Thursday, May 4, 2017

Frame Bag for the Surly Wednesday: ATM Handmade Goods (aka Andrew the Maker)

When I first wrote about the Surly Wednesday making its way into my life, I mentioned that I was in search of a frame bag. I was offered some suggestions here, by email, and had done my own research to see what might work.

Specifically, I wanted a frame bag because I knew, even with the frames' very small triangle, a frame bag would allow me to carry more than what I could shove into a tiny saddlebag. I've become used to being able to carry things on my bike, and even though I knew this bike probably wouldn't be used very frequently for fetching items, I still needed to carry things with me sometimes beyond a multi-tool and extra small pump.

My initial searches quickly illustrated that frame bags are not something easily found for extra small frames. Like bicycles themselves, it seems that smalls and talls often get left out of the manufacturing equation. There are a few makers who do span the range, so I shouldn't lump every company together, but as a household of less than standard height individuals, we know how hard it is to find something off the shelf in an appropriate size.

When it comes to the Wednesday, at the time of my searching, there really weren't a lot of non-custom options for the frame. There was a chance that Relevate's frame bag may have worked, but it was still a bit too long (or rather too wide at the longest point) and I had concerns that it wouldn't quite fit into the wee-sized frame triangle without some customizing of my own.  I had some money stashed from some side jobs and figured, if I wanted it to be right, I should probably look at a custom bag.

I was surprised to discover how many custom bag manufacturers exist, and that they are made in a multitude of fabrics and at various price points. Some makers seem more particular about measurements, while others are a little looser with their requests for templates of an individual's frame. After quite a bit of looking and reading, I decided on a manufacturer: ATM Handmade Goods, otherwise known as Andrew the Maker.

Why ATM? Well, that's perhaps a little more difficult to pinpoint. One reason is that I had seen his work prior, making it easy for me to know what the quality would likely be on my own custom bag. I'd read and seen photos of his work, such as here and here, so I felt a certain level of confidence going this route. It was neither the least expensive nor the fastest option, but sometimes good things are worth the wait and even extra funds.
*Image from ATM Handmade Goods Instagram feed
I also liked that Andrew makes different types of bags. I've considered a handlebar bag for this bike as well and wanted the option to have it coordinate, if I chose to go this route. From top tube bags to snack sacks and even hip packs (or fanny packs, if you prefer), the options are plentiful from ATM.

The getting started process was fairly simple. As with many custom-made goods, payment is required up front in order to get started on the project. This always unnerves me just a tad. It's not that I mind paying up front, but there's always that small amount of concern that the product could be paid for and then never arrive. But, having seen that Andrew has made bags for a few years now and has many satisfied users, I forged ahead.

After payment is received, the customer is asked to make a template of his/her frame and send it to ATM. This was a little more challenging than I would have expected, but perhaps it's because I chose to attempt it on my own, rather than asking for some assistance and an extra set of hands. It took a couple of tries to get it (close to) right, and off it went to Andrew.

Since I was going the custom route, I figured I should pick a color that wouldn't be found on every bicycle. I had to keep in mind that this bike sees time in less than ideal conditions. Snow, rain, dirt, mud, gravel are all possibilities (and probabilities) on this bike and if I chose too light a color, I knew I'd pay for that decision in the end. Still, I didn't want a boring bag that could've been picked up off the shelf in most bike shops. I knew that a brown, tan, olive, or gray fabric was probably the best way to go, but still it just seemed a little dull and the bike's frame color alone is not horribly exciting, so I had to throw something in to give it a little bit of personality.

The compromise with myself was to have the bottom, larger portion made in gray and have a print for the upper portion of the bag. That way, when the bag had mud or dirt slung on it, I wouldn't have regrets about fabric color choices - or so I hoped.

I started the process of this bag in early January. Foolishly, I believed it would be a slow time of year for Andrew and that the 6-8 week timeline that is typical for his work would perhaps be shortened. In reality, he was busy with several projects and I wouldn't see the bag for about 11 weeks.

Fortunately, our winter was - oddly - almost entirely devoid of snow, so I was riding other bikes many days. When the bag arrived it didn't disappoint in the least. I tore into the package, anxious to see it for myself and was taken aback by the brightness of the pattern I'd chosen. It wasn't a bad reaction, just a bit of shock. I loved that Andrew chose to use a bright pink for the threading and the zipper pulls. It gave the bag a near-obnoxious quality -- something that I enjoy in bicycles (see this photo for reference to my love of bright color combinations).
The bag seems rather subdued on the bike, but the color, I think, gave it a little personality - even if  the colors are clashing.
What truly mattered though was the functionality of the frame bag. The fit was great for the size of the frame, and it went on easily and without issue. The big zippers (there are compartments on each side of the bag) work well and allow for easy access. Best of all, there is a decent amount of carrying capacity, even for this rather small sized bag.
A closer look at the print with gray solid. Perhaps not everyone's favorite combo, but it makes me smile. 
I can fit quite a bit, surprisingly. One might think the bag couldn't carry much, but having the open space pockets are perfect for rolled up sweaters or other clothing, bike lock, a multi-tool, spare tube, patch kit, pump, wallet, keys, phone, camera, banana (or other food), a bottle of water, and although I haven't tried it yet, I'm pretty sure I can get a small hydration bladder in one side too (which would be great given that I have use of only one water bottle cage now).

