Archive | Racks/Bags

My PBP Bike: Rack and Bag

When you ride 1200 km (750 miles) unsupported, almost non-stop, you need to carry a few things. Clothes are the most important – it’s cold at night, warm during the day; it can rain; and you need to be prepared for all of it. You’ll want to carry a little food – being able to eat on your bike cuts the time you’ll spend at the controls. You’ll need to bring spare tubes and maybe a few tools, just in case. You may want to bring a camera, too. Continue Reading →

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UD Racks for (almost) every bike

Handlebar bags are one of the best places to carry luggage on your bike. Right in front of you, the contents are easy to reach. A handlebar bag doesn’t increase your frontal area, so it’s aero, and it doesn’t get caught on obstacles when you ride through tight spaces. Handlebar bags have more capacity than most other bikepacking bags, and there’s none of the ‘tail wagging the dog’ effect you get with rear bags, especially when climbing out of the saddle.

Handlebar bags work best when they are supported by a rack. That way, the bag sits as low as possible and doesn’t swing from side to side – both important for good handling. Ideally, your bike’s front-end geometry is designed to accommodate the extra load, but many riders enjoy their handlebar bags on a wide variety of bikes. Continue Reading →

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Rene Herse Handlebar Bag Stiffener

Small things can make a big difference, especially on long rides. With handlebar bags, it’s important that they don’t flop around as you ride. That is why they are supported by a rack at the bottom. At the top, keeping the bag from moving from side to side is helpful as well.

Berthoud bags come with a sturdy (and quite heavy) cardboard stiffener. This makes sure they hold their shape, but it also turn the bag into a rigid box: The bag no longer conforms to the contour of the rack – it slides and rattles when you go over bumps. Most riders discard the cardboard stiffener. The bag by itself is stiff enough to hold its shape OK, but a little more stiffness at the top would be nice.

Enter the Rene Herse bag stiffener. Originally designed for the ultralight handlebar bag for the Concours de Machines (which didn’t have enough leather to be stiff on its own), we’re now offering it as a separate part. It’s superlight – just 47 g – and it fits snugly inside the popular Berthoud handlebar bags (GB 22, 25, 28).

With stiffeners like these, it’s important that they are not too stiff: They need to flex a bit, rather than transmit all vibrations and shocks to the decaleur.

The Rene Herse Handlebar Bag Stiffener is equipped with Velcro that connects to the small internal flaps of the Berthoud bags, holding the stiffener securely in place. You can drill the aluminum material to attach a decaleur. You can also use the stiffener with a bag that is attached directly to the handlebars with leather straps. That is what I did during this year’s Solstice Ride, and it worked great for 400 miles (640 km) on rough gravel roads and singletrack. Now that it has proven itself under the harshest conditions, we are offering it in the Rene Herse program.

The Rene Herse Handlebar Bag Stiffeners are made right here in Seattle, and they are in stock. Click here for more information.

In other news, we also received a new shipment of our fenders, including the 650B XL fenders designed to fit on 650B x 48 mm tires. Click here for more information on our fender program.

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Berthoud Bags in Black-on-Black

Our entire line of Berthoud bags is now available in black-on-black, for a contemporary aesthetic that matches modern bikes. Unchanged is the outstanding performance, light weight and durability of these bags.

Leather and canvas may seem like unlikely materials for a high-performance bag, but Berthoud bags aren’t just lighter than most ‘modern’ bags, they also retain their waterproofness in the long run. There is no coating that wears off, nor a liner that adds weight and may leak in the future: The cotton fabric itself swells when it gets moist, making it inherently waterproof.
The black-on-black bags have one difference to the traditional models: The edging of the black-on-black bags is made from Nylon, not leather like the other colors. The edging tends to get some abuse, and if it was made from leather that had been dyed black, the natural tan color would show through after a while. The Nylon is strong and doesn’t change color as it wears.
The design of these bags has been refined over more than half a century, which shows in small details like the elastic closures that are easy to operate with one hand, even while riding.

Berthoud bags are made by hand in France from the best materials, so they aren’t cheap, but they last far longer than other bags we’ve tried. How long? As long as you occasionally treat the leather, they’ll continue to look great after a decade or more of daily use. In fact, I still use the very first Berthoud bag I bought in 1999, twenty years ago.
The Berthoud program includes more than just the iconic handlebar bags:

The small universal bag attaches to the saddle, to a rack, or even to your handlebars – it’s a great way to add carrying capacity and style to your bike.

For more space, the banana-shaped saddle bags are hard to beat. They attach to the saddle rails with a strap…
… or if you have a Berthoud saddle (except the superlight Galibier), you can bolt a small KlickFix attachment to the saddle and mount the bag that way.

I love the small roll-closure bag. Carry it under your saddle or in a bottle cage to carry tools, a tube, and perhaps a lightweight rain jacket. It’s so much nicer and more secure than a cut-off water bottle!

The best-kept secret in Berthoud’s range are their panniers. With the ingenious laces, the volume of the panniers is easy to adjust – expand them when you need to carry extra food for a stretch of empty country, or contract them when you wear all your clothes on a cool day. The leather straps compress the bag when you close it – nothing wiggles or rattles.

Our Berthoud panniers attach with simple leather straps and a metal spring that hooks onto the rack. This tensions the bag and prevents it from rattling on rough roads. After touring with these, I miss the features when touring with other bags!

If there is one small drawback to Berthoud bags, it’s that the leather requires a little upkeep. When new, I treat my bags with Obenauf’s Leather Preservative, and if the leather appears to get dry, I repeat – maybe once a year if the bags are used in the rain a lot.
Berthoud also offers their Leather Cleaner & Conditioner (above). It’s less strong and doesn’t penetrate the leather’s surface as much. Mostly, it’s useful for leather saddles that are have softened with age – it doesn’t soften the saddle leather further. We have it in stock, too.
At Rene Herse Cycles, we don’t just offer proven products, but also the spares you need to keep them on the road. The metal springs of the Berthoud panniers don’t wear out, but if you fall or hook a pannier on an obstacle, they can get overstretched. It’s not serious – you can always continue your ride, whereas plastic hooks that snap may well end your trip. We now offer the springs – as well as the leather straps – as spares. Usually, you don’t need the rivets that come with them: Just bend open the hook on the bag and insert the new spring.

