The perfect bike bag?

Is this the perfect bike bag?

Is this the perfect bike bag?

I was at the British Museum when I finally made up my mind. I’d cycled there, which meant I had my red Ortlieb bag with me – because wherever my bike goes, it goes too. On my bike, it’s incredibly practical. Off the bike, it’s cumbersome and awkward, and oddly far heavier than the sum of its contents. My shoulders ached at the mere thought of carrying it around the museum. What I needed, I told myself as I trotted off to the cloakroom, was a smaller, more portable bike bag. Something that worked both on and off my bike.

Since my last post on the subject, I’ve become obsessed with finding the perfect bag for cycling. I’ve spent literally hours on various different websites, searching for the bag that would meet my needs. I’ve weighed up the merits of just about every bag by Po Campo, Basil and New Looxs.  I was almost seduced into forking out the best part of £200 on a beautiful Ally Capellino bag, and may yet convince myself that £120 is a perfectly reasonable price to pay for the Ortlieb Downtown QL3.

My search hasn’t stopped at bike bags. I’ve mulled over the possibilities of front baskets, rear baskets, side baskets and handbag huggers. I’ve developed a fascination with the solutions other people find to this – to me, anyway – most perplexing of problems. I’ve even taking to photographing some of the more DIY approaches.

A supermarket somewhere is missing a basket

A supermarket somewhere is missing a basket

In short, I’ve probably spent more time thinking about this than is strictly necessary. But where has all this deliberation got me? Banging around the British Museum with my oversized Ortlieb bag, that’s where.

What I realised that day, as I lugged my bag to the cloakroom, was that I didn’t need the perfect bag. I just needed the right bag for the situation.

Having been freed from the burden of finding a bag that met my every need, deciding which one to buy was surprisingly easy. In fact, I already knew which one it was to be: Basil’s Katharina shoulder bag. I’m a sucker for anything floral – if Cath Kidston ever produced a range of cycle bags, I’d be first in the queue – and it’d been a case of love at first sight with this bag. I’d just been waiting for an excuse to buy it.

What I like about this bag is that it really doesn’t look like a bike bag at all. I’ve always thought that anything cycle-specific would mean compromising on style, but not in this case. It’s such a pretty bag that it’s easy to forget that it’s a bike bag. In fact, I’ve already used it when I haven’t been on my bike, which is not something that can be said about the Ortlieb.

All of this would be worthless if it didn’t also work as a bike bag. Admittedly, in this respect it’s no match for the Ortlieb, but then I wasn’t expecting it to be. It’s a little fiddly to attach to my pannier rack and even more fiddly to take off again. I don’t think it would hold up to the kind of rain we’ve had rather too much of lately. I’m also wary of putting too much weight in it – my previous experience with Basil suggests their bags aren’t designed for carrying heavy loads on a regular basis.

But that all said, it’s still a good little bag. It feels pretty sturdy. It’s stayed securely fastened to my bike, no matter how many potholes and bumps I’ve gone over. It has pockets, which means I don’t have to root around to find my keys or my lights. It’s roomy enough to fit a change of clothes and my lunch. And best of all, when it’s not on my bike I can sling it over my shoulder and no-one need know it’s a bike bag.

So is it the perfect bag? No. It’s not a bag I’ll use everyday. But for those times I do use it, it’s definitely the right bag. And that, in the end, was all I was looking for.

16 thoughts on “The perfect bike bag?

  1. I have a Basil bag just like yours above except in grey, and it is absolutely brilliant. It fits:
    – laptop, ipad, kindle, work notebook, assorted papers
    – two paperback books
    – wallet, 2 phones, hairbrush, keys etc
    plus a water bottle in one end pocket and a coffee thermos in the other.
    I probably have 5-6 kg in it regularly. It’s never got wet through (admittedly, I’ve only ever tried it in showers, or in heavy rain briefly), it looks presentable off the bike… it’s such a good bag.
    Two downsides: the fancy decorative stuff came off the zipper pretty quickly – but it used to just get in the way so I wasn’t too bothered, and all of that weight does make it hang out from the bike a little bit and look a bit misshapen. I’m thinking of putting a bungee cord around the middle of it when I’ve got tons of stuff in there.

    So yes – Basil makes the perfect bags.

    • Wow! That’s a lot of stuff to fit in one bag! I think I’m maybe being overly cautious in how much stuff I’m putting in mine, based on my previous experience with Basil bags. I used to have one of their Jada Mirte shopper bags, but the hooks came off. I don’t know if that was because I was overloading the bag, or pulling it off my pannier rack too roughly, or both – but whatever the reason, I don’t want the same thing to happen again, not to such a beautiful bag, so I’m being very careful with it.

