I bought my first front-triangle frame bag 5 years ago on ebay. I found it by accident while searching for saddle bags. I'm sure I typed bike bag into the search engine, and the 1980's vintage yellow Velocipac popped up as an option. The price, whatever it was, lured me to bid and ultimately win the bag. It sat on a shelf, waiting for a host, until I started commuting on my pre-Pugsley pre-Endomorph snow bike, a 1x1 with Large Marge rims and Nokian 26 x 3.0 tires.
That winter, I learned to appreciate the functionality of a frame bag. Its ample 3-pocket design (2 large zippered pockets and 1 small map pocket) allowed me to store my tools, tube, pump, lunch, rope, toe straps, miscellaneous repair items, and basic survival gear low and centered on the bike.
I used the bag in the 2006 and 2007 Arrowhead 135 races, on dozens of winter commutes to the office, and on several camping outings, because I didn't have a better vessel for that space on my bike. I thought about sewing a Pug-specific bag for myself, but the project never got past notebook sketches.
Carousel Design Works
I met Jeff Boatman, of Carousel Design Works, at Interbike in the fall of 2006. He stopped by the Surly booth for a lively chat about frameless bike bags and their potential on adventure bikes. At the time, Jeff was mainly catering to 3-season adventure racers who need to carry minimal gear in ultralight frame bags, handlebar bags, and saddle bags.
Jeff contacted me a year ago to talk about Pugsley frame bags. He needed a pattern, so I sent off an 18 frame to live with him for a while. In November, the Pug frame came back to the office with 3 new Carousel Design Works bags: an 18 Pug-specific front triangle bag, a large seat bag, and a large handlebar bag.
I was instantly impressed with the craftsmanship and design intent that went into each bag flawless stitching, lots of reinforcements at high-stress areas, and the array of different materials chosen to optimize strength and functionality while keeping weight to a minimum Frame bag: 288 grams, Saddle bag: 185 grams, Handlebar bag: 138 grams. The combined weight of all 3 bags (608 grams) is less than the weight of my lightest Cannondale front pannier (641 grams).
The bags got installed on my geared Pug, which was being used as my daily driver at the time. I've loaded them up with commuter gear and camping gear. For each type of ride and its varying list of cargo, I've experimented with different packing configurations until everything found its natural place in one of the 3 bags.
The handlebar bag installs with cleverly fabricated and well-placed straps that wrap around the handlebar and stem. It was designed for ultralight touring and depends on the contents of the bag to provide most of its structure. It's tuned to carry lightweight compressible gear like a summer sleeping bag or bulky clothing items that conform easily to the shape of the bag. I installed a thin sheet of plastic, formed into a tube, for hauling heavier gear that would otherwise deform the bag and make it sag or swing side-to-side.
The adjustable-volume saddle bag attaches with Velcro flaps, that hug the seatpost, and nylon webbing that goes over the rails of the saddle. It uses a cinch cord, like a stuff sack, and a bonnet-style cover to close the bag, compress the load, and keep the contents dry. The saddle bag is used for the some of my lighter, bulkier gear. Like the handlebar bag, it functions best when full.
The frame bag fits like a glove. In most cases, this is good, because the bag looks clean and beautiful, and the fabric tension holds the bag contents from bouncing around. But it's less than ideal when the bag is completely stuffed and one needs to get an item from the bottom. Gloves and mittens amplify the difficulty. Zippers on both sides of the bag (2 on each side) do help with access issues, but I'd ultimately opt for a looser, roomier bag in lieu of the super-refined appearance. The 100mm-wide bottom bracket shell, and resulting wide Q-factor, allow for a wider bag on the Pug without leg/bag interference problems. The bag has a central, horizontal, internal zippered flap that allows it to be used as a single- or double-compartment unit. I use mine as a single, because the volume is increased in this configuration. On my wish list of improvements: A handle for lifting the bike over obstacles, and more easy-to-access capacity.
Since I received my bags, Jeff has refined his designs and added to his product offerings. If you can articulate what you need, he can probably make it. Check out the Carousel Design Works website to see what Jeff is capable of. Make sure you check out the gallery of photos.
Eric Parsons - Epic Designs proprietor, Karate Monkey flogger, and Alaska resident - contacted me last October with an offer I couldn't refuse in exchange for a Pugsley frame bag, I'd do my best to torture the bag, provide ongoing feedback on it's performance, and make suggestions for improvement.
My 2-compartment, 2-zipper Epic bag arrived mid-December. I removed the CDW bag from my geared Pug and put it on my single-speed Pug, because I wanted to keep using it to make direct comparisons between the two frame bags. The Epic bag was installed on the geared rig, because it sees more miles than the single-speed, and I wanted to check the fit with shift cables and a front derailleur installed. With the Arrowhead 135 two months away, I needed to put on lots of miles, with both bags installed, to determine which I'd use for the race.
The bag installation went smoothly. The Epic is burly and simple, and it does a good job of utilizing the vast majority of available space in the Pug front triangle. The front of the bag flares out at the headtube, providing extra room in the area where there is no bag/leg overlap. The YKK zippers are beefy with substantial mitten-friendly pulls, the fabric is robust, and the stitching is clean. This bag is roomy. It's a winter bag. I can access it without removing my mittens, in most cases. .
Frame bags cover up the best handle of a loaded Pugsley the top tube. So I wish a handle had been sewn into the Epic bag. Eric did send me pics of some Epic frame bags with sewn-in handles. It is an option. Ask, and ye shall receive.
The Epic was ultimately chosen as my Arrowhead bag. It had proven itself on many December and January commutes. The appropriately-blousy volume and ease of use in bitter cold temps made the decision clear for me. I saw several other Epic bags at the race this year. My frame bag was pretty easy to access for eating on the fly, especially with the relatively warm temps and light clothing required to stay warm, but I wish I'd had an Epic tank bag, too. They got good reviews from other racers.
Peruse Eric's website to see all the other sweet Epic Designs goodies: poggies, saddle bags, handlebar bags, and unique rack bags. Good stuff.
I love seeing these cottage industry bag offerings on the market, and I appreciate the fact that they are being designed and refined by guys who ride bikes. So many of the bags on the market today are more show than go designed by industrial designers who put more emphasis on color and sheen than function.
Racks, rack-dependant bags, and trailers certainly have their place in one's collection of commuting, touring, and adventure bike accessories. But, sometimes, they are simply overkill for an ultralight, short-distance, or short-term trip.