Monday, June 1, 2015

Saddlebag for Commuting?

Saddlebag Content Management
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.

Saddlebag Content Management
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.

Saddlebag Content Management
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.

Saddlebag Content Management
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.

Saddlebag Content Management
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!

40 comments:

  1. I do exactly the same thing with an old musette I got for free. With some thoughtful folding, my work clothes fit easily into the musette and the lot will pack nicely into my Carradice Barley. Unfortunately this model isn't quite large enough to accommodate a laptop, though.

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  2. I use a saddlebag to cary the bike-specific junk, such as tools, lock, patch kit, pump, tube, showercap for the saddle on rainy days, emergency musette for the occasional impulse purchase, etc. and just leave it on the bike.

    I carry stuff I need to take with me off the bike in a detachable pannier, a grocery box, or a messenger bag. The pannier and grocery box go on an doff the bike at need. If the weather's rainy or cold I put the cape or windbreaker in the pannier most of the time. Of course this still requires a rack.

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  3. Over the years I've tried almost every conceivable kind of bag and set-up and have never found a saddle bag to be adequate. There was always something annoying about them, plus there was a requirement that my saddle have hooks. Eventually I hit my stride with always keeping panniers on my rack and, like you, carry my valuables in another bag which easily fits in the pannier and stays with me in the coffee shop or workplace or while running errands off the bike. Ultimately it got down to how much space was needed for daily use and keeping the weight low and stable and behind me. Using a bike for all my transportation and carrying needs is now doable with this current arrangement -- I say current but it's actually going on twenty years with only replacing the panniers once -- and I love it!

    Spotting saddle bags is very unusual around here. Don't think I've seen any in fact and selections in bike shops is mostly non-existent. Odd.

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    1. Out of curiosity, where is "here?" There is definitely a cultural aspect to bicycle accessories. I hardly saw saddlebags when I lived in Austria, and when I brought mine from the US on a subsequent visit it was seen as a thing of wonder. On the other hand, New England and UK/Ireland are positively teeming with them.

      Oh and FWIW Dill Pickle saddlebags do not require saddle loops and can be attached to the rails.

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    2. 'Here' is in the midwest of the United States. Bikes are popular as sport but are also being used more and more for transportation. I've only seen one guy who uses a saddle bag (he's also a photographer) and I'm sure he didn't buy it locally. The majority use racks with panniers or milk crates or some sort of bag carried over their shoulder or back. Nothing makes me happier than seeing bikes replacing cars as transportation. Being able to efficiently carry and protect ones belongings without ruining the rides helps to spread the message!

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  4. Would love to see photos of what the readers of this blog use as their transportation set-up with regard to carrying stuff. Love looking at bikes and options and already know what you're all about. Can we post our photos?

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    1. There is no way to embed images into comments on this platform, as far as I've been able to figure out.

      You can always post a link. And if you're into saddlebag p0rn, you might enjoy these flickr groups:
      Bicycle Saddlebags (whats your bag)
      Bagmatchers
      Racks 'n Sacks

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  5. One issue with saddle bags for shorter riders is that there is often not enough space between the saddle and the tire to fit a bag of any size. I use a Banjo Brothers saddle bag with 400 cubic inches of space on my road bike (this one: http://banjobrothers.com/products/current/seat-bags/waterproof-saddle-trunk/), but I can't expand it to its full size and there isn't even enough room on my seat post to attach both of the velcro straps (I have one looped around the seat stay). As an aside, if anyone is looking for an inexpensive and really waterproof bag, the one I'm using works very well.

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  6. I have one of these bags and it is large enough to hold quite a lot but I am wary of using it and leaving my bike where it can be stolen as it is just a matter of unbuckling three buckles to remove it. Does anyone have a way of securing these types of bags to the bike so they can't be stolen? Or maybe I am worrying unnecessarily.

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    1. Perhaps it depends where you live - I wouldn't leave anything removable on my bike because there is a very good chance that it would no longer be there when I returned.

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    2. I have seen setups where a thin cable lock is routed through the strap holes, tethering the bag to the rear triangle.

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    3. Ah, beware of using an obvious locking device on your bag. I've tried it and the thief simply sliced open the bag as if to leave a simple message….Their not nice people.

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    4. Yeah. Not really much can be done to protect your stuff from that brand of notniceness. I just accept it exists and hope the gods of statistics will be kind to me.

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    5. Thanks. I might try a couple of ziplocks, then a theft would have to be premeditated.

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  7. Is the laptop in the purple bag in this photo series?

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    1. Yes. You can see it peeking out in the 2nd photo from the top. It is in a tweed padded sleeve

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  8. I don't use a saddle bag - I have a rear rack which works well for me and I can use a variety of bags on this depending on requirements. The rack is one which has a spring loaded clamp - I use a large bag for those times when iIhave numerous items to carry and smaller, 'dress' bags for when I am just going into town to meet up with a friend for coffee or do errands. I have never bought a bike specific bag, I have a beautiful Armani bag, over 20 years old, perfect condition which looks like it was designed for a bike - purchased at a thrift shop for under 10 dollars. I have seen some really interesting bag set ups on bikes - people can be so innovative and I love these solutions, they are so individual.

