be a great resource here.
    – Ted Hohl
    Aug 22 at 5:08
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    Don't forget you're carrying around a helmet and gloves too. Depending on the location, you may need to remove lights, pump, computer, and even a waterbottle can grow legs, or worse be interfered-with.
    – Criggie
    Aug 22 at 11:10
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    @Criggie's right, but when I'm touring I tend to only take my valuables off the bike. This affects my choice of where I stop for supplies - both a safe area and a small enough shop I won't be gone for long.
    – Chris H
    Aug 22 at 12:37
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    My setup for last year's big tour is pictured here. That's pretty much how I left it when I went in a shop (using the backpack as a shopping bag, most valuables were already in my jersey pockets so I only really had to take my phone off). Once I was a little worried going into a small supermarket but otherwise I wasn't. That trip was Scotland. On my solo day rides I also leave my saddlebag on and use a pretty light lock
    – Chris H
    Aug 22 at 20:47
  • Richard Jones convertible backpack and Scicon Transalp are (were?) products the converted from backpacks to panniers. From what I read they were too much of a compromise and did both jobs poorly, but for a few they solved a problem.
    – mattnz
    Aug 23 at 3:56

12 Answers 12

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There's no magical solution: if you want to take to be able to take everything out of the bike, the solution is to choose bags that can be easily removed and to have as few bags as possible. Or to ride with other persons, and leave someone to look after the bikes when you are doing errands.

In a bikepacking context, the "friend option" is probably the only one, as packing is an art, and it would be real hassle to mount/unmount everything.

In a "utility biking purpose" (or actually most non-offroad situations with moderate loads), you can easily compromise on weight distribution and have everything in one bag, and racks are a must in that context. It's possible to find bags that can be easily removed and mounted for racks. Some prefer a handlebar bag, but for smaller capacities, personally I like the ones that seat on top of the rack: there are models that offer quite a good flexibility like the Topeak MTX TRUNKBAG DXP (the rail mounted version, not strap mounted, important for the convenience when removing the bag) - not an endorsement, but there are not so many equivalents of this bag.

But if the bags you mention only contains small items, another solution is to have everything in a backpack or a hip bag. For leisure rides, I'm personally using a 6-litres hip bag, as I don't like backpacks. It can contains everything I need for rides up to 4-5 hours.

EDIT: Bottles are a different issues, as indicated by Criggie's comment, that can be an issue to leave them on the bike. In some contexts, it's however OK to leave them on the bike (I would say more in the countryside than in cities).

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  • I was standing ~5 metres from a bike, talking with its owner. Bike was parked by a medium-busy road and locked to stand. Someone tried swiping the metal water bottle right in front of us, so we gave chase and it was dropped but thief made an escape.
    – Criggie
    Aug 22 at 21:03
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When I have to carry multiple panniers, I put a strap on each and carry them messenger bag style with the straps across my body. I've had 3 like that before; the 4th that time was a backpack pannier - another partial solution. (Actually, now I think of it, I had 3 panniers and a bar bag with shoulder straps that trip - a total of 35 kg of luggage for a weekend at the beach)

Other bags can the be attached to the pannier shoulder straps, normally using their own fastenings, so they sit on top of the panniers.

You can also open the panniers and sit smaller bags inside - or just the contents, leaving empty bags on the bike.

When using bikepacking centreline luggage, I don't need to take it all off the bike with me. If I did need to, I'd look to attach multiple bags to each of maximum 2 shoulder straps, and/or strap them to the outside of a backpack (I carry a light floppy backpack when touring, for rest day hikes and shopping)

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  • I've seen you use the loaded touring bike as a structural shelter wall.
    – Criggie
    Aug 22 at 11:11
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    @Criggie yes, with my bikepacking luggage and a tarp. If I take a tent I tend to use panniers, carry more kit for other activities, and ride less. I've been known to take a heavy touring setup on the train and there's no room in the bike space to leave the panniers on
    – Chris H
    Aug 22 at 12:34
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  1. Most people who use frame bags and top-tube bags leave them on the bike.
  2. There's usually a way to clip a shoulder strap onto a (large) saddlebag and/or handlebar bag. Bar bags are sometimes sold with shoulder straps, in fact.
  3. If I found that I was constantly mounting and demounting four bags, I would find a way to consolidate them into fewer bags that are easier to manage.
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  • +1 and note that you can nearly always add a shoulder strap picking up off the existing straps. I've done that with the pannier that's relegated to extra commuting/shopping capacity and lives under my desk in work. I've switched from a rigid bar bag with shoulder strap to a soft roll-end bag. That will sit on top of another shoulder bag attached with its built-in strap
    – Chris H
    Aug 24 at 8:07
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Bring a big garbage bag with you. If you have to carry all your bike bags at once you just put them in the garbage bag. I think generally people don’t take off the bags, it’s quite a hassle with all the velcro straps.

