Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Product review: Carradice Camper Longflap saddlebag

I have used Carradice saddlebags for years. I got my first one in 1997, from Rivendell Bicycle Works. Back then, Rivendell was selling Carradice saddlebags before any other US bicycle retailer was carrying them. Rivendell s responsible for bringing transverse saddlebags back into bicycling vogue some thirty years after they began to fade from popularity. I loved the tough, stiff feel of the new waxed canvas and the thick leather straps. My first bag, a Lowsaddle Longflap, came in a non-stock, dark forest green, the result of a supply snafu at Carradice when they temporarily ran out of black canvas. Rivendell agreed to take bags in the off color, then pre-sold the lot at a slightly discounted price while they were still on the water.

Here are two shots of the Lowsaddle. The first was taken about seven or eight years ago. The second was taken about two years ago, and shows a repair I made to a frayed corner with some waxed dental floss. As you can see, the color has faded considerably, yet the bag is still plenty tough.

The smallest of my Carradice bags -- though by no means the smallest that Carradice make -- I don't use it as much as I used to. The fact is that, as I've gotten older, I like to carry less on my back then I used to. I've never been a huge fan of panniers (though I have a set and do use them on occasion), because they seem more cumbersome to have to take off and put on every time I stop somewhere. A transverse saddlebag is buckled onto the bike and can be as secured as one wants. In all the years I've commuted I've never had a saddlebag stolen off my bicycle, though I am considering upgrading to a quick-release attachment so I can take a saddlebag off the bike more easily.

I switched to a Nelson Longflap several years ago, so that I could carry more stuff on the bike. It is a few inches bigger all around than the Lowsaddle, and I can squeeze a small shoulder bag in there if I need to. But lately it hasn't been quite large enough for everything I want and need to carry to and from work, unless I'm willing to carry some of it on my back. And anymore, I am often not in the mood.

Enter the Camper Longflap, the largest transverse saddlebag Carradice make. It's enormous. If you ride a smaller bike you will need a rear rack or bag support, because otherwise this thing will sag all over your rear wheel. Recognizing that the strange geometry of my Sekai would offer a near-perfect place for the bag to inhabit, I swung a fabulous trade deal that snagged me a brand-new bag labeled as a factory second -- I cannot, for the life of me, find the flaw -- and tonight I mounted it and filled it with everything I knew I would need for class. It carried everything and I did not have to wear any of it on my back. Best of all, it will be pretty much all the bag I need for my summer overnight camping trips. It could end up being the best saddlebag ever.

 Pictures here show the bag in size relation to the bike -- note the added width and depth! Each of the side pockets can hold a standard water bottle. This thing is cavernous.

The best thing about this bag is that it fills a very specific hole, on a very specific bike, in my portage needs. I wish Carradice had stuck with the old red-on-black embroidered label -- it's classier and cooler than the leather patch. Other changes, though, are definitely improvements, particularly the leather patch inside the top, where the straps run through from the saddle lopps to the inside around the wooden dowel. Adding some reinforcement here will keep the strap holes from fraying and expanding so quickly. It also keeps the wooden dowel from wearing through the top corners of the bag, as was the case with my Lowsaddle (see above).

Overall, this could become my go-to bag, and may prove to be such a good choice that I eventually upgrade my other bike to a bag of the same size. Good stuff.

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