Cycle commuting #1 – Backpack

This is a sponsored article looking into the science behind commuting and the methods used by beginners, pros and everyone in between.

Commuting by bicycle is fast becoming the best way for a lot of people to get to work. Taking control of when you leave instead of chasing a bus or train. Having personal space, time to think, and to wake up before the day starts without a stranger coughing in your ear. Bypassing lines of static traffic in city centers makes it the ideal mode of transport for many. The downside to commuting by bicycle is that it can become a logistical nightmare to carry a heavy laptop, change of clothes, and larger than usual lunch box to refuel the hungry cyclist. How can this be achieved? Where should you start?

For centuries man has carried weight on their backs, as early as mankind could walk upright he slung his captured dinner over his back to support the load as he traveled. The rucksack, satchel or backpack is for most people the easiest starting point for carrying a load when cycling.( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backpack). It’s what we are used to, as toddlers we carry our superman bags laden with cucumber sandwiches to and from school every day. One U.S. study suggests that 40 million students carry a backpack every single day. But are there downsides or limitations to this when cycling? How much can you safely carry? Are there specific features a cyclist needs? How should you pack?

The benefits of a backpack are simple at first sight. You probably already own something suitable enough. They are easy to pack and require no further equipment as a pannier bag might. They are also, (depending on your riding position) extremely aerodynamic, sitting behind the body of the rider so that at low speed it is difficult to notice any hindrance. As the rider cuts through the air, the backpack follows closely behind. Although these statements are true, we need to consider a little more science to make sure that our simple backpack isn’t causing harm to the most important part of our anatomy. After all, getting to work is just the start. What happens as your commuting becomes more serious? Your bike is changed for a road bike to aid speed and match your raising fitness levels, the distance is increased and you realize that you need to carry tools, laptop, change of clothes, waterproofs, and lunch. The weight and size of the bag quickly jump to fulfill the needs. It is here that the backpack needs to become a more cycle-specific piece of equipment.

There are a few small features which can make all the difference to your commuting bag of choice, These adaptations have come from millennia of rucksack use and make all the difference. A chest strap is of utmost importance, this shares the load from the shoulders to the sternum and distributes the forces pressing down on the vital brachial plexus nerve more evenly across the body. The most common cause of numbness in the hands suffered by many. nerves.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brachial_plexus

A waist strap is another vital piece of a rucksack which should be used but is often left unclasped. This simple plastic clip can carry up to 90% of the weight of the bag, moving the load to a safer location below the thoracic spine according to https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/backpacks-adjusting-fit.html. Aerodynamically shaped backpacks can make a difference in drag and therefore speed although it is difficult to measure these as wind tunnel commuting facts are hard to come by. Another feature of a cycle specific backpack that can lift it above the basic one sitting in your cupboard is that cycle backpacks are generally waterproof, and if you wish to be a real commuter, you will get wet, evenly and thoroughly. We hate a soggy sandwich let alone a soaked apple when it can be avoided by using a good material made for the purpose. A sweaty back when cycle commuting can mean that extra time is needed for changing when you arrive, or that you need to carry a change of clothes. Many specific cycle rucksacks have addressed this need by cleverly creating an air gap between you and your load, making the whole experience much more pleasant. You can begin to see that all bags are not made equally when cycling is considered.

Packing a backpack is a seldom-known dark art, rarely considered by the casual cycle commuter, but this alone can make some great improvements in your comfort during those early pedal starts. Hiking studies have shown that 15-20% your body weight is a safe maximum limit for daily use, this is fine when hiking but 10% should not be surpassed when cycling. The weight of your pack should be kept as low as possible with heavier items worn lower on the back to avoid damaging the upper back by causing it to flex unnaturally. So pack your tools right at the bottom even though it will be annoying to retrieve them when you need them. The heavier items should also be kept as close to your body as possible, meaning a backpack with a front pocket should only be used for the desperate items like wallet or keys, the bag should not swing as Postural sway causes a lot of damage to the spine in hiking cases and is more pronounced in cyclists due to our tendency to think we are Chris Froome when we climb.

Commuting with a backpack is a great way to save money, and enter into the happy world of cycle commuting. Just be sure to obtain a bag which will appreciate you as much as you appreciate it. Your body will thank you until you are ready to try the next step which we will talk about in the next article.

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