Thursday, March 15, 2012

Closure Systems on Bicycle Bags

Cristobal &Co Custom Pannier
Cristobal Pannier

Having now owned and tried a number of bicycle bags, one of the features I pay close attention to is the closure - particularly on bags I use every day. Many classic bicycle bags are fitted with traditional buckles. While I love the idea of it, in practice I find that I fiddle with the closure way too much every time I want to open or close the bag.

Carradice Kendal Pannier
Carradice Kendal Pannier

And with bags that use really thin straps, there is the additional issue of the straps fraying and breaking off from frequent use.

Zimbale Bag, Closure Detail
Zimbale 7L Saddlebag

Zimbale bags use a quick "Sam Browne" style closure that does not require undoing the buckle. This is the biggest reason I favour my Zimbale over my near-identical Carradice; it simply takes me less time to open and close the bag. I've had this bag for 2 years now, and over time there has been some stretching in the leather eyelets, but not so much that the closure comes undone.

Philosophy Burnside Pannier, Closure
Philosophy Pannier

Philosophy bags use a snap closure, also independent of the buckle. It works well and does not seem to stress the leather. I sometimes worry about the security, but it has not come undone as of yet.

OYB Pannier, Closure
OYB Pannier

Some vintage Swiss Army bags feature an interesting "latch" system where a stiff cord is inserted into a metal loop. It is simple and secure, though the cord may need to be replaced after some use.

Ironweed Pannier, Detail
Ironweed Pannier (more pictures and review soon)

Nylon cords with plastic buckle closures seem pretty easy and convenient, but it's a system I haven't used until just now. 

Rivendell Sam Hillborne vs Royal H Randonneur Collaboration
Ostrich Handlebar Bag & Berthoud Medium Handlebar Bag

I love the simplicity of elastic closures. But in my experience, it's not always easy to get the tension of the elastics just right, and I've been in situations where various parts of my handlebar bag have flung open en route. The elastics also tend to stretch out over time, so they may need to be tightened or replaced after some use.

My Very Full Fastrider Pannier
Fastrider Deluxe Shopper Pannier

Zipper and velcro closures work nicely - except when the bag is full and cannot close completely.


Po Campo Pannier, Outer Pocket
Po Campo Loop Pannier

All closure systems seem to have their pros and cons - from ease of use, to security, to durability. Overall I tend to favour the quick and easy methods, though I do wish I had the patience and digital dexterity for tiny buckles.

What closure system do you prefer on bicycle bags?

64 comments:

  1. Buttons have been working well for me for a few months:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/devinf/6615801221/in/set-72157628670721567

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    1. You're telling me! I wish I had a picture of pre-felt (it was giant), but I was so excited to stick it in the washer when I finished that the opportunity was past before I could think better of it.

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  2. They're not very elegant, but in terms of durability and ease, it's hard to beat those plastic buckle things...

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  3. One system you haven't mentioned are the common nylon "pinch" buckles, which seem to work pretty well, but I only prefer them on larger panniers, not small handlebar bags. For small handlebar bags, I prefer the elastic cord and hook type closure. I actually like that the cord can be adjusted, because if you have to stuff a lot more into your bag than it was designed to hold, you can lengthen in the cords to allow the flap to bulge out while remaining fastened closed. And if the cording stretches out, you can simply replace it without having to modify the bag. With leather straps, you're limited to the length of the straps.

    I specifically requested stretch nylon cords on the rando bag I had made by Ruth Works SF for the ability to close the flap even if I had a situation where I had to stuff a huge amount of stuff in the bag:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/6078328222/

    The cording comes in different colors, too, which can be fun.

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    1. nylon "pinch" buckles

      Oddly I've never used them on a bicycle bag; would like to try

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    2. Okay, is this it? Now added to the post, though I haven't had a chance to use it yet.

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    3. That's them. Dude, ITYS on these things. You had them on that Chrome messenger deal.

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    4. No, the Chrome messenger bag (sold a while back) had a heavy metal buckle, the kind where you have to press it down to release.