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  9. Carradice saddle bags when used in conjunction with their SQR (Saddlebag Quick Release) attachment can be removed from the bike in a second. The SQR attachment requires 60 mm of unobstructed seat post. The piece that stays with the saddlebag has a convenient carrying handle. I have several different sizes of Carradice saddle bags which may be moved quickly from bike to bike. Because your bike is equipped with a Brooks saddle, I suspect the strap spacing on your saddle bag would allow your bag to be used with the Carradice SQR attachment.

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    1. Last time I checked, Carradice bags were not wide enough to fit my laptop. The bag in the picture is oversized.

      For those who use a saddlebag on one dedicated bike, a QR attachment can be a good idea. For me, the whole point is that I can move the saddlebag between bikes - both my own and ones I test ride.

      That, plus personally truth be told I just do not like attaching those Klik-Fix things to my bikes. If I'm going to attach hardware, it might as well be a lightweight rack for greater versatility.

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  10. So... the morning after writing this post, I walk into a local shop and see this:

    https://instagram.com/p/3bQ3s-j7k9
    https://instagram.com/p/3bQ7Rkj7lB

    For anybody interested, this is exactly the kind of bag I'm talking about here. And it's got bicycles on it for godssake!

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  11. While my adventure touring bike sports a custom front bag sitting on a rack, I am using the bag-in-bag solution whenever I have to take my stuff with me, e.g. at work. Removing the bag from the VO rack and Gilles Berthoud decaleur is a pain in the ass, so I hardly ever do it. I haven’t come across a decaleur that would suit the purpose and build of this bike better yet, so for the time being I’ll have to carry my change of clothes, iPad etc. in Rapha musettes.

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  12. I removed my rear rack from my bicycle. I prefer the use of Carradice saddlebag (“super C model”), so I’ve the feeling it’s lighter and maybe more aesthetic.
    This rear saddlebag is mainly used for garments and sometimes to carry a bottle of wine because it’s long enough.
    Here is a picture of my bike: http://www.kirikoo.net/images/7lemage-2-20150514-142833.jpg

    L.

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  13. I've tried most of the saddlebags on the market in the last 15+ years, including the Rivendell Hoss and Sackville medium, and of course the Nelson, Longflap and otherwise, and the Camper Longflap. I've found that the last, as well as the Sackville Medium, can work on a ~58 cm frame with 26" wheels and 32 mm tires, with no support -- barely. Indeed, I've found that they attach quite well to the rails of a non-Brooks-type saddle, like my favorite Flites (original issue), simply by pulling the straps very tight.

    I've carried 30 lb of groceries in the Sackville and the Camper LF, and commuted for years with the Nelson LF (which carries pr size 10 men's shoes, pants, shirt, rolled up tweed jacket, repair kit, and modest lunch). I've also found that, contrary to expectations, chronically forgetting to strap the Nelson or other traditionally slanted British seatbag, or side pockets, closed doesn't mean losing the contents en route.

    OTHO, on a Medium (17") Fargo, even a Junior drags the 2"+ tire, and I've resorted to a Revelate bag, the Pica, which carries a huge amount, although it stuffs it in so that you have a 30" sausage sticking straight out over your back wheel (I should have gotten the larger Viscacha).

    Still, though I love the idea of saddlebags and even more the way they look, I aways go back, on my road bikes, to racks and panniers (Ortlieb Roller Packers and Sports Packers; Tubus Fly -- rated to 20 kg -- or custom racks) because they carry far more with 2 large bags, but can be limited to 1 small pannier, or to nothing, and are easy to install and remove.

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    1. "chronically forgetting to strap ...traditionally slanted British seatbag, or side pockets, closed doesn't mean losing the contents en route..."

      Ditto. A delightful discovery to make when said contents are a crate of duck eggs...

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  14. I don't know too many guys who carry tote bags on their shoulders so the 'bag within a bag' idea may work better for female riders? Clearly it works for you and that's what matters. Finding the right arrangement is always tricky and involves a bit of trial and error. When finally finding something which works it's like a lightbulb going off and all of a sudden commuting/transportation riding is both easier and so much more enjoyable. With only one bike I needed a versatile system and rack and panniers have been the cat's meow. https://www.flickr.com/photos/61932626@N07/18203398650/in/photostream/


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    1. I have seen lots of men with reusable shopping bags. They either carry them in their hand or messenger style (though I've seen men rocking the 1 shoulder look as well). At any rate, shorter/ longer strapped versions of such bags are available for a variety of looks.

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    2. They put these reusable bags into their saddle bags? As you mentioned they're usually bulky and I find that panniers accept a wider variety of bags/backpacks/computer cases, etc. But also, whatever works and is all that matters. Go for it.