Personally it’s one of the reasons why for bike travel I prefer having a rear rack with one or two nice, waterproof pannier bags (e.g. Ortlieb Backroller Plus). They are easy to take off, you can attach shoulder straps and so on.

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    I don't know about the garbage bags where you live, but here in the UK they wouldn't be strong enough, similarly in the parts of Europe I know
    – Chris H
    Aug 22 at 6:57
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    @ChrisH: There are different kinds. If you need you can get the heavy duty kind.
    – Michael
    Aug 22 at 7:10
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    a.k.a. "rubble sacks" but they tend to be smaller as well as far thicker. The best plastic bag option might be a large rucksack liner
    – Chris H
    Aug 22 at 10:33
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    I've used an old mail bag (mainly to produce 1 piece of luggage without many straps outside for flying), they are very strong. Other than that, I also go with a pair of rear pannier bags and if required a pair of front pannier bags. These have handles that allow to take them pairwise in a hand. Possibly plus a big waterproof bag that goes across the rear pannier. That one needs separate carrying, possibly toghether with the (empty) bike. Aug 22 at 13:42
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    @ChrisH we can buy heavy duty bin bags at all our major uk supermarkets in the standard size
    – Noise
    Aug 23 at 9:36
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I found that strapping a light backpack over the top of my panniers, and then putting needed items/valuables in it when I left the bike locked up, worked. Any smaller bike bags (handle bar or frame bag, ect) can also be thrown in wholesale.

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  • Yes. I use my hydration backpack, about 10 litres, which is small and floppy enough to strap on a large saddlebag when bikepacking.
    – Chris H
    Aug 24 at 8:01
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The best, cheapest solution I've found so far is the backpack. I've seen many setup with lay down installation, but I prefer the vertical approach. Even if it might be not the best in term of aerodynamic & weight position, it's easy to attach, easy to remove. If you are skillful with your bike, it shouldn't be an issue though.

I use the spring bar of my luggage rack to hold the backpack against the saddle, and that prevent it from falling back. Two tensioners are enough for securizing the setup.

Picture worth thousand words.

backpack on bike

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  • Presumably when off the bike you just wear the pack like its intended use ?
    – Criggie
    Aug 24 at 8:03
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    Yes, exactly. So I can even lock my bike for 1 day and hike in order to reach inaccessible places by bike!
    – mrzob
    Aug 24 at 21:08
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    Since the backpack is really close behind you, it adds little aerodynamic drag. +1
    – Jahaziel
    Sep 5 at 22:06
  • Do you need to be able to do the splits to mount the bike with the backpack in place? A step-through frame seems like a really great idea for this situation.
    – Transistor
    Sep 6 at 16:54
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When cycling in Japan during my last vacation I have found myself in the situation where I needed to take a train with the bike, meaning I had to take with me:

  • left pannier
  • right pannier
  • handlebar bag
  • rinko bag containing the disassembled bike (the only way to be allowed on the platform of a train station)

Using the straps I hung the panniers on one side, the rinko bag on the other so that their weight could somehow balance each other and the handlebar bag hanging around my neck. Not how you would walk around when going out with friends and at constant risk of getting some metal protrusion hitting hard on my body, but it worked for the short distances I was supposed to walk (getting from the ticket control to the platform and then hopping on the train).

In all other situations where it was possible to move along with the bike I left all the bags attached to it as long as possible.

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If a thief snatches my cycling bag, but not the (locked) bike, I'm thankful.

And so I leave the bag attached, also since the velcro is tedious to take off and to put back on, as long as the trip is not too long.

But I cherry pick the valuables, and use my helmet as a basket. I detach the lights, the cycling-computer, wallet + keys, but the bell stays. Depending on your risk tolerance, you may also want to take the water bottle, not because it's precious, but because you don't want to wonder whether someone used it.

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    When I'm touring, the cost of losing all my stuff would probably be more than the bike is worth - I'd have to pay for hotels at rack rate instead of camping, but new clothes, etc.
    – Chris H
    Aug 23 at 13:51
  • @ChrisH We're solving two different problems though. And in my book too cycling jerseys qualify as "valuables".
    – Sam
    Aug 23 at 15:26
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One do not carry multiple bike bags when off the bike. Forget it. It's just not gonna work.

