What’s The Best Bag For Commuting By Bike? Saddle Bag Vs. Panniers Vs. Backpack

– The age old question facing
anyone who cycles to work or to university, or to school, is how best do you carry your essentials. Now, whether that’s like a laptop or a full change of
clothes, or possibly both, it’s a question that can
very much weigh you down. – And there are three main options. There’s the rucksack
shouldering the weight, or slinging the weight
across the back of your bike, Panniers, a bit old school, or the new and trendy option
of the Giant saddlebag. Now, both of these two
obviously leave you unencumbered but they do transform your trusty steed. – They do. So each system is going to
have its relative merits, but what we really want to know, and we suspect secretly you will do too, is which of them is the fastest. What is the most aerodynamic
way of carrying your stuff? – It’s the GCN Commuteaero challenge. – Oh that could be a hashtag right there, Commuteaero. (upbeat music) To find the answer to this slightly hairbrained question, we have enlisted the
support of several engineers who are based here at the
world-famous wind tunnel at the Politecnico Milano. – Would this actually change how you carry your stuff to work, Si? – Yeah, you know what I
think it would actually. I normally use a rucksack
because it’s easy, because it leaves my bike
feeling light and unencumbered, but if I could shave off some
time, I definitely would. (upbeat music) The Politecnico Milano tunnel is called a closed-circuit tunnel, and it actually has two
test rooms along its length. Wind is generated by 14 fans, each is 1.8 meters in diameter, and requiring a total of
1.4 megawatts of power. One room is used primarily
for civil engineering testing, so bridges, wind turbines, an the like, and it can create
turbulent wind conditions. The other room is much smaller and it gives very stable wind conditions, which is perfect for testing
bikes, riders, and luggage, which, funny enough, they
haven’t ever had to test before. – Our Super Commuter bike here is rigged up in the wind tunnel. Si will ride it for six minutes at a time, while the total drag of him plus bike is measured and recorded in the data acquisition
center outside the tunnel. Now, the first two minutes of each test will be into a straight on headwind. And then to measure different cross-winds, what we’ll do is rotate the
entire platform on a turntable, which will put him at
different angles to the wind, called yaw angles. (upbeat music – This is my actual backpack. I wanted something that was small and also super lightweight, it ticks both of those boxes,
it’s been great mostly. What’s in it will vary on a given day, but as a minimum I will have, of course, a pump, and also a multi-tool
and a tube, my laptop, and then I take a spare pair of socks, a pair of boxer shorts,
and also a T-shirt. Now, everything else I will leave at work, but to be a little bit
more representative, I’m also going to stick in a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans as well. Oh yeah, hair product too, couldn’t go anywhere without that. Now you know I’m lying, I
don’t use hair products, you knew that. (upbeat music) Now last time I was in a wind tunnel, I did not have glasses. No one told me how important they were, cuz your eyes just stream, so I brought out the
trusty old Bono glasses. Oh yeah. – Okay so you’re all good? – Good. – You’re going to be okay? – Hopefully. – Right, good luck. Don’t shout if there’s a problem
because we can’t hear you. – Thanks. – Oh it’s a heavy door, wow. Oh yeah. (laughs) (door slams) Okay. (upbeat music) This test will be repeated three times, one for each of our commuting setups. The first one being the rucksack, as you can see there. You can see here that the
scientists of the wind tunnel, they’re marking out Si’s
position on the bike, so they can be sure that he recreates the same body position
for each of our tests, so that it’s a fair comparison
of the commuting setups. (upbeat music) You okay? – Yes, I’m alright actually. I’ve forgotten how weird it
is riding in a wind tunnel, the fact that the wind
is completely constant so it’s just this white noise really loud, but yeah that was good, it just felt like riding home basically, into a dark tunnel. – Bloody freezing too I remember. – It was, yeah, a little
bit cold, but it’s alright. It’s kind of the amount of
fan-age I need, actually when I’m training inside
so it should be alright. – Fan-age. – Fan-age, yeah. – Good word. (laughs) (upbeat music) – Run number two then, we’ve
got a full bike packing kit. So we’ve got Topeak’s giant saddlebag, a frame bag, and also a top-load there. Roughly the same volume
