Observation Get That Weight Off Your Back and on Your Bike

I have this old Timbuk2 messenger bag that I love, especially for cycling. It’s well made, waterproof, and has done its duty with aplomb for more than five years. It’s black with a band of white canvas down the middle that my eldest daughter drew on here and there when she was two, so—bonus—it also qualifies as a work of art. It’s medium-size and holds everything I might need on the bike and more, except for my pump and water bottle, which hang on the frame. Depending on how many books or what-have-ye (laptop?) I’ve also stuffed in there, at any given time it weighs anywhere from 25 to 40-plus pounds. On most of my rides, whether I’m commuting or running errands or even mixing in a jaunt up to the top of Mt. Tabor (Portland’s favorite Plio-Pleistocene cinder cone) via the trails, this bag is with me.
I’m crazy to haul that much around all the time, right? Nah. Here’s the best part: the bag also happens to perfectly fit the big rack I run up front on my everyday bike, which has a front-end geometry engineered for hauling loads. By sheer luck, it’s like the T2 was made specifically to work with Velo-Orange’s Porteur Rack: the footprint is just right, the rack’s rail ends hook into the steel strap loops at the bag’s base, and the buckle straps for the bag’s main flap snug around two of the rack’s tubes.

It’s a beautiful thing. What is not beautiful is the janked-out shoulder and back muscles and the sweat shadow you get from riding with a messenger bag actually on your back.

I used to have a streamlined ’88 Trek 520 as my daily rider, and I wore my load rather than sully the pristine lines of my speedy Reynolds 531 (touring!) bike with the racks it was made to bear. Instead, I endured the sweaty back and the musculoskeletal hangover and the off-balance out-of-saddle riding and the migrating bag and strategically self-rearranging hard/pointy objects and goofy-high center of gravity. And God bless the day I got sick of that shit.

Nowadays, I ride around Portland—load centered up front, right under my hands, where I can control and drive the weight—and can’t help but have a mild hankering to proselytize when I see folks suffering under messenger bags and, yes, cycling-specific backpacks. I am, theoretically, not an asshole, so I don’t tell strangers what to do with their bikes. But I do often pass by and think, Get that weight off your back and on your bike, man! Get a rear rack and panniers and divy your load and throw it all on the back, or try it up front if your bike has a lower-trail geometry and the handling won’t suffer. (By the way, Gram Parser, the total package still weighs the same.)

Pretty often, though, bebaggaged folks will notice my atypical setup. I catch them eyeballing it, wheels turning. At least one person has gawked and yelled, “Nice rack!” Every once in a while, someone will ask for the fine print. And after I give them the lowdown, I catch myself saying the same thing every time: “I highly recommend it.”

If your aim is to design the ultimate utility bike, the thing better be loaded. You can bet the builders in this year’s Constructor’s Challenge are scheming on this crucial aspect of their designs, and I’m looking forward to seeing if and how they’ve reimagined cycling’s answer to the luggage rack.

Hey, we’ve all got baggage.

By Jeremy Spencer