2 May 2015

2nd May 2015 The saga of the 'Goth' vintage saddlebag.

Saturday 2nd May, 40-52F, 4-11C, another white frost! Light breeze, clear sky with bright sunshine and warming quickly. After yesterday's rest day I ought to be allowed out for a 'proper' ride.

Those of a nervous disposition or quick to boredom should completely skip the following: Nothing to see here! Move along, please! If you miss the humour in all this drivel it is hardly my fault. Or perhaps it is? Let's just say you have been warned: Severe case of pedantry ahead!! Don't worry, I have ordered the T-shirt.

The tool bag as purchased.
47 x 28 x 18cm = 23.7 litres.

I had another weak moment and carefully removed the strip of heavy leather tool-holding loops from my new/old leather bag by cutting the sturdy stitching with a knife. The old toolbag now weighs 5 lbs to the Carradice Camper's 3 lbs. Not a bad return on my £10 investment in a charity shop for so large a leather saddlebag. I'm calling the new bag my 'Goth' bag. Whether I actually use it for shopping will depend on how practical it proves to be in action.

The 'Head Gardener' thinks I'm completely nuts for adding so much weight with such an ugly bag to my lovely Trykit. While I see it as yet another [important] step in my long search for the tricyclist's ideal, shopping trolley. This 'breakthrough' in sheer size and improved practicality should not be underestimated! ;ø]

I have been using the Carradice Camper saddlebag, usually with a brightly coloured sports bag, draped over the top, for ages. It may work in practice but  it always looks so hideously amateurish! Not to mention the potential risk of the sports bag swinging into the wheels on sharp corners! I tend to ride the sharp bits rather defensively with this in mind. Though the excellent Trykit rack helped a lot to stabilise both bags in practice, I really do want to get away from my present haphazard, bag stacking arrangements.

A trial fitting on the Trykit rack after the bag had a thick coat of nourishing, horse saddle oil.

You might consider all of this incredibly boring, but shopping is a large part of my tri-cycling. My raison d'être, if you will. I shop, therefore I tri-cycle. It gives me a valid reason to go out almost every day of the year instead of just cycling aimlessly. The flexibility of my routes, provided by randomly choosing distant supermarkets, gives me a fresh daily goal to reach. All without boredom with a particular route or becoming a martyr to the constant [head]winds. So I get a decent annual mileage without having to ride huge distances at the weekend.

If I used the car for shopping in the nearest village[s] it would leave a very large hole in my daily routine. I see this danger as the thin end of the wedge to giving up cycling altogether. Something to be avoided in the interests of "health and safety." Cycling is beneficial both physically and psychologically and is more likely to prolong my life provided white van man doesn't get me first.  Since I am retired, I need a good reason to get out and away from the computer. Cycling quickly, to the shops, just works for me as a lifestyle choice. Your mileage may vary.

Carrying shopping on a trike is rarely a matter of hauling great weight but more about dealing with the semi-fragile bulk which I fight with daily. Eggs, loafs, tomatoes and lettuce [and similar items] cannot be just stuffed into the same bag with cartons of milk, tins and potatoes thrown in on top. Not if you want everything [including your own pride] to survive the journey home. I have been scolded too often enough to continue with obvious mistakes. Having developed the necessary skills in packing shopping, to bring it all safely home from anything up to 30 miles away, I have endlessly sought a larger and better saddlebag than the minuscule, Carradice Camper Longflap.

I've done the maths repeatedly: A wicker basket, plastic storage tub, motorcycle top box, laundry basket or DIY plywood box would all be much heavier. They'd all look even more amateurish and will probably make am awful racket while I am riding on rough surfaces. Anything remotely resonant reinforces every sound the trike makes as it rolls along. Even the sound of pedalling and chains moving around jockey pulleys. While cloth bags usually have the unique advantage of running almost silently. The downside is that cloth bags are usually much too floppy. Even when made of stiff canvas or duck with edge piping like the Carradice. Though the dowel fixed inside the top does add serious stiffness without adding much weight. Which allows the bag to be fairly easily loaded without behaving more like a floppy sack.

A much larger "proper" saddlebag would be ideal but none exist[s] in this dimension. [Or desired dimensions!] Trikes have infinitely more room at the rear, but being so rare, nobody caters for this tiny market. Two wheelers have only a limited space behind the saddle and the rear wheel often forces a cantilevered approach. Rear racks help but are both heavy and often unattractive to the sporting cyclist.

