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Help Center: Bike Bag FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions on our Bicycle Bags

UsesMounting IssuesWeight DistributionCapacityWater ProtectionBike Rack FAQ

Which overall issues should I consider when choosing the best bicycle bags for my needs?

We offer a large variety of bicycle bags to cover a wide range of uses. Some of the most important points to consider are:

  1. How much gear you plan to carry.
  2. The weather conditions in your area and where you will be riding.
  3. How many organizational features you would like in your bags.
  4. Whether or not you will need to detach and carry the bags.
  5. The style of bicycle racks that are mounted (or can be mounted) to your bicycle.

The following Q&A's are intended to answer some of these basic questions. If anything is unclear, or requires more detail, feel free to give us a call at 1+800-717-2596.


What types of bags are recommended for bike touring?

The first thing to look for in bike touring bags is ruggedness. Bike touring bags need to be the toughest built bags that will take abuse on your bike touring expeditions, year after year. Bike touring bags offer a variety of organizational features. For some cyclists, bicycle bags with plenty of pockets are preferred. Others prefer one large compartment. Along with organization comes fit and compression. Bike touring bags should have a very tight attachment system on the rack. Many bicycle bags offer compression straps to compress loose, void space. With bike touring-quality bags there is generally a compromise between the level of organization available and the level of waterproofing that the bags offer. Waterproof bags generally offer fewer pockets and zippers as these features are not simple to construct into the bag in manner that offers a high level of water protection. Most bike bags whose strengths are organization rather than water protection are available with rain covers as an accessory.

What types of bags are recommended for bike commuting and local errands?

Important features to look for in bike-commuting bags are ease-of-use both on and off the bike, ease of loading and unloading, efficient organization that suits your needs, and water protection if you may be commuting in the rain. While bike-touring bags typically feature simple, rugged designs, bike commuting bags offer a larger variety of user-friendly and use-specific features.

What are the best bags for carrying laptops, cameras and other electronics?

Highly waterproof bags such as Ortlieb are always a good choice for water sensitive electronics. When not using a completely waterproof bag, sealing the device in a dry bag, zip-lock, or other waterproof container should be considered at a minimum. Electronics should additionally be protected from jarring and accidents with additional padding.

Laptops: Some panniers incorporate laptop sleeves to secure and protect your computer. The ideal position for preventing damage from long-term jarring is to transport the laptop in a flat, bottom-down position, such as in a rack-top mounted bag. This is not to say that panniers should not be used for transporting laptops, they are just not ideal for the task, especially in rough conditions or for long periods, as trunk top bags.

Cameras: Some bicycles offer specifically designed inserts for transporting cameras such as the Camera Insert for Ortlieb's Ultimate5 Handlebar Bag.

What are the major differences between using bicycle bags and bicycle trailers?

The differences between bicycle bags and bicycle cargo trailers are worth comparing and contrasting when considering the best way to transport stuff with your bicycle. We are fans of both and are happy to discuss the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of both. Have a look at our partner site, to review our large selection of bike cargo trailers. Also, take a look at this blog post on the topic: Panniers versus Trailers.

How do I carry bicycle bags when they are not on the bike?

Many bicycle bags contain carrying systems for making them easier to use when they are not attached to bike racks. Vaude Cycle 30 pannier has backpack straps built into the bag. Ortlieb handlebar bags include removable shoulder straps and a carrying system is available as an accessory item to convert Ortlieb panniers into a backpack.

How should I travel with my bicycle bags?

Traveling with a set of bicycle panniers can be cumbersome. We recommend getting a large rucksack or duffle bag to contain your bags within. If you are transporting a bicycle in a bike box or case, you can often store some of your bags packed inside around the frame.

Can I lock up my bicycle bags?

Most bike bags do not offer full security and caution should be used when leaving your bicycle and bags out. When leaving your bicycle in an unsecured area for more than just a moment, generally the best idea is to bring your bicycle bags inside with you. Some bicycle bags offer partial security that can be useful in some situations.

Orltieb's Plus panniers as well as their Tour Box, Bike Tourers, Office Bags, and Bike Shoppers can utilize the Ortlieb Security Cables which allow the panniers to be locked to the bike. This does not lock the panniers shut but does offer deterrence to the opportunist or can be useful for protecting the panniers themselves if not what is inside them.

Orltieb's Ultimate5 handlebar bags lock to their mounting bracket, and like the panniers, the bag does not lock shut. This can be useful if you'd like to leave a bag on your bike for general use and do not want to remove it all of time.

Mounting Issues:

How do bicycle bags attach to, and detach from, bicycles?

Most bicycle bags have brackets which allow the bags to easily attach and detach from the bicycle. Pannier-style bags generally have two attachment points for attaching to the top horizontal rail of the rack and one adjustable, lower hook for attaching to the bottom of the rack. Rack-top bags generally use a strap system to hold the bag in place. Some rack-top bags are designed to integrate with specific styles of racks so that the bag quickly clips, locks, or snaps into place on the rack. Handlebar bags utilize one bracket that mounts to center of the handlebars. The handlebar bag clips onto this bracket. Saddlebags offer a variety of attachment systems that mount to either the seat post, saddle rails, or both.

