Folks have been figuring out ways to carry things on their bicycles virtually since the day the bicycle was invented. Furthermore, folks have figured out ways to carry things with bicycles likely well beyond your imagination.
Carrying stuff on normal bikes:
- Backpacks: I don't like wearing them while riding a bicycle. My back gets sweaty and I don't like the carpel-tunnel risk.
- Courier bags: ok, but there's an authenticity risk involved, and the sweaty back issues. Definitely the best choice if you are going to carry a sizable bag on your body while riding.
- Panniers: these bags mount to the side of a rack, and are often-but-not-always sold in pairs. These are terrific, but very bike-specific. That is, most of them aren't so great doubling as a briefcase. However, some specialize in living a dual life. There are briefcase-panniers, grocery-bag-panniers, garment-bag-panniers, and probably others.
- Rack-top bags: often have limited capacity. Not very practical
- Saddlebags: bags that mount under and behind the saddle. These are terrific, and range in size from teenie-weenie to piano forte. Small ones are common in the US, but larger ones make excellent grocery bags, work/school bags, etc. The designs haven't changed much recently, and perhaps the most popular are those made in England by Carradice. I use these all the time, and I love them.
- I don't know exactly why baskets ever went out of style. They hold whatever you happen to put in them, usually. Steel, wicker, whatever. WALD baskets are inexpensive and made in the USA. The Nantucket Bike Basket Company sells many lovely baskets made from a variety of natural fibers. Here's a picture of one style that I particularly like:
- Front racks are a lot like front baskets, and I like them. If I could only have one rack I'd put it up front, where I can keep an eye on it. Most of the rider's weight is on the rear wheel, if the cargo is back there too the whole bike and rider combination becomes off-balance.
- That said, attaching the load to the handlebars and/or fork can affect steering and balance. Bicycles that are not designed specifically with this in mind can handle poorly with a heavy front load. Bikes designed for significant front loads can be graceful and nimble while carrying huge payloads.
- Porteur racks: according to the Bicycle Zodiac, 2007 was "The Year of The Porteur." The original porteur racks were used to deliver newspapers around Paris. Now a porteur rack generally refers to a front rack that's significantly wider than the front axle, with a total width typically between 25cm up to 60cm.
- Bag-supports: smallish or smaller front racks designed to support randonneur bags. Usually fancy and expensive. But sweet and smart.
- Note: low-riders and low-rider racks are, respectively, panniers and racks that mount on either side of the front wheel at more or less the same height as the hub-axle. They position the load close to the ground, and this increases the stability of the arrangement. For touring Tuva overland, low-riders in front and big panniers are a standard combination. This brings us to racks in back...
- I like the term rear carrier, rather than "bike rack" or "rear rack," because occasionally there is confusion with the kind of racks that carry bicycles on cars.
- Rear carriers are good for lots of things, especially carrying panniers (see above). Also, baskets of various sorts can be attached to the sides and/or tops of rear carriers.
- Without panniers or side baskets, I find the top of most rear carriers to be too narrow to serve as a stable platform for strapping stuff down. People do it all the time, but if strapping stuff down is how you want to go, there are important considerations.
- Strapping things to a front rack allows you to see if your strapped-down-cargo has come loose. Things strapped to a rear carrier should be limited to items that are easily secured, or are otherwise contained in a briefcase, dufflebag, or stuff sack.
- Avoid strapping down anything that could get entangled in the spokes, gears, or brakes (such as bookbags or backpacks).
- A rear carrier with panniers or baskets on the sides makes an excellent platform for strapping stuff down.
- Stretchy straps are good for some things; static or buckling straps are good for others. I recently found these (on the right) nylon web-straps at Ikea. I like them a lot.
Longtail Bicycles: homemade, Xtracycles, etc.
2008 was "The Year of The Longtail," but we should not overlook the fact that the origin of the contemporary longtail is in some of the United Nations' Least Developed Countries.