Best Bike Commuter Backpacks

VD November 11 2021

Anyone who rides their bike to work, to the swimming pool or just to go shopping does not always want to take the big panniers with them. A good alternative is a bike commuter backpack, which is available in different sizes and from different manufacturers. Generally they are also more expensive than the standard panniers. If you are looking for a new backpack, what features should you look for to get the best bike commuter backpack?

What’s important to know when buying? Let’s find out.

Demands on the bike backpack

Before buying, you should ask yourself a few questions about the area of application of your bike commuter backpack:

  • What do I want to transport with it?
  • How often do I want to transport this with it?
  • What is my physical situation like? (e.g. size, age)
  • Where and how often do I want to use it?

The intended purpose of the backpack will be the deciding factor for the price and quality. Those who cycle infrequently or not too long distances should consider a backpack with fewer features; those who regularly carry around heavy loads (office work), such as notebooks, textbooks, etc., over longer distances, can afford more expensive models with many additional features such as integrated rain cover or nano-coating on water bottles.

If you ride my bike to work and I only want to carry my breakfast and lunch in the commuter backpack, a small version is enough such as the mainstream MSX BackPack 48 °. In cities, in particular, more and more commuters are relying on bicycles, some of which are also without a luggage rack, such as the Koga Beach Racer. Attaching another pannier is, therefore, a bit difficult.

You should always put the size and volume of the bag in relation to your own fitness and body size. The weight of the bag is also a factor that you should consider when purchasing. If you are petite and small, the bike backpack should not be too big.  

The volume of the bike commuter backpack must correspond to the volume of the items that are to be transported. The desired volume can vary from about 15-20 liters for cycling trips over longer distances (e.g. to commute to work) up to 50 liters for trips with children or shopping.

If you only have a few things in your bag, it should not be too heavy or damage your spine - whether you ride short or long distances. This is often underestimated by people who want to save weight and think they can pack themselves tighter than possible later on when packing luggage into their panniers. Bike backpacks also protect contents from flying insects or animal dirt while riding through forests, meadows, or pastures.

What features should I look for?

The bicycle backpack should have a carrying system that fits to your body. You can choose between backpacks, shoulder bags, or panniers. The best backpack will hold the weight on your hips and shoulders - not on your wrists! To transport around 15 litres, around 6 liters of volume per pocket are necessary. If you want to go shopping with it or carry more stuff, there are larger versions available up to about 60 liters.

Material from the bike commuter backpack

If I use the bag every day, it should be made of a robust and resistant material. Wind and weather hit the backpack directly, manufacturers such as MSX or Ortlieb rely on waterproof and windproof materials. In combination with a special closure technology, the bike backpacks can also be closed watertight.

Corresponding to the planned use, there are different types of material. Some manufacturers have developed a process to make nylon from recycled PET bottles. If you cycle long distances, it is advisable to choose a backpack made of lightweight material such as rip-stop nylon or ultrasonically welded seams.

For those who only want to hike through the forest with their bike backpack and have no possibility of getting caught in an afternoon shower on the way into town, a cheaper non-waterproof polyester version will also be suitable - just take a rain cover along for bad weather.

The amount of padding in the commuter backpack

The transported goods, everything that is in the bike backpack, is well protected and does not get wet even when it rains. Ideal for carrying your bike rain jacket. As with all bags, rucksacks, and cycling clothing, the workmanship should be precise and of high quality. If the proximity makes a bad impression even before the first use, you should keep your hands off the product and look around for another bike backpack.

The bike commuter backpack should have a stable back

If you also want to transport purchases within your commuter rucksack, it is very important that it lies well on my back and does not push the load into my back. Food cans, milk cartons, or other pointed objects should never have the chance to trigger uncomfortable pressure while driving. Good bike commuter backpacks, therefore, have a stable "back wall" that is partially ergonomically adapted to the shape of the back.

This is important so that the backpack does not press on the spine. Similar to a good hiking backpack. The bike backpack test clearly shows that the more bent I sit on the bike, the better the back should be.

If the outdoor backpack also has a kind of spacer back part, it does not lie directly on the back and the sweat can evaporate better. Ventilation is also very important with the shoulder straps.

Attachment with the straps

The rucksack must fit tightly, but not squeeze. For this reason, the bike commuter backpack should not only have shoulder straps, but also a chest strap and, if possible, a waist strap. The more straps the backpack has, the more stable it can be carried without having to pull the straps too tight.

The thickness of the straps

Wide shoulder straps ensure more comfort. The larger the contact surface, the less the feeling that the straps are tied into the shoulders. Wide shoulder straps are particularly important when the fill weight is high. Breathing holes should be available here so that adequate ventilation can take place.

The number of compartments in the bike commuter backpack

Bike backpack test shows that there are several compartments and pockets on the backpack

Every bike backpack has a large main compartment, which is where it gets interesting when it comes to the side and additional compartments on the bag. Things that you need quickly or often, you should be able to achieve quickly. The bike key, the front door key, or the wallet are ideally stowed in a smaller side pocket or a front compartment. Here you can get to these things without having to rummage through the big compartment.

Some backpacks also have a subdivision into different compartments on the inside. The small additional compartments have proven themselves in our bike backpack test. A bike backpack can always be used if, for example, there is no luggage rack on the bike or it is too deep, as is the case with some folding bike models. In terms of functions, it doesn't matter whether it's a small bike backpack, designed for women or men or for children.

Panel loader or top loader?

A panel loader is a type of backpack that opens very wide with one big zipper that runs right along the width of the bag, while a top loader only has a lid on top. A panel load-style entrance is primarily suitable for transporting items such as clothes while a traditional flap-over closure makes it easier to use packing cubes, which can reduce the volume of your luggage in a well-organized way.

For frequently changing contents at work, backpacks are an advantage since you do not have to open both sides when you pull out something from inside. You can access from either side independently from each other - even if your front pannier rack is too narrow for two bags!

However, the main luggage compartment should be sized so that you can use packing cubes. This is helpful since it allows you to reduce the volume of your luggage and also keep things separate inside the backpack.

Special bike commuter bags are designed for slim pannier racks only with a width of 13-15mm. This is about half as wide as conventional pannier racks where larger standard-size bags are used - even if they end up touching each other or rubbing on parts of the frame when you ride! On bikes without normal pannier mounts, there are special bags available with an integrated rack made from a solid material that can be attached to regular eyelets on top of the rear wheel's fork.

What accessories does my bag need?

To transport a laptop, the backpack should have a separate padded compartment. However, if you often ride with your own bike as well as public transportation or go by car, there are backpacks available which allow you to remove the shoulder straps so that you can fold them together and carry them like a suitcase using the handle on top.

For cycling tours where you take any route without knowing in advance what lies ahead, there are bags with detachable rain covers. An alternative is an umbrella which also protects your luggage from rain - but these are only useful when it is not windy!

Attachable reflectors increase safety when it gets dark. A little light source such as an LED is very practical since it allows you to see where you are going without dazzling others.

The right waist belt is particularly important for carrying heavy loads (more than 10kg). The waist belt should be wide enough to also prevent the backpack from moving upwards when it hangs behind you on your bike's rack at an angle. A poorly stabilized backpack can be very annoying since it is constantly banging into your back!

Which size?

If you only plan to take a laptop, several changes of clothing, and some snacks with you to work or school once or twice a week, there is no need for a large capacity bicycle commuter bag. That said since most cyclists like to ride everywhere regardless of distance, 30 liters often quickly turn out to be too small. If so, just buy yourself another backpack or suitcase for the rest of the week.

A large backpack easily becomes too big to carry around on your bike's rack when you get off and walk into a store, but it is also very annoying to have to leave at home because it is simply too small. You should therefore aim for a medium-sized bag - one that lets you take everything you need without having to pack and unpack every day. At least 30 liters (volume) are appropriate for this purpose.

Keep in mind that the larger the bag, the more difficult it will be to find things inside! For instance, if you try and look for something inside a 40-liter backpack that has been packed tightly with as many items as possible, it may take several minutes to find your keys or cellphone when you urgently need them.

Since a bag has a certain height, depth, and width, it is always good if the capacity of all three dimensions is not too far from each other. So keep in mind that for example, a 55-liter backpack may appear very roomy on the outside - but brand-specific features such as a very high main compartment or many external pockets can quickly reduce this. For this reason, it is advisable not to look only at the total volume! In addition, do not forget about what you have packed before buying...

In general, you should consider how much traveling with your bike commuter bag will be once you reach your destination - so how big does it end up being then? If cycling or walking is your means of transport, or you change to public transportation on the final stretch, there is no need for a backpack with wheels.

If you have already tried cycling with a regular backpack in which you had to pack the laptop separately from the rest of your clothes before putting it on, you can imagine what happens when you need to take off your backpack after turning up at the office - everything gets jumbled up! This is why commuter backpacks typically come with a separate compartment for keeping laptops safe and within easy reach.

The bottom line:

If possible try out a few different commuter backpacks before buying - even if they appear similar at first glance, there may be significant differences between models. But by all means buy one from a reliable brand!