Unless you can pull whatever you need out of a space-time pocket, you’re going to carry things on your bike. An array of options exist—not including the Star Trek transporter—for every kind of cargo and every kind of cyclist.
The schlepping options start with the cyclist’s own body. For small to medium loads, my preference is for a backpack equipped with a hydration bladder. It’s easier for me to get to the hose valve thingy than a bike-mounted water bottle while riding, and the water-carrying capacity is greater. Messenger bags are a fashionable riding accessory, but I gravitate to the backpack for its even weight distribution. Look for cyclist-specific models with padded straps, durable materials, and a waist and sternum strap to keep your load from sloshing around as you climb the hills.
You can save yourself a backache by making the cycle rather than you do the carrying. Cheapest is the shopping-bags-on-the-handlebars experience, but this awkward method can result in bruises, broken bags, and bags getting tangled in gears or spokes. A rack is a low-profile system: you can strap a package on top or mount panniers on either side. Be sure to obtain a rack that fits your cycle and panniers that fit that rack—it’s annoying to smack into your luggage as you pedal. The heavier the load, the more you’ll have to work to stay in balance, so be careful when stopping, starting, and turning.
Racks often come with elastic bands to attach your load. I always add a couple of Bungee cords going in different directions so I can keep my load stable all around. Bumps in the road can jolt your cargo loose, so wiggle it around before you start riding to check for stability. We often find nice outerwear because it slipped off somebody’s rack.
Baskets are a classic style. The shape keeps loads stable, but they can’t be too huge or you lose the advantage of the basket’s multi-sided design for keeping stuff in place. On my recumbent bike, I have a sturdy metal basket mounted behind my seat. On my folding bike, I have a rack, which doesn’t get in the way of folding the bike.
Cycle trailers are an excellent choice for handling big loads, whether you’re going on a tour, taking dogs or little children along, or transporting colossal items like building materials. There are many different kinds available. I have a trailer designed for carrying cargo but not living beings, which I’ve used for shopping trips. It carries up to 100 pounds of groceries. Any time you’re significantly laden (with trailer or panniers), remember to give extra room for stopping and turning.
The ultimate pack mule is a cycle that’s designed to carry things, whether it’s the nifty (and pricey) imported Bakfiets (“bucket bicycle,” an extra-long cycle with a bucket in the center that holds small trees, groceries, or children) or custom-designed recycled bikes used to bring take-out food to customers, which incorporate a big container. I’ve never ridden one of these land yachts, but suffice it to say that they require specialized gearing systems to get moving—and once that’s taken care of, you can schlep mattresses across town with a smile and minimal perspiration. (Be aware of your extra length and width, though; you will stick out into the road.)
Horses, elephants, camels, and other big creatures are wonderful beasts of burden the world over, but nothing beats a bike that can do the same thing…and it’s not going to search your pockets for sugar cubes.