size as the rucksack. The only slight thing I’m thinking of is I’m not going to be able
to get my laptop in here. – Yeah you can, it’ll fit
in there, that’s huge. – Hmm. – Yeah yeah that’ll be fine. – Are you completely
sure about this, Emma? – Yes, definitely and then
just pack the jeans around. You would take longer than the commute just to pack the bags but, you know. – It looks slightly weird having your underpants in a frame bag. I can’t do it Emma, I
can’t have a top-tube bag. I reckon I can squish
this stuff in elsewhere. – Yeah. – We’ve got plenty of room. – You’ve got loads of space. It’s all about efficient packing, Si. – You’ve inspired me with
my laptop mud guard. – That does look a little bit like a triathlete’s lunch
box really, doesn’t it? (upbeat music) So the important thing here is we have Si in the same body position, that’s why we drew lines around the- well the scientists drew lines around the outside of his body. But, the only thing that’s
changed is the luggage position because you can only change
one variable at a time, or we get confusing results. So, as Stefano was saying,
on this screen we can see the top number is Si’s cadence, Then you have his speed,
you have a power meter? – No we don’t have a power
meter, we have a force balance. He is below the line
there so that we measure the wind force to a force balance. – Yeah, so this is the
wind speed, the velocchita, and then the bottom number there, that’s the drag force, so that’s literally the
drag he is experiencing, as measured by the force balance. – Yeah. (upbeat music) – Okay, still alive? – Just about, yeah. – Good work, it doesn’t look easy. – Well the riding itself is fine, but yeah there’s not much to tell really, the bags were just kind of out of my way. – You had to hold that position, it looked like it was getting
a bit tiring after awhile. – Well yeah maybe a little bit. But yeah it’s all good, I’m good, I’m fascinated to see
the results on that one. Something very new and different. (upbeat music) From modern bike packing
now, to old-school. We’ve got a beautiful pair
of hand-made Panniers. I think we’ve pretty much
doubled the volume of it, don’t you think? – Yep. – So maybe I’d better take
a week’s worth of stuff actually to work this time. – Or a big lunch. – A three-course lunch,
yeah now we’re talking. Right, let’s do some packing. Yeah you stick them in your side. – Okay. – I’ll deal with the pants. – Yeah. All set up there? – Ready. – See you on the other side. I won’t be sorry to see
the back of this door. (door slams) (upbeat music) – Si is pedaling away in the
wind tunnel on his third run. This time we’ve got the
old-school Panniers, and he’s being very tough
and hanging in there with his same body position as before. And here we can see, this is the screen that
he can also see almost, you can see that this
number here, the drag force, is in red because it’s
higher than last time, in fact it’s higher than the first time, so I think the scientists
here are going to talk us through the results later. But the interesting thing
you can see straightaway is that, with the Panniers, his drag is significantly higher than with either the rucksack
or the Giant saddlebag. (upbeat music) So, at the moment you can see that we’re changing the yaw angle, So we’re changing Si’s
rotation to the wind, which means that it’s effectively like having a cross-wind as
you’re riding your bike. And the funny thing is,
with the saddlebags, the number is occasionally green which means it’s occasionally lower than it was with the rucksack, which means that,
potentially, I’m hypothesizing these saddlebags acting
a bit like a disk wheel, a bit like a sail effect
for the crosswind. I’m just making that up,
so it’s probably not true. The scientists here will tell us later. Momentary values don’t really matter, it’s the average over two
minutes that’s important. Well done, Si. – Thank you, thank you. – I know it was quite hard work hanging on there in the wind tunnel. I’ve got some slightly bad news for you, in that scientists down there say we have to do a baseline test without any luggage at all. So we’re going to take
the Panniers off again, and you’re going to have
to go through it again. – One more time. – I’m really sorry. – Well I mean it makes sense. – It’s good for you I mean
it’s a little bit of training. – Bit of training, yeah. Alright let’s do it. – He’s tough, he’s tough, it’s good. – [Simon] This baseline
test will allow us to see just how much drag I actually create, minus any luggage at all. As well as being a point of interest, it also acts as a control
to make sure that the data from the other tests