Having two saddlebags, one above the other, just doesn't work for me. I've tried it repeatedly and can't load the lower one because the upper one gets in the way. The upper one can't be easily lifted once it has anything fragile inside. There just isn't the vertical room, unless the rack shelf is designed from scratch to just clear the rear sprockets and chain. Which means that the bags form a huge frontal area with serious drag consequences raised to the ^3rd power!

Meanwhile, the only other alternative: Pannier bags are much too deep and narrow for serious shopping. Making loading items of different sizes and with different protective needs a far greater problem. They don't make much sense on a trike anyway as the space between the bags is completely wasted by the pointless empty space required for the rack.

It is next to impossible to re-arrange shopping once it has been stuffed into a bag. It just can't be done outside a second, or third, supermarket even with a virtual third hand. Not while standing there with yet another mixed load in a heavy carrier bag to be distributed onto the trike's total carrying capacity. There is no handy working surface to take stuff out and rearrange it. Putting a bag down on the ground will often find it damp or dirty. I've had years of practice at this, remember! I often rest the latest bag on a rear tyre but it makes a very poor workbench for sorting assorted shopping.

A larger saddlebag needs to be only a little deeper from top to bottom, than the Camper, but can be very much deeper from front to back. It can't be very much wider because of the rear wheels intruding or spraying the bag in wet weather. The Carradice Camper is not remotely as large as the manufacturers claim and is curved to a smaller mouth and bottom panel compared with the already-undersized middle dimensions.

My pedant's T-shirt has arrived. ;ø))

A handlebar mounted bag just won't work with tri-bars. While front panniers are again too deep and narrow to be very useful. Not to mention the likely effects these options will have on the steering, total frontal area, air drag, etc. Then there are the heavy racks to carry the panniers. Pairs of panniers have two back panels and extra piping and reinforcements. While a single saddlebag has only one. All possible alternatives add to the overall weight!

Security is always an issue with bags. Anything too visible or readily accessible might be a tempting target. If only for kids showing off to each other while the trike is left unattended. And who wants to have a trike covered in assorted extra bags and racks when they are unlikely be used as extra capacity all the time? The "twice round the world trip" look doesn't appeal to everybody. Even a Trykit "shopping trolley" needs to look as sleek as possible when a bunch of curious clubmen are going the other way. Or I overtake a bunch of curious clubmen nursing weaker riders! This has happened several times even when I was loaded with shopping! 

I have now cured several problems in one go: A Carradice bag strap now holds the leather bag handle to the saddle pin. This allows the bag to sit nicely flat on the Trykit rack shelf and also allows easier removal when required. The bag also retains its stiff, boxy shape better without having too much forward tension on the handle. The riveted, captive bag straps are now running under the rack shelf ensuring complete stability. The difficulty for a casual thief is trying to unravel the securing straps from under the shelf and then clear the large buckles through the tight, retaining loops. So even removing the handle-saddle pin strap won't allow the bag to be simply lifted away. I shall have to seek out a black leather strap to make the handle-saddlepin fixing more invisible for reasons of security and appearance.

The saddle need no longer be removed to allow the bag to be changed for another [Junior] when more lightness is desired. I rather like the traditional look of leather and its quietness on the trike. The leather bag is considerably larger than the Carradice Camper yet retains its boxy shape and stiff lid much better to allow easier loading. The Carradice Camper lid tends to flop down every time one tries to load the saddlebag because the rear of the saddle gets in the way just above. The distressing roughness [distressing] of the leather bag is entirely a matter of taste. Leather 'repair' liquid shoe polish is readily available to hide some of the damage. So I might give that a try. Finding traditional wax shoe polish is almost impossible in Danish supermarkets. So don't expect much brushing. 

My bright pink sports bag usually goes into the bottom of the Camper saddlebag before I leave home. It comes out again as I start to fill the Camper with the hard or heavier stuff. Then the pink bag has to be filled with the fragile, or anything light, which doesn't like being squashed. It simply hangs over the saddle pin by its generous cloth straps and rests on top of the Camper as best it can.

So I get the compact neatness of having only the Camper visible for the outward journey. Which I like for lack of extra air drag, absolute stability and much better appearance. The present sports bag weighs relatively little but has proven tough enough for extended use. It is also the perfect size to avoid wheel contact or dragging milk boxes through the cassette teeth. Which has happened before when my countless previous sports bags have proven unsuitably pendulous when loaded.