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  15. Thanks for a very interesting article. Like some others here, my main concern with bags of all types is the high risk of theft. For this reason I have some cheap lightweight panniers on my daily commuter, with a bag arrangement like yours inside. The panniers stay on the bike and it works wonderfully, very practical, as your article describes. In good weather I sometimes take my touring bike with Carradice saddlebag. It's a Pendle so very small and I use it on days when I have very little to carry. I received a Carradice tweed saddlebag for Christmas and it's lovely but I only use it when my bike can be securely stored, such as at my office for example. As with bikes themselves, it's difficult I think to find a perfect solution in a single bag. Panniers and racks are undoubtedly practical but I just love the look of a lugged steel tourer complete with saddlebag cruising down a country lane, traditional and quite beautiful in my eyes. My favourite bags for practical use are those on my Brompton. The Ortleib mini fits personal essentials in for a quick trip and the S bag or C bag take everything from office equipment to enough gear for a weekend break. They are not cheap but I suppose the cost is justified if they are used often. I never tried the Carradice bag for the Brompton but imagine it to be similarly versatile. I love the little bag with bikes on which you found. Do you know who makes them? I only had a quick look at the link so may have missed something obvious, will go back and check!

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  16. I've been using Carradice Nelson Long Flap for about 25 years for commuting. I usually carry a 1.5 litre buttie box, shirt, socks and underwear plus occasional other small stuff. Initially just in a plastic carrier bag but more recently in a musette style bag. I usually buy Friday tea, a bottle of wine and several beers and need the long flap. Occasionally I'll carry my laptop, just shoved in as is, no padding. Tools and spare tube in one side pocket, lock and a spare musette in the other. Sometimes I use a Barley but it's a bit small for anything but the minimum buttie box and clothes.

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  17. Desk lamp, knitting, Irish grammar book, eggs, whiskey: Must have been packing for a breakfast date.

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    1. At first glance I also thought it was whiskey, but upon closer inspection, I think it is a bottle of Australian red...

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    2. It's a bottle of Hardy's wine, gently used : )

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  18. Chico brand bags are perfect for the scenario that Velouria is talking about regarding bag in a bag. Really, any nylon foldable bag will work.

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  19. You can easily make a nylon bag using the material of a discarded umbrella. On You tube you can find instructions in Dutch
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NA_lpZt6ZBo

    Marius Engelsman ( Proud owner of a Carradice Nelson Longflap)

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    1. Oh, nice! Thanks for sharing that.

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  20. I have a rear rack with a skinny trunk bag for stuff that lives on the bike (lock gloves tools) and a pannier with proper spring clips for the stuff that I carry on me. It's working well. More capacity, less trouble. Last year I had a bigger trunk bag with fold down wings, plus nylon shopping bags.

    If I needed more cargo I could buy a second pannier, a handlebar bag or front rack and panniers, or start wearing a backpack too. I prefer putting the load on the bike.

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  21. I've used a small Timbuk-2 bag for years. In fact, I just rode the Sequoia Century (92 miles) and used it to carry food (sandwich and beer), a jacket, a small camera and a pair of bicycle shorts (which I did not use). It's amazing what you can accommodate given the opportunity.

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  22. I use a Carradice Nelson Longflap on top of a Blackburn Mountain rack, locked to the frame through the seat tube strap loop using an old Abus cable lock.

    I used to carry a single pannier, but found there were certain things I couldn't do on a bike - like bunny-hop kerbs or ride trails - with panniers. At least with a saddlebag you know it won't fall off or loll about, and doesn't really affect the way the bike handles.

    In the saddlebag I usually carry a big D-lock, small pump, a kid's gym bag with work shirt/t-shirt inside and an old British army P37 small pack for my sarnies, book, paper, specs, diary etc. I can also carry a rain jacket on the flap using toe-clip straps through the strap-loop thingies. Bike tools, spare tube, gloves etc. go in the two side pockets.

    The great thing about this set up is I can unload the bags from the saddlebag, carry them over my shoulders and stuff the saddlebag full of shopping on the way home from work if need be.



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  23. Here in the Washington DC area I commute with a Rivendell Sackville Saddlesack large that fits my laptop, clothes, etc. I do the "bag within a bag" using a small backpack. If I need more room in my saddlebag for groceries on the way home, the backpack goes on my back. This saddlebag is almost pannier sized and is zip-tied to a rack (Nitto R14) for security. The setup is more narrow than a pair of panniers which is important because my parking at home is a squeeze.

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  24. I've looked at specific bicycle bags. Fine, until I look at the price. A hundred and fifty bucks ? For a gimped rucksack ? O_o Jeeze...

    So I ended up doing exactly this : I recycled an old rucksack that I strapped to the rear rack. And on the handlebar, I have one of these inexpensive belt pouches used for trekking. A pair of scissors, three zip ties, and there you go. 20 bucks.

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