  2. I’m beginning the transition to bike commuting in the coming days and looking for a bag to take to the warehouse. hmmm… not sure how the floral pattern is gonna go over with the guys.

    Know of anything in the realm of a backpack that will hold a laptop, cords, couple binders, various sundry office items, wallet, and change of clothes? Preferably NOT in a floral pattern? 🙂

    Thanks for the post tho. Always good to read from you and you have me thinking about researching my options for my over-the-shoulder-European-man-satchel as we call it from this side of the pond.

    Keep writing and riding my friend!

    • Adam – I have a Bolzano (New Looxs) – smart satchel style bag/pannier the rack hooks zip away when off the bike. It’s great for commuting and gets lots of positive comments. I can fit my lunch, change of clothes (trickier in winter!), fat A4 notebook as well as usual handbag bits. I have also had my laptop in it but only a macbook
      Air – you’d struggle with something bigger. so may be too small for you for everyday… (I have a “normal” altura pannier i use if i need to lug my work laptop about) Ok in showers but not sure about heavy rain so I use an old rucksack cover tucked over it which worked well this winter.
      But whatever you end up with I would definitely suggest going with a rack/pannier and not backpack – you will appreciate it!

    • Thanks! I’d second Ellen’s suggestion below about going for a pannier rather than a backpack. Carrying a lot of stuff around in a backpack can get hard on your shoulders and back. You’ll probably find it easier to find something than I did, as most panniers are designed to be more practical than pretty. Altura do a really good range of ordinary panniers as well as smarter briefcase panniers. Vaude, likewise, do a good range. And of course there’s always Ortlieb, whose stuff is brilliant. Mind you, one of the reasons why i like my Ortlieb bag so much is because it’s completely waterproof – if you don’t get as much rain over there as we do here that might not be so important!

      • Good insights. Thanks! I’ll be looking into it for sure. Is there a good rack system to fit onto my 1998 Mountain bike frame that might come off when not in use? That will become my commuter bike. No money for anything else. 😦

      • Hmmm…not sure. Most racks can be taken off and put back on again, but it would be a hassle if you’re going to do that on a regular basis. Maybe another option for you would be a seatpost bag? Someone else recommended the Union 34 seatpost bag, and I’ve also read a review that said it was good. It attaches onto your seatpost, and you can also carry it as an ordinary rucksack. U34 is a UK-based company, but you could probably find a stockist who would ship it over to the US.

  3. I love basil bags – they have just a great range! But my favourite purchase has been a hangbag hugger from beg bicycles. I love that I can bring whatever hangbag I happen to be using with me when I cycle without needing another bag to clip on at the back. I chained it to my bicycle so that no one could run off with it!

    • They do, don’t they? I actually looked into get the handbag hugger, and almost bought it. It looked like the perfect solution until I realised I don’t think it would fit on my bike. My handlebars are quite low – I have a hybrid bike – and there’s no space below them for it to attach to. 😦

  4. I’m pretty ordinary. I am a daily cyclist since I’ve been car-free for last 3 decades here in Canada.

    In Alberta we get cold winters often -25 degrees C and colder. Frost bitten face cold. I do ride that cold..somehow a Basil bag/pannier is the last thing I think about. And cruising through slush, salt on road and sand for ice-control makes me hesitate to consider a chic bag.

    • Wow. I’m seriously impressed you can still cycle in weather that cold. I don’t think I’d be able to handle it. I also wouldn’t use a pretty pannier bag in that weather either. We get a lot of rain here, and most of the time I stick to my Ortlieb bag because it’s waterproof and it doesn’t matter if it gets covered in grease and dirt. But when the weather gets to be like it is today – warm and sunny – I like to use my bike to go other places than just to work and back, and that’s when i like to have a choice of bags.

      • Knowing me to seriously jockey use between 2 different sets of panniers will probably end up confusing myself where my stuff is!

        And I haven’t used my new (smaller) set of panniers yet. But in time, they will be handy..

  5. I realise I’m very late to this post, but it made me genuinely laugh out loud…

    “I’ve spent literally hours on various different websites, searching for the bag that would meet my needs……I was almost seduced into forking out the best part of £200 on a beautiful Ally Capellino bag, and may yet convince myself that £120 is a perfectly reasonable price to pay for the Ortlieb Downtown QL3”

    I think I’m on my third evening in a row now looking for exactly the same reasons you were, and have found myself in an identical position in relation to both of the above. Seeing it written down in black and white though makes it clear neither though neither of those are a reasonable choice! The search goes on…

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