How to Carry Stuff by Bike

Do you want to bike to work, to the store, or to the farmer’s market, but can’t figure out how to carry all your stuff?

Here’s a run down of a few different ways to carry different things, in order from the cheapest and quickest to the most expensive and comprehensive.

A Bag
backpack1.jpgUse what you’ve got! Somewhere in your closet you probably have a backpack or a shoulder bag that will work. The upside is that it’s cheap, and you already own it. The downside is that your back will get sweaty, and you might not want to have lots of weight high up on your bike (it feels more stable to have it low). I once moved a vacuum cleaner in an internal frame backpack. Worked fine.

Messenger bags are nice if you need regular access to them (that’s the point – messengers can easily swing them around and pull things out of them) but some people find them uncomfortable when they are heavily loaded.

Laptops and other electronic equipment should generally go in a bag on your body, because your body absorbs all the little vibrations from the road.

A Front Basket

front-basket.jpgBaskets can be pretty cheap. The cheap plastic or straw ones can’t take much weight, but more expensive metal ones, installed by a mechanic, can be braced against your bike frame and can take more weight.

It’s not a good idea to put heavy things (milk, eggs, squash, all but the tiniest dogs) in a front basket, because then your steering is weighted. Meaning, every time you turn your handlebars, you are also moving that weight around. But light things (lettuce, sweaters, chihuahuas) are fine.

A Rear Rack
A rack installed on the back of your bike greatly increases your options. You can use it alone and just bungee things to it (and some racks have a jaw-like spring-loaded clamp you can put things under). Or you can attach things to it…

A Rear Basket

Once you have a rear rack on your bike, get a cheap milk crate and four zip ties, and attach it. Make sure to attach it far enough away from your seat to leave room for you to sit. You can put fairly heavy things in this basket, but they will make your bike a little top heavy.rear-milk-crate.jpg

Panniers or Saddlebags

Here’s a secret: panniers ARE saddlebags. They are just french saddlebags. And they are pronounced “pann-yurs” in English.

The price range for panniers is substantial, ranging from quite cheap to very expensive. Panniers hang onto the side of your rack, and hook on below to keep from swinging.

grocery-pannier.jpgAt the lower price end are used cloth or canvas panniers (check for used bike gear). Cloth panniers can always be waterproofed with the addition of a plastic garbage bag. Also fairly cheap are simple plastic panniers, or plastic Citybikes bike buckets (pictured below, along with an expensive, but awesome, Ortlieb pannier).
Some desirable features that start to cost more are waterproof-ness, bright colors, reflective patches, over-the-shoulder straps for easy carrying, bomb-proof attachment pieces, lifetime guarantees, and lots of little cool pockets for commuter supplies.

You can put lots of weight in panniers because they are fairly low on your bike. You can use just one pannier, but the more weight you put in it, the more imbalanced your bike will feel, particularly when you step off of it. It is a little safer and easier to have even weight on both sides, although not essential.

Bike Trailers

There’s a great deal of price range in trailers too. Few of them are cheap, however, but good deals can be found on used trailers through Craigslist. Cloth trailers can carry LOTS of weight, more groceries than you probably ever buy in one trip, but they are generally not sturdy enough for furniture. And if they are not meant for children, don’t put your children in them!

Trailers that are specifically for children are a little more expensive, and often have seats, belts and orange safety flags.

Some trailers include a special hitch attached to your seat post, others can be attached to any bike very quickly, with no tools.

For very, very heavy things, there are cargo trailers. These have solid bottoms and are often rated up to hundreds of pounds.
In general, when pulling a trailer, you want a bike with many low gears (like a mountain bike), and you need to remember to leave much more stopping distance.







While these are just a few of the options available for carrying your gear on bikes, there are a ton more options out there.

For specific advice on how to carry YOUR things, contact us or your local bike shop!


Comments (26)

  1. Ethan Permalink  | Sep 17, 2007 01:20pm

    I find that a water bottle clip on the frame doubles well as a wine-carrying device (when headed off to a friend’s for dinner).

  2. Deanna Permalink  | Sep 17, 2007 04:22pm

    OMG!! I love the picture of the bike and loveseat!!! I’ve carried a lot odd things myself (eg. 24 pack of toilet paper, 4 boxes of cereal on my bike rack, etc.) but the bike/loveseat picture takes the cake!

  3. sg Permalink  | Sep 17, 2007 04:28pm

    Has anyone successfully attached a rack to the seat post of a carbon fiber bike?

  4. Jessica Roberts Permalink  | Sep 17, 2007 04:54pm

    Michelle is being modest — the loveseat used to be hers, and she hauled it herself to a friend’s. Pretty bad-ass. Love the photo.

  5. Michelle Permalink  | Sep 17, 2007 06:07pm

    Bungie cords!!! I forgot to talk about bungie cords!!!

    Once you have a rear rack, all you need is a bungie cord and you can carry all kinds of things, including bales of toilet paper and cereal boxes, sweaters, rain gear, bags, etc.

    Am I spelling “bungie” correctly? Looks weird.

  6. Carissa Permalink  | Sep 20, 2007 02:32pm

    Don’t forget pizza boxes on bike racks! I live between Hot Lips on Hawthorne and the bike boulevard on Salmon and I see many happy pizza eaters with large pizza boxes bungied to their racks. They leave a trail of yummy smells too.

