What’s In My Bag: Cycling Edition

What’s In My Bag: Cycling Edition

This way or that way, it's the bike way

If we’re looking under the family “bag”, mine is of the genus “rucksack”. I cycle to work and find messenger bags simply too cumbersome (sorry, Carmen). They slip and slide around, throwing their CoGs about, get in the way of my pedalling and after a longer ride my carrying shoulder hurts. No, messenger bags are simply not great a solution for actually carrying things whilst on a bike.

A rucksack is the only way for me to go; specifically, the species Osprey Atmos 25.

My Osprey Atmos 25
My Osprey Atmos 25

Clamped nice and firmly on my back, relatively slim but variable enough to carry surprising amounts. Its only downside is? Transpiration. Despite their best efforts at aero webbing and vents, it still presses my shirt against the skin, and and at temperatures like today’s 35 °C, which would be… (Hi Google, could you – oh, you have already? 95 F? OK, great, thanks. How-? ), there’s not much sweat can do other than seep through clothing and stay there, darkening. Now, perhaps each of those foam vents does act as a small chimney, and I’m sure Osprey have done lots of thermal modelling and imaging on it – but the effect isn’t large enough for me to appreciate. Maybe there are some little optimisations they could perform here and there…

Osprey shoulder strap detail
Osprey shoulder strap detail

In fact, it’s a gem of good design and engineering, this rucksack of mine. There’s padding aplenty, webbing all over the place, big, broad, but light shoulder straps, stiffening pipes, little zip pockets integrated into the hip straps, a great mix of stretchy and non-stretch fabrics and a lovely “archer’s bow” method of keeping the main structure away from the webbing… People have clearly “sweated” each and every aspect of its design and manufacture.

Perhaps a better solution overall would be a bike pannier, for which there are many options. on the back, on the front wheel, up by the handlebars (like this neat Barbasket Kickstarter project, for example), but I like the light, unaffected handling of my bike as it is.

Ah, yes – we’re supposed to be talking about what’s in my bag.

If someone to ring up whilst I was cycling to work in the morning and bark: “Seb, get yourself to this customer or to that supplier and sort out their problems”, I could point the bike in the new direction and pedal on. I might arrive a day or two late, but I’d get there with everything I need to work.

The key elements of my pedal-powered road warrior kit (really, I’m mostly an office-and-lab-warrior) are: my cell phones (work candybar and private smartphone), a laptop and a wireless data card. I usually have a mechanical pencil in there for sketching and I still have a set of earplugs from my last visit to a metal stamping supplier. That’s basically it. It could also rain en route without cause for worry, as I have wet weather gear stowed away in there, too.

Seb's kit
A few items from my rucksack

That glimpse into my rucksack tells you everything: I’m a knowledge worker in the modern parlance. All of the engineering I do is either laptop-based (reports, data analysis, presentations) or lab based (I’m not going to try fitting a 200 kV X-Ray machine into my bag, thanks).

As a mechanical engineer, Vernier calipers come in handy, of course (digital for me, please!)  – but they’re ubiquitous, so if any customer needs me to actually measure something, I can ask a nearby operator for one, no problem. Now, perhaps you’re thinking that makes a poor impression – this engineer turns up without all the tools for the job. I prefer to see it this way: it’s like being a smoker without a light–you automatically end up talking to somebody and making a connection.

My Swiftpoint Futuremouse
My Swiftpoint Futuremouse

What else do I have stowed away there? Oh, my mouse – I have to mention my mouse. It’s a Swiftpoint Futuremouse, which is also a beautiful example of design. It’s tiny, wireless, very light yet very useable. You hold it more like a pen than anything else, to “write” your way around the screen. To scroll up and down, you tilt it sideways slightly so that the larger wheel runs along the table, then push or pull. There’s a finger detector built in to the grip, so that if you take your hands off it, it’s no longer active (great if you’re using it on the laptop itself, or on the sofa), and you can park it on the USB transmitter to charge it.

I can never be too far away from music, so a decent pair of earphones is also stowed away for emergency use – including for in the office when the general hubbub becomes too distracting (that’s a discussion in itself – is music used to ensconce yourself into your own writing / programming / diagramming world really less distracting than general office noise? For me, it depends greatly on my frame of mind).

There are are always plus/minus items to consider, depending on the task or travel at hand. Chargers come along for the ride on longer trips, my passport when I’m flying, a packed lunch when we have some leftovers from the evening before… But the basics rarely change.

Finally, I try always to have my trusty Sony NEX-5 camera with me. Just on the off chance that something catches my eye that simply needs capturing on my constant, ever-changing cycle in to work.

{All photos my own}

Clouds over the Edingen watertower


They’re definitely on the radar screen, but perhaps for my next bike. My current work bike is an old Scott mountain bike that I’d first “streeted” and then commuterized. I know it’s a shallow reason, but I think panniers would make it look even more wrong. But I agree – an Ortlieb setup (or Vaudé) would be a good next step. I mean pedal…

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