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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My North St. randonneur styled handlebar bag

I've wanted a decent handlebar bag for quite some time. And now I've finally gotten one.

First, some backstory: I started thinking about getting a handlebar bag on my Surly Long Haul Trucker for as long as I've had the bike (since April of 2008.) But because of the interrupter (or "cross" as in cyclocross) brake levers on the handlebars, I couldn't find a standard handlebar bag that could mount on it. I could get a handlebar bag that mounted to the front rack instead, but none of the ones I saw were particularly affordable. During the summer of 2010, I decided to purchase a Velo Orange Campagne handlebar bag, a traditional design that sits on the front rack. And for two years, I dealt with its mediocre build, floppiness, and poor mounting ability. I will point out that I did not use a decaleur, and that would have improved things a bit, but overall I was not impressed with this bag.

Earlier this year I ended up doing more art for Curtis at North St. Bags. As we typically worked on a trade basis, I asked him if he would be interested in building me a randonneuring style, rack-mounted handlebar bag. Even though Curtis had only built a handful, he was game to take on the challenge as he wanted to start making handlebar bags in the future.

After a couple months of back and forth, as we sketched out designs, figured out specifics, and Curtis building a couple prototypes, I got my custom handlebar bag in May.

And she's a beaut!

What's so cool about this bag? Well, let me tell you:
  • Size: The bag is ample, measuring 11"x9"x8", giving an area of approx. 800 cubic inches (13 litres.) It's almost twice the volume of the Campagne.
  • Pockets on the outside: It has a nice big pocket in the front for my tool bag and two smaller ones in the rear. They are closed by a snap-clasp vs. a buckle. Not as traditional, true, but easier to access.
  • Pockets on the inside: The bag uses North St. Bags new removable internal pocket system. The pocket pouch is fastened to the inside wall by velcro.
  • Map panel. One thing that really frustrated me about the Campagne bag was the dinky map compartment. The map compartment on the new bag is as large as a Cadillac* which means I can fit larger maps easily. The panel is accessed from the inside of the top flap, so water can't get into the map compartment.
  • Material. The exterior is cordura. Yeah, not traditional waxed canvas, but it shall hold up pretty okay. The interior has a waterproof lining. And the sides are stiff. Very stiff.
  • Fastening abilities. The bottom of the bag is secured to the rack by two long flaps with velcro. Even by themselves they secure the bag well, and there is little sway. And this time I decided to get a decaleur mount so the bag is super-secure.

And how has this bag worked? Admirably well, thank you. I've used it consistently on my Long Haul Trucker over the last three months. (I won't say that I've used it every day, as this bike is designed for the LHT, so when I ride the Raleigh I use my Avenue B convertible pannier.) I've loaded up the bag pretty good too. I know, I know, you're not supposed to have a loaded handlebar bag on an LHT because you can only put these bags on bikes with "low trail" (so sayeth the Jan Heines of the world.) But I haven't felt like the handling has been any worse than without it.

There is a removable strap that clips to the sides. I don't mind walking around using the rando bag for a little while, but I wouldn't use this bag by itself, as my backpack would be better suited for that.

And the bag has not shown any sign of wear. Sure, it's been only three months, but the VO bag was floppy by that point. The sides of the North St. bag have stayed stiff.

Along with my two black Route 7 panniers and my Carradice Nelson Longflap saddlebag, the rando bag completes my touring setup for this year. I've put it to work on the last two tours and am currently putting it to the test on my current tour.

*Larger than a Cadillac Cimmaron, obviously.

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