Bike bags are optimized for lying on the bike, and not to be carried on. Even if you pack sparingly and take comparable amount of stuff you'd take with you for backpacking trip (plus bike repair stuff!), you just won't be able to carry it even comparably comfortable as a backpack. 20 kg feels almost nothing on your back, but feels hopelessly heavy when carrying in your hands. And because bike packs are everything but ergonomic while carrying, they'll keep up hitting your legs while you walk.

The key is the proper planning. If you stay in hotel, check they have safe bike storage and store your luggage by them before going sightseeing. When visiting local museum etc. on your way, check if you can store bags on reception. Or if there is a locked storage on the train/bus station.

And keep in mind, a potential thief has more interest in your bike than in 10 kg of dirty laundry and pots covered with soot.

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    That's a very narrow view. As I mentioned above, when putting a bike on a train you have to take off most bags for it to fit, and you may not be able to keep an eye on the rest. Many places won't store luggage citing their own security, and you might want to visit isolated areas where there's no choice of hotels. Sometimes you have to make it work
    – Chris H
    Aug 24 at 8:04
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My advice is to:

  • Use a messenger bag always when it's enough. There's a limit how much stuff you can fit into messenger bag, and limit how much weight is comfortable to carry, but this should be your primary option always. Not only is it suspended by your legs so whatever you carry won't be shaken by road bumps, but also carrying it is absolutely no effort off the bike -- both your hands are free. I use a messenger bag as my default bag, on the bike and even on days when I don't use a bike at all. I carry it always. It's surprising how much stuff you can actually fit in there. Backpacks on biking are not a good idea because they make your back sweaty unlike messenger bags which don't.

  • If a messenger bag is not enough, minimize the number of bags and use as large bags as you can. On a Brompton, this would be one large front bag (that doesn't turn with handlebars), but on any other kind of bike, it would be one or two rear panniers. One pannier adds substantial capacity over a messenger bag, and two adds twice as much. Most of the time when a messenger bag isn't enough, I use a single pannier. It's rare for me to use two: maybe if I'm shopping by bike I can carry two panniers. Those panniers are very easy when shopping: I put them to the shopping cart and they take about half of its space, leaving the other half for stuff you buy -- and if the stuff you buy won't fit into the other half of the shopping cart, it won't fit into the panniers either. Good panniers like Ortlieb can be carried with a handle, and holding them back to back allows carrying two panniers with one hand, leaving your other hand free.

Saddle bag, I fail to find the reason. They are very small and inconvenient to carry since with such small bags, you have to carry a huge number of bags and every single bag is a nuisance to carry. Whatever you can fit into a saddle bag (like emergency bike repair kit and a mini pump), you can fit into less than half of a messenger bag.

Triangle bag above the water bottle is also in my opinion a no-no. If it doesn't interfere with pedaling, it has to be very thin. Not a lot of stuff can be fit there, especially with today's trendy compact frame geometry with a sloping top tube. Besides, if you carry a triangle bag inside the frame triangle, where will you carry your U-lock? Top tube bag, that sounds like something that competes for space with the triangle bag -- you should use fewer large bags as opposed to more small bags.

Handlebar bags are not a good idea for anything except maybe on long tours where you absolutely have to have as many bags as you can, and some handlebar bags may have a transparent map holder which could be useful on such tours. For anything else, they just add weight to the steering, and makes steering the bike harder. About the only case where a bag similar to handlebar bag is useful is on Bromptons, and there it's because it doesn't turn with the handlebars (and thus doesn't interfere with steering), and because out of necessity you can't have large panniers on the small rear rack on Bromptons.

If a messenger bag plus two rear panniers isn't enough, you're probably doing long tours, in which case you should look at touring bikes that usually have room to attach front panniers. They make the steering very sluggish, though, so that should be an absolutely last option and not something that you enjoy using.

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    Saddle bag, I fail to find the reason You must be imagining the little sort which is good for tools. My big one is 15 litres and accounts for nearly half my capacity when touring light. Panniers when touring add masses of drag; headwinds are inevitable.
    – Chris H
    Aug 23 at 13:54
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    Locks are a waste of space in the main triangle. On the tourer mine goes on the seatstay, inboard of a pannier rack when I fit one and on the hybrid it works well on the fork (sturdy mudguard stays mean there's no chance of it getting knocked into the wheel)
    – Chris H
    Aug 23 at 13:55
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    Bar bags are very useful used appropriately - my roll-end one holds all my cooking stuff and dehydrated food, which doesn't weigh much.
    – Chris H
    Aug 23 at 13:57
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    Messenger bags are fine for light commuting, but dreadful for anything else. They can't carry much weight whether you're shopping or touring, and your back will hate you. Backpacks are preferable if you have to have bags on your person for any length of time, because you'd get sweaty anyway and they're less horrible on your spine. But chose wisely for the view over your shoulder
    – Chris H
    Aug 23 at 13:58
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Here are some ideas I use and have used, some of then, related to bike commuting.