With our recent Berthoud shipment also came a restock of the popular saddled: All models and colors are in stock again…

… and so are Berthoud’s popular bar-end mirrors.
Click on the links below for the full program:

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UD Racks: a modular system for canti and disc bikes

After 2 years of R&D, we’re excited to introduce the UD-2 rack in a version for cantilever brakes. All you need to fit this rack on your bike is a hole in the fork crown and cantilever brakes.

Handlebar bags are popular for touring, randonneuring and bikepacking, because they offer a lot of capacity in an easy-to-access location. They don’t extend beyond the outline of the bike, making it easy to pass through tight spots. Handlebar bags work best when they are supported by a rack.
The Rene Herse UD racks are part of a modular system that uses the same platform, with different struts, to fit bikes with disc and cantilever brakes. Attach it to the canti posts (canti model), to mid-fork eyelets or even to the dropouts (disc model)! And best of all, the struts are available separately, so you can move the rack from one bike to the next.

The new canti-specific UD-2 rack comes with 150 mm struts that fit on bikes with a post-to-crown (PTC) distance of 70 – 98 mm. That specification includes most touring bikes and a lot of mountain bikes. Later this year, we’ll offer longer stays that fit bikes with very generous tire clearances.
Why did it take 2 years to develop the UD-2 rack? When we introduced the UD-1 for disc brakes, we figured it would be easy to modify the stays so they fit on cantilever posts… But a bend in the struts where they connect to the canti posts weakened the tabs, and they kept cracking in our testing. We went from an aluminum to a stainless steel strut, and finally to CrMo steel and a different design that eliminates the bend. Now the UD-2 is strong enough for heavy loads on rough roads. It’s been tested on Nitto’s fatigue testing machines for 10,000s of miles without problems. (Nitto makes Rene Herse racks to our own superlight specifications.)

The new rack joins the UD-1 Disc rack, which attaches to eyelets on the fork or to the dropouts. Both use the same platform…

… and the struts are available separately. This allows you to move the rack from one bike to the next.

Both UD racks are compatible with our innovative light mount: It uses the weight of the light to keep the attachment bolt tight – no matter how much your bike vibrates, the light mount will never come loose. And out on the open road, you’ll appreciate that the angle of the headlight is adjustable by hand.

In other rack news, our ultralight CP-1 rack for centerpull brakes is now available with an elegant light mount for ‘hanging’ SON Edelux lights. The location of the light has been optimized to be close to the rack for optimum protection and elegance, yet it does not cast a shadow on your trajectory during right turns.
At just 168 g, the CP-1 is one of the lightest racks ever made, yet it’s strong enough to carry a heavy handlebar bag on rough roads. (You need a fork with centerpull brake pivots for this rack.)
The CP-1 rack is also available with a ‘standing’ light mount that allows you to run most headlights, or with simple eyelets in case you don’t always want to use a light.

To complement the popular Berthoud saddles, we now offer two Nitto seatposts. The S-65 is a lightweight single-bolt seatpost made to Nitto’s famous quality standards.

The S-83, better known as ‘Frog,’ has two bolts to clamp the saddle ultra-securely. Both are available in 250 and 300 mm lengths.

The Berthoud mirrors, both in the standard aluminum version and with leather inserts (above), have been so popular that it’s been hard to keep up with demand. Now all models are back in stock.
Click on the links above to learn more about these products, or click here to head to the Rene Herse Cycles web site and browse the entire program.

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Ultralight Handlebar Bag Pre-Order

How do you make an ultralight bag? That was the first question when the Concours de Machines announced that the weight of the bikes included the bag.

Peter Weigle worked very hard to get his fully equipped bike down to just 20.0 lb (9.07 kg), and we wanted to make sure the bag was also as light as possible.

Gilles Berthoud bags already are among the lightest bags available today. Even so, we knew savings were possible without compromising its size or performance. The result is on the left in the photo above, with the standard bag on the right for comparison.
Together with our friends at Gilles Berthoud, we decided to use the same canvas fabric and leather as on the standard bags: Thinner materials wouldn’t last as long.
The first step was to remove the outside pockets. We gave up a little capacity and convenience, but gained significant weight savings. Next, our friends at Gilles Berthoud reduced the leather reinforcements to an absolute minimum.

They examined every part of the bag to see where weight could be saved. Above are studies for the attachment to the rack backstop. In the end, they replaced the strap with a short sleeve that slips over the rack backstop and also anchors the hook for the closure. It’s by far the lightest and simplest solution.
We thought about eliminating the map pocket, but I felt that it was essential. The goal with this project wasn’t to create the lightest bike at all cost, but a no-compromise machine that will be ridden hard for many years. How about reverting to the older style of map pocket that is open on the side, rather than using a Velcro closure? That is a small compromise, and it saves valuable grams. There are a few other weight-saving details, but we also added a little piece of leather with the Gilles Bethoud logo to the front of the bag. It may weigh 3 grams, but those who created this amazing bag deserve credit.
The result? The entire bag weighs just 266 g. That is less than half the weight of the standard bag (which is already very light). And this is the GB28 – the largest size – which holds a whopping 13 liters. I can’t think of any other adventure-sized handlebar bag that comes close to being this light.

The bag has lived up to its promise. I’ve used it quite a bit in all kinds of weather – that is why it no longer looks brand-new in the studio photos. Since the fabric and leather are the same as the standard bags, it should last as long. (My very first Berthoud bag, which I bought in 2000, is still going strong.)
And it’s as waterproof as the standard bags – the cotton fabric swells when it gets wet, and even after hours in the rain, there is no water inside. (I place my notebook and other moisture-sensitive items in a Ziploc bag as a precaution.)

There is one other modification we made compared to the standard bags: Since there is so little leather, the ultralight bag is less stiff than the standard model. So we made a very lightweight aluminum stiffener that attaches to the decaleur and to the small inner flaps with Velcro. (The large flaps keep the contents in the bag on really rough terrain, so we kept them, too. The flaps also allow you to overstuff the bag, which is useful during long events. Plus they keep out the rain.)

