If you are looking to carry a lunch box or bag on your bike commute, you have no doubt wondered how best to get it to work without spills, leaks, stains or other catastrophes inside your bag!
So, what to look for in the ideal bike commuter lunch box? Look for a lunch box that is taller than it is deep as this means that, not only will it stand upright but it will also fit into whatever bag you are using for your bike commute. There are, however, a few more details to consider, as we’ll look at below.
How to carry lunch on a bike?
Use an insulated lunch bag/box that is upright and has leakproof containers inside; this will then fit inside any bag (including panniers). Being upright stops spills while being inside the bag provides insulation from the hot/cold temperatures on your ride, keeping food fresh longer.
This is almost exactly what I ride with because I then don’t have to worry about it affecting how I ride, although it does admittedly take up space inside my pannier bag.
The only slight difference is that my lunch set pictured above doesn’t have leakproof containers, but you can get the model up with these on Amazon (worth the extra few bucks!).
You’ll also want something that doesn’t affect the handling of the bike and is easy to use on a day-to-day basis.
I have found that a simple insulated lunch bag, along with the food containers that came with it, has worked wonders for me.
Others have opted for bags that fit on the frame of the bike carrier lunch, or even lunch bags for commuting that fit on the front handlebars of the bike, but I’ve not done that myself.
Bike-friendly lunch box
A bike-friendly lunch box or bag is generally what some have called a ‘vertical lunch bag’. This is because it is upright and therefore keeps food level while you are riding.
You also don’t want something that is too bulky as bike bags don’t handle wider items very well. This can extend to backpacks in general as you don’t want a lunch box that will stick into your back while riding, or even walking.
To check that this kind of size works for you, find an item that is about 9 x 9 inches and 4 inches deep and place this in your existing bag to see if it will fit.
Making sure it is a suitable size for your current bag or carrier will avoid you spending on a lunch bag that does not fit your current cycling accessories!
I say this because it is, after all, much cheaper to buy a lunch bag than another cycling bag or backpack!
Let’s now look at the in-depth points for your bike commuting lunch box below.
I don’t want to get too specific on dimensions but most lunch bags that will suit bike commuters are generally 9 inches in height and width, and about 4 inches deep.
These kinds of dimensions mean that they will fit in any bag, whether it be for bike commuting or other activities.
Lunch bags or boxes of this size should also fit in a refrigerator at work or home, meaning you can then keep your food chilled if needed throughout the day wherever you are.
I have just checked online and these are the exact dimensions of the current lunch bag set I am using while bike commuting every day.
This is been an ideal size for me and, as I mentioned above, I like to actually place this inside my pannier backpack to carry it on my commute.
This size lunch bag offers plenty of space for me to carry lots of food to eat throughout the day. I go to the gym every morning before my commute and I’m therefore a hungry boy (!!), so I eat a lot and this lunch bag suits me perfectly!
One point I should note though about my routine is that I do have breakfast at home after the gym but before setting off for my commute, so if you are looking to take breakfast with you as well then you might need to get a second lunch bag of this size, or even something that is slightly taller in dimensions (definitely don’t go for something deeper, though!).
As stated above, the standard dimension should be plenty for most bike commuters to carry a wholesome and filling lunch with snacks for the day.
From researching online, I haven’t been able to find any stated internal capacities for lunch bags or lunch boxes that are suitable for bike commuters, but I think if you stick to the dimensions listed above you can’t go far wrong.
The only further point I could say is that you could add other items like a banana guard or similar if you need to carry extra carbs in your bag on your commute (I use one of these and it has been great for avoiding the squidgy brown banana on arrival at work!).
Although many of the highly-rated lunch bags and lunch boxes have the perfect dimensions and size, not many of them actually come with containers to carry your food in.
This is annoying because it is obviously an extra expense if you don’t have ones that fit perfectly.
For this reason, I highly recommend buying a lunchbox set that includes containers so you will know for sure that they fit perfectly and you do not need to buy anything else on top of this.
A couple of points to look for in terms of food containers is whether they are microwave and dishwasher proof, because if you want to use them in either of these machines then you need containers that can handle this kind of cleaning!
You can also pay a little bit extra for containers that are both leak-proof and spill-proof for your food. The last thing you want is to get to work and find out that half of your lunch is spilled not only perhaps in your lunch bag but maybe even has gone through to other parts of your kit and your pannier or backpack!
