Frame Bag vs. Backpack

This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of bicycle frame bags and backpacks in relation to one another.

The Advantages of Frame Bags

1. The Luggage Is On The Bike

The strongest advantage of a frame bag is that it gets the cargo off the cyclist’s back and onto the bike.

Subsequently, the rider doesn’t feel as restricted and doesn’t heat up as much. The result is a more comfortable and enjoyable ride.

2. Easy Access

The contents of a frame bag can be easily accessed. All you have to do is stop, unzip the bag and get the item that you’re looking for. If there’s no traffic, and the tool that you need is fairly large, this can be done even while riding.

In different, a backpack requires you to stop, get it in front of you, open the compartment, take the item out, close the zip and slide the rucksack back on. The process is a lot slower and involves a couple more moves.

3. Always On Your Bike

If you keep the frame bag on your bike, you will always have a storage compartment in case you need one.

Meanwhile, if you choose to rely on a backpack, you have to make a conscious decision to bring it with you before every ride. Thus, you may end up in a situation when you have to transport an object without a storage compartment of any kind.

The Disadvantages of Frame Bags

1. Small Capacity

The major weakness of frame bags is that they have a very small capacity and volume preventing you from carrying big items (e.g., a jacket).

If you plan on transporting larger objects, a backpack is the clear winner in this particular comparison.

2. No Quick-release

Frame bags attach to the top tube, the seat tube and the downtube (if the bag is large) via Velcro loops. As a result, it takes a fair amount of time to install and remove the bag. For that reason, it’s not convenient to take it off every time you lock your bike.

This could be problematic for commuters who leave their bikes locked outside during work because the chances of somebody stealing your bag or at least going through its contents is high.

Conversely, a backpack is always with you.

3. Changes The Bike’s Aesthetics

A frame bag changes the looks of the bike. Some people will not like the new aesthetics of their bicycle.

4. No Water Bottle Spots

A large frame bag occupies the entire triangle of the frame and prevents you from installing water bottle cages on the downtube and seat tube.

The ways to circumvent this issue are:

  • Install a water bottle cage under the downtube (only touring frames have water bottle cage bosses there.)
  • Install water bottle cages on the handlebars, seat post or under the seat.
  • Put a hydration bladder in the frame bag

5. Expensive

The best frame bags are custom made to fit a frame and cost a decent chunk of money.

In different, rucksacks can be had for cheap, especially if you go for a non-bike specific model.

The Advantages of Backpacks

1. Enormous Capacity

A large backpack comes with a huge capacity and will allow you to transport a surprising number of items.

2. Keeps The Bike Aesthetic

A rucksack does not affect the bike’s aesthetics because it stays on the rider. Thus, people who want their bicycle to look as fresh and as clean as possible will be happy.

In addition, a rucksack does not steal any functional real estate on the bike either. Subsequently, you will be able to install a high number of accessories without worrying about interference.

3. Can Be Transferred From Bike To Bike

Getting a frame bag from one bike to another is not a convenient process. Meanwhile, if you rely on a backpack, you can easily switch between bikes.

4. Can Store a Large Hydration System

A backpack can be filled with one or two hydration bladders. This could be very helpful if you’re going on a long summer ride.

The Disadvantages of Backpacks

1. Back Suffocation

The main downside of backpacks is that they prevent air from reaching the rider’s back. The aftermath is lots of sweat and stickiness. This is the case even when the backpack is lightly loaded or even empty. Its presence is enough for this phenomenon to take place.

Some specialized cycling backpacks have backs with fewer points of contact and mesh parts meant to increase ventilation, but their effectiveness is not high enough to end this problem.

Ultimately, getting the weight off your back and onto the bike is the only way to avoid “back suffocation”.

2. Kidney Stress

During my early cycling days, I was heavily relying on a rucksack. At one point, I began getting kidney pain. At first, I didn’t know what the problem was, but eventually I got it – the vibrations of the rucksack during riding were resulting in micro-punches to my kidneys. Over time, the stress would accumulate, and my kidneys would start hurting.

As soon as I stopped commuting with a rucksack, the pain went away.

And by the way, I had an expensive Deuter backpack made specifically for cycling. The quality and engineering of the backpack was amazing, but at the end of the day, a backpack is still a backpack and comes with its downsides regardless of the model.

3. Traps and Shoulder Stress

The straps of a backpack dig into the trapezoid area and stress the muscles and surrounding connective tissues. If the backpack is loaded, this side effect can be particularly painful.

4. Drag

A large backpack acts as a sail and increases drag. This negative side is more noticeable when the rucksack is very large and loaded to the maximum.

When To Use a Frame Bag

A frame bag works well in the following situations:

  • You’re transporting only small items (e.g., repair tools, a tube, keys, money…etc.) and want the cargo to be on the bike rather than your body.
  • You don’t like the look of saddlebags or use seat post accessories (e.g., rear light, clip-on fender…etc.) that interfere with a saddle bag. Thus, a frame bag is more suitable for your goals.
  • You don’t mind losing the water bottle cages on the frame.

A rucksack is fine in the following situations:

  • You’re using your bike primarily for short trips, and thus you don’t heat up as much.
  • You need the large capacity of the backpack.
  • You frequently change bikes.

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