What issues are there to consider when mounting bicycle panniers onto my bike racks?

The bicycle panniers that we offer are compatible with most, but not all bicycles and bicycle racks. Our bicycle panniers all have an adjustable mounting system so you can customize the fit to your rack and bicycle.

Racks with extra large diameter tubing may be incompatible with some panniers. Some pannier mounting systems are designed either to adjust automatically to a variety of tubing diameters, or include adjustment inserts. You can also wrap the rack tubing with electrical tape for a tighter fit, if necessary.

Heel clearance is another important factor to consider. Depending on a variety of dimensions, the back of your heel may clip your rear panniers. These factors, from approximately most important to least important, include:

  1. Your bicycle's geometry (specifically, the length of the chain stays)
  2. The size and shape of your rear panniers
  3. Shoe size
  4. The available mounting positions on your rear rack
  5. Your foot's position on the pedal
  6. The angle of your foot during a pedal stroke
  7. Crank length

While it can be difficult to determine whether heel clearance will be an issue, you can get an idea by having someone watch your pedal stroke and watching where your heel ends up in relation to your bicycle frame. Bicycles built specifically for touring offer longer chain stays which generally prevents any clearance issues with panniers. Racks such as the Tubus Logo can provide a remedy for heel clearance issues by offering further rearward positioning.

The type of rack and carrying capacity are important when considering the uses of the panniers. A touring rack with a large carrying capacity can accommodate fully loaded large panniers, while lightweight racks with lower carrying capacity could still accommodate large bags, but you would not want to load the bags enough to exceed the weight limit of the rack.

What issues are there to consider for mounting rack-top bags on top of my bike racks?

Rack-top bags are generally quite easy to mount to racks. While some rack top bags offer rack specific mounting systems that are designed to offer very easy and secure mounting and dismounting to the rack. These rack top bags also have straps for mounting to racks without their specific mounting system.

Racks with large platforms on top and no exposed rails can be difficult to mount rack top bags to. Generally this type of rack platform will be a wooden platform that can be removed and modified with wood tools to allow for positions to mount the straps to.

Some combinations of rack-top bags and panniers can cause interference with each other. This is generally not a concern except in the instance of a very wide rack top bag combined with very tall panniers.

An additional, but rare concern occurs when the bicycle saddle must be mounted very low and back. When this type of saddle position is required, there is the possibility that the saddle will get in the way of proper attachment of larger rack-top bags.

What issues are there to consider for mounting handlebar bags onto my handlebars?

It may be difficult to mount some handlebar bags on certain styles of handlebars. Mustache handlebars and other handlebars that curve forward from the stem and then back towards the rider may preclude normal handlebar mounting systems. Additionally, the handlebar bag can interfere with some cable routing setups. As a solution to these types of problem, Ortlieb's Ultimate5 handlebar bag has an extension adapter available that adds 2" of additional clearance, plenty of room for most mustache handlebars.

Most handlebar bag brackets are 3"-4" wide. This center section of your handlebars will need to be cleared of handlebar tape as well as computers, lights, GPS, bells and any other gizmos that are mounted here. Nitto, Minora, Sidetrak, and Topeak make a variety of adapters that offer additional mounting positions for these displaced devices.

Many handlebar bags such as the Ortlieb Ultimate5 series have mounting brackets that are incompatible with carbon fiber handlebars. Check the product listing for specifics.

What issues are there to consider for mounting saddlebags to my saddle?

Saddlebags generally are compatible with the majority of saddles and saddle positions however there are some issues to be aware of.

Saddle Styles: Saddles with very little exposure of the saddle rails in the rear can be difficult to mount some saddlebags to. Saddles with springs and/or large mounting hardware, especially older styles are the most likely to cause this problem.

Saddle Position: Positioning the saddle very far forward on the saddle rails can also offer very little access to the saddle rails. On bicycles where it is necessary to lower the seat to a very low position, there may be issues with mounting a saddlebag because there may be little or no room to strap the saddlebag to and the saddlebag may simply not have enough room because of its close proximity to the bicycle frame.

Saddlebag Mounting System: The most common system involves two straps over the saddle rails and one strap around the seat post. Some saddlebags utilize a mounting bracket that attaches to the saddle rails or seat post. Saddle-rail mounting brackets generally require more clearance on the saddle rails than do straps. Saddlebags styles that only mount to the seat post can be a solution for saddles that do not offer mounting positions on the saddle rails.

Weight Distribution:

What are some recommended combinations/configurations of bags?

Factors to consider when determining the best bag combinations for your use are level of organization, accessibility, and ease of removal and use off the bike.

Factors which may limit your choices or demand specific combinations of bags are the style of your bicycle, the style of racks that work with your bicycle, other mounting options/bag compatibility that your bike offers, the weight and volume of your load, and the weight distribution requirements of your bike and racks.