  7. cap'n pastry Permalink  | Sep 20, 2007 07:01pm

    Great article!
    One thing I’d add is try using old inner tubes in place of bungies. Why?

    1) Extremely cheap, like free.
    2) Not only stretchy, but a friction-y surface to hold stuff down
    3) No evil metal hooks that always aim for your eye when the cord gets away from you by accident.

    Oh, you can also use a cargo trailer for hauling your friends’ band. (see link)

  8. Lambo Permalink  | Sep 30, 2007 10:53am

    I’m still looking for the perfect coffee-cup holder for my handlebars.

  9. John Erving Permalink  | Aug 18, 2008 05:09pm

    As a newcomer to bicycling (much less in Portland), this was very helpful (and entertaining). I’ll be participating in my first Bike to Work challenge next month which will also be my first bike to work commute and I had questions about this very subject for my co-worker, Jessica.

  10. Aimee Permalink  | Aug 25, 2008 11:56am

    question – where DO you find those old milk crates to strap to the rack? i’ve been lookin’ in all the wrong places it appears…

  11. Mark Permalink  | Aug 27, 2008 10:01am

    Hello all! I have a Pembroke Welsh Corgi that likes to run along with me as I ride, but his little legs get tired after a while. I’d like to mount something on my mountain bike that he can ride in on those occasions. Any suggestions? He is approximately 24″ from his nose to his stubby tail, 10″ wide, 12″ high, and approximately 30 lbs. Thanks!

  12. Keith Permalink  | Aug 29, 2008 12:40pm

    I was tying stuff on but it took more time than I wanted to spend to prepare for my commute. I spent $35 on an Axiom trunk bag that is made to sit on top of my rack and it has made my life MUCH easier. The bag has a carrying strap and attaches easily with 4 long velcro strips at the corners. I found that if I drop my U-lock through the bars on my rack and then put my bag on, it holds it in place and keeps it from rattling. If I was doing it again, though…I might get the expandable version of the bag. I keep running out of room.

  13. Carter Permalink  | Sep 08, 2008 05:38pm

    If you want to really improve the functionality of the recycled tire tube “bungies” get the plastic (Delrin) buckles/clips commonly used on back packs (some sewing stores and REI are good sources). Or steal them off that ratty old back pack you have in the basement.

  14. Susan Permalink  | Sep 15, 2008 05:54pm

    Ditto Lambo – Is there a coffee cup holder available ?

    I get a little twitchy when I bike early in the morning before I can get my fix from my local caffeine pusher.

  15. Katharina Permalink  | Sep 17, 2008 03:08am

    My water bottle wire holder works great for my travel coffee cup mug!

  16. Katharina Permalink  | Sep 17, 2008 03:12am

    This got me thinking about having a beverage holder on my motorcycle. I did a quick search for “motorcycle cup holder” and quite a few websites came up with many different solutions. Most attach to the handlebars and could probably be used on a bicycle as well.

  17. Buglas Permalink  | Sep 17, 2008 07:59am

    For Aimee – where to find milk crates. Genuine milk crates used by dairys are heavy and have a steel rod embedded in the top rim to make them sturdy enough to stack five or six high when loaded. Check office supply stores for the baskets used for hanging files. They’re big enough for two gallons of milk and a decent sized bag of groceries. Plus you can cut away a portion of the top frame at the front if necessary to fit under the back of your seat.

  18. vanessa Permalink  | Sep 17, 2008 09:41am

    For Lambo and Susan —
    I have the coffee cup holder from Soma:

    It works pretty well! (You just have to make sure the bracket is super tight!) I’ve heard that River City sells them (mine was a gift).

  19. Buglas Permalink  | Oct 08, 2008 07:59am

    For all the caffeine lovers, check out It’s a non-commercial site with links to commercial sites for many of the products it depicts.

  20. Eric Permalink  | Aug 12, 2009 04:40pm

    I find milk crates once in a while in supermarket dumpsters. I also sometimes find 5 gallon pails and lots of good food.

  21. storage stockport Permalink  | Apr 01, 2010 01:41am

    Thanks for posting this, lifted my day.

  22. Michele Permalink  | Aug 05, 2010 10:40am

    We have been committed to grocery shopping for the last two months, and I stop on my way home (in my third month of biking to work)…Do the shopping and then call my two sons who meet me at Fred Meyer and we carry the load home together.

  23. Bill Permalink  | Aug 02, 2012 04:56pm

    Not to be didactic, but pannier is French for bread basket, saddle bags.

    There is no need to use the word “butt” in regard to space between the seated cyclyist and the load over the rear tire. There is enough vulgarity in the world without adding to it.

  24. Kavod Permalink  | Jun 23, 2014 02:24pm

    Sigh…in AMERICAN English pannier is pronounced that way. The rest of the English speaking world, including England, where they invented the language, has no problem saying it correctly as the loanword it is. Nor do we have a problem saying foyer, like you do.

  25. Craig Learn Permalink  | Apr 15, 2015 07:10am

    Fifty years ago, I served the Phila. Evening Bulletin on my bike. The newspapers were folded and packed in a canvas bag supported by a wire rack the slipped over the handlebars. This wire rod, shaped in a U, was bent to go around the front post and back over the handlebars with two prongs long enough to support a bag of papers. Does anyone know where I can buy one of these wire “U” racks for bike handlebars?

  26. Ben Sheppard Permalink  | Oct 24, 2015 08:50pm

    Is there any cheap and easy way to carry a 24 pack of water bottles?