I’ve always had a love hate relationship with bicycle saddlebags. I love that they can carry my tools, that they are quite light and sit out of the way when I’m cycling. But I hate that they’re too small to carry a snack or micro-sized pump, are difficult and often fiddly to access and they are very heavy in relationship to what they can hold. In other words, when you look at the overall weight of your bicycle saddlebag, complete with multi-tool, spare innertube and patches, the bag actually accounts for a significant percentage of that overall weight. How inefficient!
Until recently there wasn’t really any alternative to the bicycle saddlebag. The new innovation that I’ve come to prefer has recently trickled in from the bike-packing or mountain bike touring movement. In an effort to find ways to carry luggage on bikes that have no business carrying luggage, bicycle product designers came up with the top bar bag.
The first one of these that caught my eye was the Topeak Fueltank, something I talk about in my book the Ultralight Cycle Touring Guide. I used it on my Thorn Sherpa touring bike for fully loaded touring before fitting it to my road bike when I was building my ultralight setup. Since then it has stayed on whatever bike I’m using at the time and has completely replaced my bicycle saddlebags.
I think top bar bags are better than bicycle saddlebags for several reasons:
- They are a similar weight to bicycle saddlebags but have a larger volume. This means that I can now carry my snacks for cycling in the top bar bag rather than in my jersey pocket. (a tortilla wrapped tightly around a juicy core of pasta with home made mayonnaise, tuna and a selection of lightly fried veggies, since you ask… Trust me, try it!)
- It can be conveniently accessed whilst I’m cycling. This is especially great seeing as my snacks reside in there.
- They are long enough to carry a small pump. I carry my Topeak Micro Rocket CB Pump (55g) in a top bar bag with room to spare.
- They’re far cooler than the conservative and dated bicycle saddlebags…. Just kidding, I couldn’t care less about the bleeding edge of fashion. In fact I suspect that moving away from the tried and true saddlebag is to break some sacred rule of sophisticated and respectable road cycling etiquette.
My Topeak Fuel Tank has been a pretty good investment, I’ve used it to death and the zip is now broken (a few months prematurely I feel). I would have replaced it immediately with another had Alpkit not present me with an attractive alternative; their size medium Fuel Pod.
The medium sized version has the following metrics: Weight; 80 g, Length; 20 cm, Width; 6 cm and Height; 10 cm. That sounds just right to me. Especially the 80g part and the fact that it’s long enough to hold my pump which is not the most comfortable thing to have in your jersey pocket.
So I now have two Alpkit fuel pods waiting for me (and my partner) back home in England that we’ll be collecting in just over 5 weeks and talking on a lightweight tour of the UK to catch up with friends and family. I think I can say with confidence that I won’t be using a saddle bag again on any of my bikes for road cycling or touring.
Perhaps even a few conservative roadies will be converted by this Trojan of an idea given to us by the bike packer community? Then again, maybe not!
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