I have mentioned before that I own a saddlebag large enough to fit my laptop, which I use for transportation on bikes not equipped with racks or baskets. As a result I have gotten a few questions about the logistics of using non-quick release saddlebags for commuting. Namely: what do I do with all the stuff in the bag once at my destination? Detachable bags unclip from the bike easily and can be carried around on one's person. Non-detachable panniers and baskets are typically spacious enough to fit a tote bag inside, which can then be removed. Traditional saddlebags, on the other hand, are not only more compact, but irregularly shaped. That is to say, their shape gets distorted once you tighten the drawcord and close the flap, making it more awkward to store another container inside. So while a saddlebag might technically have room to fit a lot of stuff, it works best in a touring or audax context, where you only need to extract select items at a time. It is less ideal for scenarios where you'll have to take all of your stuff out of the bag at your destination and then put it all back in again, multiple times a day.
Nonetheless, you can use a saddlebag for transportation without having to carry an armload of loose objects whenever you leave your bicycle locked up. The solution does involve a "bag in bag" scenario. But the type of bag you choose is crucial. You don't want to use an ordinary handbag or tote bag, as it will take up too much room inside and will be difficult to remove and manipulate. What you want to look for is a reusable shopping sack made out of extremely thin, durable fabric. The one I use is made of nylon and it is really a whisper of a thing, compact enough to fit into a small pocket when empty.
I put my laptop, camera, books, snacks, extra clothing, et cetera, into the sack, then shove it inside the saddlebag. Since the sack is shapeless and its fabric super-thin, it morphs to take on the form of the saddlebag's interior and allows me to push around its contents just as easily as if all the items were lying loose directly inside the saddlebag.
And there you have it. A well-stuffed saddlebag can fit quite a bit. Mine is an extra-large one by Dill Pickle, made to order.
And once at my destination, I just open it, loosen the drawcord, pull out the shopping sack by the straps (the nylon makes it slide out pretty easily), and wear it on my shoulder as I would an ordinary tote bag.
It's not rocket science. But you really do need a specific type of bag to pull this off hassle-free. Many reusable shopping bags that are popular now are made of thick canvas and are sort of squarish and structured, which won't work well at all - it's just too much bag. Neither are the Longchamp style collapsible bags with their thick leather straps a good idea. What you want is a bag that will conform to your saddlebag's interior, and at the same time is durable enough to withstand vigorous yankings. With reusable bags more popular than ever, a suitable one should not be too hard to find (Update: check out these babies here, spotted in a local shop today! Notice the one with the bicycles print?).
The beauty of a saddlebag is that you can use it on any bike, whether it's equipped to carry a load or not, so finding a system that works for you could be worthwhile. Do you use a saddlebag for transportation? Share your content management strategies!