Does a superlight handlebar bag make sense when its contents will weigh more than the bag? Like the trunk of my car, my handlebar bag rarely is filled to the brim. It just gives me options. I can start a ride before sunrise, dressed for chilly temperatures, and then shed layers as it warms up. I can bring a camera and take photos when the mood strikes. I can even swing by the farmers’ market on the way home and pick up some fresh vegetables for lunch. A superlight bag makes sense in the context of a fully equipped bike that offers the performance of a racing bike with the versatility of fenders and lights.
In addition, I want a bag like this for long-distance events like Paris-Brest-Paris or the Raid Pyreneen, where I count every gram before the start. I plan my stops carefully, and I carry enough supplies to limit my off-the-bike time to the absolute minimum. A superlight bag is among the easier ways to save weight on my bike. (For cyclotouring where a few minutes make no difference, I definitely recommend the standard bags.)
We are now offering the ultralight Concours de Machines bag in a limited, one-time production run. It will be available in three sizes, and it will incorporate a few small changes based on what we’ve learned from the prototype. It will include the stiffener that is designed to attach to a decaleur. The rear sleeve fits on a rack with a backstop no wider than 48 mm – perfect for our Compass/Rene Herse racks.
If you would like one of these bags, please pre-order by January 15. The bags will be delivered in March, so you can use it in this year’s 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris.
More information:

  • Pre-orders will close on January 15 at midnight, Pacific Time.
  • Bag includes aluminum stiffener.
  • Available in three sizes: GB22, GB25 and GB28, with gray fabric
  • Bags will be delivered in March.
  • Click here to pre-order ultra-light bag.
  • Peter Weigle’s ultralight bike for the Concours de Machines
  • Click here for more information about all Gilles Berthoud bags.
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New from Gilles Berthoud: Universal and Tool Bags, Mirrors

We are excited to add a few great products from Gilles Berthoud to the Compass program. The Small Universal Bag (above) is really neat: It holds a lightweight rain jacket, wallet, inner tube and a few other things. It’s incredibly versatile: Use it as a saddlebag (above) or hang it from your handlebars. Tandem stokers love this bag, because it fits neatly on a tandem’s rear handlebars, too.

Or attach the Small Universal Bag to a front or rear rack. You can put it on the racktop, or hang it on the side like a mini-pannier. There is even a leather piece on one end that slips over the backstop of a front rack. The Small Universal Bag fits perfectly on the Compass UD-1 rack. It needs a platform that is at least 17 cm long, and the backstop should be no wider than 50 mm. (It can be used without attaching to the backstop, too.)

Under the flap is a zipper, so it’s safe to carry keys and a wallet – nothing will fall out. The Small Universal Bag is a great bag for which you’ll find many uses.

A slightly smaller, superlight option is the Bottle Cage/Saddle Tool Bag. It’s a great way to carry inner tubes and other necessities in a bottle cage – much nicer and more secure than the cut-off water bottle I’ve used for this purpose in the past. It fits perfectly into Nitto’s T Cage (above)…

… but it also can be attached to most other cages with a toestrap. Or carry the bag under your saddle. Made from the same ultra-strong cotton canvas and leather edging as the other Gilles Berthoud luggage, these bags last (almost) forever. The canvas swells when it gets wet on the outside, making the bags mostly waterproof. Made from natural materials, they acquire a beautiful patina as you use them.
Still speaking of bags, we’ve noticed that the leather straps on the large Berthoud panniers were a little thin. They work fine, but after 10 years of hard use, I had to replace mine on one set of panniers. So we asked Berthoud to make extra-strong straps from thicker leather for us.

Gilles Berthoud’s mirrors are beautifully made from aluminum. We’ve had the first version for a while, but it didn’t adjust quite far enough for long-reach handlebars that are tilted upward a bit. The new Mk II version adjusts over a wide range and fits all road handlebars (inner diameter ~20 mm).

The mirrors are available in silver and black…

… and with a leather insert to match Berthoud’s saddles and handlebar tape. The leather mirrors come with a second, matching bar plug.
All these products are in stock now. Click on the links below for more information:

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Using Handlebar Bags on Modern Bikepacking Bikes

Bikepacking is popular because it allows you to go places where bikes with panniers face difficulties. Bikepacking bags are inside the outline of the bike, so you can go anywhere an “empty” bike can go. Pushing the bike is easier, too, when there are no bags hanging off the sides.

The only problem with bikepacking bags is that their carrying capacity is limited. Frame bags must fit between your legs, making them very narrow. Top tube bags are even smaller, plus they can get in the way of your knees when you rock the bike while riding out of the saddle. Large saddlebags hold a bit more, but they can give the bike that dreaded “tail wagging the dog” feel.

That is why more and more riders adopt handlebar bags as part of their bikepacking luggage. Handlebar bags fit inside the handlebars, so they don’t encumber the bike in rough terrain. Shaped like a cube, they offer an excellent volume-to-weight ratio. Putting the load on the front helps keep the front wheel on the ground during steep climbs, yet the wheels are easy to lift across logs and other obstacles on the trail.
Handlebar bags have one drawback: They work best when supported by a small front rack. How do you fit a rack on a modern bike?

The Compass UD-1 rack was specifically designed for this purpose. (UD stands for “Universal/Disc”.) The rack is adjustable to make it compatible with many bikes. It is available with two lengths of struts, depending on where the braze-ons are located on your fork. The extra-long struts work even with eyelets on the front dropouts. The rack is lightweight, yet strong enough to support a large handlebar bag.
I recently mounted a UD-1 rack on Bicycle Quarterly‘s Specialized Sequoia test bike. Installation was easy: I used the standard-length struts. After mounting the rack, I marked where the struts extended above the rack platform, then removed the struts to cut them to length. With a file, I rounded the ends of the struts. After mounting the struts again, the bike was ready to roll.

The UD-1 rack’s simplicity is key to its strength and light weight. The platform is made from ultra-strong and lightweight CrMo, while the aluminum struts are easy to shorten to the required length. The rack platform sits level above the front wheel, and it incorporates a mounting point for a front fender.

Key to the rack’s elegance is the strut attachment on the inside of the platform, rather than on the outside as on many other racks. Compared to the other Compass racks, we widened the platform to make it all come together functionally and aesthetically.

The crown of the Sequoia’s carbon fork has a countersunk hole, so I used a brake nut (above) to attach the rack. That provides a very clean look, as the nut is recessed into the fork. For the Sequoia’s large fork crown, I used an extra-long nut (not shown).

With the rack installed, the Sequoia became much more versatile. With a handlebar bag, I finally could carry the gear I needed for my rides with ease. And I found that the Sequoia’s high-trail geometry tolerates a front load well.

