Bike Bag(s)

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!

I stayed in B&Bs and traveled fairly light. Below is a picture of my bike loaded for my second end to end.  Nearly everything was in the saddle bag with a shower jacket and RainLegs strapped to the top.  The top tube bag held my camera, wallet and a battery pack for my sat nav.

Lands End to John O'Groats What to Take - Bike Loaded with Bags

Bags come in many varieties (but check that you are able to fit them to your bike before purchasing any):

Saddle bags

Lands End to John O'Groats What to Take - Rucksack

As the name suggests, these attach to your saddle.  They come in a range of sizes from tiny, just big enough for an inner tube and a pair of tyre levers, to spacious 20+ litre capacity models.

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. 

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Handlebar bags

Lands End to John O'Groats What to Take - Handle Bar Bag

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:

  • map/route viewer
  • quick release detach – if you keep all your valuables in it you can carry it into shops/cafes etc.
  • side pockets to hold small items
  • interior dividers
  • interior organisation for papers/maps/routes, pens etc


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.

Rack bags

Lands End to John O'Groats What to Take - Rack Bag


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.]

Pannier bags

Lands End to John O'Groats What to Take - Pannier Bags

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.

Rucksacks

Lands End to John O'Groats What to Take - Rucksack

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:

  • the additional weight on your body might help you uphill, if you stand on the pedals.
  • you can easily carry the bag into cafes and shops.

Top Tube Bags

Lands End to John O'Groats What to Take - top tube bag

Top Tube bags are really handy for carrying things you need easy access to either on the move or when you make a quick stop.  Things like a phone, camera and your money.  It is also an excellent place to store an external battery pack for your sat nav becasue you can run a cable direct and charge on the move.  Their main downside is that they can get in your way when you cycle out of the saddle.  Because of this I personally have avoided designs that hang down each side of the top tube, like mini panniers. 

Frame Bags

Land End to John O'Groats What to Take - Frame Bag

These bags are designed to hang inside your frame.  They can take quite a lot of kit but if over packed can also interfere with pedaling.  The keep the weight fairly low so should not affect handling overly.  A drawback is restricted access to your bottles.  Depending on your frame size and shape you may need to use side entry bottle cages.  Many different sizes and shapes of bag are available so there should be something to fit your frame.   

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