By using the term frame bag I am referring to any luggage that attaches to a part of your bike using straps. I.e. Not panniers. The sheer amount of different frame bags available is a testament to their usefulness and versatility. Every conceivable empty space between, above, below, in front of and behind, has been catered for. The current trend of bike-packing bags (that are HUGE) can also be used for commuting if you buy carefully.
Frame bags are usually much smaller than a rucksack so careful combinations must be chosen to fit your commuting swag in an efficient manner. The occasional shopping run will also mean that you need to add a rucksack as the frame bag capacity will not cope with large or heavy items, so no 6 packs of beer for you.
The most common areas for frame bags are,
- Frame Triangle
- Behind the Saddle
- Toptube mount
The handlebar bag is one of my favorite versions of the frame bag. By filling the space between the hoods or out in front of your handlebar you can easily access the items whilst riding. These bags are also commonly available with map or phone holders for navigation which can be useful if you have the need. As one of the largest and most accessible frame bags, I use mine for my waterproofs and food items, as well as easy access to my keys and phone. Be wary though as too much bulk in this area causes a lot of drag which could be minimized with other frame bag versions.
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The frame triangle bag always brings back memories of neon yellow/green/pink frame bags from the 1980s, stashed in the main frame of splatter paint, rigid forked Diamondback or GT bikes. These bags are however the perfect place to store your puncture repair tool kit. The bag mounts using Velcro straps in 3 or 4 locations which mean it’s very stable and can carry a decent amount of cargo. There is minimal difference in the bikes performance from this luggage as it sits between your legs in the dirty air created by your cadence. Fitting these can be a fussy ordeal so they aren’t an item which you will want to remove daily. Best utilized by those who have secure and trustworthy Parking or those willing to have the bag and tools stolen a few times a year. Extremely large versions including those which can be custom made to fit your bike, are available by searching Bike-packing though this puts you at risk of commuting with the kitchen sink every day.
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It seems that saddle bags are a mystery to most people. In every peloton that has ever rolled, I can guarantee to see at least one mounted upside down or swinging from its straps like a neoprene ball bag. Even women seem to ignore the fitting instructions on a saddle bag. These bags are best kept small, large ones are available but the high mount point and swinging motion of the rider mean they will rattle, the straps will loosen and (since it mounts behind you) you won’t see the bag bounce down the cycle lane as it makes a break for freedom. The saddle bag is the most common item(next to sunglasses) in any bike-shop lost and found. Not solely because the mechanic will need to remove a saddle bag to put the bike in his repair stand and will, unfortunately, forget to fit it back on. Always leave your contact details inside a saddle bag! These are best utilized by the road bike commuters who can minimize their needs to basic tools and supplement with rucksacks when needed.
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Toptube bags started life as feed bags for triathletes who needed easy access and aerodynamics. The bags are now available with phone cases or with mini side panniers. This can be a nice addition to a commuting setup but should be limited to the absolute essentials as the mount points are minimal and weight will cause the bag to slump to the sides. A great option for those just looking for a comfortable place to leave their keys, wallet, phone and perhaps listen to music while on the go.
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Any combination of these bags is a great way to store your essentials, items that you carry every day such as your Allen keys and spare tube can be left inside and forgotten until the day they become necessary. The bags are tidy and lightweight but fall short for those that need to carry larger items such as a laptop or a change of clothes. Forget being able to carry spare shoes! With quick release mechanisms being in the minority for this form of luggage, they aren’t for everyone, especially if you lock your bike in a public space. They are, however, one of the cheapest and most versatile bicycle storage and also make you look like a bike touring specialist or post-apocalyptic bike messenger. Win-Win.