So much of life on a bike is about compromise: I ride a 12kg steel bike because I know the terrain I ride over and the loads I shift from time to time would destroy a featherweight machine so I can’t complain about the weight. I can’t optimise some aspects of my chosen mode of transport (like using the railway or having a National Cycle Network that goes where I want to go) but what I lug around with me is up to me.
One thing I have control of is my luggage: but how I shift my gear is a lifelong puzzle limited only by budget and what the ‘industry’ decides is best for my needs. No surprise then that I am a ‘gap in the market’ a lot of the time…I don’t ride for sporting achievement, my touring is limited to traffic free routes which are a stop start affair with issues like flood, mud, random gates and fences not to mention my propensity to carry a selection of kites, cameras and line with me. Sometimes I feel like a square peg in a round hole.
For years I have left a pair of paniers on the back. My last use of a bar bag was back in ’90s on carefree tours of the Netherlands. I found the small size wasn’t too useful for my day to day commutes and swapped it for a courrier bag:
With my commuting days over panniers make complete sense as shopping, clothing etc. are all easily stashed but my rides now extend beyond ‘haulage & storage’ efforts to the supermarket towards longer distances.
Bar bag, less drag? My last ride from Cambridge to Downham Market was beset by a nasty nagging wind making the trip homeward a bit of a grind. Knowing there is no escape from the wind on the fen I decided to look into making the bike a bit less of a drag bucket and see if, while not going full aero-it’s a steel bike after all, improvements in the short ride kit department are possible. I dug out the old barbag:
The old Karrimor bar bag has been gathering dust since the ’90s. I notice it has a ‘universal’ mounting bracket so off to the shed…
careful work with hacksaw and file got a snug fit over the cables of the CdF.
Next problem is the finding a new home for the GPS, the ‘out front’ bracket clashes with the bag.
First ride out with 2kg of kit on the hadlebars feels a bit odd but no different to riding with front paniers: the steering is heavy and the bike is a bit less nimble. From the off the bag rattles. The clatter gets worse the quicker you go.
It rattles. What makes this noise? Some of it is the contents of the bag, everything just jangles around. My ride took me within reach of Elgoods dray so a bottle of beer added to the load, fearing its loss I wrapped my gloves around it and hoped for the best, I ride on imagining a horrible fight between the bottle and the D lock ending in a bag of smashed glass and spilt ale..the rattling went on…
Examination of the empty bag reveals a rigid plastic frame which explains the racket: the D lock settles to the bottom and slaps the frame with every bump. The fixing is rated at 6.8kg which should be adequate to carry kit for a day out.
Despite the worry over the damage a Dlock might inflict on say, a banana the bar bag holds all I need for most rides to the surrounding towns. Even when riding with panniers it’s nice to keep things handy in a bag that gets on and off the bike so easily. The inevitable shop stops are easier with it than with the panniers, as they are more awkward to manage.
What do I need to carry? All the bits I need to have on a day out are at the mercy of a Dlock on the loose. As a solo rider most of the time and living in a high cycle theft area the lump of hardened steel is a nessesary evil: leaving the bike unattended anywhere in the vicinity Cambridge is to kiss it goodbye. I have lost count of the number of bikes my household has lost on simple shop visits over the years.
The D lock comes with a ‘FlexFrame’ mounting bracket to bolt it to the bike frame, I’m not keen on this as I use 2 different locks, the other is a long reach Abus Granit which has to go in a pannier on family rides. There isin’t room for both brackets even if I could stomach the look of a bike with that much pastic, paint chipping stuff screwed to it. The ‘FlexFrame’ bracket can be modifed to clip the U part of the Dlock into the bar bag:
Goodbye old bag? The old Karrimor fails on a number of fronts, it leaks for one thing and its lack of internal compartments means everything in it slops around; the zips are a bit of a faff and I have to stop to open it. On the plus side it’s a good size and easy to get on and off the bike. I could spend a small fortune on bags trying to find the best one, there is a 3 way split in type:
- Strap to bar fitting, this is anything from a velco strip to a variety of fancy buckles
- ‘Bike-packing’ bags for sleeping bags and the like, these include large front rack supported bags
- Rixen-kaul ‘KlickFix’ fitting bags.
The 3rd group is my preffered option after adapting the Rixen Kaul ‘Klickfix’ bracket to the CdF. This opens up the possibility of mounting a variety of bags to the handlebar.
The Rixen Kaul KlickFix is common to bags made by:
- Gilles Berthoud,
Considerations in choosing a bar bag (for me, others will differ) include:
- keeping the ‘flats’ or tops clear- sometimes I like to ride with my elbows on the flats.
- easy open & close with out stopping
- padded/compartmented to protect contents from D lock
- easy to get on & off the bike
Ideally what’s needed is a secure pocket for the blessed lock and perhaps another for the small things that are needed in a hurry: keys, phone, money.
How big can it be? Anything on the handlebars needs clearance for
- hands on the flats
- front wheel
- front light
- cycle computer
- To fit 15x20cm Dlock
The Karimor at 27x 15x 17cm is about as big a bag as will fit my bars.
How heavy? The weight of the ‘day bits’ determines the maximum load (the Rixen Kaul bracket is rated at 6.8kg)
- D lock which is just under a kilo.
- rain jacket
- spare tube
- Allen keys
- puncture repair kit
- cereal bars
- bottle of beer
which comes in at about 3kg.
Water & dust proof? Ideally the bag should be water proof, the Karimor may have been in its youth but it is now porous to, not only rain but dust too. The map ‘window’ on the lid fogs instantly in the wet rendering it useless for non water proof items like a ‘phone and makes the GPS unreadable. The map window isn’t really that handy to get things in and out of either.
Is there a better bag? An internet crawl throws up leading options from Orlieb, Vaude and a curiosity in the RouteWerks bag. It uses its own clip system (rated at 4kg) rather than the Rixen Kaul but seems to be well thought out if a little small at (23 x 14 x 15cm). Route Werkx have put a Garmin bracket on the bag, included pockets and a lid that opens and closes with one hand. The bag was produced as a user designed product, which is encouraging, so this seems like an obvious replacement. At the time of wrting these bags are unavailable and gaining something of a mythic status as the ‘ideal’ bar bag.
Karrimor are no more. The pandemmic bike rush has cleared local bike shops of barbags so getting my hands on the current candidates requires forking the cash online. I’m reluctant to commit to a new bag without a good look at it. Karrimor, founded as the Karrimor Bag Company at Rawtenstall Lancs in 1946 to meet the post war demand for cycle touring kit, has not catered for the cyclist since 1999 so replacement is overdue.