Unless you are doing a supported ride you will need bags to put all your stuff in. Even if riding with support you will need to carry a minimum amount of kit like a spare inner tube, a multi tool, a rain cape and a mobile phone [to call the support vehicle when you need more stuff!].
Your bike bag(s) need to be big enough to carry all the stuff you want to put in them. But remember, you also have to be able to carry them, so concentrate your efforts on reducing the stuff rather than tracking down huge bags.
Get used to the weight and feel of your bags by doing a few cycles with them on the bike. If you commute to work start using them and add a bit of equipment every day or so to slowly get used to the weight and feel. A good training trick is to overload with weight so when you come to do the actual ride it is easier!Bags come in many varieties (but check that you are able to fit them to your bike before purchasing any):
I used a Carradice sqr tour bag (see picture of bag on bike at Duncansby Head - the actual most north easterly place in mainland UK). Technically it isn’t a saddle bag because it attaches to a quick release mechanism that fastens to your seat post. This means you need to have sufficient seat post clear of the frame to clamp the release mechanism to, so check this before you buy.
The Carradice sqr tour bag has a capacity of 16 litres, most of which is contained in one large compartment, with two pockets on the outside which are handy for the things you might need in a hurry like a rain top, a gillet, inner tubes, tyre levers, multi tool and mobile phone. With the exception of the bits on the bike and on me, it swallowed my entire equipment list (see below), proved to be very water resistant and acted as a pretty efficient rear mudguard -it even has a plastic strip attached to the underside for the purpose. And whilst it looks like it might be unwieldy it does not interfere with pedaling and (apart from the weight) doesn’t affect handling, probably because it is behind the body and above the rear wheel. In fact it is so wieldy that it is normally attached to my bike for commuting in case I need to carry anything home.These are very useful for carrying the things that you will need easily to hand, like food, rain cape etc, especially if you do not have nice big back pockets in your cycling jersey. It is also a good place to keep your camera for quick access for those impromptu shots. [But if you are going to do this try to get one with some padding inside (or add padding) otherwise it will get rattled around.]
Features to look out for are:
The downside of handlebar bags (and any bag on the front of the bike) is that steering is affected. It would be wise to do some training rides with the bag in place (and laden) to get used to the difference in handling.
You will need to have a luggage rack fitted to accommodate one of these bags. If you do not have frame fittings for a ‘proper’ rack you can get ones that attach to your seat post, providing you have a sufficient amount of seat post clear of the frame. [Although personally, if I was going to have to buy a seat post mounted rack and a rack bag I would go straight for a bag that attaches to the seat post like the Carradice sqr tour.]
These are available for the front and the back of the bike. Most commonly used are rear panniers which attach to a luggage rack. In this case a seat post mounted rack will not suffice because it lacks the side framework to stop the bags interfering with the rear wheel.
If you’re considering front panniers you are getting into serious touring territory. You will need to have a front luggage rack fitted to your bike to accommodate the bags. If you are not camping then you are probably carrying too much!
Pannier bags can affect handling quite dramatically. To minimise this, ride with a pannier bag each side (front and/or rear) and try and distribute weight evenly between them. Stow heavier items at the bottom of the bags to keep the centre of gravity as low as possible.
Whilst you can carry a lot in a rucksack they have little to recommend them for long distance cycling [personally speaking, for any kind of cycling]. All the weight is borne by your body causing aches and pains in neck, shoulder and back. As well as additional fatigue, your back sweats profusely and the weight is up high, making bike handling more difficult. The only benefits I can see are:
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