For carrying a light load, combining a saddlebag and a handlebar bag can be quite convenient. When touring, many cyclists opt for a set of front and rear panniers. This setup is a great way to organize and distribute your gear and the load evenly over your bicycle. For extra carrying capacity, a rack top bag between your rear panniers or an Ortlieb Rack Pack med works well.

Other combinations to consider are forgoing front panniers and just using rear pannier and a rack top bag. While this seems to be a popular combination, we prefer utilizing a combination that includes front panniers. This is because they spread out the load over the front and back of your bike, they reduce the load on your rear rack, and, when used with a lowrider rack, they offer ideal balance by centering the bag's weight directly over the axle.

How should I organize loads in my bicycle bags?

The organization of loads in bicycle bags becomes much more critical as the load is increased. When carrying loads under 20 lbs, or so, the load will have very little impact on the handling of the bicycle. For loads above 20 lbs, the organization of the load becomes much more important and for loads above 40 lbs weight distribution is a critical concern.

Our load balancing recommendations:

  1. Balance the load left and right.
  2. Put the heaviest items as close to the axles of the wheel as possible on both the front and rear bicycle racks.
  3. Using a front rack and front pannier is a very good way to increase front end stability and spread out your load.

How does weight in bicycle bags affect the balance of the bike?

An evenly distributed load on a bicycle will help keep the bicycle well balanced. This is especially critical for cornering, out-of-the-saddle climbing, braking, accelerating, and riding in rough terrain. Weight that is higher up on the bike such as in handlebar bags and rack top bags will have more affect on the bike's balance than weight that is centered over the axle. This effect is most noticeable during cornering and when rocking the bike while out of the saddle. This is an important reason to utilize bicycle panniers especially for heavier loads (over 20 lbs).

Whenever setting up a bicycle for a bicycle tour, we highly recommend doing some test rides before starting off to ensure comfort with the gear distribution and handling.


What bicycle bag capacity is recommended for bike touring?

The type of travel you are doing, especially with regard to where you sleep and eat, will generally determine the capacity required. Touring can be subdivided into supported, credit-card, self-supported, expedition, and tandem touring.

Supported touring generally involves traveling between B&Bs with the majority of your gear and spares transported by van. When carrying only essential tools, snacks, camera, and rain gear, generally a combination of a handlebar bag and a large saddlebag will be sufficient.

Credit-card touring, where you carry all your gear but dine at restaurants and stay at B&Bs, can be easily accomplished with a combination of a handlebar bag and a set of panniers. Depending on how often you want to wash your clothes and how many extras you want to carry, a rack top bag or front panniers may be necessary.

Self-supported touring generally requires a full complement of front and rear panniers and a handlebar bag. A rack-top bag often is necessary to carry all of your gear as well.

Expedition touring, where you are out for extremely long rides in often very remote areas, requires the use of every style of bag and/or, the use of a bicycle cargo trailer.

Touring by tandem might be done in any of the capacities described above. With all tandem touring, other than supported, storage space is a at a premium because you must fit the gear of 2 people in half the available space. Most tandem touring, like expedition touring, will necessitate the use of every possible bag as well as a bike trailer in many instances.

How much bicycle bag capacity is recommended for bike commuting?

Commuting loads can vary depending on climate, daily necessities, and length of commute. When commuting in an area with varied temperature changes, you should plan on carrying extra clothing. Bag capacity should be sufficient for your individual needs whether you need to carry a laptop, school books, lunch, or any other work or school related items. For lengthy commutes, tools, snacks, lights, etc. are important for safety and comfort. A typical setup for commuting might be just a set of panniers or a handlebar bag and a rack top bag.

Water Protection:

Do you recommend waterproof panniers?

Waterproof panniers, versus water resistant panniers, offer a trade-off between the level of water protection and the amount of organization offered.

If plenty of pockets, easy to use zippers, and organizing features are very important for your needs, the options that offer the best features in these areas will not likely offer the same degree of water protection when compared to bags that stress water protection over organization. However, rain covers are usually either incorporated or offered as an accessory. In the opposite scenario, if your main priority is waterproofing, organization can be achieved through smart packing and dividing items into stuff bags inside.

How can I waterproof my panniers?

Panniers that are not “waterproof” generally have some degree of water protection. These panniers probably have seen their waterproof coating degrade over time. This waterproofing can be reapplied to restore the pannier's water protection. Whatever the level of water protection offered by non-waterproof bike bags, we recommend getting a waterproof cover to use whenever it gets really rainy.

What is the difference between waterproof and water-resistant?

Waterproof panniers, such as those made by Ortlieb, offer full protection against all weather conditions. These bags are usually fashioned with a roll top or cap/strap closure and have few zippers to ensure your gear stays dry. Water-resistant bags offer some water protection in light weather conditions, but are not completely waterproof (waterproof covers are available for all Arkel bags).

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