Photo: courtesy of Joe Kopera
"New Bag Design..." read the email subject line from Peter Weigle. The attached photo showed a curious cardboard silhouette standing tall on one his fine front racks.
“Would I be interested in making a bag something like this?” he inquired.
“Of course” I replied, already curious about this new direction. The next image showed a bottle of milk on the same lovely rack, and then another with a bottle of wine. I wasn't sure what this was about as my curiosity grew...
It was easy to see the elegance in his concept and I was immediately taken with the bold shape. And given that I always enjoy a challenge I wanted to know more. Intrigued, I let him know I was excited to be a part of this project.
Photo: courtesy of JP Weigle
“Could it be ready to test at D2R2?” came the next inquiry.
“Of course” I replied, casually ignoring the tight timeline with a previously-planned vacation smack dab in the middle of it. We agreed to have it ready for it’s inaugural shakedown at D2R2 a few weeks away.
Peter had a few ideas informing this design; his aim was to have a shape that lightened up the bag form visually and perhaps shaved a bit of weight in the process. Handlebar bags are commonly some variation of a rectangular box, and, when mounted, obscure the rack on which they sit. In contrast, the wedge shape allows the graceful lines of Peters racks to remain visible. The bag retains the area and usefulness of the map case found on a conventionally shaped handlebar bag. The shape informs function; lesser-used items such as the tool kit and spare tube sit at the bottom of the bag, keeping the weight low and centered in the small footprint. Jackets, food and other bulky, light objects go in the upper portion of the bag creating a self-organizing arrangement. The goal here was to pare down the form but not constrain the functionality. The bottle of milk would happily sit within the bag proving its usefulness for a quick run to the market. The design was soon referred to as the Sportif, reflecting its slimmed down sporty disposition.
Photo: courtesy of JP Weigle
Peter is widely acknowledged as one of the preeminent constructeurs of our day; an artist whose medium is steel, silver and brass. To witness one of his bikes is to see a form reduced to its essence; an alignment of shape and purpose distilled into supremely clean, functional beauty.
While he solicited my input and was open to suggestions, he’d already defined the profile that would become the new bag. Our job together was to refine the details. I translated the cardboard cut-out into a 3d SketchUp model which is handy to allow the customer and me the opportunity to look at the overall shape and proportionality while considering the relationship of the parts to make any changes when something looks amiss.
Questions were considered: Should we continue the tapered shape up to the very top (as seen above on the left) or bring the upper portion of the bag square where the leather edge band is located? What shape should the pocket cover be? Ought we try to make dimensional pockets on the sides? How deep should the bag be front-to-back? We had a productive back-and-forth with sketches, mock-ups and refinements. I experimented with creating a pattern for the tapered and pleated front pocket. To finalize the concept I sent Peter a mocked up front panel which provided a reasonable facsimile of the finished product without making the whole bag in case we decided to change anything. Peter hung the panel in place on his bike to give it a look.
Photo: courtesy of JP Weigle
With the design nearly complete Nancy and I went on vacation. Peter and I sorted out the last details via email as we enjoyed a tour along the St. Lawrence seaway in Quebec. We returned from vacation on Sunday, I made the bag on Monday and shipped it late that day, leaving Peter just enough time fit the bag and be ready to head to Deerfield, MA on Saturday.
D2R2 is famous in the cycling world for its demanding, rugged climbs (and descents) through the wild beauty of western Massachusetts. If there were ever an event to test a bag, this would be it, and the shakedown ride was a great success. After the challenging ride, Peter was pleased with how the bag handled the rigors of the event and stayed in place well. Shortly afterwards he made a couple of changes; he moved the hook for the elastic higher up on the center band (it is always a challenge to find the perfect location for this detail!) and added two magnetic buttons to the top flap to act as an automatic closure system with the decaleur bracket. Peter has long used a small pencil case inside his handlebar bag and so we made him one for this bag with tapered sides to fit appropriately inside the shape of the Sportif. It rests at the top of the back panel for quick access to small items while riding and is held in place by the decaleur mounting bracket mounting bolts. This little bag-within-a-bag is particularly useful with this design since there is limited exterior pocket storage.
