Sunday, March 22, 2015

Bags, Baskets & Racks, Oh My!

I have a bit of an addiction to bicycle bags. Some people buy shoes, others collect jewelry, but my item of choice seems to be bags and baskets for my bikes. Maybe it's not so much of an addiction as an incessant hunt for the perfect bike-carrying contraptions, but either way, I seem to find myself trying a variety of styles and sizes out. So, when reader Kendra asked recently about my choice of bags on the Sam Hillborne, I couldn't help but smile a bit. The configuration of that bike has changed so many times and the racks, bags, and baskets are no exception, so it seems like as good a time as any to delve into this topic.

Pretty much any bicycle that hangs out for any length of time in our household seems to go through transitions. For me, this is just par for the course and I've learned to accept that I don't always know right away how I want a bike to be used or set up. Sometimes this necessitates a bag, basket or rack change too.

There are those who prefer to use panniers to carry their goods, and I've done it myself, but I have found that I am lazy about removing them, so when seasons change, or I want to use the bike as a road bike, rather than an errand bike, I'm carrying needless weight (not to mention getting the pannier dirty). For some, this isn't an issue, but I've simply chose over time to go in a different direction.
An example of a folding rear basket as illustrated on Sam's city bike.
I've even used folding "pannier baskets" on some bikes because they were a lot simpler for me to handle. They folded up nicely when not in use, and even though they were on the heavier side, it worked out fine on bikes that were used primarily for city uses, errand running and so on. In fact, Sam still has one of these on his city bike.

Initially, I rode the Hillborne with nothing on it. I wanted it stripped down as bare as possible. Then, very quickly a rear rack was added and soon decided that it wasn't enough, so a front one was installed as well.

The great thing about having two racks is that I always have a place to attach head and tail lights to the bike. Additionally, I could carry a bags of goods strapped on each of them. Panniers were easy to handle as well, but as mentioned above, I wasn't the best about removing them when not in use, or I'd forget to put them back on and end up somewhere without them.

This particular setup wasn't my favorite, and I always seemed to need to carry just a bit more than the configuration allowed. If I remembered panniers, it was pretty functional, but if not I was left holding bags and attempting to figure out how I was going to get everything home.
This round was a front rack to be able to strap something to the bike and on the rear was a Sackville SaddleSack in the x-small size.
Eventually, I turned to using a city-specific bike and pared things down on the Hillborne. I left the front rack in case I had need to carry something more than the rear bag could handle, and put on a saddlebag that was smaller, but not so small that I couldn't carry anything.

The Sackville SaddleSack was a nice compromise because it was large enough to carry more than just a tool and a pump, but not so large that it required the support of a rear rack.

Regularly, this bag carried a bike lock, a pump, tool, patches, a small towel, wallet, and still had room to spare. The bag itself, however, was a bit saggy with regular use and slowly started to droop. The more weight it had to hold, the saggier it became. The problem for me was that there wasn't much clearance between the rear tire and the bottom of the saddlebag once the sagging began.
Rivendell's Brand V saddlebag pictured here on another bike.
I tried a few different versions of similar bags. The one pictured above is Rivendell's vegan version of the SaddleSack bag, and I also tried out a couple that were picked up at a local REI.

All of the bags tried worked as intended, but I struggled to figure out the best set up for the Hillborne specifically.
This iteration had both front and rear Nitto racks with a Wald x-large front basket (zip-tied to the front rack) and on the rear was my Carradice Barley bag.
Lots of different saddlebags were tried at various points on the rear of the Hillborne. I've tried those that are quite small and hold only a tool, small pump and maybe an extra tube, and have gone all the way up to using the fairly large Carradice Barley bag.

Using a very small rear bag on this Hillborne isn't functional for me because it just doesn't hold enough, but using the very largest bag I own necessitates a rear rack, so if I remove the rear rack, I have to choose something a bit smaller.

At one point I had a large Wald basket on the rear of the bike (the very same pictured on the front above), and it's also obviously been on the front of the bike.

I like this arrangement because it allows me to carry up to two large grocery bags on the rear of the bike (or on the front, depending on the location of the basket). What I haven't liked in the past is that I couldn't get the basket far enough away from the saddle to keep from hitting me in the rear as I pedal. If the basket was on the front of the bike, it was frequently too heavy with its contents and caused the front to feel unwieldy or twitchy at times.

