I prefer my bike to be as clutter free as possible. Panniers, racks, fenders, bells, baskets, streamers, spokey-dokes… All of these things offend me on some fundamental level.

Despite efforts to keep my bike unadorned, the practical matters of riding to work everyday has made certain accessories worth their affront to my clutter-free preferences.

With all the paraphernalia adorning my rig there is no choice but embrace the “commuterism” of it… During the fall, winter and spring I’m sporting a bell, lights, fenders, rack and panniers. And while my commuting bike has never been exceptionally svelte, it now bristles with clydesdale-ness.

I’ve been rocking lights and fenders for quite some time now, but the rack and panniers are a recent addition. I had always been a “backpack guy,” but a recent injury forced me to get the weight off my back/shoulders. I had never really felt that I needed the ‘legitimacy’ of a pannier bag – I didn’t think I carried enough to necessitate it. On any given day my gear includes:

  • Change of clothes – Underwear, pants, undershirt, dress shirt
  • Personals – Wallet, phone, keys, pocket change, anti-perperant, hair goo
  • Repair kit – Mini pump, tube, tire levers, tire-boot, multi-tool, folding knife
  • Emergency gear – Rain jacket, gloves

Not that hefty of a haul… I try to find the best balance of being prepared and travelling light.

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I’ve been using the rack & pannier combination for a couple weeks now, and despite my initial trepidation, it hasn’t been quite as bad as I thought it might be. Some first impressions:

  • The good
    • Less restrictive – Definitely easier and more comfortable to shoulder check, stretch, etc.
    • Stable – Surprisingly stable through turns, rough terrain, curb jumps etc.
    • Quiet – Not as noisy or ‘clang-ey’ as I thought it might be. Though things have a tendency to loosen over a week or so, so I need to check/tighten the bolts weekly.
    • Great airflow – No more sweaty backs! I feel like the technical clothing I have is finally able to do it’s job and properly wick away any moisture.
  • The less good
    • Boat anchor – I found there was a noticeable effect to the feeling of the bike. It felt somewhat ancho-rish, especially when accelerating or climbing. Once things got up to speed though, all was well.
    • Not aerodynamic – Noticeable drag when it’s windy (which in Calgary, is most days)

Though the conditions have been too varied to gauge decisively whether traveling with panniers is truly faster or more efficient than a backpack, I definitely ‘feel’ like it’s slower – but I also ‘feel’ like I finish the ride fresher, especially in the upper body… No aching shoulders, or stiff neck.

If you’re looking for speed, responsiveness and your commutes are shorter the backpack could be the way to go, at least if you’re a clutterphobe like me… However, if you’re commuting daily, or are looking for comfort, the rack & pannier combination is guaranteed to be liberating.

As for me, I’ll keep rockin’ it as long as the fenders are on my bike… After that, we’ll have to see ;-)