Friday, May 16, 2014

Front Load on a Mid-trail Road Bike?

Seven + Dill Pickle Handlebar Bag
For the past couple of months, I have been experimenting with carrying a front load on my road bike. It is generally agreed that low trail geometry is preferable for transporting weight over a bicycle's front wheel. However, what does that mean in practice, when applied to bikes with standard road geometry? Will a small handlebar bag make your mid-trail road bike unridable? As someone who's ridden low trail bikes with front loads extensively over the past several years, I would like to share some notes on my own experience.

What allowed me to finally adapt this setup on my road bike, was getting my hands on a handlebar bag that I found acceptable for the purpose. When a bag hangs from the handlebars, I am not comfortable carrying weight in it no matter what the bike's front-end geometry is. If I'm going to put a handlebar bag on my road bike, I want the bag to be (1) low over my front wheel, and (2) sufficiently well-secured, so that it does not sway. At the same time, I do not want to affix a heavy front rack or bulky hardware to my lightweight bike in order to accomplish this. This new-ish handlebar bag from Dill Pickle addresses these concerns. It attaches not only to the handlebars, but to the fork crown, resulting in a setup that is remarkably stable without requiring front rack support. Because my bicycle has a short headtube, it also sits low over my front wheel. All in all, the placement and stability of this setup are comparable to that on my low trail dirt bike.

Seven + Dill Pickle Handlebar Bag
Having affixed the bag (to my titanium road bike with a carbon fork), I first rode with it empty - which amounted to a front load of 386g (13.6 oz). At this stage I could not discern any change in my bicycle's handling at all. However, a bag is not much use when it's empty. So next I loaded it with one of the heavier items I would normally want to carry: my DSLR camera, with one of my larger lenses attached. I also threw in a banana and lightweight rain jacket. I estimate the total weight of this setup, including the bag itself, to be 5lb.

As soon as I set off I noticed a difference in my bike's handling, and continued to notice it in the course of a 30 mile ride. In simplest terms, I could literally feel the weight bearing down on the front end. It wasn't so much a bad sensation, as a distinct one - like riding a different bicycle altogether. As far as I could tell, the weight did not have a destabilising effect on the bike, either on climbs, descents, or turns. So I felt quite safe cycling with this setup. What it did seem to do was make the front end slower to react, as if adding a slight but discernible delay to my bike's normal responsiveness.  More than anything, it changed the "personality" of my bicycle, making it feel slightly tamer and more sluggish. After several photo expeditions, I grew accustomed to the weight. But every time I'd ride with the bag emptied, it would feel like an improvement, like "Aaaaah I have my bike back!" So, while  carrying 5 pounds on the front of my Seven certainly does not make it unridable, the bike simply feels better - sportier, lighter, more responsive - without those 5 pounds. By contrast, the low trail Rawland feels no different with the front end loaded versus unloaded.

Seven + Dill Pickle Handlebar Bag
But hauling camera equipment in a handlebar bag is a different scenario from that of a long-distance brevet. In the latter case, the bag would be kept comparatively light with items such as clothing and snacks. On the 300K brevet I rode recently, I had this bag filled with such items, but its overall weight was perhaps half that of the photo-expedition setup. With these lighter contents, I did not notice the effects on handling to nearly the same extent. There was a little bit of weight on the front, but the bike still felt like My Bike. And the handlebar bag was ever so convenient for extracting items on the go.

Since affixing this bag to my road bike, I have carried in it items including clothing, gadgets, cameras, books, even groceries. Over short distances, I've probably ridden with close to 10lb in the bag. As far as handling and overall feel, the formula seems straightforward enough: The less weight on the front, the better and more like itself the bicycle feels. Depending on one's use case scenario, that may or may not be acceptable. For my purposes, it is good enough.

56 comments:

  1. A blunt and objective report. Do I understand you correctly that an extra 2.5lb made the difference between feeling the weight and not?

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    1. Well I'm not sure that 7lb vs 9.5lb would be discernible. But 2.5lb vs 5lb - yes, very much so. There seems to be a critical threshold somewhere between those two figures.

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  2. As I recall, this is not the first time you've ridden a mid trail bike with a handlebar bag. How does the experience compare to the Rivendell SH?

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    1. Different kettle of fish in that the Sam is not a road bike in the same sense as the Seven; its tubing and fork are touring-grade.

      That said, I did ride it with a front rack and hbar bag for a good part of the time I owned it. The effect of carrying loads on the front was similar to that on the Seven, in that I felt the weight and could tell it slowed the handling. However, this was less pronounced, happened at a higher weight threshold, and did not change the "personality" of the bike so much, as the Sam was not super light and quick to begin with. Hope that makes sense.

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  3. I sure enjoy mine-the convenience is just the thing, & as you also note, it sits low and stable. I use it for snacks; ID, etc., in secure zippered compartment; first aid stuff, wind vest. I keep it light and it's fine. Have a Dill Pickle small bag on rear for heavy stuff if needed. Really, a great tool plus you get to have the bag in your color choice & options. Thanks! Jim Duncan

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  4. The number of bike options today is so much better than a few decades ago when many, many would adapt their road bikes for commuting and errands. I used to use a handlebar bag as well and of course enjoyed the bike much more without it but never had handling issues which caused an once of concern. Maybe not having the options meant we didn't worry. As you say, keeping it low and secure is the key.

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  5. I've only had mine on two longish rides, but I was better about snacking on and off, which is a big, big plus. (Plus, yay snacks that do not taste of sweaty jersey, though perhaps now I need to pack saltier snacks....)

    It was packed lightly -- the only time I felt a handling difference was in quartering winds; I could feel the wind grabbing it a bit.

    I'll get to test the waterproofness tomorrow (where is TBD, since I'm either going to western Mass or riding the Dart, but either way I'm riding.)

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  6. Someone recommended trying a front load on an unstable LHT I had. It was high trail, didn't think it would work, got rid of bike. I have recently gotten a very light fast columbus SL road bike and want to ride it all the time, hated riding my raleigh sports the other day into town for groceries. So, I am considering a handlebar bag for the road bike and worried about handling. I could put the carradice barley on the road bike, but it is so small , no room for that bag. I was just given a vintage bianchi that I am considering putting some racks on, or at least using handlebar and saddle bags...but not sure how it would affect handling of that bike as I have yet to try it out. And alas, the low trail project that was meant to get built up this summer is nearly naked as parts had to removed to complete the newly arrived road bikes.

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  7. "It is generally agreed that low trail geometry is preferable for transporting weight over a bicycle's front wheel"

    ...if you have to do it, it should be said.

    Having said that anything over the front wheel affects steering, that much is clear. That you've never put over 10lbs. of stuff there just proves under very light duty just about anything will work.

    Ok, we are in year 5 of your blog with thousands of posts, yet you still don't understand the relationship of geometric vs. pneumatic trail, how tire width ca slow down the steering enough of a lt bike to make it ok, etc. Your Rawland has way fatter tires than the 7. Hello?

    It's patently unfair to call this lt vs. mt comparo a comparo at all - focus on one factor fails to consider all other factors that constitute bike handling. Sorry this is a fail post. Best not even to talk about trail, or geo in general, in a vacuum. Unless you want us keyboard warriors to go to battle.

    BTW you could have also mentioned wheel weight, bike weight, fork weight, bar height, bar return, seat setback...everything affects everything. Hand strength, leg strength, general diminution of neurosis. Related to that how much mental energy is required to keep a road bike straight vs. a "lt" bike in the nth hour. Relevant stuff.

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    1. For a true 1:1 comparison, you'd have to get two bikes special made same in every way except for trail. Obvs this is not anything like that. It's more just notes on what a front load feels like, to me, on a lightweight midtrail road bike. And to point out that for the amount of weight typically carried on a brevet, midtrail could suffice.

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    2. Which is completely opposite of what you insisted upon earlier.

      You've gone from hating this setup on a typical road bike to carrying more weight than most on it. I'm sure the fork mount helps.

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    3. re: slow handling. If the bike/bag affects your ability to place your wheel where you want when you want then it's a compromise. Often times you want slow handling for stability. Fast steering with a load that shifts is a recipe for disaster.

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    4. Shorter: Small and simple works, keep it light. Bigger bags and more weight require complexity and fuss.

      I'd call this one a medium size. With medium results. The fork strap and side tensioners distinguish it from other medium bags.

      Everything affects everything, sure. And so complicated most will not even try. As a reductionist guide, if you have a 6cm stem an HB bag will likely be fine. If you have a 14cm stem don't expect much. In between, ya pays yer money and ya takes yer chances.

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    5. I have 700x32s on my mid - almost high trail Spectrum and 700x32s on my low trail Clockwork.

      Clockwork can take a full load of groceries up front on the porteur style rack - with bag around 25 lbs - with little impact on handling.

      The Spectrum behaves differently with weight on the handle bars. Spectrum's stem is 10 cm, so shorter than LB's. To your point below, if the Spectrum had fork bosses, lower weight may not be so bad. As it is I can keep all I want on that bike in the saddle bag. Not worth messing with the clean look of the Spectrum fork.

