Sunday, March 19, 2006

Carry on Bike vs. Carry on Back

Here’s the question: Is it better to carry your stuff in a bike bag on your back or a bike bag on your bike?

Carrying heavy things (or anything) on your back is certainly no fun. So I just fixed up my road bike with a rear rack and bags to carry stuff. I commuted a couple of times and, well, the jury is still out. There’s good and bad to both.

Bike bag/messenger style:

Advantages: Be at one with all your excess baggage. No effect on bike handling. Less likely to carry extra shit just because it will fit in your bag.

Disadvantages: You’re a human packhorse.

Bag loaded on rear rack:

Advantages: You’re not a human packhorse. For those who always carry a bag, as most bikers do, you might forget how nice it is not to carry anything while zooming around the city.

Disadvantages: Handling is worse. Not in a dramatic way, but if you’re riding a nice nimble road bike, it becomes more sluggish. A racing bike becomes a commuter bike. Not bad if you’re commuting. But if you like racing bikes, then your commute becomes a little less fun. There’s also the issue of what to do with the pannier when you leave your bike. The rear rack could also get stolen very easily. And the bike is a bit heavier.

Bottom line: It’s not so simple. I expected to fall in love with not having my bag on my bike. And that part is nice. But I don’t like the (admittedly minor) effect on handling. I think I may reserve the rack and bag system for when I know I’m going to have a lot of heavy things to carry a long distance (for short distance I’d just use my heavy one-speed with metal baskets).

There’s probably a simple rule of thumb here: If you want to do something right, look at those who do it for a living. Bike messengers carry things on their back and ride fixed-gears. There’s probably no better way.


Jeff said...

I have a 12 mile commute and I like the messenger bag approach. My Patagonia Critical Mass bag has a nice big reflecting stripe and when I get to work, I don't have to gather everything out of the basket, which I have on the front handlebars and I like for carrying groceries.

So my answer is "Both".

jim nachlin said...

The bag also makes your back sweat.

But, I agree, the handling issue is important. I got a lighter lock (had been using the big Kryptonite chain) for this reason.

Nick James said...

Fotaq, It sounds like our commutes overlap. Mine's down Crescent from 30th Ave in Astoria, across the bridge, across town on 59th/55th to the bike path on the west side, then down to 15th St. Most days, I use a single small, waterproof pannier on the left side of my rack and a small msngr bag on my person, but you're right - It seems to be a choice between lousy and handling or a sweaty back.

Nice to see another Astoria-to-Manhattan commuter.

Fotaq said...

Nick James, why do you go down to 55th St to get on the path? There’s a great entrance on 59th St. Go through Columbus Circle. Get in the far left lane and then veer right on Broadway (stay on the left). Make the first left there on 60th St. Jot one block left on Columbus and then enjoy the downhill of 59th. Just don’t get killed by surprise 2-way streets. I never expect them.

And oh yeah, it being the end of winter, I kind of forgot about the sweaty-back issue. You can definitely put that in messenger bag category under “negative.”

The bags I bought got come off easily and they have a carrying strap. So I can just life it off and don’t have to worry about gathering the items. The downside is I have to take it with me because somebody would steal it. But for many reasons (less comfortable, no way to close it…) carrying the saddle bag isn’t nearly as good as carrying my bike bag.

The lock issue is also important. I pick my pants by which have back pockets big enough for a Kryptonite lock. Levi jeans work (barely). Even better are Carhartts. So I have a Kryptonite lock in one rear pocket and small Amsterdam-style lock in the other pocket for the rear wheel. That’s a system I love…

But there is a huge problem coming to bikers in New York: the disappearance of parking meters. It’s getting harder and harder to find a place to lock a bike. Sign posts aren’t good enough. Bus stop posts are secure, but there aren’t enough of them. Scaffolding works well. But the only guaranteed thing is now a lamp post. And ain’t no U-lock getting around that. I’d hate to have to go back to the Big Chain. But it’s getting tough.

And my Astoria-NYC commute stops at 10th Ave. Is it just my imagination or is 61st St. faster way than 60th St. to get from the bridge to 5th Ave? It always seems that way, but seeing how the lights are timed for the Avenues, I can’t see how it matters.

It’s a shame there’s the one-and-only good bike path in New York on the West Side and I almost never get to use it. Going down to 15th St… I guess It’s worth it for west of 6th Ave.

I wish there was a good way to get downtown from the Queensboro Bridge. The East Side path is almost mean how it starts at 37th St and then curves so far east just where you would probably want it. Still, not having to stop for any lights usually makes that a lot faster even if further.

If I’m going to the Lower East Side, I often go through Brooklyn and over the Williamsburg Bridge (now that bumps are gone). That’s longer and not faster. But it’s a nicer ride in Brooklyn than up and down Manhattan Avenues.

nick james said...

Thanks for the tip, Fotaq. Tomorrow morning, I'll go straight through the circle. I think you're right about 61st - it does seem faster, who knows why, but I usually go with 60th out of sheer disbelief that there could be a difference.

I love the bike path on the west side, but this time of year, the wind from the river is ferocious, and it never seems to be a tailwind. It does cut a good 10 minutes off of my commute, vs. when I used to take 9th Ave. south.

In the NYC of my fantasies, 6th Ave. is a bike path.

Aron said...

I hope you mean *all* of 6th ave as a bike path :) I use 8th just so I don't have self-righteous folks trying to push me into the death-lane on 6th.

nick james said...

I mean ALL of 6th Ave. That's no bike lane - that's an obstacle course.