Fortunately I have bought most of my previous sports bags very cheaply from charity shops just to see how they performed. The idea being that I would then go out and buy a new one in exactly the same form and size, but never did. The pink bags were a surprise in being tough and remarkably well made. Yet were small change in a supermarket special offer. Sports bags in sports shops are a total rip-off. Most of my used sports bag have fallen to pieces in under a week with my normal use. I kid you not.

I used to hang carrier bags over the Camper but the supermarket which offered them went over to half the weight of plastic material. You are lucky to reach the car [or trike] safely with your shopping with their current crappy bags! Which is a shame because they were bright yellow for visibility and used to last for ages.

The 'Goth' saddlebag after a couple of good coats of Kiwi "Shine & Protect". This stuff was remarkably cheap [10DKK or one dead squid equivalent] and absolutely magical in its ability to hide scuffs, scratches and digs given a generous coat or two. I imagine it will lose some of its 'bling' shine over time to leave more of a "shabby-chic" look. The finish  doesn't seem to come off on my hands once it has dried. I find the cosmetic appearance of the bag perfectly acceptable now. Though antique brown would have been even more beautiful and more in keeping with traditional leather saddles. Though I have no desire to change to a black Brooks B17! They would probably compete for attention.

I suppose I could save slightly more weight by removing the remarkably sturdy, original leather handle and heavy steel internal reinforcement of a galvanised strip!  I'd then fit a sturdy dowel [à la Carradice] to stiffen and spread the load of the saddlebag to the rack via two short straps. Though the present straps might do just as well given the natural stiffness of the very thick leather. They say that idle hands find work to do. 

Those of you who have actually reached this point must be bored to tears [not necessarily of laughter] by now. But it can't all be about saving 5 grammes by drilling the buckle on your helmet chinstrap or spending £3,500 on a top-end Campag groupset to save another 50g. [Which I didn't] I find I have occasional glimpses of alternative ploys while I am scribbling away at this stuff. I call it "thinking aloud" and it works better for me than staring directly at the problem.

No walk today, so I left for Ringe on the trike after morning coffee and marmalade on toast. Great fun going there as I was cruising effortlessly at 18-24 mph. I visited the garden centre [and came away empty handed] and window shopped in the excellent bike shop with its huge display area of 2-wheeled tastiness.

Coming back was like climbing a continuous Alpine pass for 25 miles! I doubt I saw over 14 mph, even downhill, and was averaging only 10-12 mph. It was bleakly cold when the wind blew unhindered across the open fields. It took me from 1pm until 2.45pm desperately looking for any real shelter just to eat my sandwich! Talk about travelling in hope!   

The leather bag was excellent! No sound from it at all day and it easily swallowed a couple of loaves and fragile salad items on the way back. I never noticed the extra 2lbs/1kg in weight despite taking the 2lb /1kg Abus Mini U-lock along  for the ride.

I bought some Kiwi liquid shoe polish in a village shop and gave the bag a quick going over in the supermarket car park while I gave my legs a rest from fighting the headwind. I should have eaten the sandwich instead! The leather immediately looked very much better cosmetically but the finish may not tolerate rain. It smells a bit weird too. 49 [windy] miles.

Sunday 3rd 41F, 5C, yet another white frost! Light breeze and bright sunshine from a cloudless sky. A similar day to yesterday with far too much wind and continuous sunshine forecast. Expected to blow to 15m/s or gusting to over 30mph from the east for most of the day. I absolutely promise [swear] not to mention bags! At all! Not even once. Did my usual 1½ hour loop through the forest. A Red kite soared across the face of the woods. Then I saw a hare and a fox in the more open area of Beech woods. Gulls congregated on the tilled desert until I drew close on the track and they fidgeted before moving away. Just a few sprouting crops per square yard was enough to give the bare soil a green blush.

Left at 11am for another garden centre fighting the easterly wind all the way. Dozens of cyclists out training. Many waved or called before I did. All of them were travelling faster than me! Stopped early for my sandwich today after yesterday's near-3pm fiasco. Chatted with a woman who was interested in the trike. Obviously a keen cyclist she had ridden 85km yesterday. Saw 28 miles on the computer just as I arrived and actually found what I went for! Rode back through the centre of Odense and then my usual way home with the wind behind me. I was cruising on the tri-bars at 25-27mph and riding on the ultra-smooth carriageway between the few cars catching me up. The cycle lane is strictly 3rd world between Langeskov and Odense. I doubt it has been resurfaced since the Vikings drove oxen to market along there. 59 windy miles today and feeling a bit tired now.

Click on any image for an enlargement.

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