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    6. Somehow looks longer to me in the pics. Guess it is just so much wider.

      Sounds as though our road bike Geo are pretty close, except mine accommodates wider tires.

      Wider tires or no, it definitely acts differently with weight on the bars.

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    7. My bike is small, so a 10cm stem will look longer on it than the same length on a larger frame.

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  8. You're also mounting this thing far from the ht on a longish stem. Mount it around the steering/front yaw axis and it'll be night and day.

    I've said it for years: someone just make a ht-mounted bracket to carry a modded front bag. It'll make any light bike better.

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    1. Would the bag sit nestled under the stem then? And if so, how would you open the lid if short HT?

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    2. Yes. Dual flaps, compartments bisected by stem. Swiveling bracket.

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  9. Do you have enough room for all the handlebar positions with this pack?

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  10. Do you ever have your hands on the flats? It looks like the bag attached this way would prevent you from using this hand position.

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    1. Actually it is designed specifically to allow for all hand positions; the bag is angled so that your hands can fit beside it on the tops. I'll take a picture of this.

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  11. May I suggest literally placing front weight directly over the front wheel. This would require a front rack (Nitto m-12) and a really small bag designed for that rack (Berthoud mini) - that does not use a decaleur. In this case the weight is not suspended from the bars (where you feel every once in a bag), but from the canti-mounts - where you will most likely not notice a wide range of different weights. The only difference between the two setups is the weight of the m-12.

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    1. Well ideally, a rack-mounted hbar bag setup should be this way to begin with - the weight supported by the rack, with the decalleur's function being to create structure and stiffness; the bag should not be suspended from the bars or decalleur. Both my Rawland and Rivendell setups were that way. The hbar bags I used were larger than what you have in mind though.

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  12. I suppose that part of the equation deciding how much weight carried in what way on the front of a mid trail bike is the rider's tolerance for it, no? I'm not a particular fan of front loading or low trail, from the little but real experience I've had of it, but I suspect that, if one is not quite of "princess and pea" sensitivity, one can carry modest loads on the front of a mid trail and not be put out too badly.

    My own experience, on two custom Rivendell Roads (I have no idea of the numbers, but I think that Rivs are -- well, at least they are not *low* trail) is that loads up to just shy of 10 lb are tolerable, as long as you are not hugely sensitive.

    Case #1: old fashion bar bag designed to be carried on a heavy wire gadget that loops over bar and stem; said gadget once carried by Velo Orange but no longer. I carried home, IIRC, about 7 lb total including bracket and bag, and while the handling was affected (for the worse, IMO) it wasn't hugely bad.

    Case #2: a clone of this first bike, with an old minimal TA front rack mounted to brake pivot bolt and fork legs. The bag was a prototype Ruthworks custom just a bit smaller than a Carradice Junior. I don't think I ever carried more than 5 lb in said bag, but with the rack and bag itself the total was probably close to 7 lb. Again, not a problem -- though here the load was lower, closer in, and much more rigidly attached.

    In both cases, no excessively untoward effects on handling, though I'd not want to ride no hands in traffic with such loads.

    Plug for Ruthworks bags. I've owned three; two early prototypes as Ely Rodriguez was getting started, and currently a nice, largish saddle wedge that I traded for a ... Junior.

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  13. Do you continue to carry your camera in the front bag despite the effects on handling, or have you gone back to using the padded saddlebag? Does Dill Pickle make a padded compartment to go with the handlebar bag?

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    1. When the bag is attached, I continue to carry the camera there, the convenience of retrieval outweighing the effects on handling.

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  14. How does the Seven handle when you ride no-hands with the handlebar bag?

    When I used a mid-trail bike with a handlebar bag before we discovered low-trail geometries almost a decade ago, I noticed the biggest difference when riding no-hands. The bike was much harder to ride no-hands than without a bag.

    Like you, I found the mid-trail geometry with a handlebar bag perfectly acceptable, but a low-trail geometry preserves the nimble, agile feel of an unloaded bike, while also offering more adjustability when cornering fast.

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    1. Lost in lt discussion: putting a large load up front necessitates steering correction in a crosswind. Don't put a wind sail up front, problem solved.

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    2. I am the wrong person to ask this question Jan, as I wasn't confident riding this bike no hands to begin with. With a brevet-level amount of weight in the bag, it feels no different than normally. Add more, and I just don't feel comfortable. But that may be more due to me than to the bike - the handling is lower, but not twitchier.

