Back or Bike? Four Bag Types Commuters Should Consider for Hauling Your Stuff Around SLC
Bike / BMX
As you spend more and more time as a commuter cyclist, you’ll focus on having quick, safe and comfortable rides. You’ll also inevitably need to choose the right bag for your commutes. The miscellaneous items once nestled into the car passenger seat now need to be on your back or bike. Even if you’re already an avid cyclist, the ideal bags for commuting are different from the ones used for bikepacking and mountain biking. While sometimes expensive, good bike bags are sturdy enough to withstand the elements yet convenient enough to carry when you’re off your bike. Here are the bags I’ve had in heavy rotation during my 10 years cycling SLC.
Chrome Messenger Bag
Find at: chromeindustries.com
The first bags I had to haul things around were messenger bags. I looked around at what other cyclists were sporting and saw that messenger bags were it. I bought a bulky, no-name one at the now-closed Our Store, the LGBTQ+ thrift store. It didn’t have a price tag. The cashier looked it over for a few seconds and sold it to me for $5—a great deal for a starter. It also had the essentials for any good commuting bag: a thick reflective strip on the front that would provide more visibility at night, a waist strap so the bag wouldn’t slide down from my back to my chest, and a place on the shoulder strap to clip on my keys for easy access.
Eventually, I decided to donate the no-name bag and find something sleeker and waterproof. I snagged my Chrome messenger bag at a friend’s going-away party. Some of the nicest gear I’ve acquired in SLC have been hand-me-downs from folks looking to upgrade or downsize—a good thing to keep in mind if you’re looking for durable, quality gear. Since I got the bag for free and was using it regularly, I’ve had the means and interest in buying accessories for it. During a visit to Chicago, I bought a matching Chrome phone case that attached to the strap.
Both bags can haul a sizable amount. The no-name bag was large enough to transport anything I needed for the day. The Chrome bag is great for rides where I’ll need items like my laptop and extra layers, but not much more.
As a leftie, it did take a few rides to get used to messengers. I finally got the hang of it and am able to enjoy accessing the contents of my bag without having to take it off. I’ve even found inventive ways of carrying items that can’t fully fit, like my yoga mat. I also appreciate how my messenger bag doesn’t cover all of my back but is angled on the mid part of it. It diminished the likelihood that my back would be drenched in sweat during summer rides.
Timbuk2 Tandem Panniers
Find at: timbuk2.com
What made me switch from carrying things on my back to carrying things on my bike was a new steed and set up. I decided to invest in a Surly Cross-Check bike. I bought it used, but it’s a dream commuter. I added a rack that a friend found at the dump on one of his visits there during a home-improvement project. Now I just needed to find a bag to latch onto it. I knew that I’d be walking around a lot before and after rides. I didn’t want something that was great attached on a rack but required me to lug it around without a strap. I went the used route for purchasing a bag because I knew that one from a reputable cycling brand would last longer than something coming from a big-box store.
I looked for a week or two on Facebook Marketplace and KSL for an affordable bag that would work for the amount of biking and running around I planned to do on a regular basis. I decided to go with the tandem panniers. The internal and external compartments allowed me to carry items in an organized manner. I could also clip each side together to form a satchel.
The tandem panniers work well for my commute. I can quickly grab items like a light jacket, beanie or food while stopped at a light or stop sign, or even while pedaling if all is clear—a skill you may want to work your way up to. I bought a small cargo net to strap things that wouldn’t fit into the panniers onto the top of my rack: toilet paper, a package containing roller skates I need to mail off and even a hefty bag of top-soil.
Though designed for commuters in mind, these still do the trick for longer rides. I’ve used this bag for the handful of 60-plus mile rides I’ve done in the dead of summer. I pack two–three bottles of Gatorade, a bag of grapes and some other miscellaneous items. I can evenly distribute the weight with the panniers, and the energy boost I need to continue on with my ride is always in reach.
Timbuk2 Roll Top
Find at: timbuk2.com
These bags are just like the backpacks you toted around as a kid but with an added bonus: a top you can roll down and strap to enclose the contents inside. Just like the messenger bag, the roll top tends to signal to onlookers “serious cyclist.” If one factor in choosing the right bag is fitting in with 20-somethings who have done a stint as a bike messenger, this is a good option.
I recently rode with a friend who has a vinyl Chrome roll top that’s much newer with more external compartments that make it easier to attach and grab stuff as he biked. No matter how confident he actually felt on his bike that day, with his bag, he looked like a badass who was skilled enough to tackle anything a ride in the city could throw at him.
Though a roll top is a choice to have your back and shoulders do the grunt of work carrying your stuff around, you’ll be surprised at how much these bags can haul without weighing you down. I normally used my tandem panniers, but when I took my rack off my bike to compete in the Salty Lizard 100 last year, I had a months-long love affair with my roll top after the race.
I’m able to haul a lot in this bag, which makes it an easy favorite for doing things you’d think you’d need a car for, like transporting a load of laundry or going grocery shopping. Try not to overpack, though—if you do, you won’t have a lot of neck and head mobility.
Whatever can’t fit quite right in your bag, you may still be able to pedal around with. Try keeping the roll top partially or fully open. Or, keep a tote bag around. Fill your roll top with as much of the stuff you’re trying to haul and strap it down as you normally would. Fill your tote bag with everything that couldn’t fit into your roll top. Then tie the tote bag handles together in a knot and then tie the handles around the roll top strap. It might look janky, but trust me—it gets the job done. Try it with a frozen pizza or box of cereal sometime.
VeloCity Bags Caddy
Time for a little SLC bike history. VeloCity Bags, owned by Nate and Debbie Larsen, made vegan bags and bike accessories for years that had the same quality and attention to detail as any of the bags I’ve mentioned thus far. VeloCity was more than just bags; it was also about community-building. Nate and Debbie organized the annual VeloCity Weekend, which featured goldsprints, bike jousting and alleycats. There were cool swag bags and shirts commemorating the weekend designed by SLC artists. It’d be a shame not to talk about VC when taking urban city cycling bags here in SLC.
Too timid to compete, I volunteered for a VeloCity Weekend, then registered for my first and their last one in 2018. I placed third in the Women’s Division, and my prize was a nifty gift card. I already had a rolltop I’d won for placing first in SLUGCat, a wallet I’d purchased at an artisan market for vegan goods and pedal straps on my commuter. I was excited to add to my collection.
I used the gift certificate to buy a hip pouch and a caddy. For the caddy, I asked Nate to do one thing: add velcro straps to the sides so I could attach it to my rack. While this is my go-to bag for casual rides with friends, a caddy is great for the cyclist who doesn’t need to carry much. It fits all the essentials you might need: flat-fixing stuff, keys, a granola bar and, depending on the weather, gloves, sunglasses or a beanie. I’ve even found room for a windbreaker after packing the essentials.
VeloCity decided to close up shop in 2019, which is a loss for all those new to the SLC cycling community. Salt Lakers who experienced the good problems of having one of their quality bike bags will know that they remain functional for years. When you really get used to a certain bag style, it’s hard to justify acquiring additional bags. If you want to shop locally, check out AlterationAnnies’ Esty shop. With some tinkering, you should be able to attach any of her sustainable mountain bags to your bike.