Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mine's a Priscilla

On the Bike, Dog in Attendance
My Carradice Lowsaddle Longflap, on the bike with a happy dog in attendance.

My Carradice Bag, that is. Inside, on the label, is written the name of the person who made the bag, in my case, Priscilla. The desire for an old fashioned saddlebag for my commuting bike grew out of the realisation that my panniers were a less than ideal solution. Using two results in a bike that's hard to manoeuvre on and off the train (and with panniers barely half full). Using one results in a bike that handles oddly - not unrideable, but I didn't like it.

The solution seemed to me to carry the load centrally on the back of the bike. Given that my panniers are 20l capacity each, I figured a 10-15l saddlebag would provide enough space for most of my commutes.

I'd discounted rack bags because they tend to top out around the 10l mark in capacity, and I have to admit that I liked the idea of a traditional, British made product like the Carradice saddlebags for a bike like my Long Haul Trucker - the ethos seemed to fit, to me.

I considered the Carradice Barley for a little while (often recommended as a commuting/day ride solution) but worried about the days I'd need to carry a bit extra. (Good job, as it turned out, the Barley would have been way too small for me).

My eventual choice was the Nelson Longflap, and I asked my local bike shop (Manchester's Bicycle Boutique) to order one for me.

An ordering mix up meant that I actually ended up with the Lowsaddle Longflap (similar dimensions to the Nelson, but slightly less high to account for bikes with less clearance between saddle and tyre/mudguard/rack). This turned out to be something of a happy accident, as the bag rests nicely on my rear rack.

On the Bike #1
On the bike, using the "Longflap" closure - this allows the carriage of slightly more stuff.

So how did it manage with a typical commute's luggage?

Bag Interior, Packed For Regular Closure
Packed for a normal commute - will be closed without the longflap

The picture above shows the interior of the bag. This is what I'd carry most days - a book to read on the train, moleskine pocket notebook and diary, and work clothes. The space left is where I'd put my lunch most days, and the bag liner is the bag that the Lowsaddle saddlebag came in (handy that). With all this in the bag, it can be closed using the "normal" closure without problems.

On the Bike, Regular Closure
Packed for a normal commute and mounted on the bike - closed without the longflap here

There isn't room for my waterproof in the bag (actually, there probably would be if I laid it on top of the contents and did up the flap over it. Hmm). In the pictures it's secured to D rings on the top of the bag using toe clip straps - I think it provides a helpful bit of extra "hi vis" for following traffic, by coincidence. The light loop on the flap is occupied by a Torch9x light which has an integral reflector. (It supplements a rack mounted Smart Superflash light for rear visibility). With the bag hanging at its natural angle, the light faces rearward in just the right position. (I believe some people press the nice metal Carradice plaque into service for light mounting where the angle of the bag is not right for the light loop to be effective).

Right Hand Pocket
Right Hand Pocket

Outside the main body of the bag are two side pockets. Carradice lore suggests that these will spill small items (because of the flap closure, and angle of the bag). In the right hand pocket, I have a spare inner tube (Continental Touring 28-35, from memory, fact fans) and a Rema Tip Top touring puncture repair kit. Both fit nicely, and are large enough not to unexpectedly depart the bag.

Left Hand Pocket
Left Hand Pocket

In the left hand pocket is a Bagaboo tool pouch - this holds another puncture repair kit, tyre levers, my multi-tool, cable ties, chain quick link &c &c. The bagaboo pouch is a tight-ish fit, but not so much as to be awkward. My pouch is the truck tarp version, so should be waterproof enough to survive this location in a downpour. (The cotton duck material of the saddle bag is waterproof due to its close weave and proofing wax, but can transfer moisture from its internal surface, apparently).

What about when I needed to carry more? It's here that the "Longflap" closure comes into play. Essentially this is a piece of extra material that tucks under the flap used for the "normal" closure of the bag (when not in use, it's held in place by press-studs). It sports an extra set of straps for closing the bag over a larger load.