Short of a full handlebar bag the sportif is perfectly suited to many (if not most) daily excursions. I’ve since made this bag in three different heights, the same as my regular handlebar bags, 8”, 9.5”, and 11”. I was curious to see if the shape maintained its attractiveness in shortened versions (Peter’s design is 11” tall) and I am glad that it translates well. Versions have included ones made of Dyneema and xPac, and one requiring a special sleeve to work with the unusual backstop found on Jack Taylor racks. You can order a Sportif here. The 8" version can also be configured to mount rackless--attached to the bars and supported by adjustable cord to the hoods. A few variations are shown below.
Photo: courtesy of JP Weigle
Peter periodically posts pictures of rides around his rural Connecticut home. I’m always proud to see the bag we came up with, it looks elegant and at home on his bike; both familiar with its traditional styling and yet strikingly uncommon. It was an honor to get to work with him on this project.
This is a story of unexpected confluences.
I read in the most recent issue of Bicycle Quarterly that esteemed Japanese bag makers Shoichi and Tomoko Watanabe planned to retire at the end of July, marking the end of many years making traditionally styled bicycle luggage in their Tokyo shop. Having long been enamored with their work I was filled with a feeling of gratitude for their craftsmanship and creativity. No sooner had I read this, than two different customers came to me with circumstances that a Guu Watanabe style bag would be just the solution for.
Shoichi Watanabe at work (photo credit: guu-watanabe)
Years ago, as I began making bags I scoured the Guu Watanabe Flickr photostream. Their process was a source of wonder; to see their endless variety of bags, what tools they used, their templates, colors and configurations. I tried to pick out their techniques--did they use edge binders? How did they cut their leather? Their work became an example to me, even if I had far far to go in developing my skills. Doing my best to learn however I could I found myself pouring over images of these Japanese masters on the Internet. If that's what you have to do, then you do it. I gleaned all I could from peering into their shop from half a world away.
Peering over Shoichi's shoulder (photo credit: guu-watanabe)
Here's where a bit of confluence comes into the picture.
Shortly after reading that Guu Watanabe would close, I had two different customers come to me with set-up constraints that would be well addressed by using a Guu Watanabe design. In both cases the projection of the stem reaches out farther than the connection point of the backstop on the rack. This offset means a conventional rectangular bag shape would be contorted between these two points since the stem/decaleur would force the top of the bag forward of the backstop where it is connected to the rack at the backstop sleeve. A little tension here is okay, but not too much.
Shoichi had a solution for this scenario and I passed on a sketch to both of these customers suggesting his design as a means of accommodating the constraints of their set-up.
See how the side panel expands rearward in the bottom half of the bag? This is a feature of many Guu Watanabe bags; not only does the bag shape solve the offset issues presented by the stem-rack alignment issue shown above, but it also adds some capacity within the bag while tilting the rear pockets a bit outwards towards the rider. Both features are potential benefits, depending on the needs of the rider. I look forward to implementing this design when the opportunity presents itself.
As chance would have it, a recent customer took note of my Instagram post about this bag design being a useful solution in certain circumstances and offered to send his Guu Watanabe front bag for me to take a look at it. How about that? I’m a bag geek through and through and always welcome the opportunity to examine, evaluate and understand the designs and work of others, so I was so excited to receive this bag in the mail.
The bag is a wonder to behold. What strikes me first and foremost is the overall shape: it's so bold and distinct! The canvas is super stout and the details are highly specific to Shoichi’s work. The stitching is flawless and the leather is rugged. I took note that he sews a fabric cover to his internal stiffener, a detail I’ve never seen before. He also constructs the bag cover with side gussets that limit how far the top opens and also potentially keeps any water out that might come in from the sides. Somewhat curious to my eye is the snapped down map case; it’s not removable but it can be unsnapped and stood up. I’m not sure what this feature achieves, but it’s interesting to see nonetheless. I count myself lucky to see this bag up close.
