Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

Rucksack or Panniers – which is best?

Posted by Gordon | January 18, 2018 | 4 comments so far

Rucksack or panniers?
I’ve been cycling regularly for the last 10 years. Most of my riding – contrary to what my fellow moles think – is borne out of necessity to get somewhere, rather than a pleasure loop. Typically, this means luggage has to come along with me.

Up to now I’ve always been an enthusiast of panniers and indeed may have received the occasional ‘admiring glance’ on a Muddymoles ride because of the pannier rack attached to my bike.

To me, the advantages of panniers are clear. I can stand on the pedals with no thought of a rucksack bouncing around. I never have a stupidly sweaty back. Backache? – No, not me.

However, I’m now becoming less sure. The doubt started to creep in as I thought about the faff of fitting my full suspension MTB with a rack. Anyway, even if I could fit one, I’d never be comfortable with the look. There’s something I like about keeping the bike light, and I’m starting to see the advantages of a bag on my back.

The downsides of panniers keep playing on my thoughts. One morning last summer, on my previous commuter, I was the person riding around the Elephant and Castle shouting ‘no lunch!’, as the realisation dawned that my packed pannier had been left at home, rather than clipped onto my bike. I do wonder about theft of my panniers whilst I am sitting at traffic lights, or when I would notice if one had fallen off.

I also kid myself that I am much more ‘aero’ if I ride with a rucksack as surely panniers are like big sails. This is probably all a nonsense going on inside my head, as I have an aero rack and the bags probably just stick out a bit beyond my bulging calf muscles(?).

So, my current plan is I’m sticking with the rucksack for the MTB. No question there. However, I’m now typically commuting on my gravel bike (which doesn’t yet have a rack fitted) and I think for this bike the pannier will be deployed as soon as the weather warms up a bit. I’m sure I’ll get fed up with the bag on my back in the warmer weather.

As an aside, I cannot believe how ridiculously good my Ortlieb Backroller panniers are. After a number of years of excellent use, one day I noticed my stuff was getting wet. I emptied my kit out of the pannier and filled it with water from the garden tap. It was water tight, except for a hole the size of a pin which had been caused by regular rubbing against the rack. A bit of tape and it was ready to go again.


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  1. Mat-S says:

    I was a long term pannier user for commuting but these days I find myself happy with a rucksack. I tend to pack less and it also means I can take a different bike if I want.

    For touring I got bored of panniers rattling around- Gilly and I have now pretty much embraced ‘bikepacking’ luggage. It does require an ethos of Take Less… Stuff but it means we can use the same kit on different bikes- we used the same bags on the big FS bikes to go bothying in Scotland as to tour the Loire. Highly recommend a look at a frame bag if you don’t like riding with a pack.

  2. Matt says:

    Gordon, as luck would have it, I have finally acquired a laptop as my main work machine, which means a lot of schlepping it backwards and forwards from home to work etc. So this information comes at a good time.

    I think I will veer toward a backpack – not because I want to be riding a road bike with one but because it gives me the option of the MTB as and when. Of course, it brings the whole question of an ‘adventure’ bike (with it’s more upright position over a regular road bike) that bit closer as well!

  3. James says:

    I find that my laptop and a small notepad fit nicely in the bladder compartment of a camelbak HAWG. Leaving the rest of the bag free for a change of clothes or your lunch.

    Whilst I might not forget the backpack itself, not being a regular bike commuter it’s still a conscious effort to pack the pass/change of clothes etc.

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