can be put into context. So over to Test Engineer Stefano Giappino. – So we’re going to
talk through the results of the commuter comparison with Stefano, the test engineer here at the wind tunnel. And Stefano, can you explain, you’ve changed that drag
force you’ve measured into Watts, is that correct? – Yes, starting from the drag
force we got from the balance, we computed the power to go
at 40 kilometers per hour. So this is the power to overcome 40 kilometers per hour of wind. – And so we’ve got the various different positions of the commuter luggage there, and these equate to the
different setups that Si had. So we have the rucksack,
the Giant saddlebags, and the Panniers. So Stefano, what can we
see from the results? – Okay so, we started with no bag at all, then if we added the bag
on the back like this, we’re going in this
position so this is slower. – So there’s more watts drag. – More watts, more drag. And if we put the bags on the real weight, this position, this is the worst position we found. – So Panniers are the worst? – Yeah. – Right, interesting. – But finally, if we put on the bike, like the saddle, and this position. – Giant saddlebag. – We have almost no difference. So you should put in this position. – Good to know, thank you very much. – We’ve had the top-line results. Emma can you hit us with some wattages. – Hit you with the wattage, indeed. So the best and the worst, there was actually 20 watts difference. – [Simon] 20 watts? – [Emma] This is quite a lot, so the best was the Giant saddlebag, which acts like a sort of bum
fairing I think you could say. – [Simon] Brilliant,
we’ll need one of those. – And that was similar to
the baseline of no luggage, in fact even below your
angle, so direct headwind, that might even be slightly
faster than no luggage, in aerodynamic terms. – Interesting stuff. And the Panniers, so
they were 20 watts slower than our Giant saddlebag. – Yep, and if you don’t
like Panniers anyway, that’s, you know, good reason not to use them I suppose. – Yeah, now the thing for me actually, was the fact that the
rucksack was in the middle, and the guys downstairs were saying that a lot depends on your
actual position on the bike. So I adopted a relatively sedate position, and because of my helmet
getting in the way, and because the rucksack is quite narrow, actually it didn’t perhaps
cause as much disturbance as they otherwise thought
it might have been, but if my position was more aerodynamic, then that would have
been more of a hindrance, is that right? – Yeah, so your rucksack was
essentially behind your helmet so it acted almost like a
fairing behind the helmet. – Head fairing this time. – A head fairing. – Whereas if one was to get super aero, maybe even commuting for some
reason on a Time Trail bike, the Giant saddlebag is
definitely the way forward. – Yeah, that’s yeah, and I should add that these wattage differences, that’s at 40 kilometers an hour, and you do get a reduction in
advantage as you go slower. I’m not sure how many people
commute at 40k an hour. – I think it depends
on the traffic really. As a fellow seasoned commuter then, now we’re armed with the data, are you going to change anything? – Well I have to say that I really do like my Giant saddlebag, although I’ve been told by a lot of people for sartorial reasons
that it’s not pretty. I don’t care, I like the fact
that I have a sweat-free back. But in terms of ease of use
for me, always rucksack. Because it’s just so easy
to sling it on and off, and my saddle is so
low that I run the risk with this Giant saddlebag of
it rubbing on the back wheel, which is definitely not
quicker, I can tell you that. – Right, so for me I think,
I did say at the beginning that I would go with whatever is fastest. I think the convenience of the rucksack still is possibly going to win out for me. On my longer commutes,
where I want the bike to feel nice and normal and
maneuverable and trackable, I’m still going to go with a rucksack. But actually, I would be tempted to dabble with a Giant saddlebag for when I need to get from A to
B as fast as possible. That has opened my eyes,
in fact, to bike luggage. So, watch this space. – So, if you happen to commute, and you’re interested
in saving a few minutes, why not check out GCN’s early video, “Pimp my Commute”. – That’s right, save minutes, get up later, and have more fun. We’ve got to say a big
“thanks” as well before we go to Politecnico Milano for
loaning us their wind tunnel, loaning us their expertise, it’s been absolutely brilliant. And there are more videos coming up soon. I’d give it a big thumbs up.

About the Author: Michael Flood

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