It seemed like a nice compromise to put the basket on the front and carry the large Carradice Barley bag on the rear of the bike. For me, this set up was probably one of the most functional when using the Hillborne as a city bike; however, the way that I used this bike was beginning to shift and pretty soon I changed the set up yet again.
Only carrying the front bag, the Sackville BarSack at this juncture.
I was riding the Hillborne more frequently on long rides throughout the area and having so many things on the bike was weighing it down. Between racks, bag and basket (including the usual contents of the saddlebag) I had added about 8-10 pounds to the bike. While I hadn't noticed it slowly growing in girth, when I found myself wanting to ride longer distances on this bike, I started thinking it was time to strip it down again.
I didn't want to completely eliminate a bag, but I also didn't want to have racks on the bike. I did want to be able to take my camera and lenses with me on rides sometimes, so I started to experiment with a front bag, rather than a saddlebag which brought the Sackville BarSack into my life.
This bag has been a really great one, I have to say. There are others comparable to it on the market, so it's not that it had to be this specific bag (I just happened to have a Rivendell gift certificate to use at the time). I appreciate the two side pockets. I frequently store keys, phone, chapstick, gum, and other similarly sized items there.
The top of the bag opens from the riders side toward the front wheel of the bike, so the contents can be easily reached while riding. In this area I store things like my wallet (I have a large wallet, so it doesn't fit in the side pockets), camera, bike lock, a sweater or extra layer, gloves, hat, food (if it's a really long ride), tissues, and so on. Of course, it's also plenty large to hold my camera and extra lenses.
Inside the main compartment there is also another zippered pocket that can carry other smaller items or keep items separated from the main compartment.
The front of the bag (the side facing out to the front wheel) has yet another zippered compartment for carrying additional items.

Additionally, the D-rings on the top of the bag are quite functional for using a map case if one is in need for directions along the way (such as for a brevet or other organized ride that may not be clearly marked). These rings also work well in a pinch to tie something to the top of the bag that doesn't way too much.

Another convenience of this bag is the detachable carrying strap included with purchase. I've used it myself as a kind of shoulder bag when I don't want to carry the individual items around with me after the bike is parked and locked, or if I just don't feel secure leaving the bag on the bike.

It's truly a functional bag. The only real down side I've found is that it requires the use of its own special "rack", which is definitely not the cheapest thing around (especially when combined with the cost of the bag). The bag itself is only intended to carry 3-4 pounds of weight, but I find that seems to be plenty for my needs. It is very sturdy though and I've loaded the bag up beyond its intended weight limit without issue (I don't do this frequently, but in a tight spot it's worked just fine).

One great aspect of this set up is that the bag and rack come off fairly easily, so if I want to use it on another bike, it isn't at all difficult to switch it out. I can also easily remove the bag alone and just leave the rack on (it just looks like bull horns sticking out of the front of the bike) if I don't want the added carrying convenience (or its added weight).
The current bag configuration: Carradice Zip Roll bag on the rear and a Sackville BarSack on the front.
At present, I have no racks on the Hillborne and instead have opted to just have bags. On the rear, I carry a Carradice Zip Roll bag, and on the front I have the Sackville BarSack. I don't know if it's my favorite set up, but it's definitely up in the top couple I've had on this bike.

Although I'm slowly adding back the weight I'd eliminated, it's really easy to remove either or both of these bags if needed.
Carradice Zip Roll saddlebag
The Carradice Zip Roll bag is also pretty convenient and allows me some wiggle room between what gets stored in the front versus the rear. It's large enough to carry my bike lock, a small towel, a tool, a patch kit, a pump, and so on. I also keep a strap stored here in case there's need to use it on a ride. In a pinch, I can also store my wallet here or an extra clothing layer or gloves.
This bag actually holds quite a bit. Despite looking packed in for this photo, I can still fit my large wallet, phone, bike lock, and other smaller items.
This bag is not nearly the size of the Barley bag mentioned above. For me, the Barley bag cannot hang on its own because of my saddle height, but rather requires the use of a rear rack to support it from underneath. Of course, the Barley is also able to carry substantially more, so it's something to keep in mind based on ones personal needs.
Visual comparison of three sizes of saddlebags: Carradice Barley, Carradice Zip Roll, Sackville SaddleSack
The zip roll bag, however, hangs nicely from the rear of my Brooks saddle. Even if it's loaded up, I have had no issues with it grazing the rear tire (though you can see in the photo above it is close to touching - within 0.5in/1.25cm - the fender).

