On my way home from the supermarket last night, a neighbour - in the rural sense of the word, as this was a good few miles from my house - flagged me down as I pedaled past. She was holding a parcel for me, mis-delivered to her address. When she handed it over, I thanked her profusely, while wondering how the heck I would get it home. The bundle might fit into my front bag, just barely, on top of the groceries already in there. But the resultant bulge would surely prevent me from using the brakes on my drop-bars, as they were already quite close to the sides of the bag. Happily, when I stuffed the parcel inside, this proved to be a non-issue: As the bag swallowed the goods, it grew in height but remained just narrow enough in width for the sides to clear my hands when I held the brake levers.
And that sums up what I love about the Inside Line Equipment Racktop Porteur Bag: It's a front bag that is not only handmade, durable and roomy, but - oh joy of joys! - compatible with drop bars.
Inspiring me to set up one of my roadbikes as a "transporteur," this bag has expanded my long-distance commuting possibilities by enabling me to combine the speed of a roadbike with the carry capacity of a utility bike - while allowing me to stick with my preferred front-carry method of hauling weight.
A setup that allows for both drop bars and a large, porteur-style front bag is notoriously tricky to get right. The lower and the narrower the handlebars and the wider the bag, the more potential for interference. And in that sense, I am probably one of the more difficult riders to accommodate: Smallish in stature, I ride bikes with short head tubes and I set my (42cm wide) bars pretty low. While for a taller rider, the bars might be positioned well above any front-carry setup, for me any front bag will sit right in between my hands. For that reason, many porteur-style bags will be too bulky to work with drop bars. But the 14"-wide, collapsible ILE bag is just narrow enough to clear my hands.
Granted, especially when the bag is full, it's close. Lucky for me, I am on the right side of close. But if you ride with bars which are narrower than 42cm and set just as low as mine, be aware that this setup will not work. Various other factors, such as hand size, hand position, and brake lever style could affect the setup as well.
Of course the ILE Racktop Porteur Bag bag can also be fitted on bicycles with upright handlebars, and without any of these issues. The bag does need a wide platform rack for support. And it is compatible with most porteur-style front racks on the market today, including Pass & Stow, Soma, Cetma, Velo Orange and Pelago. The latter two (Velo Orange Porteur Rack and Pelago Commuter Front Rack) are shown with the bag here.
In the case of the VO rack, the bag will even fit with the rail attached, although it's a crumply fit and to attach it without the rail is easier.
With a stiff, padded base for structure, the ILE Porteur bag attaches to the rack with two easy to use straps, which can be adjusted for tightness. The on/off with these straps is pretty quick, especially once my hands developed a memory for where to find the clasps, making it unnecessary to bend over and look under the rack. Once attached to the rack tightly, the bag sits sturdy and does not shift when the bike is in motion.
When off the bike, the bag can be removed and carried as a shoulder bag, via the adjustable strap that otherwise remains stowed tidily within the roll-top fold.
The roll-top, messenger bag-style design with its 42L capacity probably means that you will max out your rack's weight rating before you will run out of space in the bag. Still it can be useful to have the room for bulky, but lightweight items.
And if additional carry capacity is needed, overflow items can be easily secured with the extra tie-down straps, stashed in the over-sleeve when not in use.
Inside, the bag is fully lined with vinyl, making it weatherproof (according to the specs, as well as my own experience of commuting through the winter). I have ridden with this bag in heavy rain for up to an hour at a time, and I have left it attached to my bicycle when parked outdoors all day in bad weather. The interior always remains impeccably dry.
Overall, in the many months I have used this bag, the waxed cotton canvas exterior (also available in cordura nylon, in a range of colours that you can view here) has proven to be exceptionally durable - resisting scuffs and barely showing any wear or tear despite regular use and utter lack of maintenance. That said, I do have full mudguards on my bicycle. I suspect an absence of a front fender might make a difference in how this bag weathers.
Perhaps my favourite feature of the ILE Porteur bag, aside from its drop bar compatibility, is the presence of large, easy-to-access rear-facing pockets. The flaps close with velcro, making it easy - even for someone as uncoordinated as myself - to extract items from the pockets while the bicycle is in motion.
Each of the two rear-facing pockets is roomy enough to fit items such as a standard size bike lock, a large smartphone, tools, a hat, even a sizable snack such as an apple or a sandwich. As my commutes are often quite long, I find it handy to have quick access to my phone and bits of food via these external compartments. It allows me to retrieve items without having to stop, dismount, unroll the bag and fumble in its vast interior.
Inside Line Bags are handmade in Berkeley, California and are available in the UK and Ireland from VAM Performance, whom I thank for the opportunity to test this bag. I have been using the ILE bag for 9 months now, on several different bicycles. As you can probably tell by the frequent appearance of this bag in my photos, I like it very much and use it often. It has been particularly useful during the long, windy winter we're just emerging from here in Ireland - allowing me to use my roadbike as a utility bike with ease.
Of course, no bag is perfect, and personally, I would like this one even better if it had a simpler (and more accessible on the go) closure in leu of the roll-top design (the VO Porteur bag comes to mind). I would also appreciate something in the way of (perhaps optional) separators or pockets for the main interior, so that the contents can be kept better organised and items such as laptops and cameras do not bang against each other. Finally, offering a slightly narrower size would be ideal for riders with super low and narrow handlebars.
That said, I think the ILE Racktop Porteur Bag is as good as it gets for those seeking a roomy front bag that is compatible with most porteur-style racks and most drop bar setups. Starting at $160, the cost is in line with other US-handmade bags of its type. In addition to the Porteur Bag, a range of other bicycle bags are available from ILE, with custom orders accepted. Check out their collection here, and visit here to find a UK retailer.