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    3. Another question lost in discussion: Just how large of a load are we talking about, in the context of road/racing bikes to be used for rando types of events?

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    4. I'm carrying 4 1/2 pounds including the bag, bracket and straps, it's definitely there but hasn't created any scary moments so far and I can easily ride it no-hands at anything over a trot. That's on a Specialized Crux aluminum/carbon Cross' bike with 34c tires.

      If I want to carry more I put that stuff in a seatwedge.

      Spindizzy

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    5. If it helps, I have used these handlebar bags on a variety of bikes, and I like to take my hands off the bars a lot. I like to use both hands to open wrappers, or eat with a bar in one hand and a bottle in the other, or put on a jacket, etc. So I want reliable no-hands handling to the point of dodging the occasional pothole.
      In particular, I've tried it on a pretty high trail modern road bike, and on two older Raleighs with two differently-raked forks. It feels a bit different to take my hands off the bars with the bag than without, but after about ten seconds of getting used to it, I don't even think about it anymore.
      To an extent, the way the bag is shaped (difficult to represent in photos, as I well know!), it tends to concentrate the weight lower, toward the back, and toward the center. But mainly, I think the key is that it is just not that huge. If it is packed to the gills with snacks, arm warmers, and maybe even a bottled beverage, it's still just not that heavy. It might have a more dramatic effect on handling if you filled it with lead shot, but that's not what most of us carry around in a handlebar bag. ;)
      In any case, I can happily ride with no hands with the handlebar bag on any of my bikes. YMMV, obviously.

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    6. You look at Jan's setups and see the same bike used for errands, large loads. Smaller bag for rando's.

      Of course the answer is personal preference, your 10lb. load being excessive for most people in a rando setting.

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    7. Jan has a "city bike" that looks similar to his rando bike (drop bars, low trail, fat 650B) but is made with stouter tubing and a larger front rack. As far as I know that is what he rides for errands. I would be surprised if he carries more than 5lb on his rando bike.

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  15. It it's truly ashame that you do not have the clearance to mount your handle bar bag in a similar fashion to the way you would on your Brompton. It is the only bike I have ridden that whether using an Ortleib Mini O or Brompton T Bag that I have not noticed any difference in the handling.

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    1. Yeah the Brompton's ability to carry a front load is fantastic. But it's not so much about clearances as it is about the Bromtpon's small wheels, which allow for the bag's weight to sit much lower than it ever could on a road bike.

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    2. Hello. Low and FRAME-MOUNTED. I think that is Anon's point.

      De. Coupled. How could that not be better?

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    3. Yes, and frame mounted. I interpreted Anon's question to mean that, were the clearances greater, the Seven too could accept a bracket to make a frame mounted setup possible.

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    4. See my above comment, your questions about setup, my response. You would have to have drop bars the height of your chin for them to clear a frame-mounted bag without a pivot.

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  16. After a look at "Dill Pickle" link, I think this equipment seems to be very smart and well designed.
    Nevertheless I ask you a small question: How much time does it need to fit the bag or get it off?
    For instance my own assembly with a Berthoud front bag(without decaleur and velo-orange front rack) takes around 15-20s to mount or unmount.
    L.

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    1. In practice it takes me about 10 seconds to remove the bag and less than a minute to install it. But psychologically, the look of the setup is a bit daunting, feeling more like a commitment than it actually is, if that makes sense.

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  17. A.C. Sologne (forebear of Berthoud) used to make small simple HB bags that were just canvas clutch purses with straps. Two straps for the bar, a third in back to pull towards quill or HT. They were 10-11" wide, 7-8" tall and a mere 3" deep. There was some bellows action and you could overstuff them, but basically a flat envelope. I ride all of the tops right up to the stem, with the thin bag it was possible to grab on like it was only a fat padded handlebar. I'm sure I never exceeded 5 pounds and usually less. It was like having two extra jersey pockets in front where they were visible and convenient. The flat shape kept the weight close in. These bags were built light and simple and not so durable as other Sologne products. Any that have been used are gone.

    I got two dozen of them from Mel Pinto on a deadstock closeout. Strictly retail it was $2 each for the smaller tan ones and $3 each for the blue ones with a front pocket and sunglasses slot on the side.

    Three of these bags I used up and wore out. Number four I took on weekend trip to NYC to use as a manpurse. In 1985 a straight guy could not walk around Chicago with a manpurse but I figured it would not matter in NYC. Well NY did not care about gender issues but NY sure noticed. People kept walking up to me trying to buy the thing. When the bid hit $200 I decided it was for sale after all. Thirty years back $200 was kinda real money.