I currently don’t have leak-proof containers with the lunch bag I bought, but I think I will definitely upgrade to these in the near future as I’ve had a couple of spills from the container that came with it, although I highly recommend the lunch bag set that I bought in general (see below for more on this).
There are also different types of insulated bags that you can buy for your lunch on your ride to work.
Most have a simple amount of light padding that does not function in the way that a Thermos cool box or bag does, but it does protect your food from heat from the sun and other ambient temperature increases.
As always, this depends on the climate in which you will be cycling so you will know the demand for the bags that you need, particularly a problem if you are in a very hot climate.
This might mean that you need to spend a bit more and getting a more insulated lunch bag, but it should be worth it as it will help you obviously to save money by taking your own food and knowing that it hasn’t gone off by the time you arrive at work!
Hot food is a more difficult thing to carry in a simple lunch box or bag while bike commuting because the food containers that come with these lunch sets are not generally designed to maintain heat.
To carry hot soups or liquids that you want to keep warm would likely need a separate insulated flask or soup container. This is because most of the suitably sized bike commuter lunch bags sets are more generally for solid foods.
Although I have mentioned that you can get leak-proof containers above, as these might be enough for some since they are not that big. For example, if your main meal is going to be a soup or something liquid-based, then you might want to get one of these as an extra.
I find that I always heat my food at work as I have that option, but if you don’t then you will need to have that extra bit of planning and look into buying those additional items.
Silverware Set (or Cutlery)
Silverware like knives, forks and spoons are often going to be an additional item on your list because if you are able to find a suitable lunch box for your bike commute, it’s unlikely that it will come with silverware that is anything more than a tiny and flimsy fork or spoon.
I use a set of silverware in a separate box. This sits perfectly inside my main bag, although not inside my lunch bag.
Having silverware in a box also means that it does not get dirty while it’s in my bag. It’s also fully dishwasher proof so I don’t need to worry about having to wash it by hand or separating it for cleaning.
I would also recommend looking for a lunch bag that has at least a carry handle, ideally with a shoulder strap to carry as well.
I say this because it gives you the flexibility just to carry your lunch and eat wherever you would like without having to carry all of your cycling gear or carry the lunch bag awkwardly.
These kinds of features come as standard with most bike-friendly lunch boxes so you should not need to worry about this but just check that these features are there when buying.
These are also very useful if you want to use them on family days out or for other activities, so think of this as a value add as well.
Nearly all the lunch boxes available online of the dimensions above are only possible to clean by hand.
This should not be a problem as they are quite small and only the inside of them really needs wiping. I find I only need to do this about once a week, and even then it takes a couple of seconds.
Most of them have some kind of aluminum foil lining, which acts as the insulating layer but this is also water-resistant so you can wipe it quite easily.
Remember that if you buy an extremely intricate lunch bag with lots of pockets and pouches, then you might find that you don’t want to use it that often because it’s not easy to clean!
As such, a simple lunch bag with one main compartment should be plenty for most people commuting by bicycle.
Most colors are generally dark so expect blacks, greys, navies or maroon-type colors.
I find that these are also more practical because if you are carrying them on or around your bike, things can often get dirty.
If they are completely stained and you can’t clean them easily, then again you might be less likely to use them on a regular basis, if only out of embarrassment and nothing else!
There is a wide variety of these lunchboxes available so you should quite easily find something that suits your needs and looks nice for you.
Lunch Box Recommendation for Bike Commuters
I’m currently using the Tatay Urban lunch bag set (Amazon affiliate link) and would recommend this to other bike commuters.
As I have noted in this post, I went for the slightly more budget option which does not have leak-proof containers. As such, I suggest you probably spend the extra few dollars and get the version that is leak-proof because I did not know this existed when I bought mine!
I expect this will last me several years and it’s been a great investment so far. It’s certainly much better than putting my lunch box in a plastic bag and trying to balance this upright in my pannier backpack on a daily basis!
I also use the Al Desko silverware set (with case) by New Soda as an additional item for carrying my silverware. I should note that this does not fit inside the Tatay Urban lunch bag unless I remove two of the six containers. Nonetheless, this is small and easy enough to fit in my main cycling bag so I find it a good addition that helps me to keep eating my own food at the office!
Whatever lunch box or lunch bag set you go for, remember that having a good one will make you that much more likely to cycle to work and also to take your own food, like the being healthier and saving you a bit of money!
That’s all from me – bon appetit!