As cyclists, we often get hung up on things like frame weight, wheel depth, tyre width and power transfer, and we often forget that bikes are a really great way to get around.
Getting some fresh air, avoiding packed trains and buses, and spending less time cooped up in a single-occupancy vehicle is good for the environment and even better for your physical and mental health.
One of the hurdles to this has always been transporting your belongings but with our guide to the best cycling backpacks, you can safely and securely transport yourself and your lunch to work, the shops, or anywhere else you need to go. Then once you arrive, our guide to the best bike locks will keep your steed safe while you go about your day.
Even with all the craziness in the world at the moment, travelling by bike is a fantastic way to get around. Just make sure you follow all social-distancing regulations to the letter.
There are different types of cycling backpacks for different types of riders, so scroll down to our favourite bags to use for every day riding or jump straight to the bottom for a rundown of things to look for in a commuter bag.
Best cycling backpacks
Timbuk2 Especial Medio 30L
If you need to bring everything and the kitchen sink
Waterproof fabric: Yes | Waist belt: No | Capacity: 30L
With an expandable front panel and compression straps, Timbuk2's Especial Medio backpack is ideal for habitual over-packers. The top-loading bag has room for a 15in laptop, with dual external water bottle pockets, as well as a TPU front panel and water-resistant zippers to provide a temporary rain barrier, should you get caught in the rain 10 minutes from home.
The shoulder straps are well padded but have vents built in to allow some airflow, while the back panel is also perforated to keep you cool and comfortable. Only available in black, it will hide dirt and grime, but still has reflective logos to make sure you're seen out on the road.
Brooks Pickwick Daypack
Best for the fashionable commuter
Waterproof fabric: No | Waist belt: No | Capacity: 12-26L
The majority of the bags featured here are hyper-technical with expandable this, suspended-ventilated that, and hidden X, Y, and Z. However for some, a simple, good looking backpack will provide all the functionality that's needed, and the Brooks Pickwick Daypack ticks all of those boxes.
Manufactured in Italy, the bag is made from water-resistant cotton canvas, the roll-top closure reveals a cavernous main compartment while allowing the capacity to be expanded. It also comes in a 12L and 26L capacity. There is also a dedicated tool pocket, so your spare tube and tyre levers are easy to find. The shoulder and sternum straps are adjustable, and the attachment points are reinforced with leather, so you don't have a blow-out.
Thule Pack 'n Pedal
Expandable, IPX4-rated, commuter rucksack
Waterproof fabric: Yes | Waist belt: No | Capacity: 24L
Thule's Pack 'n Pedal bag has a utilitarian style, which translates into an extremely functional rucksack. The roll-top backpack features an IPX4-rated main compartment to keep your gear dry in the rain, and also sees a stowable rain cover for ultimate moisture resistance built-in. Inside is a removable padded laptop compartment, with a tablet sleeve and mesh cable pockets; it's designed to sit on the top of the bag, rather than against your back, for improved comfort.
On the side is a zippered, crushproof 'SafeZone' pocket, for sunglasses and your phone, while the front pockets see mesh sleeves, a key keeper and internal zippered pocket to keep your small items in order. The front of the bag and the rain cover both feature reflective detailing, as well as a clip for your rear bike light.
The most feature-rich commuter pack you can buy
Waterproof fabric: No | Waist belt: Yes | Capacity: 26-34L
The second-generation Osprey Radial is one of the most feature-packed bike commuting bags you can buy. With everything from the LidLock helmet clip, U-lock storage, a separate pocket for dirty clothes or shoes, to a rear light attachment, sunglasses pocket lined with non-scratch fabric, and even an integrated kickstand, it's anything but basic.
The bag borrows the suspended mesh back panel seen on the brand's heavy-duty expedition packs, its capacity is expandable from 26L to 34L, and the Radial has an integrated rain cover, too. Inside, there is a padded laptop sleeve and a separate magazine/document pocket, while the exterior features a stretch bottle sleeve and ride-accessible zippered pocket.
Patagonia Black Hole 25L
The last commuter pack you will ever buy
Waterproof fabric: Yes | Waist belt: No | Capacity: Yes
From bike commutes, to day hikes, to air travel, we've put the Patagonia Black Hole 25L backpack through the wringer, and it still looks pretty much brand new. Made from a mix of burly ripstop and TPU-coated polyester, it shrugs off abrasions and rain; inside there are two padded sleeves, with the large one big enough for a 15in laptop. A zippered pocket on the top keeps your small items organised, while stretch mesh pockets on either side mean you can take a water bottle and coffee thermos too.
