man arrives at work on bike

This post is part of "Dress for Success," a series of 15 posts. You can start at the beginning or see all posts in the series.

Riding a bike to work is great. There are obvious health benefits, you can (sometimes) blow right past traffic, and you can save a considerable amount (particularly if you’re able to commute so much that you do not need to own a car). However, there is always the challenge of what bag to carry. You might not be the person that wants to (literally) roll into your office with a tricked-out multi-color custom Chrome bike bag. Additionally, the structure of a lot of bike bags—a cavernous and undivided interior designed to allow you to cram as much as possible inside—isn’t necessarily great for someone that needs an organized commute.

Fortunately, there are a number of less flashy—but still very functional—bike bags that you could bring to the office. How casual you can be depends, of course, on your personal office situation.

A caveat: if you actually do want to tote as much stuff as humanly possible with you on your journey, these are probably not the bags for you. You’re better off with an insanely capacious backpack like the Ortlieb Velocity or going the large pannier route. The bags we’re discussing here are for people that need a place to stow the normal items of work life—a laptop, your lunch, an extra sweater, some files, a water bottle, your iPad, and the like—while biking. Also not on the list: a ton of perfectly great leather briefcases with straps, such as this one from Saddleback. They’re gorgeous, they’ll hold a ton, but they are also heavy and typically don’t have stabilizer straps or any other touches that will make your commute easier—you’d just be biking around with a weighty bag that keeps trying to swing itself around to the front of you.

Chrome Conway

At the more laid-back end of the spectrum, you could still consider a Chrome bag if you went with one of their all-black tech bags, like the Conway (MSRP: $120).

The Conway has more pockets than Chrome bags usually do and also has a built-in padded laptop sleeve. It doesn’t, sadly have Chrome’s cool seatbelt-style shoulder strap, but the lack of one makes the bag look a bit more professional anyway. It retains several other features usually found on more hardcore bike bags: a stabilizer strap, bike light lash points, and it’s weatherproof. It also has a grab handle, which makes it a bit easier to tote around once you’re actually at the office.

Timbuk2 Closer Case

Timbuk2 is mostly known for colorful tri-color messenger bags, but they also have more sedate offerings.

The Closer Case (MSRP: $149) comes in several muted colors and has the sort of internal organization scheme you need in a work bag like a laptop compartment and pockets for your pens, phone, and other small items. It has a shoulder strap and a stabilizer strap, but both can be removed so you can just carry it by the grab handle, which makes it look like any other (semi-casual) briefcase. For travelers, it has a pass-through so you can attach it to your rolling luggage, which is a nice touch.

Timbuk2 Proof

Timbuk2 also offers the Proof messenger (MSRP $218), which is a bit bigger than the Closer Case (732 cubic inches of volume versus the Closer Case’s 610.) Like the Closer, it comes in a few different muted shades, has a laptop compartment, internal organizers, grab handle, and a stabilizer strap. The Proof is made of waxed canvas, however, which will age nicely, especially if you take the time to maintain it with some conditioner.

Basil Portland Messenger Bag

The Basil Portland Messenger (MSRP €79.99 but available in the states for $68) awesomely doubles as a pannier if you get tired of hauling it on your back. It’s got a laptop pouch and internal pockets. It also has external pockets, which is something not all bike bags have if they’re striving for being fully waterproof. It looks less like a briefcase and more like a cool vintage bag thanks to the leather straps. There’s no grab handle, and the shoulder strap is permanently attached, so you’ll have to shoulder-carry even when in the office. Though it doesn’t look it, it has a bigger internal volume than the Proof, which means you could stuff a decent amount in there.

Brooks Pickwick

If you want to carry a backpack and you have a fair bit of money to spend, the vegetable-tanned leather Brooks Pickwick (MSRP: $370) might be up your alley. Brooks, known for making bike saddles that last a lifetime, also makes gorgeous leather bags. It has canvas backpack straps and a chest stabilizer. It has 1,920 cubic inches of space, which seems like it should give you a ton of room, but some Amazon reviewers complain the interior is a big more snug than they thought it would be. Inside, it’s basically one big compartment, so it isn’t the bag for you if you need a lot of organization. Since it has unpadded straps, it also isn’t the bag for you if you’ve got a long commute, although the straps detach so you can carry it by the top grab handle, and then it doesn’t look like a backpack at all.

Defy Defender Workcase

If you want to carry a messenger bag and have a lot of money to spend, the Horween leather Defender Workcase (MSRP: $700) is beautiful and won’t look out of place in the nicest office settings. However, it’s a bit small at 561 cubic inches, and it’s fairly heavy for its size at 3 pounds. Basically, it would be good for someone who needs to carry a laptop and a few essentials, and nothing more. In its stock configuration, it doesn’t make a great bike bag choice, but if you add D rings and a stabilizer strap it becomes much more commute-friendly.

Dsptch Shoulder Bag

On the lighter, smaller, and cheaper side, there’s the Dsptch Shoulder Bag (MSRP: $134). It’s only 461 cubic inches but will fit your laptop (up to 13 inches) and has internal organizers and pockets under the outer flap. It comes in business-friendly colors like navy and gray and has a grab handle. If you tend to run hot when you bike, you’ll like that it has a ventilated mesh back, which should reduce the chances of you showing up to work with a drenched dress shirt. The grab handle is, unfortunately, only nicely padded if you pay a $10 upcharge.

Rickshaw Sutro Messenger

About ten years ago, Timbuk2’s then-CEO, Mark Dwight, left to form his own messenger bag company, Rickshaw. Rickshaw bags are somewhat similar to Timbuk2 stylistically, but where Timbuk2 has outsourced much of its manufacturing to overseas, Rickshaw still makes all its bags in San Francisco but manages to do so at only a slightly higher price point than Timbuk2. Their Sutro Messenger (MSRP: $149) comes in some flashier colors, but the herringbone version is less flash, more business. It is also made from recycled bottles, which is a nice environmentally-friendly touch., and at 905 cubic inches, it can carry a decent amount of stuff. A padded laptop sleeve, external zip pocket, and internal pockets make it organized enough for work. One problem: there’s no stabilizer strap, so you’ll have to cinch the shoulder strap as tight as you can to ensure it stays on your back when you ride.

Rickshaw Commuter Bag 3.0

Essentially a bigger version of the Sutro, the Rickshaw Commuter 3.0 laptop bag (MSRP: $199) can be completely customized with any fabric Rickshaw offers, or you can buy it in the stock fabrics—the price is the same either way. This bag holds up to a 15-inch laptop, and the padded laptop sleeve is removable. There’s the same amount of internal and external pockets as the Sutro, but at 1052 cubic inches of storage, this one is quite a bit larger. For $5 extra, you can buy a cross strap to stabilize the bag while you ride.

Mission Workshop Transit

If you generally prefer bags that look more like a portfolio, you’re usually out of luck where bike bags are concerned. Mission Workshop, however, makes a portfolio-style laptop bag, the Transit (MSRP: $225)  that is waterproof and, at 1200 cubic inches, enormous. If you’re a stickler for organization, it has two external quick access pockets, two external zippered pockets, two internal quick access pockets, and a zippered internal laptop pocket that will fit up to a 15-inch laptop. If you get tired of carrying something that large, it has attachment points so you can fasten it to the front rack of your bike.

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2 Comments

  1. Jason Gershenson says:

    One other somewhat professional bag is the Henty bike bag…it transports business clothes on bike if you shower at somepoint after the ride. It’s essentially a garment bag that rolls up like a burrito. I roll my empty leather bag within that bag.

  2. Lisa Needham says:

    Whoa. Those look nice. Can I ask which size you use?

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