How to Carry Cargo on a Bike

Two Methods:Evaluating the OptionsDistributing the Weight

Whether you want to carry a change of clothes for bicycle commuting, camping gear for touring, or a whole load of groceries from the warehouse store, you can do it on a bike. With a few volunteers and trailers, it's even possible to move to a new home by bike. Here's how to choose a strategy that best suits your load and your reasons for riding.

Method 1
Evaluating the Options

  1. 1
    Carry a backpack or messenger bag.
    • This is a particularly easy way to carry stuff, because backpacks and messenger bags are very easy to find, if you don't already have one.
    • Backpacks and messenger bags can easily go with you when you get where you're going.
    • On the other hand, the weight of your cargo is on your body, and a bag or backpack holds sweat against your body, so backpacks may be best for short, casual rides and moderate loads.
    • Carrying a loaded backpack while cycling also raises your center of gravity and can cause balance issues while riding.
  2. 2
    Strap, screw, zip-tie, or Velcro items directly to the frame or handlebar. Many purpose-built bike accessories are designed to attach this way, including water bottle cages, frame pumps, lights, bike computers, and bells.
    • Rubber shims can keep strapped-on things from slipping or twisting, and can take up some of the difference if a plastic or metal strap is a little larger than what it's fastening to. If shims didn't come with your accessory, ask at your local bike shop, or cut pieces from an old inner tube.
    • Some frame pumps are designed to mount to the same screws as the water bottle cage.
  3. 3
    Install a rack on your bike.
    • A few racks attach only to the seat post. Most attach to standard mounting points on the frame near the rear axle.
    • Some racks attach near the front wheel or in front of the handlebars.
    • Some racks have a spring-loaded holder, sometimes called a "rat trap."
    • For loose items, you may need bungee cords or other tie-downs to secure them to a rack.
  4. 4
    Install a basket.
    • Handlebar baskets attach to the handlebars. They're good for small, light loads, such as a small handbag. They also let you see and access the contents easily.
    • Rear baskets attach to rear racks. Many can be folded flat when not in use.
    • Baskets may be used in combination with liners or bags, to prevent small objects from falling through openings.
    • Read the instructions and use good judgment to avoid overloading baskets meant for lighter loads.
  5. 5
    Use an under-seat bag.
    • These bags are usually smaller. They strap or clip to the seat post, and to the rails on the bottom of the seat post.
    • Under-seat bags make good, out-of-the-way places to keep basics, such as a patch kit and tire levers. Some larger ones could also carry a pack lunch, a windbreaker, or other small items.
  6. 6
    Use a handlebar bag.
    • As the name suggests, handlebar bags strap or hang from the handlebar.
    • Handlebar bags are good for smaller, lighter objects, and they keep objects at hand.
    • Some handlebar bags include transparent pockets for maps, route sheets, or phones.
  7. 7
    Use saddle bags or panniers.
    • Most saddle bags and panniers require a compatible rack to connect to. Make certain that the rack is suited to the load you will carry.
    • These bags hang to either side of the wheel. They can be used singly or in pairs.
    • Most panniers go on a rear rack, but some are designed to mount in front, as well.
    • It's possible to have more than one pair of panniers, and you might wish to have both if you are carrying camping gear for touring.
  8. 8
    Consider a cargo bike. Some purpose-built bikes are designed to carry cargo, with built-in, reinforced platforms or containers.
  9. 9
    Consider a cargo trailer. Cargo trailers are not necessary for smaller loads, but they can help carry a wide variety of large and heavy objects.
    • Cargo trailers come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and designs, so shop around or build the trailer that is right for you and your purposes.The occasional warehouse club purchase may call for a light-duty trailer. If you plan on moving major appliances or larger furnishings, you'll need a larger trailer designed for a heavier load.
    • Trailers built for children or pets can also carry objects of an appropriate size and weight. The reverse is not necessarily true.
    • An empty trailer can bounce and rattle while riding. Even a small load, such as a full backpack, can help.
    • Make sure to secure the trailer completely and correctly to the bike.
    • Make sure to secure the load on the trailer.
    • Center the load over the axle of the trailer, or load it so there is slightly more weight on the end nearest the bike.

Method 2
Distributing the Weight

  1. 1
    Put heavier items closer to the ground to keep your center of gravity low. If you're going to be carrying something heavy, it's better to put it in a pannier than on top of a rack, for example.
  2. 2
    Don't put so much weight on your front wheel that it causes you to over steer, or steer rigidly. On the other hand, putting too much weight on the back can cause the front wheel to come off the ground. This is a less likely problem, however.
  3. 3
    Balance the load on each side of your bike.
  4. 4
    Check shoe clearance. As you turn, your feet might catch on bags.


  • For grocery shopping by bike, bring an insulated bag or cooler to keep cold foods cold. It can go in a pannier or basket. A bike doesn't heat up inside the way a car can on a sunny day, so insulation may not be necessary for short trips.
  • Any cargo increases your total weight. If you're trying to ride far or fast, or planning to do a lot of climbing, it's worth paring down your load to the minimum. Always carry water and an emergency kit if you're riding farther than you'd like to walk back.
  • Consult a bike shop for help selecting the right equipment and installing it correctly.


  • Always fasten your load securely.
  • Make sure no straps, corners of bags, or other loose ends will interfere with your wheel, pedals, gears, or brakes.
  • Before riding in traffic, verify that you can balance and control your bike with whatever load you carry or attach. Swinging or shifting loads can unbalance a bike. Heavy loads extending behind the seat or rear axle can cause the bike to "fishtail".
  • If your taillight attaches to your seat post, check that it's not obscured by items under the seat or attached to the rear rack. If it is, and you must ride in darkness or low light, rearrange the items so they do not obstruct the light, or move the light to where it's visible. Often, rear racks have mounting locations for lights.
  • If you must leave your bike unattended, lock it securely and be conscientious about what other belongings you leave unattended with it. In general, take bags, lights, and phones or computers with you.
  • The methods described in this article are intended for cargo. If you wish to carry passengers, children, or pets on a bike, do so safely, with proper equipment built for that purpose.

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Categories: Bicycles