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    5. I have the bag - metal buckle on the front, nylon clips on the flap.

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    6. Do you not find that metal buckle too heavy? I was never sure why they used that particular design.

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    7. It was cool, referencing old car seat belts. Still is, among certain youngsters. But these are working bags, meaning messengers don't mind weight. Market here has gone Timuk2-->Chrome-->Mission Workshop in evolutionary terms.

      Never felt the weight as the bag became one when cinched tight. Never use it anymore.

      The flap straps are long for OS loads, a la backpacks.

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    8. Yep, thems are they, Velouria. Those black nylon clips are ubiquitous on just about everything these days, from panniers to backpacks to computer cases. They exist in countless subtle variations on the theme. The ones on the Dueter panniers I have are probably the best I've ever used-- they hold solidly but release with a very light pinch.

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    9. Just goes to show that I don't really use "normal" stuff - techie laptop cases and such.

      I like Ironweed's design though; clearly it is possible to make subtle and classic panniers using this closure system.

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    10. it's also the standard on a lot of Ortlieb gear, and those are pretty top notch. i have the roll top panniers and sometimes, i don't foll them because stuff is bulging. great system, but certainly not the classiest look.

      i saw the Philosphy bags at NAHBS and they are gorgeous!

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  4. +1 for the nylon cords, also on my Ruth Works SF back in fact..

    the best set up is to insert a sprung toggle onto the cord before the knot on the underside of the flap. this is only really necessary for the main flap of a rando bag and not as much front or rear pockets. for clarification the set up would look like this: loop - eyelet - toggle - knot

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  5. As if by magic, a set of Ironweed panniers has arrived for review, and I believe they have the buckles some of you speak of. Let me check and take a picture...

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  6. I recently purchased a set of "Farmer's Market Panniers" from Public bikes in SF and they have the "pinch" buckle system. I love this because of the one-handed ease of use as well as the security and adjustability. I have similar buckles on my Timbuk2 messenger bag that I frequently use for riding and, when combined with the heavy duty velcro those bags sport, I have never had an incident.

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  7. Hmmm...I'm not sure I "prefer" any of my bag's enclosures over others so much as sometimes I'll use a different bag due to size or cargo organization. That said,I love the classic look of classic buckles,especially on classic-style bags,but like you-in a hurry they take just too much effort to get into,LOL! I have a new (to me) pair of panniers with a roll and clasp method,and though not the most beautiful,they seem to work well and are easy to get into. Of course,zippers and snaps always work well for me too :)

    The Disabled Cyclist

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  8. The small Zimbale leather saddlebag (http://www.zimbale.com/Front/Product/?url=Product&product_no=01ZIMSOT0000010&main_cate_no=AA000000&display_group=1) looks like it closes with a buckle on leather straps. However, the buckle is just for show. The strap actually has a magnetic latch under the buckle that only requires that the strap be pulled to release. This makes the bag very quick and easy to get into and secure enough to hold a patch kit and mini pump.
    Fred

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  9. Even though they take a half-second longer to secure, I actually prefer the traditional leather/metal buckles on my Carradice saddlebag. Why? Because almost every time I use it I have it a different amount full. Snaps or "Sam Browne" closures would mean I'd have to adjust a buckle AND secure another closure to get the right length. Also, I've taken to only sticking the pin through the leather and not tucking the strap into the second cross piece of the buckle. It's nearly as secure and means I literally just pull up on the leather strap and it releases.

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    1. I have found this method of securing the buckles on my Carradices also without an issue for the last 10 or so years. Just pull up and it releases.

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    2. It takes me more than half a second to use the buckles, especially in the cold, or else it would not be an issue.

      On the other hand, I do not vary the amount of stuff I carry in my bag all that much, so that's not a problem for me.

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  10. I use Timbuktu saddlebag-type panniers because of ease on-and-off. I just drape them over rack and secure to top of rack with velcro belt or bungee cord. I don't bother with the rackhooks. No special attachment hardware so I can use these on any my bike with rack. Also, there's a shoulder strap and handle so it makes a nice manbag when I'm off the bike. Magnets in each pannier bring them together nicely when carrying.

    Each pannier has generous velcro that seems more than adequate to keep closed; additionally there are ca 2" wide adjustable nylon straps with pinch buckles. The latter are generally superfluous and I would prefer not to use them but not securing them will cause fouling in wheel. Thinking of modifying straps so I can secure them to panniers when not in use.

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  11. I notice all your bicycle bags are green or brown, not a lot of diversity in the reviews! ;)

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    1. I was going to point out the colourful Marsupial Bag, but technically I guess it's also green!

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  12. The small turnbuckles used on old La Fuma bags were great. Everyone who sees them immediately wants to touch and turn them.

    I have looked and looked and can't see what the difference is but the strap and buckle on old Karrimor and Sologne is easier to use than the equivalents on Carradice and Berthoud. Some of this is just that the leather gets more supple with use (my Karrimors are now 46 and 47 years old). The difference is most noticeable when using cape straps to extend a flap. A Carradice strap added to a Carradice bag is a fussy process but use the same strap to extend a Karrimor bag and the parts flow together.

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    1. Back in the day, lots of bags and cases came with those turnbuckle closures. I have more than one vintage camera from the 50s whose cases use those turnbuckles. Agreed, they work well and have a great tactile feel. My only guess is that they are not cost-effective to produce, having an internal pivot, and sometimes a spring, enclosed in a tiny metal housing.

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  13. I went with a Zimbale Bag and am glad to see yours is holding up. Mine is a year less used than yours. There are quite a few closures used by "purse" makers that would be appropriate for bicycle luggage. One is called a "thumb turn" or something like that. A little tombstone thing goes through a riveted slot then you turn the thumb turn. Am looking for a place to get a few for a bag repurposing I am attempting.

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    1. Like on the pockets of the Cristobal pannier? (see pocket on the 1st picture in this post)

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  14. Rivendell uses the "thumb turn" catch on at least one of their bags. I have the small saddle bag with this and it's simple to use.

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    1. Well, just checked Rivendell's site and they've evidently discontinued the bag I have (I think it was called Mark's Sackville Xtra Small saddle sack or some such). This bag has two thumb turn catches. It's very simple to open and close. Too bad Rivendell no longer carries it.

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  15. When the selection of bags is confined to the rich's fashion bags real practicality is no where to be found when it comes to buckles.

    Plastic snap lock buckles long ago replaced old fashioned buckles due to the unnecessary fussiness of leather buckles and buttons.

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    1. FYI I just broke a nail using the plastic buckle; never happened with the leather and metal ones. Practicality is subjective.

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    2. I wondered how you'd get on with those. When I first started cycling as an adult, all the Brompton-compatible bags used that method and I was constantly hurting myself (usually pinching when trying to re-fasten). When I got a 'full size' bike, I turned to Carradice Originals and the leather buckles and have got on very well with those. Like some readers of noted, they're a cinch if you just insert the metal tongue and don't 'complete' by feeding the end of the strap under its keeper.

      Then last summer I got a pair of Carradice panniers to go off on a long cycling weekend. They have the nylon 'pinch' type fasteners (often called 'lobster claws' here in the UK). And I've not had a single problem. Maybe I've developed greater dexterity (along with better balance and coordination) over the past 3 years. :)

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  16. Zippers are the surest closures. However, they've stuck or jammed when I've packed a bag really full or I was in a hurry.

    I agree that traditional buckles and straps are the most stylish, but not the easiest or quickest to use. That said, I use several bags with them.

    For ease of use, it's hard to beat nylon webbing with plastic buckles. They aren't the most elegant things, though.

    I've been commuting with a Carradice Nelson Longflap that I attach with a homemade system or toe straps, depending on which saddle I ride. However, I might start using a pannier or rack top bag, either of which would be easier to attach and detach. They won't be as stylish as the Nelson, though.

