Lots of us carry bags when we’re cycling, whether we’re riding to the office with our laptop, out for a long day’s ride or just carrying emergency spares – phone, mobile, a bit of food and drink and a change of clothing.
Panniers, seatpost-mounted bags and rucksacks are an option, especially for longer rides and heavier loads, but the simple sling-type bag used by cycle couriers across the world is a good bet for shorter journeys and urban commutes.
They have plenty of space for laptops and files, look businesslike in the office, you can access their contents quickly without taking them off, and because they don't cover the whole of your back, there's less sweat build-up than with a rucksack. Here's our pick of the best messenger bags we've tested this year.
Abus are a German company who are best known for their bike locks. At 16l the Dryve isn't huge but it's tough, well made and can comfortably and safely take a 15in laptop. It’s neatly compartmentalised, has great protection from the elements and stays secure and comfortable no matter how long you’re carrying it. www.abus.com / www.zyro.co.uk
Banjo Bros Medium
For such a tough, fully featured courier bag Banjo Bros have got this in at an exceptionally good price. It comes with an internal padded laptop divider and six pockets – slip pockets, Velcro-secured and zipped – plus slots for pens. Other features include a removable mobile holder on the 50mm wide strap, a keyclip, carrying handle and light tab. We’d have preferred more reflective details on such a dark bag, and it’s water-resistant rather than fully waterproof, but it’s comfortable, secure and tough and the 19-litre capacity is adequate for most occasions. www.banjobrothers.com / www.urbanhunter.biz
Bagaboo Eco Medium
A simple but high quality bag, and while it’s the middle of Bagaboo’s three Eco models, it still has a 27-litre capacity (the large has a huge 34l). Open up the Eco and you’ll see this is a stripped-back-to-the basics bag – there’s no padding on the back and no internal dividers or laptop pocket, but the voluminous interior will easily take a 15in laptop, clothing, lock and a large lunch as well. There are four external slip pockets under the flap, one meshed, and a large Velcro patch to secure the flap. It’s tough, durable and waterproof – thanks to a Cordura outer and inner tarpaulin lining – and light enough to take travelling with you. bagaboo.hu / www.urbanhunter.biz
Ortlieb Medium Sling-It
The Sling-It is available in three sizes – we tested the medium – and has Ortlieb’s typically Teutonic waterproofing: no water would dare to get past the roll-down top, secured with an extra-large Velcro tab. The 12-litre bag is heavily sectioned, with two main storage areas – one for a 15in laptop – and numerous pockets for papers, even slots for pens. It’s quite a straightforward design with no external pockets, making access very quick. It’s still a high quality bag, though, ideal for the needs of the computer-carrying student or worker. The larger model will take a 17in laptop. www.ortlieb.de / www.ortlieb.co.uk
Pacific Outdoor Vancouver
Pacific Outdoor aren’t taking chances when it comes to weatherproofing their 23-litre Vancouver bag – a city where it can rain for 20 days on the trot. This top-quality bag is made entirely from waterproof thermally welded nylon, the main section has a full-length waterproof YKK zip, and the large external pocket a waterproof YKK zip with a huge zip garage for extra protection. There’s no separate laptop pocket, just a few small open pockets, but it’s exceptionally well padded for carrying hefty loads, has wide, comfortable straps and a rubber briefcase-style carrying handle. Tough, secure, practical, light and with a large reflective strip, this is a well considered piece of kit. pacoutdoor.com / www.madison.co.uk
You, too, can look like a World War II paratrooper with this voluminous Italian-made leather and waxed canvas backpack. Its capacity is stated as 22-33l but we were running out of strength to carry it before we filled it. The 5cm wide canvas straps keep it secure and stable while you’re riding, and the padded leather shoulder sections make sure you’re comfortable. There’s a front pocket for a large laptop, and it’s all kept safe and dry with the leather roll-down top, but the main section is a single cavern-like pocket. Fantastic carrying capacity and great quality, but quite weighty so better for short journeys, and with an eye-watering pricetag. www.brooksengland.com
Knog Frank Dog
Quirky Aussie kit purveyors Knog have come up with a versatile bag in this nearly square shaped courier-bag-cum-pannier. It has a padded back, a very well padded internal pocket for a 15in laptop and four smaller internal pockets. A bottom zip pocket contains a silver raincover – though in practice the waxed canvas itself should keep moisture out in most conditions. This bag also comes with fittings to convert it into a pannier, though without a stiff back it’s not the best pannier out there. As a courier bag alone it’s much better, the 74mm wide strap staying comfortable even without padding, the second 40mm strap keeping it very secure even when loaded. www.knog.com.au / www.todayscyclist.co.uk
Rapha Large Shoulder Bag
This courier bag boasts Rapha’s usual eye for style but they haven’t shirked on practicality either. It has a nicely padded back, a 17in Velcro-secured laptop pocket and numerous zipped and unzipped internal pockets for safely stowing smaller items. It’s not the biggest courier bag, but at 12l it’s still large enough to carry some clothing, tools and food in addition to your laptop. The 5cm wide shoulder strap is padded and comfortable, the secondary strap helping to keep the bag in place while you ride. It’s water-resistant, has a separate raincover – in Rapha pink, of course – and numerous well-placed reflective dots completely covering the ends and bottom. www.rapha.cc
What to look for in a messenger bag
How much volume do you need? When choosing a bag, work out beforehand what you’ll usually be carrying and add a little extra capacity for emergencies. But the shape is just as important as the overall volume, especially if you’re carrying a laptop.
Messenger bags usually have a single shoulder strap plus a waist strap for stability on the bike. In general, wider straps are more comfortable. Try before you buy, though, to check that they’re comfortable for your particular shape.
Most messenger bags have weatherproofing built in that should keep your belongings dry in showers. Some have rolldown tops while others are made of entirely waterproof materials.
Some messenger bags have sleeves specifically designed for laptops, so it’s a good idea to take your laptop with you when buying your bag, not only to ensure that your computer fits but also that it’s comfortable for you to carry.
A messenger bag that looks businesslike in the office may not be as good at night on the bike. Reflective patches and piping will improve your safety.
Bags range from single pocket designs to those with separate sections for computer, paperwork, mobile or MP3 player – sometimes on the strap for swift access. Again, work out what your specific needs are before parting with your cash.
This feature is based on an article that was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine.