When it comes to switching from cars or public transit to bicycling, actual pedaling is only half the battle. Unless you’re funemployed in July and your only cargo is the precious U-Lock in your back pocket, converting to the bike doctrine requires determination, planning, and—you know it—gear. Here’s a rundown of the most popular ways that bicyclists carry their stuff, in order of how serious a rider you should plan to be.
The BackpackOften the cargo-carrying mode of choice for newbie riders, the backpack is a convenient and versatile way to haul everyday things if you’re dabbling in biking—you probably have a pack lying around the house, after all. Fast-forward a few weeks to the first day you have to commute five miles in 40-degree driving rain, and you’re going to want something more waterproof and less cumbersome. There are suitable options, like the sporty Osprey Momentum ($130) or instantly recognizable Chrome Metropolis Buckle Bag ($160), but getting a quality pack like that costs about the same as a set of panniers. If you end up being in this for the long haul, consider investing in bags you don’t have to wear.
The Milk CrateStrapping a milk crate to your back rack is akin to wearing generic canvas shoes in Portland. It’s cheap, mildly hip and gets the job done. And the second it starts raining, you’ll wish you’d thought things through a bit. With the convenience of being able to throw whatever you fancy into that crate comes the added sluggishness of a carrying mechanism that pulls against your center of gravity. Unless you only do the two-wheel thing during the summertime, your stuff is guaranteed to get soaked. Ask any bike-shop mechanic and they’ll tell you—the classic crate isn’t so convenient. But at least they’re free if you steal one from a local grocery store, like most folks do.
The BasketBike baskets are like crates, but you actually have to pay for them. In return, you get to look cute at Sunday Parkways and solidify your neighborhood identity as an easygoing but respectable community member. Costs range from $40 for a quick-release wire contraption to $130 for charming wicker baskets built specifically for pets.
PanniersThey’re waterproof, relatively heavy duty, detach easily and don’t throw off your bike’s efficiency. Panniers are, with few exceptions, a must-have for daily commuters. The downside is that it’s a slippery slope from your first pannier purchase into the eye roll-inducing spandex biker stereotype. Unless you’re careful, waterproof booties, Gore-Tex and pit zips may be in your future. Everything in moderation. Panniers run about $120 for a good pair.
The Bike TrailerGreat for carrying kids and puppies or getting strangers to think you’re weird for toting paint supplies in what is generally considered a child’s travel device. On the plus side, you can haul a lot of stuff, but you’ll suffer in maneuverability. A quality trailer will put you a few hundred bucks in the deep, but there are decent options that cost about the same as a pair of Ortlieb bags. There is also a sub-genre of bike trailers designed with inanimate cargo in mind, but these tend to be great for touring, not commuting. And ultimately, if you’re actually planning to put a bike trailer to good use, you better have the stamina and muscles that the typical beginner only dreams of.
XtracycleOK, so you’re super-serious about this biking thing. Forget water bottles and wallets—you just sold your car and want to be able to haul loads as if that hatchback were still connected to your fenders. There’s something appealing about the capacity and extreme bikeyness of cargo bikes, but you’ve already got a solid frame. Meet the Xtracycle, a popular add-on to standard bikes that converts most of them into longer cargo carriers for $100-$300. Xtracycles get xtra expensive once you move beyond the basic accouterments.