    I went back to NYC the next spring with 20 bags in my suitcase. Same sales technique, wait for offers. In 5 days they were all gone at $150-200 a pop.

    What I learned was bike people are the worst marketers on the planet and that is still the case. All I did was walk around midtown Manhattan doing what tourists do and people shoved hundred dollar bills in my hand. Bike people are also impossibly peckish and sniffish. I rode these bags for years and the normal response from other riders was "Eeeewww!!. What is that ThinnnG on your handlebar?!! Your bikes are always so strange." They were conditioned to neon Cordura bags and anything else was intolerable. Lots of good ideas and good products die in the need cyclists have to be exactly like the gang.

    If any seamstress out there wants to have a go the design is as simple as stated above. Completely public domain. Quality of craft will show.

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  18. I used to have this remarkably cheap and simple barrel-shaped H-bar bag on my mid-trail Pacer:
    http://tinyurl.com/okxpd79

    I loved it. Great having small things so close to hand. Zip around the back and sides with top flap opening towards you. Couldn't fault it. Attached only with velcro'd straps around bars close to stem, no further attachment i.e. nothing to head tube. Totally stable. Never weighed the load but typically included coin purse, sunglasses, small digital camera, packet of tissues, lip palm, travel size sunscreen, buff or similar, pot or tube of chamois cream.

    Haven't been able to use it on the new *high* trail road bike due to interrupter levers on the tops. Really missing having a bar bag though. I see that Emily mentions being able to customise the design to accommodate interrupters.

    Very very interested...

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  19. Putting bananas in a bag is a *bad idea*, they get bruised all to hell. It's one thing that should get stuffed in jersey pockets. They survive nicely that way. Good to know that you have found a set up that works well for you on longer rides. I'll stick with a real full fledged front loading rando for long brevets but for shorter (<400km) a modified race bike is fine if the fit set up is good. The majority of riders doing PBP are on some version of a modified race bike in any case. Personal preference is definitely the key. There is no right answer for everyone.

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    1. "Putting bananas in a bag is a *bad idea*, they get bruised all to hell"

      Depends on how quickly you eat them?

      Also, my bag includes an internal netted pocket that acts as banana hammock, preventing said tragic outcome.

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    2. Banana Hammock? Isn't that a Speedo?

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    3. Touché, Anon. Oh the imagery.

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    4. Talking about imagery, we wrapped up a Banana Guard (http://www.bananaguard.com/) and brought it to a Yankee Swap once...

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  20. Getting to the main question:
    Right amount of weight.

    Jersey pockets for food.
    I like to have it handy.
    My yummy enrg bars go there.

    Sweaty iphone no fun.
    Up in the hr bags it goes.
    Car keys too.
    Keys and tools.

    I also like my cue sheets.
    The extra layers too.

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  21. This is helpful. I've been gradually carrying more and more of my gear on the front of my roadbike for the last 2 years, it's now about 50-50 with the stuff I don't need to grab on the roll in a biggish seatwedge and the junk I need to get at on the bars.

    I really need to get something designed for the task though as my lashed-up bag is sort of a joke (even though I can easily ride no hands as long as I have a bit of speed). I almost bought a big Dill Pickle seat bag last fall but now I'm glad I didn't, maybe this is better for the 6 or 8 pounds of stuff I need to pack and since it needs to go on 3 different bikes it seems like a better solution than a decaleur bag since I can't mount one of those on my crossbike.

    My bikes are all pretty tall, 58-61cm and I wonder if having it 8 or 10cm higher would mess up the nice compromise you seem to have struck on your bike...

    I college I actually used to haul stuff back and forth to class and the bikeshop where I worked in a burlap sack I found in the Art Dept. Just tie it around the bars and steady it with one hand. It was a magnificently perilous arrangement with what I can only describe as a "pendulum of death" effect. I "cured" that by cutting slits in the bottom of the bag so I could toe-strap it to the fork. Very Grant Petersen in an artisanal hemp and leather sort of way. Very Homer Simpson in an "any second now it's going to twist into the spokes and KILL ME IN THE FACE" sort of way.

    This would be better than that I suppose...

    Spindizzy

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  22. I've only carried grocery bags on the front of a road bike (random errant trip on the way home from the work); makes steering an adventure.

    I'm wondering if a triangle bag large enough for your camera could be had? I use mine, which was very small, to carry my work ID and it is quite convenient.

    M.

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  23. Velouria, do you know Acorbags? I have one and I find it very stable and convenient (http://acornbags.bigcartel.com/product/handlebar-bag).

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