Over the weekend, I was stoked to see hundreds of cyclists pedaling down the road during a local century event. Watching all the brave participants, a recurring trend jumped out at me–and kept staring me down as I passed rider after rider on the road: the haphazard, heavy, and sometimes dangerous ways they had saddlebags hooked to their bikes. While I felt pride at their brave endeavor, I also felt slight worry that these bags wouldn’t limp along the entire 100 miles without causing some type of crash or loss of gear.
So, what’s the proper way to install a saddlebag, wedge pack, saddle pack under your seat? Three words: high, tight, and tiny. OK, that sounded like something you’d yell at a football player or worse, but remember those three points, and you’ll install it properly. Although I’m of the snob cyclist school (working on it, folks–recovery is slow) that questions the ultimate purpose for a saddlebag, I also totally understand the argument that carrying everything in three jersey pockets can be both cumbersome and chipmonk-like. So I’m cool with saddlebags–plus their pretty much a necessity for racing a triathlon. But there are a few things every cyclist must make sure of when purchasing and installing a saddlebag.
1. Keep it Small
Steer clear of that size large! Monstrous saddlebags only encourage you to carry WAY more gear than you really need. With it full of jackets, hats, your whole wallet or half your purse, you’ll be slowed down so much by the heavy weight that you’ll probably need to have packed a few picnics in the cavernous reaches of your saddlebag to replace all the meals you’ll be late for. Yes, these bags have a place on some bikes–of course! If you’re commuting to work, touring hundreds of miles by bike, or carting groceries back from the store, then heck yah! Use one! Love it! Be proud! But never, never let it follow you around on your fitness ride. And please don’t ever tack it onto an $8,000 S-Works Venge with SRAM Red–I really wish I had a picture of that fellow . . . .
2. Hang it High
Leave slack in your saddlebag straps, and you’ll probably realize at some point that letting it hit you in the back of the legs as you pedal isn’t too conducive to a fun day on the bike. Plus, a loose bag could easily detach–leaving you backtracking down the road searching for your alloy tire levers or wondering what happened to all that cash you were carrying. You might even get a strap caught in your brake, and you really don’t want to learn that lesson while screaming down a hill at 40mph (cause you’ll probably be literally screaming). Cinch your wedge pack up as high as it will possibly go, so that it sits firmly against the rails on your saddle.
3. Pack it Light
When you’re choosing a seat wedge, go for one that’s just large enough to carry what you need for flat repair plus a mini-tool. A size small or medium (if you want to cram two tubes in it) should be plenty large enough to hold everything. Pictured at the right, the Lezyne S-Caddy (small) holds a tube, tire levers, C02 pump, patch kit, mini-tool, and cash/ID. You can pack it pretty full, and it still zips up. Trust me, if you can fit a jacket or arm warmers in there, it’s too big. Any layers you’re gonna wear or food you’re gonna eat should be stored in your jersey pockets. That way you can get to it without having to pull over and unpack your whole seat wedge just to get to your Honey Stingers.
Finally, the image below demonstrates a properly fitted and minimally obtrusive seat wedge. Since it’s really, really important that you always carry tire repair, pack it in a small saddlebag, and don’t let the haters get to you. Snobbery is silly. Saddlebag or jersey pack, it’s your choice to make: because it’s always cool to be prepared.