Will your laptop weather a downpour? Will your dress slacks get mussed? Will your banana squish?
If you join the growing ranks of bike commuters on Friday’s Bike to Work Day, those are a few of the questions you may face. And then there’s the biggest question of all: How will you carry the load?
Back It Up. A pack on your back is as straight-forward as it gets. “Just fold your clothes nicely so they don’t get wrinkly, throw ’em in and go,” says Sara Stodter, 24, who rides 3½ miles from South Arlington to work in Ballston.
And some riders think the pack is a safety plus, as it can serve as an airbag of sorts to break a rider’s fall. Pack man Rob Summers, 43, who commutes nine miles from Capitol Hill to Arlington, once crashed against a bridge’s guardrails. “My shoulder and elbow were bruised,” he says. “My back wasn’t.”
Packs aren’t perfect, though. They’ll make your back sweat. A lot. Newfangled models boast “breathable” panels, but nothing can withstand D.C. humidity. A pack can also block upper-body reflective garb. Look for a brand with reflective material or stick on reflective tape and a light. Another potential pack problem is lower back pain. Slowly increase weight to see how you bear up, suggests orthopedic surgeon Jeffrey Schwartz, and play with handlebar and seat positions to cope with pack pressure.
Keep in mind that added weight can affect your center of gravity, says Greg Billing of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, although not as much as bags hung on handlebars. Using that technique in college, Billing went to swing around a pedestrian: “The bag swung back into the wheel, and I flipped.”
Rack ’Em. Many cyclists opt to get the weight off their backs and onto the bike. Install a rack on your bike (about $40 for a rack and $12 for labor at 14th Street’s Rollin’ Cycles) and hook on a pannier, which is a bag that hangs from a bike’s rear.
Longtime cyclist Roff Smith, who blogs at My-bicycle-and-i.co.uk, raves about two well-constructed brands: Ortlieb (“completely waterproof”) and Carradice (“extremely water resistant — I have never had anything get soaked with it and I’ve ridden in some nasty downpours”).
An alternative is to go full frontal: The old-fashioned basket is finding new fans. Carolyn Szczepanski of the League of American Bicyclists likes neatly arranging her stuff in a basket, whether it’s a laptop or a pizza. “Even when I turn I don’t worry about anything falling out,” she says.
Cycle Through. You needn’t commit to one carrying style. And you may discover unconventional options. “Milk crates are pretty light,” says 38-year-old Washingtonian Niko Welch, who’s attached a crate to his rack with grocery ties and once used many, many bungee cords to haul a small refrigerator.