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  17. I've tried panniers with buckles and rather than get violent with them I just gave them away....No wonder they were in that yard sale! Still searching for another pair to replace my 30 year old set of ??? (the patch identifying the brand has lost it's lettering, Kirksomething?) panniers which close with zippers and have served me well through constant commuting use. I actually care more about how secure they are when attached to the rack.

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  18. I'd like to know which of the panniers and bags you still own and use the most on a daily basis?

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    1. As far as transportation, I use the Po Campo unless I am going shopping or carrying camera equipment. Otherwise it is usually the Philosophy pannier. I'll mix it up and try others, but most of the time it's those two I prefer.

      For saddlebags, the Zimbale 7L is the one I usually use. I only have one and move it from bike to bike as needed; I should really get a second one and maybe (gasp!!) sell my Carradice Barley. Or give it to the Co-Habitant, since he prefers them to Zimbale.

      Handlebar bags I only have one, the Ostrich, and it is more or less permanently attached to my Rivendell. I like it just fine, but be aware that it is huge; not everyone needs a handlebar bag this large.

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    2. Are you planning to review the Ostrich bag? You've had it for a while now, I would love to get some details.

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    3. I haven't reviewed it yet, because I wasn't sure how useful a review would be. Handlebar bags are so complicated to install for the average person, and this one most definitely requires both a rack and a decalleur.

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    4. So what makes the Po Campo work for you? I considered buying the loop pannier (in yellow), but it looks kind of small.

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    5. Quick summary:

      1. it has compartments, everything in its place
      2. can be used on all my bikes with no heel strike
      3. fits all racks, thin or thick tubing
      4. can be carried elegantly off the bike, like a handbag
      5. in a pinch, things can be attached to the outside

      Yes, it is small. But I have a small laptop and do not normally carry huge amounts of stuff with me on a daily basis. It is not the bag I use for grocery shopping or carrying bulky items. YMMV

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    6. It seems, like your bikes, you've got a bag for every occasion. I'm wondering about a all purpose panniers...Practical, even if lacking in elegance, and available.

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    7. As with the bikes featured here, I do not own many of the bags pictured in this post. Some I had on loan for review, others I owned at one point but sold and replaced with another.

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    8. Re all purpose panniers - do you mean like both for grocery shopping and to use as a work bag? Almost any large pannier would work it seems, if you do not require compartments. It also depends on your bike and rack of course - whether the pannier's hooks will fit around the rack's tubing, whether the shape of the bag will give you heel strike, etc.

      For me, just like I would not use the same bag for hiking as I would for grocery shopping as I would for a professional meeting, so do I prefer different bicycle bags for touring, grocery shopping, and work.

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    9. My touring bag also functions as my grocery bag and my work bag/pack fits inside the same. Been that way forever.

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  19. My priorities differ from yours, but it is so useful to see all these closure systems in one post. I am bookmarking this for future reference!

    Thanks for taking the time to compile the close ups and link to the original reviews.

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  20. The elastic closures on my Berthoud handlebar bag get a little annoying...I never can seem to get underneath the hook enough to close it. And I usually keep the leather buckles unbuckled just because I feel like I can't be bothered to close them all the way.

    My favorite bag is a backpack: I love the Sam Browne closures on my Sketchbook satchel! http://www.etsy.com/listing/73949395/the-camper-satchel-in-tan-waxed-canvas

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    1. And I usually keep the leather buckles unbuckled just because I feel like I can't be bothered to close them all the way.


      Same here... I never buckle the straps on my Carradice Barley, unless I'm stuffing a lot in there.

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  21. I have a Rivendell BarSack where the main compartment closes with a magnet. This system works extremely well for a handlebar bag. I can easily open it while riding and just flop it closed when done. Takes absolutely no effort and is quick, no buckles to have to fiddle with and get in the way. Pretty perfect for a Rando bike I would think.

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  22. Trim your beautiful long nails and the buckles will be easier to manage...