The next step to make the bike even more enjoyable would be installing the Compass light mount, a headlight and a generator hub. Then I could enjoy the bike even after the sun goes down.
The UD-1 rack is a great solution for bikes with disc or cantilever brakes that aren’t specifically designed for rack mounting. As long as you have eyelets on the fork blades or on the dropouts, and a hole in the fork crown, you should be able to mount this rack. And yet it’s not a compromise solution: It offers performance, durability and beauty similar to other Compass racks.
Click here for more information about Compass racks.

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Berthoud Saddles and Bags

theo_bikeWe’ve been fans of Gilles Berthoud saddles and bags for many years. Above is Theo’s bike with Berthoud GB28 bag and Aspin saddle. These parts have been incredibly durable: I still use the very first Berthoud handlebar bag that he bought 17 years ago, and the prototype Berthoud saddle on my Urban Bike is still going strong after a decade of hard use. There simply aren’t better-quality or higher-performance bags and saddles anywhere.
We’ve recently added Berthoud saddles to the Compass-exclusive bags we’ve been selling for years. Leather saddles have long offered the ultimate in comfort for long-distance cycling, because they shape themselves to your unique anatomy. Gilles Berthoud wasn’t satisfied with other leather saddles, because quality had declined over time. Most companies now try to get as many saddles as possible from each hide, without regard for irregularities and direction of grain. So, he decided to make his own saddles.
Berthoud saddles start with the best vegetable-tanned cow hides, which are dyed in-house. Each saddle top is then cut in the direction of the leather grain. While this results in fewer saddles from each hide, it ensures that the saddle doesn’t sag. The remnant leather is used to make fender washers and other small parts, so there isn’t any wasted material.
The leather is thick and initially firm, but Berthoud saddles are comfortable out of the box due to their excellent shape. Pre-softened to shorten the break-in, they will last many years with occasional treatment. (We recommend Obenauf’s leather treatment, which we now also carry.) Berthoud saddles rarely need tensioning, but when they do, all you need is a 5 mm allen key.
Gilles Berthoud’s saddles use thoroughly modern materials and construction methods, while maintaining the advantages of a tensioned leather saddle. The composite frame is stronger than steel and absorbs shocks better. Berthoud placed the bolts outside the sitting area, sparing your cycling clothes from snags and abrasion. We’ve been riding these saddles for years and appreciate their quality and re-buildable design – every part can be replaced.
Compass offers three models of Berthoud saddles: the Aspin, Aravis and Galibier. Each is available in tan, (dark) brown, black or Berthoud’s distinctive cork finish (below).
The Aspin (shown above) is a high-performance leather saddle with a medium width – designed for an intermediate riding position that most cyclists find comfortable over long distances. Named for the 1,489 m (4,885 ft) Col d’Aspin in the Pyrénées, the Aspin uses Stainless Steel rails for strength and affordability. The Aravis saddle, named for the 1,487 m (4,878 ft) Col des Aravis in the Alps, combines the same shape with ultralight titanium rails for lighter weight.
Berthoud’s lightest high-performance saddle combines a narrow shape with titanium rails for a weight of only 346 g. Named for the 2,645 m (8,677 ft) Col du Galibier in the Alps, this saddle is designed for spirited riding in a stretched-out position, yet features the same thick, luxurious leather upper as Berthoud’s other top-quality saddles.
Berthoud is best-known for their beautiful and functional bags. Handlebar bags place supplies within easy reach while riding, and keep your map, or cue sheet, in view. On a bike with suitable front-end geometry, they affect the handling less than a rear load.
In the early days of randonneuring, Sologne pioneered what we now consider the classic handlebar bag. When Sologne went out of business, Gilles Berthoud bought the patterns and know-how, so that these classic handlebar bags remain available today. With more than 50 years of experience, their bags are sewn in France from cotton and leather. While we love their classic appearance, we use Berthoud bags mostly for their superior performance: They are lighter and more waterproof than most “modern” bags.
Based on our decades of riding with Berthoud bags, Compass asked Berthoud to make small improvements to the “Compass-exclusive” bags: All our bags have shoulder straps, and we offer them also without side pockets for better aerodynamics and even-lower weight.
We also offer Berthoud’s panniers with classic leather straps and springs for an ultra-secure mounting that doesn’t rattle against your rack (above).
We sell these Berthoud products directly to our customers, and we now also wholesale them to bike shops who carry the Compass product line. If your local shop doesn’t have an account with us yet, please put them in touch.
For our complete line of Berthoud saddles and bags click here.

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Compass "Hirose Design" Decaleurs

