I finally broke down and ordered a saddlebag for my bike. Since I tore the LHT down, rebuilt it, and judiciously applied framesaver during the January break, I’m back to using it as my main bike a little early thanks to the mild winter and the minimum of salt they have spread on the roads down here. One thing I have been really bothered by is the lack of a good bag for the small loads I pull to work and back every day. My 11 or 14 liter panniers are too big and boxy, and I can really feel them dragging behind me more than I ever thought I would. When I hit a good headwind, the drag from having one on only the left side feels like it’s going to pull me into traffic. I thought about sewing a saddlebag, but the complexities of finding or drawing a decent pattern, getting heavy fabric, and all the other parts that go into a project like this proved to be too much for a novice like myself. I was looking for something boxy that would hold it’s shape, around 8 liters, and reasonably priced. After much kicking around of the Carradice bags, Frost River bags, and Baggins bags from the Rivendell site (love the blue tweed, but $190? wow.), I finally settled on The Ostrich Bag from Velo-Orange’s site.
My next challenge would be getting the bag attached to the bike. First thing I dislike about saddlebags is the need to constantly be fiddling with buckles every time you take the bag on and off the bike. Second thing I’m not fond of is the potential need for a hoop or some sort of under-bag support. Since I already have fenders and a rack on the back, I’ve been feeling very reluctant towards bolting any more ‘stuff’ on than is absolutely necessary to get the job done. Yes, I thought about getting a rack top trunk bag, but I really like the look of saddlebags more, and would like the option in the future of not having a rear rack potentially too. One system I really liked which got the wheels turning was this Nitto quick-release saddlebag hanger system available at Rivendell. It allows you to take the bag with you by doing little more than flipping a skewer. See below… Unfortunately it’s $65… Out of my price range having just brought a bag, and unless it was paired with a bag support which would be even MORE money, you’d still get a lot of sway from a system like this. There are other hanger systems that support the bag and attach to the seatpost, but they are expensive as well, and I wouldn’t be able to get away with using them anyway since I have less than a ‘fistful’ of seatpost exposed.
Like I said, it DID get the wheels turning. At a cursory glance, there’s little here that I don’t already have at my disposal or can’t get relatively cheaply. A few bolts, check… a length of tubing, check… a spare skewer…
Next thing I knew I was down in the basement measuring, making cardstock templates and preparing to strategically saw, bend, and file some pieces of spare metal stock I picked up at the local hardware store. Theory was to make two hangers that I could bolt to the bag loops on my saddle. Below is a picture of the first attempt. Pretty beat up looking right? Well that’s what happens to steel when you bend it 9 ways to Sunday and back before getting it the shape you want it. Try that with aluminum. The second one looked a lot smoother.
My support system works to control the bag from swaying as well. Seen below, I fashioned the q-r part out of the end of an old carbon bar that I never trusted after it’s seatpost cousin failed. The skewer rides through the center on 2 bushings I made for the ends of the bar from a synthetic wine cork that has a hole drilled through the center of it. Clamped to the center are 2 bar enders with the curved tip machined off so they meet in the center. My theory was if the bag is clamped to the bike with a good amount of force, and it is packed at least REASONABLY well balanced over the pivot point, I should never get any sway at all, and aside from the 2 hooks on the saddle, there isn’t any extra junk bolted on my bike.
Here’s the first time it was positioned. Only one hanger at this point…
Here it is from the side.
The other unintended bonus of the system is having a little ‘handle’ to carry the bag with when it is off the bike. I finished up the clamp and tested it on the way back and forth to work a few times, and so far it is dynatastic! Very sturdy, and with the plastic supports inside the bag, there is no sway back to front or side to side regardless of how tight or loosely the bag is packed. My only gripe with the system is that the longest skewer I had on hand was shorter than the width between the bag loops, so I have to sort of fight to get the leather straps in the hangers, but I would reconfigure this if I continue to use in this form as I believe I will. Everything was made with parts on hand and maybe $5 worth of raw materials. The time investment on the other hand, JEEZ. Felt like I was in the basement forever last weekend. What I wouldn’t give to have a machine shop or at least a metal-cutting band saw and a large bench vise at my disposal… After my first runs, I ditched the leather strap that normally goes around the seatpost and sewed up a test cover out of some scrap denim that I could tie directly to the bag through the center. This got rid of any movement the bag could make once it was on the bike.
Right now this project is at about 90%. Last steps are to pull the hangers off the bike some rainy weekend when I feel like grinding all the superfluous metal off the ‘rough draft’ hangers and giving them a decent coat or 2 of rust oleum, or maybe I’ll go to the hobby section of Michaels arts and crafts and try to find a Blue that matches the trucker frame. The best part of the project is that I’m already getting ideas of how to make adaptations to the hanger systems so that I can make it work on other bikes. It will be nice to have a system that I can adapt to anything I have without getting nickel and dimed on 20 and 30 dollar mounts for other seats and stuff. I rate my excitement at 4.5 out of a possible 5 spokes.
Love the bag’s label too… “The Big Bicycling”. awesome.