Backpack vs Panniers


Well-Known Member
I’ve been commuting by road bike for over 5 years. Until recently, I’ve always used a backpack. It’s 24km in each direction.

I’ve never had too many issues with using a backpack but in my mind I always told myself I’d upgrade to a rack and panniers some day.

The benefits were clear in my head. I sometimes got slight discomfort in my back which would disappear with panniers. No more sweaty back. All the weight on the bike not me (I often carry a laptop). A feeling of liberation. Able to carry bigger/heavier loads i.e. weekend camping trips etc.

I finally took the plunge on a sleek road bike rack I liked the look of and some Ortlieb classic back rollers.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do like them, and they will be hugely beneficial if I decide to head away for a weekend with quite a bit of kit. But I’m really not feeling them on the commute which is what I primarily bought them for.

They just slow me down so much. My bike has gone from a joy to a ride to feeling sluggish and heavy. Just little things like lifting my bike into position after unlocking it are more of a chore as it’s so back heavy. It seems to have added at least 10% time to my commute and made it, in my mind, less enjoyable. The benefits of no sweaty back and the weight being on the bike rather than me are outweighed by the increased slog.

Yesterday, circumstances dictated that I had to use a backpack for the first time in a while, and the feeling of liberation of having a bike that could move like before was amazing. I also did the journey in a time I know is virtually impossible with the panniers (about as quick as I can do the route having done it 100s of times). And that was still with the rack attached, just no panniers.

Anyone else feel the same or have strong feelings the other way? I love how much stuff I can get in the Ortliebs and the waterproofing/sturdiness is second to none but I’m just not sure they are right for the average commute. Tempted to switch back to backpack and leave them for big load trips.


Flouncing Nobber
It's a taste thing. For commuting some favour one, others favour the other.

I favoured a rucksack - I got sweaty enough whether I wore if or not, and there was no messing about with the luggage once I'd got to my destination, it simply followed me in to the building.

But some folk just don't like the feel of it on their back, or carry hard objects that you wouldn't want in close proximity to the spine in an accident. And that's fine, it's what suits them.


Legendary Member
Panniers for me, well Topeak rack pack with fold out panniers which take shoes, laptop, clothes etc. Slides off in 30 seconds

Wouldn’t use something as bulky as an Ortlieb for a commute

I’ll use a backpack for a mile tops. Hate having anything on bank when cycling. I won’t even use jersey pockets!
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13 rider

I use panniers on my hybrid and a rucksack on my defy . My pattern at the moment is hybrid on Monday and Friday when transporting more clothes etc . Then the Defy on the other days . This week sweaty back has been an issue as I have no shower at work ,but overall the Defy is more fun to ride and the hybrid is just a mode of transport


Don't like backpacks. I am fairly short and always feel that when I shoulder check I am getting an eye full of bag!
I use a single pannier for work which easily fits work clothes, shoes, iPad and pack lunch into it. It has the added advantage of having handles and so it looks and carries like a normal bag off the bike.
I recently had a week away on the bike which involved filling 2 panniers. The bike handles oddly to start with but after a day or so you soon get used to it.


Senior Member
I’ve been commuting by road bike for over 5 years. Until recently, I’ve always used a backpack. It’s 24km in each direction.

I’ve never had too many issues with using a backpack but in my mind I always told myself I’d upgrade to a rack and panniers some day.
I am a backpack person. Have you tried one of the Osprey packs with the mesh AiSpeed backs. They make a big difference to the amount you sweat.

I like Skol

I'm Jay-walking, and I love it...
I think the difference in speed and bike handling is mostly psychological. I ride bikes with and without panniers and there certainly isn't a >10% difference in ride speeds/times, but then again I am a fairly big, powerful rider, so perhaps the 'HUGE' amount of drag from having a panier stuck out the side is less of an impact compared to a smaller, lighter, less powerful rider? IME the difference between rucksack v panniers is zero, but panniers have other advantages in my case.

The big benefit in my opinion is the freedom to ride unhindered, regardless of weather. In the blistering heat I can ride in just a light single layer shirt or in monsoons I can wear the full aquatic kit, without the hassle of having to get a rucksack into place on top of it all. The other advantage is that in permanent residence at the bottom of the pannier is my tool kit, spare tubes and pump, plus a few cable ties. These are always there, and replenished whenever they are used, so I don't even have to think about setting off on a ride. The bits I need are always with the bike so it is just jump on and go.

I'm surprised that commuting the distance you do that you have not found the panniers to be the best choice. I travel 10 miles in each direction at a reasonable pace, so sweat a fair bit because I push myself quite hard. I wouldn't entertain regularly using a rucksack and after an initial 6 month trial I bought a dedicated commuter bike and bolted on a pannier rack straight away and haven't once looked back. That was about 9yrs ago.


On 3 Wheels



Über Member
Casper WY USA
I avoid a backpack unless it is winter as it is too sweaty. My best commuting setup is a Brompton with a saddlebag large enough for tools, water bottle, jacket, phone and wallet, maybe lunch. I have 2 homemade bags that attach to the front block, the larger of which holds 6 full size hardcover books, and also a Brompton shopping basket type bag which holds a lot, so I can .suit the bag to the load. Any weight on the front only improves handling. I've also used Wald panniers baskets and a Blackburn rack on 700 c and mountain bikes set up with studded snows for winter icy roads. The steel Wald baskets are cheap, very durable and heavy compared to an Al rack but are easy to use and keep the center of gravity lower. A friend has a frame bag hung of the toptube and anchored off the downtube and the seat tube. He likes it and it holds more than I would have thought. There are lots of options that allow you to avoid a backpack.


Comfy armchair to one person & a plank to the next
What the flip is "lifting the bike into position"? Is it a cyclocross commute? Ride the bike, not carry it.

Also, I wonder whether the panniers are being used to carry more stuff than the backpack was, so heavier, so slower. A typical rack is under a kilo so shouldn't make much difference and it should be similar either way, but I prefer saddlebags or rack top bags for small loads.
I'm commuting on a Triban 500 commuting about 48km round and usually just carry a cloth bag. Just now though I am working at least one day a week from home and need to carry a laptop I am using a ortlieb pannier but with their back pack attachment. I just prefer the freedom of a backpack, the big one only needs to be there on days I carry the laptop and that usually only one way (24km); the bike without the laptop instantly feels more agile and even with the laptop it feels agile enough. Whilst I know with a QR pannier system from experience it only takes a second to lift a pannier off at your destination, its just less hassle when you don't my hands are free for the bike lock, remove lights/bottle/computer and remove other things from my pockets (keys & pass).


Flouncing Nobber
I could sweat for England at the Olympics, and a backpack makes little difference. Mind you, once you've humped a 60lb bergan on a 5 day exercise in Cyprus then a normal backpack is like toting fresh air.
Back pack for me for 2 reasons:

Firstly with a pannier your carrying the weight of the rack all the time not just when you have luggage.

Secondly I too have back problems and when stepping onto the bike "getting my leg over" the pannier in addition to the rear wheel risks putting my back out.

If for whatever reason I went back to having a pannier it would be a front one.
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