Compass is proud to introduce what we consider the ultimate decaleur. Combining the ideas of René Herse and H. Hirose with Nitto’s craftsmanship, the new Compass decaleurs are strong, light, beautiful and reliable.
Here is why decaleurs are important: We love handlebar bags. They are a great way to carry the things you need during your ride: accessible without having to get off the bike. The map holder on top greatly reduces your chances of getting lost, since you have your map or cue sheet visible at all times. And with a handlebar bag, your bike handles better than with a rear bag: It’s much easier to ride out of the saddle – none of that “tail wagging the dog” effect.
A little less important, the bag shields your legs when riding in the rain. On chilly mountain descents, you can tuck your hands under the flap for a little extra protection from the wind. Handlebar bags are more aerodynamic than rear bags, too. (We tested that in the wind tunnel.) Lots of pluses…
The only minuses are that
a) you need a rack to support the bag optimally (we’ve solved that with the various racks Compass now offers), and
b) the bag attaches to the handlebars, which can get in the way of your hands in the “on the tops” position.
Enter the decaleur, which keeps the bag away from the handlebars. (Decaler” means “to move out of the way” in French). A good decaleur also provides a handy quick-release for your bag. Just pull the bag upward, attach your shoulder strap, and take your important belongings with you when you lock up your bike. (The photo above shows the decaleur on a 1952 René Herse. The U-shaped piece on top prevents water from getting into the decaleur tubes when no bag is mounted.)
All this would be great, if decaleurs didn’t have their own problems. There are many designs, but none of the off-the-shelf versions have worked well in the past. One popular model attached to a stem spacer – and quickly broke from the vibrations as the bike rolled over rough roads. Another is adjustable in every conceivable way, but the adjustments never stayed put. A friend finally had his brazed together to make it “non-adjustable”, but then it broke, too.
The best solution is the simple two-prong decaleur that attaches to the stem’s handlebar clamp bolts, as pioneered by the great French constructeurs. These decaleurs are strong and reliable, provided you have a perfect friction fit between the mating parts on the bag and on the stem. The constructeurs achieved that fit through careful handwork, but this has been difficult to recreate in a production setting.
Modern versions of these decaleurs often had too little friction. On Bicycle Quarterly test bikes, no fewer than four handlebar bags have flown off mid-ride. It’s not much fun… On one bike, I was braking for a stop, and the bag flew forward, landed in front of the bike, and I rode over it. On another test ride (different bike), a BQ camera met an untimely demise when the bag ejected during a gravel descent at high speed. The third one was a poorly mounted decaleur that broke off. And the fourth bike didn’t have a decaleur, instead attaching the bag only to the rack (above)…
When I visited Tokyo in 2014, I finally saw a solution that looked promising. H. Hirose had designed a simple locking mechanism which prevented the bag from coming off inadvertently. A spring-loaded pin on the stem-mounted part of the decaleur engaged with a groove on one of the prongs on the bag mount. Brilliant!
To release the bag, you push in the spring-loaded pin and pull the bag upward. To install it again, you align the two prongs on the bag with the tubes, and push the locking pin as you slide the bag downward. Release the pin after the bag is all the way down, and the bag is locked. It couldn’t be simpler.
As soon as I got back to Seattle, I modified the decaleur on my “Mule” with a similar locking mechanism to test it (above). I am happy to report that it has been working flawlessly for over two years now.
The next time I visited Tokyo, I asked H. Hirose whether Compass could license his design. He examined my prototype  – and the “Mule” I had brought along with it – for a long time, before he agreed.
While we were coming up with a new design, we thought of other ways to improve the decaleurs that Compass was selling at the time. René Herse’s last bikes had decaleurs that joined the two tubes to form a “U”. That is much stiffer, so there is less risk that the decaleurs will bend and the tubes will get misaligned.
We worked with Nitto to put this ambitious design into production. It’s hard enough to make as a one-off, but as a production run, it’s even more challenging. We figured that if anybody could do it, it would be Nitto. And they came through.
Now we are proud to introduce the new Compass “Hirose Design” decaleurs. We offer one version to fit Compass and Grand Bois (and classic René Herse) stems and another for Nitto NP (Pearl) stems. We feel confident that these are the best decaleurs anywhere – a combination of the expertise and experience of René Herse and H. Hirose. And handlebar bags flying off bikes will be a thing of the past!
Click here for more information about Compass stems and decaleurs.

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Compass UD-1 Rack

The new Compass UD-1 front rack is a “universal” rack intended for bikes where our other racks don’t fit. It’s an especially good choice for bikes with disc brakes. Like all our racks, it is made by Nitto in Japan to Compass specifications. At 221 g, it’s remarkably light for an adjustable rack, yet it’s strong enough to pass Nitto’s most stringent testing.
The UD-1 is so simple that you’ll wonder why nobody has made racks like this before. (Actually, a similar rack design was offered by Goëland in the 1950s.) At the top, it attaches to the hole in the fork crown. The U-shaped tube (see top photo) provides maximum stiffness and strength here. The main part of the rack is made from ultra-strong and ultralight Cromoly tubing. It incorporates an attachment for the fender at the front.
The diagonal struts are adjustable at the top, so you can fit this rack on a multitude of bikes. The struts are cut to size after you have figured out how to mount the rack. The struts are made from aluminum, so cutting them is easy. The struts attach to the inside of the tabs, making the rack much more elegant than similar racks where the struts attach to the outside. We enlarged the rack platform slightly to make the shape come together aesthetically. Racks look much better if the rack stays slant outward a bit as they go up from the fork to the platform.
The Compass UD-1 rack fits on many bikes. It’s specifically designed to work with the mid-fork eyelets used by Nitto Campee or Haulin Colin Porteur racks. We offer optional extra-long struts tbat reach the mid-fork low-rider eyelets of production touring bikes like the Surly Long-Haul Trucker.
We designed the new Compass light mount specifically to fit the UD-1 rack. (The light mount also works on our other racks.) In designing our first adjustable rack, we made sure it has all the functionality and reliability of our other racks.
From the first drawings to the finished racks, the UD-1 took almost two years to design. It’s deceptively simple, but it took a surprising number of prototypes until we got the proportions of the top platform “just right”. And the diagonal stays required several redesigns until they passed the fatigue tests. Few companies fatigue-test their racks, but Compass and Nitto insist on it. We don’t want our customers to be the first to test our new products!
The end result is a rack that fits many bikes, looks great, works well, and will be extremely reliable in the long run. Click here for more information about Compass racks.

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A Better Way to Mount Lights

