If you’re commuting by bike then you need a proper bag – a plastic carrier swinging from your handlebars just won’t cut it on our mean streets.

Bike-specific bags come in loads of shapes and sizes from messengers to panniers, all with their plus and minus points. While panniers are great for those who don’t want weight on their back, they’re not so good for hauling around town.

Well-designed backpacks will let you carry your kit when on or off the bike, and messengers look pretty cool however you use them.

Look out for details such as laptop sleeves and U-lock holders if you’re an urban warrior, or maybe a pocket for a hydration bladder if you like to explore by mountain bike at the weekends.

The best biking bags have specially designed backs which let air flow while you’re riding, helping to keep you cool while working hard. Many also include reflective strips to help you to stand out when the light starts to drop.

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Osprey escapist 25 rucksack: From £55.99, Wiggle

This brilliant bag is loaded with features. There’s a really comfortable harness and back panel, loads of external pockets and a “lidlock” to carry your helmet securely. There’s no separate laptop section, but adventurers will appreciate the addition of a sleeve for a hydration pack, a high-viz waterproof cover, and a waist belt with extra pockets to hold everything in place when the going gets rough. It’s a bag you can use for the weekly commute and then take into the hills in your time off. Available in four colours.

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Ortlieb vario rear pannier bag: £110.89, Tredz

If you’ve got a luggage rack on your bike, this could be the perfect bag for you – it’s a pannier that thinks it’s a backpack, or maybe that should be the other way around. You get an attachment to bolt to your rack to carry the bag on the road, plus a clip-on harness to use when walking around town. It’s a simple layout inside with one large section for clothes and bulky stuff, a sleeve for a small laptop and a zipped section for bits and bobs. Outside, there’s a narrow zipped pocket to stow the harness when not in use, plus a couple of bottle carriers. Available in four colours, it also comes with a clip-on elasticated helmet harness. It’s made from a tough, waterproof fabric backed up by a five-year guarantee.

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Carradice kelbrook satchel: £130, Carradice

Old-school cyclists will appreciate this one made from waxed cotton duck and leather with hefty metal fastenings. Carradice describe cotton duck as the “original performance fabric” – it’s rugged, waterproof and will last for years – and they have been using it for saddlebags and more since 1932. There’s a nod to the 21st century with a detachable padded laptop sleeve, although even that comes with a traditional press-stud closure. We loved the way the leather straps pop on and off metal studs on the flap rather than having to fiddle with buckles. There’s also a stability band you can attach to the webbing shoulder strap to stop it swinging around as you ride. There’s a dark green model and a smart jet black, both with a loop on the lid to attach a light.

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Maap x Bellroy Shift backpack: £210, Maap

This collaboration between cool Australian bike-wear producer Maap and bag maker Bellroy is expensive but exquisite. The minimalist design has no outside pockets to ruin that streamlined shape – there’s just a couple of discreet side zips allowing access to a phone/keys pouch along with the main 22-litre body. Inside, you get a padded laptop sleeve plus various pockets for bottles, notebooks and the like.

The mesh back panel and shoulder straps are really comfortable and do a pretty good job of stopping you getting sweaty while pedalling hard. A removable chest strap with magnetic clasp helps to prevent it moving around while riding, and there’s a loop for a light plus a small reflective patch at the back for added safety. As you would expect at this price, it’s backed up by a three-year warranty.

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UPSO burtonwood: £70, UPSO

Get your own back on those pesky HGVs by wearing one! Well, a little bit of one. These rugged backpacks are made from recycled truck tarpaulins that have clocked up hundreds of thousands of miles before being washed, cut down to size and stitched together. Pushing upcycling to its limits, the shoulder straps are old seatbelts and the tough patch on the base is made from an old fire brigade hose. It’s a roll-top design with a simple metal loop fastener, grab handle and internal sleeve for your laptop. Capacity is up to a hefty 26 litres and every bag is a one-off design.

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Restrap sub backpack: £100, Restrap

The clever crossover straps on this tidy-looking pack will carry your helmet or even a spare wheel. At 19 litres it’s the ideal size for a day pack or as a commuter carry-all. Its heavy duty fabric and waterproof zips will see you through the worst weather, and the harness with its sternum strap and magnetic clasp is really comfortable. There’s a laptop sleeve plus sections for notepads and all your other office essentials. It’s available in three colours including a very smart olive green.

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Chrome modal pike: £160, Always Riding

If you’re looking for understated cool then this one’s for you. It’s a clever design you can use in a couple of ways. If you’re worried about people pilfering your kit – maybe while on a packed train – you can clip the rear flap up to make it harder for would-be thieves to get inside. With the flap clipped down while riding you get a useful extra pocket. There’s a separate padded section for a 15-inch laptop that’s protected by a waterproof zip. The pike’s got 22 litres of carrying space, two side pockets plus a couple of pouches for a water bottle or U-lock. There are even a couple of straps at the back where you could carry a tripod or other cylindrical shape. We really liked the harness with its adjustable sternum strap and shoulder yoke which made it super-comfortable both on and off the bike.

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Rapha for Apple tote: £80.50, Rapha

Need a bag to match your favourite cycling top? This could be what you’re looking for. It’s been designed to carry Apple laptops and tablets, but we won’t tell anyone if you slip in a Sony or a Samsung. It’s got soft down padding to keep everything safe plus a durable water repellent finish to the fabric and waterproof zip to keep the rain out. Its big selling point is the way you can use it as both a backpack and a tote thanks to the clever straps which pull through to form a carrying handle. There’s no padding on the straps, so it’s not one for all-day adventuring, but it’s great for shorter commutes or as an overnight bag. Available in three versions including an attention-grabbing yellow and grey.

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Brompton C bag: £115, Brompton

Brompton boys and girls will love this messenger bag designed for their favourite folder. It’s got a built-in frame that clips on to a block on the head tube of the bike (if you haven’t got one, you can buy it here). It’s got a 25-litre capacity with plenty of internal sleeves and zip-up outer pockets to stash your stuff. There’s a high-viz waterproof cover to slip on when the weather gets really grim, and the cordura fabric is tough enough to withstand the bumps and scrapes on a city commute. Be aware that there’s no padding in the internal laptop sleeve so it’s a good idea to buy one for a bit of extra protection.

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Proviz reflect 360 backpack: £80, Tredz

Drivers will certainly spot you with this 30-litre bag on your back. The fabric looks silver-grey in daylight but shines bright white in car headlights. It’s an astonishing trick that you have to see to believe and its secret lies in the millions of glass beads embedded in the water-resistant material. There’s an effective mesh ventilation system to stop you getting too sweaty, a sleeve for a hydration bladder and a loop to fit a light if you take a real belt-and-braces approach to road safety. All the zips are waterproof and there’s an internal section to protect your laptop.

Buy now

The verdict: Cycling bags

All of the bags we tried were superb, but our best buy from Osprey is an amazing all-rounder that wowed everyone who used it. It’s one you can use for hiking or holidaying too, not just for cycling.

If safety is a priority and you want something really eye-catching go for the Proviz with its magical reflective properties. For something totally unique with huge load-lugging capacity it’s got to be the UPSO, after all, each bag is a complete one off.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.