As I plan my return to Peru, the usual quandaries arise. Do I go light, as I did last time – which opened up a whole world of backcountry possibilities, but proved a logistical challenge when it came to packing my laptop, and carrying more than a few days of food. Or, do I allow myself some extra luxuries, take the weight of my bike and tow the Tout Terrain Mule trailer instead?
Right now, I’m playing around with a few other ideas; ways to travel pannier-less, yet still carry the tools I need to be keep me working on the road (namely, my DLSR and laptop). On my previous travels in Ecuador and Peru, I carried my laptop in a backpack – which was ok, but (in all honesty) not something I’d do again.
If going light proves the way to go, then I’ll most likely change to a ‘traditional’ saddlebag. A little ungainly for bikepacking (the shape’s somewhat awkward for hike ‘n bikes), my Carradice Super C fits an 11in Macbook Air perfectly – hence my recent experimentations. For the last couple of months, I’ve been trying out a Bagman2 support, which hangs neatly off the saddle rails and mounts to the seat stays for extra sturdiness. This weekend, I figured I’d try attaching the saddlebag to my handlebars, supported by a small chromoly steel Nitto M18 rack I already owned.
Saddlebag or seatpack?
Weight-wise, there’s a definite penalty over my Porcelain Rocket handlebar pack. But on the plus side, Carradice saddlebags are famously tough and robust. Especially handy for a camera, the Super C is quick to access thanks to plastic buckles (compared to prettier but more fiddly leather straps). For now, I’m filling it with light, bulky clothing to provide padding for my camera, which sits on top, with a spare lens slotted in to one side. And, it’s almost completely waterproof. In the event of a downpour, a dry bag should be enough to keep the contents bone dry. It’s a great bag, and should last a lifetime.
Performance wise? So far, so good. After a three day tour – across the whole gamut of terrain – it’s looking like an effective solution, offering easy access to my camera and lenses, while providing some much needed extra carrying capacity. I’m happy with the way the bike handles too. Weight up front slows down the steering, but I’m used to it now, and find it reassuringly predictable. Cinched in tight, the bag stays snug to the rack and bars – no flopping around.
It’s not the setup I’d choose for pure bikepacking, but as my travels will likely range in road surfaces – from paved to dirt to singletrack – it may well be just the ticket.
The Super C Saddlebag boasts 23L in capacity.
The shape makes for easy access to contents, with two big side pockets.
It’s tough, waterproof and easily repaired.
There’s buckles to lash on extra gear, if needed.
At 880g plus the weight of the rack (280g), it’s a good deal heavier than my Porcelain Rocket handlebar pack (340g).
It’s awkward to remove quickly (the easiest solution is to have my valuables nesting in an internal bag).
Not ideal for technical mountain biking.
The rack could be prone to failure.
Oct 2014 update
My journey across the Americas is now over. The Nitto/Carradice worked really well, and proved to be the best solution I’ve found so far to carrying a DLSR and lenses – packed on top of my Patagonia Nanopuff and other clothing.
No failures to report, just some small, cheap repairs to the saddlebag en route. Before leaving, I replaced the flimsy strut that comes with the Nitto with sturdier stainless steel plate. The struts were later bent outwards, to accommodate the Surly Pugsley I ended up riding.