As someone that has commuted for years with pannier bags and cycling backpacks, I can confidently say no option is better than the other and it ultimately comes down to preference.
Have you ever wondered what makes a bike pannier bag better than a backpack? You're in luck! This post provides the details with the pro's and con's of using bike pannier bags and helps you find the best panniers for commuting to work.
In case you don't have the time to read this post in full, our favourite pannier bag for commuting is the Ortlieb Back Roller Classic R available at Amazon for $169.99.
Why Invest in Bike Pannier Bags Instead of a Backpack?
One thing that drives me nuts about riding with a cycling backpack is the sweat build up and sore shoulders that come with carrying a bag on your back in summer. Panniers are a great option for anyone that is trying to avoid this. Sure, there are back packs on the market now that help try reduce the build up of sweat like some of the backpacks we previously reviewed in our article on the best cycling backpacks.
Do you find that when you're commuting if you had more room in your backpack, you'd easily fill it with more stuff? Riding with bike pannier bags provides the luxury of being able to travel with more gear whether that's clothes for when you get to work, a spare rain coat if the weather turns or even accessories in case you need to change your tyre.
Sure, you could carry a replacement shirt, additional riding clothes, lunch and equipment in a backpack but will it be comfortable? From our experience no with the weight being better served on the bike rather than your back.
What are the Pro's and Con's of Using Panniers for Commuting to Work?
Like cycling backpacks, using panniers isn't necessarily the perfect approach that will fix everyones problems. We've tried to document all the positives and negatives that we could think of including:
- No need to worry about developing a sweaty back or sore shoulders from carrying a bag
- Panniers allow you to carry more gear than a backpack
- Improved distribution of weight is on the bike which feels more balanced than riding with a top heavy backpack
- Generally more comfortable on longer commutes
- A lot of hassle to put the bags on/off which might not be worth the effort for people on smaller commutes
- Carrying more gear will make you slower and you will feel it when riding up hills
- More effort to pedal the bike due to the additional weight
- Bike isn't as stable when stationary due to the weight on either side of the bike
What's the Difference Between Saddle Bag, Rack Bags and Handlebar Bags?
Before we look at the pannier different bags on the market, it's important to call out the difference in bags that you may come across. We've put this quick guide together to help you:
- Saddle bags attach to the back of your seat an are generally best suited for a small amount of equipment such as your phone, multi-tool, spare tube and keys. We find these are best suited for carrying your bike repair accessories.
- Pannier bags attach to either side of your rear wheel. We recommend pannier bags for anyone that needs to a carry a lot of gear as part of their commute.
- Rack bags attaches to the top of your bicycle rack above your rear wheel. Generally, not all bikes have this option so you may find this won't work for you. They generally have a bit more storage space than a saddle bag but less storage space than a pannier bag. These are a great option for anyone that doesn't need to carry a lot of gear on their commute.
- Handlebar bags as the name suggests attaches to your handle bars. We find these bars are best suited for people who are either doing long commutes or adventures on their bikes where they need certain items up front and available (e.g. GPS, food, etc). Again, these are also a good option for people who commute to work light.
Best Bike Pannier Bag
Ortlieb Back Roller Classic R
Arguably some of the best bike pannier bags on the market. The Ortlieb Back Roller Classic R bags have been around a long time and are called a classic for a reason. We highly recommend these for anyone that is looking to get panniers for commuting.
Featuring a full waterproof and durable material, the Ortlieb bike pannier bags also include internal zip pockets and divided sections which are great if you're like me and carry your lunch and a change of clothes and don't want the two intermingling!
The Ortlieb Back Roller Classic R comes with 20 litres of capacity per bag which should be plenty for most of you.
Best Pannier and Shoulder Combination Bag
Ortlieb Office Bag
Ortlieb have mixed things up with this pannier bag with a look inspired by shoulder messenger bags. The Ortlieb Office Bag is capable of being used as a pannier bag or over the shoulder but we think the pannier clips on the inside of the bag might be a bit uncomfortable for most.
The Ortlieb Office Bag uses a waterproof material and comes with 13 litres of storage in each bag. Slightly less than the Ortlieb Back Roller Classic bag we previously reviewed which may actually suit some people better!
A good option for anyone looking for attractive lightweight pannier bags.
Best Saddle Bag
Topeak Aero Wedge Pack
Topeak's Aero Wedge Bag is a great durable saddlebag that uses a velcro strap and buckle attachment to help with taking the bag on and off your bike. If you're like us and like to attach a rear bike light to the bag, you're in luck! Also included is an attachment for a rear light.
Saddle bags are perfect for any commuters that either want to travel with only a couple of items (mobile phone and keys) or perhaps they want a specific bag to carry their bike maintenance kit (tyre levers and spare tube). Fortunately the Topeak Aero Wedge bag comes in a variety of sizes including small, medium and large which means you shouldn't have too many issues trying to find a bag that will carry everything you need.
Best 2 in 1 - Pannier and Backpack
Two Wheel Gear Pannier Backpack Plus+
The Two Wheel Gear Pannier Backpack Plus+ is a 30 litre bag designed using waterproof materials. Inside the bag includes a laptop pocket, phone pocket, storage for your bike lock and internal mesh pockets.
One thing we really liked about the bag was the two-in-one function where the bag works as a pannier and also as a backpack. Perfect for those of us that don't want to have to worry about awkwardly carrying the pannier when they get off the bike.
One down side to the bag is the internal laptop compartment has no padding in the bottom of the bag so you may want to consider an additional sleeve for your laptop to protect it from shocks during your commute.
Best Rack Bag
Ortlieb Rack Pack
Built using the same durable and waterproof materials which you see with Ortlieb pannier bags. Whether it be strapped on top of your bike rack above your pannier bags or over your shoulder, the Ortlieb Rack Pack is a great bag for on and off the bike.
We generally recommend this bag for anyone that is doing bike adventures (think multiple days and overnight stays) or simply has a long commute and a need to carry a lot of gear.
As mentioned, the Ortlieb Rack Pack is a waterproof bag that is essentially a dry bag that will be guaranteed to keep your gear dry even in the harshest of conditions.
Best Handle Bar Bag
Topeak TourGuide Handle Bar Bag
Although the Topeak TourGuide Handle Bar Bag is mostly designed for overnight adventures to store your GPS and other essentials, we think it's a great bag for commuting to work. Why? This bag is perfect for anyone that commutes lightweight without much gear.
The Topeak TourGuide bag is designed with a divided main pocket, two side pockets and a clear map section on top hence being designed for overnight adventures. Also included is a click attachment which helps to easily take on and take off the bag from your handlebars with ease.
What makes this bag well suited for commuting to work is that it comes with a rain cover for when the weather turns.
Best Affordable Pannier Bag
Rhinowalk Pannier Bag
Rhinowalk have released a great budget friendly pannier bag for anyone that is looking to get into pannier bags on a budget. The bag is designed using a durable and fully waterproof material which will help protect your gear on those wet commutes. Inside the bag includes multiple pockets and compartments with enough room to store a laptop (14-15" maximum).
The Rhinowalk panniers come with 25-27 litres of storage in each bag which should be plenty for most commuters.
One thing we really liked about the Rhinowalk bags was the shoulder straps which can be installed for when you're carrying the bags once you're off your bike.