Carrying goods on a bicycle

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

When we look at cultures where the bicycle is king as means of personal transportation, including as vehicle for small business, we see all manner of ways of carrying goods and produces.

Many of those methods, however, would get one into deep trouble with the traffic laws, and also in danger, if used in the Western world, such as Western Europe, the USA and Australia and New Zealand.

So, when the question comes to how to, safely, carry goods and such in our modern traffic or even on dedicated cycle paths while adhering to the traffic laws, there is always the debate as to whether one should use a messenger bag over a backpack or vice-versa, or whether pannier or trailer, etc.

The truth is, as with so many things, that there are “horses for courses” and it all very much depends on (a) the type of load to be carried and (b) weight and size.

Messenger bags, slug over the shoulder and across the back of the cyclist are ideal where a backpack, even a small rucksack, would not be the right “tool” to employ, such as for carrying of documents and such. Exactly for what the messenger bags were designed for, namely for cycle messenger.

The backpack is a different way of carrying loads while on a bicycle and, in one way, probably one of the best as the load is on your, that is to say, the rider's back rather that slung to one side – if you have to carry the load on your body, so to speak.

There are different sizes of backpacks, obviously, and the choice depends on what you are hauling on your bike using a rucksack. The maximum that I would say that ever should be used in cycling for carrying, say, groceries for the week's shop, should be a 75-liter bergen. Anything larger – in my opinion – will make cycling uncomfortable and hence endanger the rider, that is to say, you.

In addition to that or on their own there are the panniers that are designed as load carrier for cycles. I do find, however, that I can get more on shopping into a 75-liter bergen (rucksack) than I can carry in two panniers. Hence I use panniers for additional carrying capacity but not, generally, alone, for my weekly shopping. For smaller trips the pannier(s) could suffice.

Up from backpack and pannier and baskets there are then cycle trailers, which tend to come in different shapes and sizes. Using a trailer with a bicycle takes a little getting used to and it will take a little while before you will got it down to an fine art, if you have never used a trailer on a bike before.

Another way of carrying goods, legally and safe, on a bicycle, we must not forget, is baskets and the French (and also others) are very fond of those and they are found on women's bike and also on some men's ones. Originally, in fact, panniers were woven baskets and, I believe the name “pannier” originates with baskets.

The straight forward back carrier is another option for some things as is the box or basket that is fitted to same.

In fact there are a number of good ways to safely carry things on a bicycle and the same applies to children. A good cycle store should be able to advise on the options and the ones right for your own applications.

© 2009