Bag Interior, Packed for Longflap Use
Bag Interior - Packed for use with the "Longflap"

As shown above, the bag has an 800g sliced Rye loaf, work shirt & underwear, paperback (H.P. Lovecraft's "Haunter in the Dark" omnibus), lunch box, moleskine pocket notebook and diary inside.

On the Bike #1
on the bike, closed using the "Longflap"

The photo above shows how the longflap closure looks on the bike - notice how it makes the bag slightly taller. The photo at the start of this post shows a rear view, and a clearer view of the extra straps on the longflap in use. The drawstring closure inside the bag is large enough to cope with the bigger load too, meaning that it isn't exposed at the sides.

The only thing I'm less than happy about at present is my mounting solution for the bag. I've gone with the infinitely useful cable tie, for the time being.

On the Bike, Cable Tie Bodge
Cable Ties for Saddle Loops

The cable ties go around the saddle rails, and the bag straps go through these (buckles inside the bag, as any fule kno). Despite this giving the saddle a whimsical, whiskery look (a bit like a cartoon mouse), I suspect the edges of the ties will not be good for the leather bag straps, so will be looking to change this mounting method fairly soon. (There's tons of ways to do this, from the fettling heaven of Carradice hackery, to the clamps and racks and bits supplied by Carradice themselves).

I love the bag so far - build quality is great, and it seems, up to now, to be ideal for my purposes. It isn't terrific on the Arione saddle, because the back of the saddle extends a fair way over the bag, but I've not had problems accessing or repacking my stuff that outweigh the positives of it. (The inconvenience amounts to reaching slightly further into the bag under the top flap - not too onerous). The feel of the bike is far, far better than with my old, single pannier solution too.

Useful Links:
Carradice Website
Wallbike's Carradice Hacks
Peter White Cycles' Carradice Page (far better pictures than on Carradice's Website, and lots of useful information).


Red Bike said...

Very nice bike. Almost too nice to commute on!

I'm wondering about fitting one of those bags just so that I can remove the pannier rack.

John the Monkey said...

If you're ever over South Cheshire way on a Sunday, you're more than welcome to have a look at the bag & see what you reckon, Redbike - just fire off a PM on Cycle-Chat.

Karl McCracken (twitter: @karlonsea) said...

Where the Monkey leads, others will follow - I've been thinking hard about the Nelson Longflap for my commuting too. Looks just the ticket, and currently £47.66 from the CTC shop...

John the Monkey said...

Go for it Karl.

They're fantastic - the weight is positioned really nicely (compared to carrying panniers, or a pair of panniers). Do get a longflap version though - if you ever need to carry a bit more than you usually do, they're invaluable.

Chris Bainbridge said...

What adaptor are you using to mount the Smart Superflash rear light to your rack?

Looks like a nice bike.. :-)

John the Monkey said...

It's a VERY nice bike, even though I say so myself :)

The bracket for the Smart is one of these;
SMART LED Bracket for Rear Carrier (Dotbike).

Halbo said...

Thanks for pix and review, I am buying a Barley for my Kona Honky Tonk and need to fix it to my racing saddle until I go the Brooks route as well. Zip straps for now. I was not sure that would work. I feel better now......are SPD sandals in my future too? Cork tape and corduroy trousers?
Cheers from Adelaide, Australia

John the Monkey said...

Hi Halbo,

I'd suggest protecting the straps from the edges of the zip ties a bit - thread a piece of inner tube over, or use some electricians tape.

As for the SPD sandlas - it's a slippery slope - I ended up with a beard, somehow. (Although I mostly grew that to wind up Mrs. Monkey...)

Enjoy your Barley!

Halbo said...

I'm using the Canadian method of zip tie protection...cloth hockey tape...and mine's a Priscilla, too. Busy girl. Cheers and thanks

Halbo said...

.... wicked Surly too...I almost got a Crosscheck, but got a deal on the Kona. Cromo for me.