Small parts often get overlooked, but they can make a big difference in your cycling experience. Take light mounts, for example. Adjusting the angle of your headlight beam is useful: In town, you want to angle the headlight low so it doesn’t blind oncoming traffic. Out in the mountains, you need a higher beam. Otherwise, you ride into the dark when you descend at speed and go into a dip in the road.
Yet trying to adjust the headlight by hand usually results in one of two outcomes: Either the mounting bolt is really tight and doesn’t move at all. Or light moves to the desired position, but the bolt turns and loosens in the process, and soon the light rotates on its own.
Of course, your headlight should never come loose. In the real world, even if it’s tight to start with, vibrations tend to loosen many headlight mounts, no matter how much Loctite you use during assembly. And the faster you ride, the greater are the vibrations…
There had to be a better solution! Working as a team, Compass Cycles has developed new headlight mounts that finally meets our expectations.
It all started with my own bikes, where I’ve slotted the mounts of the Edelux headlights, so that the attachment of the rack goes in between. That way, the bolt clamps both sides of the light mount, and no matter how often I adjust the headlight’s angle, it won’t come loose. Unfortunately, slotting the headlight’s mount is difficult, especially on the latest headlights.
Hahn figured out a way to use the same concept without modifying the light itself: Secure the light with a locknut. The bolt is tightened only so much that the light doesn’t rotate on its own. That way, you can adjust the light angle by hand. The locknut locks in this adjustment and prevents the bolt from coming loose. (It’s just like the adjustment of a cup-and-cone bearing in many hubs and classic bottom brackets.)
On one side, we use a Nylon washer that provides a little “give” and allows the adjustment. The washer between the light and the mount must be metal, otherwise, there is no good “ground” to the frame, which is a problem if you run a taillight or the “connector-less” SL system.
We now include this setup with all Compass racks that are equipped with a light mount. For those with older racks, we offer the bolts and washers as a retrofit. When you use B&M lights, the new Compass light mount has another advantage: The bolt isn’t so tight that it risks cracking the plastic mounting eyelet. Yet thanks to the locknut, it won’t come loose.
If your rack has only an eyelet for mounting lights, we designed a light mount that offers the same functionality. It incorporates Nitto’s proven stainless steel light mount, but with our own hardware. A toothed lockwasher prevents the mount from rotating (top bolt). The light itself attaches to the mount (bottom bolt) with a set of locknuts that allow the adjustment.
We also worked out a solution to another problem: With a light mount on the left side of the bike, the weight of the headlight tends to loosen the attachment bolt by turning it counter-clockwise.
Theo had the idea of mounting the light mount to the inside of the rack. That way, the weight of the headlight tightens, rather than loosens, the bolt. It’s a small detail, but it can make a big difference.
We also offer a version for racks that don’t have eyelets, but separate, adjustable struts (above). It incorporates all the neat details of the other mounts, making it a great solution for those racks.
We’ve tested all these mounts extensively before offering them to our customers. It’s not really rocket science, but once you have a headlight that you can adjust on the road, without tools, you won’t want to miss that feature. As to lights coming loose in mid-ride – that just shouldn’t happen. Because in the end, there was a better way – it just took commitment and teamwork to figure it out.
The new light mounts are one example of how at Compass, we design products that meet our own high expectations. When we are out on spirited, multi-day rides in the mountains, we want our bikes to fade into the background, so we can enjoy the amazing roads, the stunning scenery, and the wonderful company of our friends.
Click here for more information about the Compass lights and mounts.

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Compass Racks: Light Mount Optional

We love handlebar bags. They are easy to access, they don’t affect the bike’s handling when you ride out of the saddle, and they are more aerodynamic than rear bags. (Yes, we did test that in the wind tunnel!)
To take a photo, you stop, put a foot down and get out your camera. Less than 30 seconds later, you are back on the bike. This means that you take more photos and bring home more memories. The map pocket on top allows you to view your route sheet at all times, so you are less likely to get lost. Or if you don’t need a route sheet, you can use the pocket for a photo of a loved one.
To carry a handlebar bag well, you need a front rack. Otherwise, the bag sits too high and affects the handling of your bike. Supporting the bag from below not only is stronger, but also lighter. (Yes, we’ve weighed many bags to check this.) Supported by the rack, the bag doesn’t have to be sturdy and stiff, which saves more weight than the rack and decaleur add. Speaking of racks, Compass offers two racks for handlebar bags.
The CP-1 rack is designed for our Compass centerpull brakes. It’s superlight – just 168 g – yet super-strong and elegant. It’s the perfect solution for a custom bike: You get great brakes and a great rack that are designed to work together.
For bikes with cantilever brakes, we offer the M-13 racks. These racks attach to the canti posts and the fork crown, so they fit many bikes. We offer two versions: The “wide” version is intended for bikes with wide tires, which have more space between the fork crown and the cantilever braze-ons. The “narrow” version works on bikes with tighter clearances.
We’ve added new models to our rack line-up, so that you can get most racks with a choice of light mount (above) or with simple eyelets that give you the choice of using a light or not (top).
Our latest racks are made by Nitto to our exclusive “Extralight” specifications from lightweight, yet ultra-strong, Cromoly tubing. Our “Standard” racks use the same materials as Nitto’s other racks. Even the standard version gets nicer workmanship and a better finish than Nitto’s “production” models.
The beautiful finish is matched by careful design. For example, our dedicated light mounts went through many prototypes until we worked out a location that places the light in just the right spot – protected if the bike falls over, yet far enough forward so that your front tire doesn’t cast a shadow in your path when you make tight turns at night.
All these details are things you’ll appreciate when you ride at night, whether it’s on your commute or during a randonneur ride that descends mountain switchbacks in the middle of the night.
Click here for more information about Compass racks.

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Improving the "Unimprovable"

A few years ago, I called the Gilles Berthoud handlebar bags “unimprovable”. After all, they are lightweight, waterproof and last (almost) forever. The elastic closures are easy to operate (unlike buckles), and they allow overstuffing the main compartment and pockets. And being made from canvas and leather, the bags also are beautiful. What more could  you ask for? (The top pockets are even perfectly sized for a Michelin map!)
That didn’t prevent me from thinking of improving them to meet my needs even better. So I modified mine: I removed the side pockets to give my hands more room on the ramps of the handlebars. This also improved the aerodynamics and reduced the weight by more than 50 grams. Many readers asked for similar bags, and so we had Berthoud make bags with smooth sides as a special model for us.
More recently, I noticed how other people conveniently carried their bags with shoulder straps (right), unlike my bag that I had to tuck under my arm (left). A shoulder strap leaves your hands free, whether it’s to take photos or carry other luggage (or even your bike, Rinko-style).
So we asked Berthoud to add bag loops to the models we sell. As a Compass exclusive, we offer all our handlebar bags with shoulder straps – with side pockets (above) and with smooth sides. Even if you use the strap only once a month, you’ll appreciate it when you need it.
These handlebar bags come in three sizes. The idea is that they fill the space between your bag-support rack and the handlebars (below). A taller bike gets a bigger bag. That way, the bag attaches securely to the handlebars, and you can open the flap while straddling the bike.
If you are tempted to go with a smaller bag to improve the performance of your bike, don’t worry about it. The bags weigh almost the same, since the weight is in the leather reinforcements and pockets. Adding some canvas doesn’t add much weight. And since the bag acts as a fairing, a bigger bag actually is more aero.
We also love Berthoud’s panniers. They use the same waterproof construction as their handlebar bags. The laces allow expanding the bags to fit your luggage, whether it’s for a short overnighter or a weeklong trip (above). The only thing we didn’t like was the modern “Klick Fix” attachment that tends to rattle when going over rough roads. So we asked Berthoud to make them with traditional leather straps at the top and a steel spring at the bottom. This provides an ultra-secure and durable attachment. Putting the bags on is a bit fiddly, but the advantage is that you can leave them on when you park the bike.
With these changes, we feel that these bags truly are the best bike luggage ever made. Click here for more information.

