The Perfect Bicycle Commuter Bag

June 23rd, 2012

If you use your bike to get to work or school, and you do it every day, rain, hail or shine, you probably have high expectations for the bag you carry your stuff in. I know I do. Until recently, I was never 100% satisfied with any of my bags. I have used backpacks, panniers, messenger bags and sometimes just jersey pockets. None of them did everything right.

What I need in a commuting bag is this:

  • light weight
  • versatile and organised
  • easy to carry on back or off
  • weatherproof
  • high visibility
  • able to carry large or small loads
  • not weigh me down or make me overheat
  • able to carry water bottles when necessary
  • eco-friendly

For years I had a Mountainsmith Tour lumbar pack that I used as a camera bag, and requisitioned as a bike bag. It was good but not quite big enough. If only they made one slightly bigger.

Then I discovered they did: the Mountainsmith Day pack. I’ve been using this for a few weeks now through all sorts of weather and carrying large and small loads. I think its the perfect cycling commuter pack, for my purposes at least.

Mountainsmith Day Cycle Commuter Bag front view

First of all, this is a lumbar pack. It has a large padded strap that goes around your waist and pulls tight. It is not a backpack with straps that go over your shoulders. Why is this good? Two reasons. Firstly, it carries your weight low, keeping your center of gravity low. It doesn’t sway around when you’re pedalling hard. Even with heavy loads, you almost forget its there. Secondly, it keeps your upper back free and cool. I’ve always found with traditional backpacks I get very hot because they insulate my upper back. The Mountainsmith Day pack keeps you cool.

Mountainsmith Day Cycle Commuter Bag compartments

Its got compartments and pocket galore. There is a large main compartment, and a smaller front comparment for thing you need quick access to. There are two top carry handles for when you want to just carry it like a briefcase.

Mountainsmith Day Cycle Commuter Bag Holding a Textbook

The main compartment is big enough to fit a large textbook or two, and still have room left over for a lunch box, papers and beer. My decision to buy this bag was so I could fit my office paperwork inside without folding. It fits letter-sized and A4 documents with ease.

Mountainsmith Day Cycle Commuter Bag internal iPad or tablet sleeve

There is an internal suspended sleeve for storing a tablet. It is not big enough to take a full-size laptop, but easily fits an iPad with cover, a Kindle or other tablet. It is suspended inside so when you put the bag down, the tablet won’t hit the floor.

Mountainsmith Day Cycle Commuter Bag small side pockets

There is a small elastic pocket on each lumbar strap for small items like keys or even a phone for super-quick access.

Mountainsmith Day Cycle Commuter Bag large water bottle holder

There is a very robust water bottle holder on each side. It takes a large (750mL) bottle with ease. I use one side to store a small pump, spare tube, tool kit and rain cover, so I’m never caught without when I need them.

Mountainsmith Day Cycle Commuter Bag rear

The rear is well padded, with the padding fitting nicely into the curve of the back. When adjusted properly, you can hardly feel its there. There is a hidden sleeve behind the padding, ideal for secure documents that you need ready access to such as airline tickets. Behind that, you can tuck away the lumbar straps to keep them out of the way if you want to use it as a regular hand-held bag or with the shoulder strap.

Mountainsmith Day Cycle Commuter Bag shoulder strap

A well-padded shoulder strap is included so you can convert this to a shoulder bag or even a messenger bag. Or if you are carrying very heavy loads, you can use the lumbar straps in addition to the shoulder strap to even out the load. Mountainsmith also sell what they call straplets which attach to existing buckles to convert the whole bag into a backpack if you need to.

Mountainsmith Day Cycle Commuter Bag base with straps for extras

Underneath the bag are two further straps. You could use these to carry a rolled up towel, foam mattress, or tripod.

Mountainsmith Day Cycle Commuter Bag reflective compression strap

There is also an elastic compression strap on the front that can be pulled tight to stop things from flopping around. If you are carrying a big load, and pedalling hard, you want everything to stay put without unbalancing you. The compression band is laced with a 3M reflective thread, for extra visibility at night.

Mountainsmith Day Cycle Commuter Bag compression strap

The lumbar straps have additional diagonal tighteners to bring the top of the pack closer to your torso, again minimising sway when pedalling. Everything is adjustable and tightenable to make this bag fit your body perfectly.

The Mountainsmith Day bag is beautifully designed and comes in many colors. I chose yellow for maximal visibility for bicycle commuting. Its big enough to carry a big load, but adjustable enough to be almost unnoticeable when carrying light loads. It feels very different to riding with a backpack. The weight is lower down, more stable, feels less of a burden and doesn’t unbalance you when riding hard. Once you try it, I doubt you will ever want to go back to a backpack for cycling.

While not waterproof, it will ward off a light shower without getting the insides wet. For real rain, you will want to get the nylon rain cover that is made specifically for this bag, also from Mountainsmith. The rain cover fits into its own little pouch, and I carry it always in one of the water bottle pockets of the main bag.

Here’s the kicker. The entire bag is made out of recycled PET drink containers, spun into a fabric Mountainsmith calls Reforge. No new oil was sucked out of the earth to make this bag. And yet it looks superb. Everything is double-stitched. The zippers are by YKK. The buckles are durable nylon, not cheap plastic. My smaller Tour version has lasted me almost 8 years of regular use, with little sign of wear. This is a quality product and built to last.

This is the first cycle commuting bag that satisfies my needs almost perfectly. It will get daily use for the next ten years, and then I may need to buy a new one, exactly the same.

You can buy this bag at Amazon here.
You can get different colors here.
Get the rain cover here.
Get the straplets here.

Disclaimer: buying your stuff using these links earns BikePlanet a small commission, but costs you no more. Thanks.

Entry Filed under: Packs, Racks and Panniers


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