Bicycle Saddlebags VS Top Bar Bags

Bicycle Saddlebags – You Don’t Need Saddlebags Anymore!

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.

Top bar bag, alternate mounting idea
Top bar bag, alternate mounting idea

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.

Bicycle Saddlebags VS Alpkit Fuel Pod
Three Sizes Of Alpkit 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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12 thoughts on “Bicycle Saddlebags – You Don’t Need Saddlebags Anymore!”

  1. I’ve bought Topeak Fuel Tank in size L. It’s huge! I hoped to attach it to my frame and seatpost, but when i pedal I’m touching it with my legs.
    I must admit that Topeak made really good product, I hope it will last long :)

  2. Alpkit fuel pod – had to hacksaw metal ring off zip and re-tie soft zip loop/pull. The metallic rattle permanently on the bike drove me insane! Other than that, all good on a ultralight alpine tour last wk.

    Alpkit stuff is usually out of stock I think, they seem to make to order. I gave them a ring and 2wks later it arrived.

    1. Thanks for the heads up Kp. I’ll be listening closely for any noises now. I’ll probably cutting mine off too and attach a loop or para cord if it annoys me at all.

    1. Hi Maclek,
      I have the large sized Topeak fuel tank, which is just a little longer than the small size. I’m really pleased that you were inspired by the book, that’s the most encouraging feedback I can hope to receive, thank you! That Bikepack FuelTank looks really good, great materials. I agree that large size might be best, when ultralight cycle touring the top bar bag really has to replace your handlebar bag, so the more room the better.

      Please let me know how your trip planning goes Maclek. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me directly (via the contact form on this site) and I’ll try and answer them for you.

      1. Oh belive me i will :)
        I think i will go for Topeak soon. Im now trying to fit drybag to my hadlebar with shimano 105 (5600) shifters and its a little bit anoying…

        I will post a comment on my trip with photos and send you link. It’s in polish but you cant paste it into google translator and it will translate the whole page;)

        Cheers mate!

  3. If you don’t have enough stand-over room, when stopped, it could be uncomfortable or you could crush your snacks in the bag (not to mention your nuts).

    1. Haha, you may have a point Justin. I find that, so long as the bag is mounted in the forwards position, injury can be avoided….. by a precious inch or two.

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