1) One shoulder strap per item, may items I often carry a couple of lunch bags, a backpack and "a large purse", not by bike, but a short distance to and from a car. The lunch bags have a single but long and regulable shoulder strap. I use then over the shoulder and under the opposite arm, that is, the strap crosses my chest diagonally. Since they are two, I put one on each side, so the straps form an "X" in front of me. The items are removed in the opposite order they where put, otherwise the straps get tangled.

This allows me to easily walk with three items, I could carry more lunch bags this way, it's easy enough. The only cumbersome item is the large purse. It only as two long hand straps, but not long enough to comfortably carry on the shoulder.

Carrying 3 lunch bags:

Carrying 3 lunch bags

I'd try to adapt this technique to your situation. I guess the bags you have do not already have shoulder straps. But maybe they have eyelets or rings for the purpose of attaching removable ones. You may be able to purchase removable, length adjustable shoulder straps and sew rings on your bags to attach them.

There are some dog leashes that already have a convenient locking hook on one side and it is easy enough to sew or tie another hook on the other end; I source the hooks on local hardware stores. (they would not be length adjustable though).

Dog leash hook:

Dog leash hook

An alternative to removable is to directly sew a strap to the bags, but then, provide a convenient elastic loop or something to tuck away the straps so they are not flopping dangerously when riding.

You can also make only one side removable, leaving the fixed side near the point where a zipper starts to open, so you detach one side, put the strap inside the back and zip it close.

2) Single strap loop threaded trough many items' handles Another technique I use to carry several items is to form a loop with the dog leash, after threading it trough the handle of the items (like many small supermarket bags). If I manage to get the correct loop length and the combined weight of the items is not too much, I can comfortably carry it for the 10 minute walk from the car to the apartment.

3) Giant or really large backpack A relative of mine has a big backpack that is only one compartment and one opening. Since it is so simple, it can be rolled compactly when empty. One of such can be convenient for your situation, since most saddle, frame and handlebar bags ase usually much smaller than panniers, maybe you can easily toss then inside a large backpack and when returning to the bike, you roll it and store inside one of the other bags or strap it to the frame. This solution can also be very useful when running multiple short errands, since the backpack would be already "attached" to you, you only have to stop, lock bike, do errand, return to bike, unlock, ride, repeat.

In this line of thought, Another idea that may work for you, is to add 2 straps to one of your bags, so you can use it as a b.p. when off the bike, and attach the other bags to it. (I guess your bags attach to the bike with many short velcro straps and loops, just tie them one to another)

Personally, for commuting I preferred a backpack, precisely for ease of removal (or not needing to) for running errands. For longer commutes I had an open basket on a rear rack and I tied the b.p with an elastic strap to keep it from being stolen during a stop or red light. for some time I also had a lunch bag adapted as a handlebar bag. It was quick to remove and I carried it crossing the trap around my chest.

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    Be mindful of dangly straps - I had one eaten by the cassette/derailleur, and the next ride the other strap caught around the rear brake rotor. Both times were a very sudden rear-wheel lockup.
    – Criggie
    Sep 5 at 22:56
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To avoid having multiple bags that I would have to carry and attach to my bike, I use a large basket on top of my rack. This enables me to carry any type or shape of bag or container I want on my bicycle, without the use of a special attachment system. If it is raining, I can use a waterproof bag. If I'm going shopping, I can fit two grocery bags. If I'm going to a business meeting, I can carry my briefcase. It might not be adequate for touring, but I find it much more convenient than using panniers or any other type of bicycle specific bags or backpacks. I also never have to worry about whether or not to bring the basket with me on a ride or not, since it is attached to my bicycle.

I do still sometimes use additional bags. I find it convenient to have a small saddle bag with my flat repair kit, and I attached a stem bag to my basket to hold an additional water bottle. Those stay on the bike at all times. I guess they could be stolen but their value is so little that I imagine most people wouldn't bother unless they took the entire bike.

To sum: using one or more baskets on your bicycle gives you the most convenient and flexible type of cargo platform you can possibly have. All bike-specific bags will have drawbacks to being used off of the bike, but with a basket, you can use literally any bag you want.

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