Daisy-chain loops on the front of the bag work well for clipping a helmet on when you get to your destination, and the air-mesh panel helps to keep you cool and comfortable. Even better, should you manage to wear a hole in your bag or bust a seam, take it to a Patagonia store and they will fix it for you.
Osprey Archeon 25L
Fashionable roll-top backpack with more technical features than a Swiss army knife
Waterproof: No | Waist belt: Yes | Capacity: 25L
Made from recycled nylon canvas, the Osprey Archeon 25L roll-top bag looks good and performs better. It comes in both men's and women's fits, includes water-bottle pockets on either side, and there's also a stretch pocket on the front that's perfect for shoes, wet clothes or things you might need to access on the go.
The Rolltop has a zipper on the front that allows the upper sleeve of fabric to be folded so that you can see what's inside your bag; there's also an internal sleeve and zippered pocket on the side with a key keeper. The harness is size adjustable and can be fitted to your specific torso size, and the mesh-covered 'Airscape’ back panel works to stave off the dreaded sweaty-back patch.
Chrome Citizen Messenger Bag
Durable, waterproof, and with an integrated bottle opener
Waterproof fabric: Yes | Waist belt: No | Capacity: 27L
Unless you're a bike messenger, you probably don't need to ride with huge boxes with God-only-knows-what inside, but you might still need to bring more than just a spare change of clothes along for the ride. For that, Chrome Industries' mid-sized Citizen Messenger Bag is pretty much as good as they come. Made from 1000 denier Cordura, with an 18-ounce truck-tarp liner, the Citizen Messenger is totally waterproof, and to call it durable would be an understatement.
The bag features what the brand calls a floating liner, so you can separate wet and dry items, and there are stow-and-go organisational pockets on the front for quick access to essential items. The Citizen Messenger Bag comes with the brand's trademark seatbelt chest strap – a stabilising strap to keep the load in place – and even has an integrated bottle opener.
Altura Thunderstorm City 30
Best for those who need a snorkel on their bike commute
Waterproof fabric: Yes | Waist belt: Yes | Capacity: 30L
Weighing just 600g empty, the Altura Thunderstorm City 30 is an IPX6-waterproof-rated, 30L backpack. It's fully seam-sealed so its contents will remain moisture-free on even the most treacherous commutes, and the roll-top closure allows you to tailor the size of the bag based on how much you need to carry.
While it's essentially a drybag with backpack straps, there is still a padded laptop sleeve and a zippered pocket so you won't need to go searching for your keys. The harness is well padded and features a sternum strap and waist belt to keep the load stable. It's also hi-vis with reflective detailing to help in low-light conditions.
What to look for in a cycling backpack
Backpacks come in all shapes and sizes, and how big you need will depend largely on where you're headed. If you just need somewhere to put your change of clothes, a smaller, lighter bag will suffice, while if you're carrying a laptop, lunch, spare clothes, shoes and equipment you'll use throughout your day, a bigger bag with a hip belt might be better.
We've found that somewhere between 20L and 30L seems to be about right. If you need something bigger, you're either a bike messenger or need to re-evaluate what you're bringing along on your commute.
Keep in mind that some features, like suspended mesh-back panels, or padded sleeves, may slightly reduce the overall capacity of your bag, or make larger items an awkward fit.
What are you carrying?
A lot of bike commuters nowadays will have a laptop with them, and, if this is you, look for a bag that has a padded inner sleeve to keep it safe. Do you need to change into a pressed, wrinkle-free shirt when you arrive at your destination, or is your work attire a t-shirt and jeans? Bags with a larger main compartment will leave your clothes less crushed when you arrive at your destination.
A 90 per cent chance of rain?
Do you live in Bristol or Brisbane? For the former, waterproofing is a crucial factor you won't want to go without, while a removable rain cover would suffice for the latter. Still, you'll want something that prioritises airflow between your body and the bag, like a suspended mesh back.
Think about the harness
A backpack or messenger bag that digs into your shoulders when it's loaded up with your essentials is not going to make commuting by bike an enjoyable experience, so take a good look at the harness.
At the very least, well-padded straps and a sternum strap will help to balance the bag on your back, while a waist strap will further stabilise the load and allow you to move some of the weight off your shoulders.
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