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    1. I prefer to get products that work for me just the way I am, rather than changing my personal style in order to accommodate a product.

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  23. Dorte and I also noticed that it takes some time to open and close the buckles on our Carradice saddlebags - but on the other hand, it is bags from another time. They are like riding a bicycle tour without any focus on the time used - only on the quality. Despite this we think about GB as the next bag system for our tandems.

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  24. On my panniers (North St.) I have either the modern plastic buckle or buckle/velcro combo. These work good for constant use, and I constantly go in-and-out of them. I also have Carradice saddlebags with traditional leather straps/metal buckles. I don't go in-and-out of these bags as much as my panniers, so I don't mind how long it takes to open and close, and I like the adjustability relative to how much I have in there.

    One thing to consider regarding what kind of fastening system a bag has is repair issues. Buckles (whether modern or traditional), snaps, or nylon cords aren't too costly to repair. Repairing a zipper isn't usually as cheap, especially if there's any curve in the zipper.

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  25. Closures depend greatly on how you ride your bike and what the intention of the bag is. The other factor in designing a bag and its closure is the decaleur, rack, handlebar, and stem length. All of this contributes to the effectiveness of the bag closure.
    For randonneur bags, you have to be able to open it with one hand, in the dark, while it's raining.
    The closure on a rando bag needs to be able to expand.
    Elastic string works well. Velcro is also very good. A combination of these two are great.
    The black bag on the Vanilla has this combination. http://ruthworkssf.blogspot.com/2012/03/photos-from-nahbs.html

    If you don't need to access your stuff while you ride, the closure doesn't matter as much. brass butterfly buckles with leather straps, sam brown style, turn-latch, or the plastic side release buckles - like this: http://ruthworkssf.blogspot.com/2011/07/panniers-for-sale.html, magnetic, all work fine. Brass and leather are the prettiest to me.
    Like this:
    http://ruthworkssf.blogspot.com/2012/02/small-seat-bag.html

    The important things to consider when looking at closures is 1. does it allow the bag to expand, and 2. do you need to be able to open it when riding?

    Also related are how will the rack, decaleur, stem and bar interact with the bag.


    -Ely

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  26. I love this post Velouria! Now that I've been car-free for 18 months, my first sets of luggage are wearing out and I'm upgrading/replacing. Your photos and article is well timed :)

    I find for me, the plastic Fastex buckle is ugly but easy. When I was in the military in the early 90's we moved away from the old brass and steel buckles over to Fastex and it was so much easier. I don't want to go back. The big problem for me now is finding classic looking luggage that uses Fastex, but isn't too cheap looking. The Dutch brands Arafura and Basil often have plastic and synthetic coatings on the fabrics with nylon straps. It looks too modern and too rubbery for my taste.

    Finding stuff in the middle is kinda hard!! I love the Carradice Super C series now- heavy canvas duck with Fastex buckles. Just wish it was available here in NL easy. No one sells it here.

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  27. Aesthetically, I really like the leather straps of Carradice and similar bags. (Which is why I have two Carradice bags and an Acorn bag).

    But in terms of pure, unsentimental utility, it's hard to find anything that works better than Fastex.

    @Rona - Carradice makes a bag called the City Folder that uses Fastex fasteners hidden behind leather straps.

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  28. Out Your Backdoor uses military surplus bags and their closures are very easy to use. I also like that he's a regular guy selling his repurposed bags on ebay for a pretty reasonably price. They're a bit heavy but carry a lot of stuff.

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  29. I have the Philosophy Burnside (thanks to you!) and I love the snap system. I adjusted the strap so the buckle goes through the lowest hole so it closes securely when I'm carrying folders of foolscap around, but I haven't felt the need to readjust it when I'm carrying less.

    I'm thinking of having some extension straps with snaps made for those days when I can't fold over the top.

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  30. Velcro and Plastic clasps - just like the military...

    For bad weather my panniers have an inner drawstring.

    Fully load bags require additional bungee cords to keep them in place. Overloaded bags require straps with the big tension buckles to pull tight.

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