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Compass Rack Now from Cromoly

The Compass CP1 rack for centerpull brakes now is made from Cromoly steel. This makes it one of the lightest and strongest racks available today. It’s one example of how we work with our suppliers: Together, we create components that go well beyond what the suppliers usually offer.
A little background on this rack: It is intended to support a handle bar bag like those made by Gilles Berthoud. You can see in the photo above how the CP1 rack was specially designed for centerpull brakes: The rack shares the brake bosses that were brazed to the fork blades. (Many racks connect to the fork crown with a flat strap that goes underneath the brakes, but this is far stiffer and stronger.)  The rack in turn is used to attach the fender and the light with dedicated braze-ons. This makes the rack an integrated part of the bike – strong and stiff, yet superlight.
Our racks are well designed, and they are very well made, by Nitto (above), who generally are considered the best makers of production racks in the world. However, even at Nitto, price is a major consideration, and so they make their more complex racks (as well as those they make for other companies) from mild steel. Mild steel not only is cheaper, but it’s also easier to work with, and these racks require a lot of tube bending. The less expensive material and easier bending keep the cost in line.
Mild steel is a decent material for racks, but Cromoly is far stronger. So we asked Nitto to make our CP1 racks from Cromoly. Using stronger steel allowed us to reduce the wall thickness of the rack tubes, so the rack is significantly lighter. At 167 g, it is among the lightest production racks available. In fact, it weighs exactly the same as a custom-made René Herse rack for centerpull brakes. And even with the lighter tubes, it’s still stronger than a rack made from mild steel.
We also asked Nitto to spend a little extra time when cleaning up the fillet brazing and when polishing the tubes in preparation for chrome plating. That makes the rack look a lot nicer. Of course, the more expensive steel and all the extra work cost a bit more. But we think it’s worth while to get one of the most beautiful, strongest and lightest racks ever made.
Together with our centerpull brakes and the Kaisei “Toei Special” fork blades, the CP1 rack forms an integrated system, where all parts are optimized to work together. This makes it possible to build bikes that combine stunning beauty with exceptional performance.
Click here for more information about Compass racks.
Click here for information about Bicycle Quarterly No. 50 with our report about Nitto.

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Berthoud Bags: Straps for Elastic-Loop Closure Models

Berthoud handlebar bags are wonderful, and we’ve been selling them for years now. I even wrote once that they were “unimprovable”. It turns out that they can be improved after all!
The model most riders prefer is the “standard” version, which uses elastic loops to close the pocket flaps. The “luxury” version uses leather straps and buckles, which sounds nice until you try to open them one-handed while riding, or with cold hands while stopped – it’s fiddly and can be frustrating. However, the “luxury” version also has rings and a removable shoulder strap, so you can more conveniently carry your bag. In the photo above, you see me with my bag wedged under my arm, while Natsuko Hirose carries hers comfortably slung over her shoulder.
After experiencing the difference first-hand, I asked Gilles Berthoud whether he could make the “standard” elastic-loop bags with shoulder straps for us. He agreed, and we now have them in stock. Since it’s a custom model, there is a small upcharge. We continue to carry the standard version as well. The photo below shows the loops, but not the strap –  a webbing strap is included with this model.
Berthoud handlebar bags are available in three sizes, depending on how much room you have between your stem/decaleur and your front rack. Taller riders get bigger bags – which makes sense, since their spare clothes take up more space, and they tend to eat more food! (All the handlebar bags we sell must be supported by a front rack. They can’t just dangle from the handlebars, where they are high and floppy, to the detriment of your bike’s handling.)
We also asked Berthoud to combine the strap loops with our “no side pocket” special model (above). Having the side pockets removed saves weight, makes the bag more aerodynamic, and gives more room for your hands on the bars, which is especially useful if you like narrow handlebars. The first shipment included only the largest “GB28” model with loops. The other models will follow at a later date.
My handlebar bags are far from worn out – even though I bought my first one 15 years ago – but I might just get another one for those trips when I take my bag along while visiting museums, or travel by train Rinko-style.
Photo credit: Hitoshi Omae (cover photo)

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Berthoud Handlebar Bags without Side Pockets

On my own bikes, I use Gilles Berthoud handlebar bags without side pockets. The side pockets tend to get in the way of my hands when I ride bikes with narrow handlebars. Furthermore, the pockets probably increase the wind resistance of the bike (although the bag alone acts as a fairing and may make the bike more aerodynamic, especially when riding in the aero tuck.) And finally, removing them saves about 150 g in weight.
On one bag, I removed the pockets, but this left traces where the stitching had been. For my new René Herse, I asked Gilles Berthoud to make a bag without side pockets. In the photo below, you can see how leaving off the side pockets frees up the space around the handlebars.
You also see the rear pockets, which are perfectly located for small things I want to access, like chapstick and electrolyte tablets, without having to dig through the bag. The front pocket is less accessible, so I use it to store small things that I rarely use, like tools, toilet paper and a tooth brush. The map pocket on top is sized to fit the French Michelin maps, but also handles my cue sheet, brevet card and ziploc bag with money and credit card. I have found that I really don’t need any more small pockets. Before I removed the side pockets on my first bag, they usually were empty anyhow.
Several customers asked about getting bags without side pockets, too, so we ordered a few more. They are available in the gray-blue color (we call them “blue,” but Berthoud calls them “gray”) in three sizes. Supplies are limited.
I love Berthoud bags for their durability, practicality and beauty. I also appreciate the conditions under which they are made in France. Years ago, I asked Gilles Berthoud for two sets of panniers with old-fashioned straps instead of the current plastic attachments. Gilles Berthoud replied that they could make them, but I’d have to wait for five months, because the employee making the bags was on maternity leave. I was happy to wait while she took care of her baby. When the bags arrived, they were wonderful, and every time I use them, I am reminded that there is so much more to our shopping decisions than price alone.
Click here for more information about Gilles Berthoud bags.
Click here for more information on how handlebar bags work and are sized.

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Unimprovable: Berthoud Handlebar Bag

Berthoud handlebar bags are among the few things in this world that are so well-designed and have proven themselves for so long that they have become unimprovable. These bags first were introduced by Sologne in the 1950s, and they have been made almost unchanged ever since. Handlebar bags have many advantages over other ways of carrying your luggage.