The fabric itself is fantastic, allowing for easy cleaning with a damp towel (or at least that has been the case thus far) and often shows little sign of use. On the particular day the photo just above was taken, I'd been through several mud and water puddles and the bag looks no worse for the wear.

Speaking of water, the bag does a pretty decent job of keeping water out - at least when the zipper is closed (I had a minor incident in rain because I failed to close the zipper - which is, of course, entirely user error and not the fault of the bag or zipper). I've ridden in some average rain storms and everything inside remained dry (sans the incident just mentioned). While Andrew recommends a dry bag for items that absolutely must remain dry, I have not found water to be an issue as of yet.

My only complaint about this bag thus far is that it has caused a want for one on every bike. It's truly a great use of space in between the frame's triangle and allows for so much carrying capacity. I understand that perhaps it's impractical to put these on every bike (particularly road bikes that one really needs the water bottle cages available - though perhaps if one went in this direction, it could still work), but I could see it being practical on the commuter/around town/gravel/camping/shorter ride sorts of bicycles.

Having this frame bag also makes it far more practical to use this bike on snow days as a commuter/errand bike. That wasn't really the bike's intended purpose, but when it's the one that can get me where I need to go in less-than-sunny weather, at least I know I have the ability to carry a few items with me... perhaps not quite the same capacity as having giant panniers or baskets, but something is always better than nothing...and, for average to tall humans, the capacity would be even better.

As for a coordinating handlebar bag, I'm still thinking about it. Having just a bit more capacity for this bike could be a great thing. But, I also know it's easier to find a handlebar bag than a frame bag for a small bike. And, I am seriously contemplating a frame bag for another bicycle that sees some gravel/dirt time as well.

Overall, I couldn't have had a better experience with my first custom made bike bag, and it has become the perfect accessory for keeping those need-to-have-handy items at the ready. While I can't quite comment yet on long-term quality, I can see and feel that the bag is solidly made, and I look forward to many years of use out of it.

Have you had a custom bag made for a bicycle? How and what was your experience? Has the bag held up to its intended use? If you haven't had a custom bag made, is it a route you would consider for a bike, or is the availability of off-the-rack options better suited to your needs?

9 comments:

  1. I love this! Very cool. I've been frustrated a lot by how many accessories don't work with smaller-sized frame. Part of my frustration with this is that I'm a little over 5'4", which is actually the average height for a woman in the US, yet bike and accessories manufacturers often don't make products to accommodate my size. If they do, I fall into the smallest category. Where does that leave all of those of smaller stature? If I'm hitting the average, it would stand to reason that about half of women must be shorter.

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    1. I feel the same way. In theory I'm not THAT short, and there are many who are shorter than myself, so it's frustrating when I can't find things to work because I know that anyone who is shorter is facing a nearly impossible obstacle to find items that work. My personal problem is that my legs are shorter even in relation to my height, so that presents its own problems.

      It seems as though most bike-related items (including bikes themselves) are still made for taller individuals. It sometimes feels that even for females and women-specific items, one has to be at least 5'7" to really be able to use many items. Perhaps it's just my perception or what I'm able to find locally, but I think it makes sense. Bike shops are going to carry what sells and fits the broadest range of buyers, so it's not surprising that most bike frames in shops are often 55-59cm. Even Rivendell has commented many times saying that their small frames simply don't sell, so they stop making them. Of course, what ends up happening is that anyone who is on the shorter side (not even "short" necessarily) ends up riding a bike that is too big or s/he is forced into a custom. Very frustrating.

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  2. +1 for custom bags. Very pleased with my bar bag and saddle bag from Dill Pickles. So nice to say what configurations of pockets etc I want. Although made 3 years apart, I always knew there would eventually be a "set", which definitely impacted my choices. Must do a proper review one day...

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    1. Sorry, correct name is "Dill Pickle Gear". :)

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    2. Hope this works but here's my saddlebag: https://photos.google.com/photo/AF1QipMxOjWqifrqUIbwhl4njWVyrKyqMuGByQB81Ijk. On paper it's ostensibly the same capacity as a Carradice Barley but it's much lighter, more flexible and seems equally good at expanding and cinching down. I am doing lots of test rides to see if I can leave the panniers at home on our next tour and just take this plus bar bag.

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    3. Sorry, that link didn't work. I'll figure out another way to share. Sorry to be taken up so much space in your comments!

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    4. How's this? https://goo.gl/photos/EFqCxuHEsRW3baHNA

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    5. Very nice. I noticed that the handlebar bag works with your interrupter levers. That's a terrific feature. That saddlebag is HUGE. I've looked at Dill Pickle Gear a few times. One of these days, I hope to have an excuse to order one!

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    6. I remember you speaking about your Dill Pickle bags in the past, so it's good to know they are still working well for you, Rebecca. Thanks for sharing your photos too... very helpful! It's good to know that there are so many people and companies out there making products that work well for a variety of purposes.

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