Backpack versus Trunk Bag for bicycle commuting. Fight!
VersatilityWith a backpack you can hop off your bike with little fuss, go about your business, and hop straight back on. Easy as that. Whereas with a trunk bag you will be required to detach it from the bike, and then reattach when you get back on your bike. Furthermore, walking around with a backpack is usually easier that carrying a trunk bag.
That said, there are a number of trunk bags that can double up as a backpack, allowing you to cycle and walk with it on your shoulder. This is ideal if you are stopping off quickly or walking around shops, and a decent compromise for anybody leaning towards a trunk bag.
Overall, backpacks get the nod here.
ComfortA backpack might start off seeming comfortable, but you will be sure to start getting a sweaty back cycling, and no body likes that. Additionally, if you are carrying a heavy load in your backpack this can be quite a toll on your back and shoulders. A top tip is to put heavy items near the centre of the backpack and try to have them as close to your back as possible. This way you are creating a lower centre of gravity and being close to your back you minimise the backpack swinging around.
The trunk bag removes all this discomfort and effort. By keeping all your luggage separate from your body, you maximise the chance for sweat to wick away, thus reducing the risk of entering the office feeling uncomfortable. A trunk bag keeps the weight off your back. Instead the bike takes the load, meaning you can ride in comfort.
Therefore, a trunk bag is the stand out winner for comfort.
Feel while riding
Wearing a backpack shouldn't change the ride of your bike significantly, which is an advantage. This is due to the weight being held on you and in the centre of the bike.
A trunk bag however puts the weight at the back of the bike on a rack (which add additional weight too).
The weight being located at the back will change the characteristics of the handling of the bike; it will be more difficult to control at low speeds, and breaking distance will be longer. After a short while most cyclists will get used to this change.
However, if you don’t want to change the feel of your ride, particularly if you have a lightweight racing bike, the backpack is the winner.
A normal backpack won’t set you back much, and there are no additional costs. A trunk bag will be a little bit more expensive, as there is the additional cost of a pannier rack too. It it worth considering these costs when budgeting for your commuter setup.
Trunk bags are traditionally stronger and designed to last longer than rucksack though. Look for trunk bags made from 1680D nylon or 500D PVC for maximum durability.
Although it's difficult to compare on like for like basis, the backpack usually wins on price because most people have one already and there is no need for a rack.
WaterproofingNobody wants to arrive to work with soggy sandwiches, damp clothes or even worse a damaged laptop. The smart move is to pick a waterproof means of carrying these things.
There is greater choice of fully waterproof backpacks than trunk bags. Many trunk bags are only water resistant, and come with a rain cover. The problem with a rain cover is you have to stop to put it on, and when it is on you can’t get quick access to your items as the pockets are covered.
Our designers have worked to balance this disparity through Tempo, a roll top trunk bag from PVC tarpaulin making the main compartment fully waterproof. No need for a rain cover.
StyleIt's all about personal preference. A dedicated cycling backpack can look stylish and be functional at the same time.
On the other hand, nothing says you are a dedicated cyclist more than a rack and trunk bag. Plus, unlike a pannier which is on one side, a trunk bag sits in the centre keeping symmetry. When searching for a trunk bag, look for a smart looking bag that you can take into meetings without missing a beat.
VerdictThe backpack is the winner in terms of versatility, feel of the ride and its cost. If you are an occasional cyclist, do short journeys, or have lots of stopping and walking then a rucksack might be the better option.
A trunk bag will be a good choice if you do longer journeys, as it is more comfortable method of transporting items. Also, if you want to add some style to your bike, the trunk bag is a good choice.
Cover Photo by Richard Masoner / Cyclelic