The most important is that you can access your food, clothes or camera without dismounting the bike. Some do this while riding, but even if you prefer to stop before opening your bag, it is still very convenient to not have to dismount and deal with stabilizing your bike as you access a bag on the rear of your bike. On a tour, you’ll probably take many more photos if it is easier to access your camera: Just put a foot down, grab your camera, shoot, and then continue on your way.

The Berthoud bag’s flap opens forward, so air resistance automatically closes it as you ride. This makes it easy to access the contents while riding at any speed. I only close mine with the elastic closure when the road is so bumpy that things might jump out of the bag otherwise.

Carrying your bag in front also improves the handling of your bike – as long as your bike’s geometry is designed for a front load. You balance your bicycle by moving the front wheel from side to side. Thus, a front load can be balanced immediately. To balance a rear load, you first move the front wheel, then wait for the rear wheel to follow with a lag and with reduced amplitude. This makes balancing a rear load less immediate. And when you rise out of the saddle, a handlebar bag exhibits none of the “tail-wagging-the-dog” effect that you get with a rear load.

A handlebar bag also provides a convenient spot for your map or cue sheet. Having your directions visible at all times greatly reduces your likelihood of getting lost, and it is safer than fumbling with cue sheets in ziploc bags that you retrieve from your jersey pocket.

The Berthoud bag’s map case is sized to fit the French Michelin maps. Most maps from all over the world use a similar format.

Berthoud bags are made from cotton duck with leather edging. Any thoughts that these material choices are somehow “retro” and offer less performance than modern materials are quickly dispelled when you ride in the rain. In the 2007 Paris-Brest-Paris (above), I rode for 50 hours in almost non-stop rain, and the bag was completely dry inside when I arrived at the finish. The fabric is waterproof because its fibers swell as they get wet, forming a tight seal against one another. There is no waterproof coating that wears off over time. (The bag was seven years old when I rode PBP.) The flap keeps out water even when you open the bag while riding in the rain. In addition to being waterproof, the material is lightweight.

The Berthoud bags’ capacity is amazing. Since the flap is pushed down by the air resistance as you ride, in addition to being held by an elastic closure, you can overstuff it without risking to break zippers or having your things fall out. On a crisp day that starts cold and warms up, it is nice to have a place to put tights and extra jerseys. Or you can go by the Farmers’ Market on the way home from a ride and stock up on fresh vegetables.

The small pockets are handy for carrying things you want to access without digging through the main compartment: wallet, lip gloss, a small camera, a helmet light… This capacity does not mean that you always need to carry a lot of stuff. Often, my bag is almost empty, but being able to carry what I need has allowed me to contemplate rides that I might not have undertaken otherwise.

Berthoud bags are amazingly durable. When I took the photo above, the bag had been in regular use on my Alex Singer for 11 years. It has acquired a nice patina, but it remains 100% waterproof and functional. I still use it every time I ride this bike.

The best way to mount a handlebar bag is on a front rack (not hanging from the handlebars), so the weight sits as low as possible. The bag also needs to be supported at the top, so it does not swing from side to side. On many randonneur bikes, the top of the bag attaches to a “decaleur” on the stem, which keeps the bag away from the handlebars, so you can access all hand positions. The decaleur also doubles as a quick release, allowing you to take the bag with you when you lock up the bike. (Two prongs on the bag attachment fit tightly into two tubes on the stem-mounted part, so you just pull upward to remove the bag.)

Many makers have tried to improve upon the classic Sologne/Berthoud bags. Berthoud offers a “luxury” version that replaces the elastic closures with leather buckles. I personally do not favor it, because this increases the weight, and more importantly, the buckles are difficult to operate with cold fingers. Other companies have made handlebar bags from Cordura and other modern materials. These materials are not waterproof for long, and the bags tend to be heavier because they need additional stiffeners. In the end, the old Sologne/Berthoud bags still are the most functional, most elegant and most durable handlebar bags you can buy. We are proud to offer them in our program.

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Handlebar Bags: Which Size for Your Bike?

What size handlebar bag is best for you and your bike? Basically, the bag should fill the space between the front rack and the stem. To optimize the bike’s handling, the bag should be as low as possible, and well-supported on a rack just above the front wheel/fender. At the top, the bag attaches to the handlebars or stem to prevent the bag from swaying. When the bag’s top flap is level with the top of the handlebars, the bag contents are easily accessible while riding.
More space between the wheel and stem means that taller riders use bigger bags. Unfair? Maybe, but a taller rider’s clothes also take up more space. What if you don’t need that much luggage space? Then think of the bag as a fairing; it makes sense to size it so that the bag shields your chest cavity when you are in the drops or the aero tuck.
On some rides, my handlebar bag contains only a spare tube, tire levers and some money. I could just wrap those in a piece of cloth and strap them to the rack, but I don’t bother with that, just like I don’t take off the second bottle cage when I go for a ride that requires only a single waterbottle. In my car, I also don’t fill up the trunk on every trip. I think of the bag as an integral part of the bike.
If you look at the slightly bulging flap of my bag shown in the photo above, you’ll see that I often fill it to capacity and beyond. Sometimes it’s a day that starts chilly and warms up, and I need a place to stuff my extra clothes. Other days, I pass by the Farmers’ Market on the way home from a ride, and I am glad to have a place to put some vegetables and flowers. The photo above was taken after last year’s Paris-Brest-Paris ride, during a three-day trip across France to visit friends. The large bag meant that I didn’t need to bring the bolt-on rack flanges and panniers.

The largest Gilles Berthoud bag has 42% more capacity in the main compartment than the smallest bag shown above, yet it weighs only 11% more (not counting the superfluous stiffener). The weight of the bag comes from the leather reinforcements, pockets, straps and buckles, while the fabric is very lightweight. The larger bags just have a little extra fabric. The weight difference between the largest and smallest bags is 61 g, which is about the same as an empty bottle cage. As mentioned above, I don’t worry about riding with an empty bottle cage on my bike, either.
Gilles Berthoud makes their classic handlebar bags in three sizes. This range fits most bikes. If you need something significantly different, Phil Woosley of Loyal Designs, Guu Watanabe in Japan and others can make custom bags to your requirements. Click here for more information on the Gilles Berthoud bags, including dimensions and weights.

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