In reality, a persons set up is going to be quite individualized. It would be impossible to provide the perfect setup for everyone because we all have different needs. I have no doubt that over time I'll go back to one of the configurations I've already used, and will probably try out others as well. The great thing about bags, baskets and racks is that they're fairly easy to both add and remove from a bicycle. There are also less expensive and more pricey options, allowing for individuals to choose dependent on his/her own requirements.

What sort of set up do you use on your transportation or city bike? Have you found that one way in particular works best for you? Do you use one bike for both transportation and sport? If so, how do you deal with transporting larger items by bike? Do you prefer to keep it loaded up and ready for carrying goods, or do you take your chances and keep your bike more bare bones to carry only minimal extra goods?


  1. The set up for this piece made me laugh. Yes, some people are into shoes or jewelry. I know women who are obsessed with handbags. None of those things appeals to me. Like you, I have a bike accessory habit! I'm convinced that there must be some perfect set up that will confer to my transportation bike magic qualities. I'm sure of it. If I could just find the right bag....or basket...or rack...or?????

    Seriously, though, your Wald basket set-up on the Sam has me thinking. I like panniers on back. I use some great Ortlieb front roller classics to transport my stuff to work, and they've been perfect for stuff that I don't need access to until I get to the office (clothing, computer, lunch). What I really want is an easy way to deal with stuff that I need between home and my destination or that I need as soon as I hop off the bike or right before getting on it before heading home. This would include my helmet and high-vis vest, the bike lock and cable, my phone, keys, wallet, extra layers, etc. Mounting a basket on a front rack seems like a great solution. I'll just need to move my fork crown mounted headlight.

    One of these days, I swear I'm going to get the right set up. Then my bike will sail across the sky like I've got ET in the front basket. I'm sure of it.

    1. If you don't take your panniers off the bike, you could just strap a basket right on top. It will probably be a little awkward to work around, but I think it could be done. I like the basket for its ease of getting things in and out too. I miss having it on a bike right at the moment, so I'm sure it'll end up on something in the near future.

      Finding the right set up seems to be challenging for me too. As soon as I think I have it together, I end up changing it for one reason or another. I suppose it's not the end of the world, and it's nice for the bike to be functional, regardless of the needs at the time.

      I'll be curious to know (when you decide) what you end up doing and how it's working for you when you've had some time to figure it out.

  2. Good thought, but I do remove my panniers every day, sometimes several times a day. Besides, ET really should go in the *front* basket. :)

  3. G.E., can you tell me how much the nitto rack weighs and the riv bag?

    1. Good question. Let's see, the rack weighs 250g (so, what is that... about 1/2 a pound, right?), and the bag, I will have to weigh a bit later for you and let you know. It measures 9.5" wide X 8" tall X 7" deep. It's made of a sturdy canvas (If I was going to guess, I'd say it's probably about a pound to a pound and a half - but that's purely a guess until I can physically weigh it for you). I will let you know a bit later today.

    2. Having a difficult time getting an exact weight for you. My small scale only goes up to 20oz, and it's a bit heavier than that, but the bag isn't heavy enough to be weighed on an actual scale (which requires at least 3 lbs of weight. I think my original guess at about 1.5 lbs is probably pretty close. Hopefully that will help. I think between the two pieces, you'd probably be looking at just over 2 lbs.

  4. The Sackville BarSack is no longer available in green which bums be out. I liked your review a lot, thanks!

    1. I've had the olive color for several years, so it doesn't surprise me that it is no longer available. The new blue color is kind of fun, but doesn't necessarily go with every bike color either. If you have interest in the green specifically, you might keep an eye on eBay. Occasionally, Rivendell bags pop up there, so you might see one come up there... or perhaps even on the RBW Google Group.


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