I've decided to start doing reviews of various gadgets that I've tried in my quest to be car free. Of course, one of the first problems a bike commuter faces is how to carry stuff. A bike is a great means to transport oneself, but isn't readily equipped to carry our human accessories. I think a lot of potential bike commuters give up at this point, thinking that if a bike can't also act as a moving warehouse of crap like a car, then it's no good. Here are the various things I've tried to solve this problem.
This is the first level of carrying things. Everyone has owned a backpack at some point so it's not new or threatening technology. The messenger bag (let's face it) is a backpack with style points. Yes, some carry more than backpacks. Yes, you can access things quicker. But for the most part it functions about par with a backpack.
This method of accessory conveyance is not very comfortable. You and not the bike are carrying the load. While great for short trips and small loads, if you plan to carry anything heavy over distance it will be very uncomfortable.
This is the next level and is a bit more involved. A pannier, aside from being a mystery to pronounce, necessitates a rack. Racks, in todays bike market, are decidedly uncool, something from a bygone era when men wore short shorts. The disdain for the rack is so great that most bikes don't have eyelets on the frame and fork to accomodate a rack even if you really wanted one.
It is making a bit of a comeback. Many bikes labeled as "commuter" or "hybrid" bikes have eyelets for a rack. Your best bet is to look for a "touring" bike, which despite its name is also great for training, commuting, errands, etc., It is the swiss army knife of bicycles.
Panniers often bought in pairs but also separately, are essentially large duffels that you can cinch up and attach to your bike. The advantage of a pannier over a backpack is that you are not carrying the load, the bike is. That's a good thing. Your back won't get sweaty and sore from supporting the weight.
The trade off is that panniers do slightly alter the handling of a bike. Emphasis on slightly. Unless you are carrying big heavy loads, you won't notice it much. Your body will adapt to the new center of balance and you'll be fine.
Panniers are great for groceries, shopping trips, commuting to work with a change of clothes, commuting to school with a change of clothes, etc., Essentially, if you can carry it in a backpack it will fit in a pannier.
For most people, panniers are about as far they go for stuffcarrying gadgets for the bike. The second part of this post will cover the tools of bicycle true believers.