I am sorry that I did not get the chance to meet Shoichi and Tomoko at their workshop when we toured in Japan in 2017, but I am grateful to have had the recent opportunity to see a small bit of their work in detail. Before returning the bag, I plan to make a template for future reference and might just have to make one for myself, if a customer doesn’t ask for one first.
There’s always more to see and learn within this work.
I am pleased to introduce our new medium sized Waxwing handlebar bag--designed to work with the Rixen & Kaul/KlickFix handlebar mount system. This is a perfect solution for riders who want carrying capacity without the complications of racks and decaleurs.
Most “handlebar bags” would be more accurately called “front rack bags” since they almost always rely on a small rack to support the bag; no doubt a legacy of the days when two straps was a complicated as it got.
This is a true handlebar bag.
This innovative bag/mount combo is great for the essentials; it provides storage for all you might need on a day out or on your commute. It is similar in size (and intent) to the Mini Front Bag, measuring 5” deep x 6” high and 10” wide—about 2.6 liter capacity. The bag has extra space with the expandable pleated front pocket, and encourages organization on the inside with two internal mesh pockets on the sides and one along the front. Two D-rings allow off-bike portability and a map case completes the package. The cover and front pocket are closed with elastic cord and hook.
One might quibble that this is not technically a rackless bag since it uses the KlickFix mounting bracket, and that’s a fair point, but it's an easy and accessible set up for almost any rider and about as paired down as you can get for a bag of this size. The bracket connects securely to a KlickFix handlebar mount, centering the bag in front of the bars. The bracket is generally meant to stay connected to the bag yet can be removed when necessary. With this arrangement the bag is suspended which minimizes the need for stiffeners to support the load.
Conventional racks have their place for sure, but this set-up is lightweight, secure, easy to use and quick to install. The bag is a great choice for anyone looking for a moderate load capacity and a pared down aesthetic. Also, if you purchase a second handlebar mount, you can move the bag from bike to bike in seconds. You can order the hardware separately or order through me.
Note: Klickfix recommended weight capacity is 15 pounds and you shouldn't use this set up for demanding off-road use, and its important not to overload the bag with too much weight. For heavier duty use, consider a conventional rack with the same bag configured for that use.
As always, customization is readily available when you order a Waxwing Bag and there’ve been some fun variations already with this bag. What are your colors? Available in canvas, xPac or waxed options.
Imagine my wonder when I came upon this aged and worn bag in a remote North Carolina workshop. My mind swirled with a mix of admiration and curiosity. The bag evoked in me regard for the skill, design, and care in its creation, but also amazement in discovering it was made a couple towns away from our home in Vermont forty-five years ago. I had to know more! Making traditionally inspired bike bags isn’t exactly a common avocation, particularly on the quiet backroads of our rural state.
How I found myself holding this bag on a misty January in that workshop is a long story, but I am proud to say that you’ll be able to read the whole tale in the 2020 Summer issue of Bicycle Quarterly*. Two winters ago I had the honor of spending a day with noted framebuilder Roger Jansen, who did his work under the name RT Jansen. Roger’s story is a tale of a man who believed in active, engaged learning and was willing to go to great lengths to pursue his craft while forging a life and education for his family.
The Le Campeur offering from the RT Jansen catalogue
Most of the components and parts required for the bikes Roger made were imported from France, including bags, but at some juncture decided he would offer bags for his customers as well as the bikes, and he would make them himself. This would be a logical extension of his work since his bikes were envisioned as touring-ready machines complete with racks and decaleurs. In those pre-internet days, I imagine it would have been hard to even know where to find accessories like bags that would be appropriate for a bike like this. I suppose some general purpose nylon bike bags would have worked fine, but they wouldn't have, you know, made sense with a carefully conceived French-style touring bike. There’s no point in getting almost there with a concept and then diminishing it with the wrong bags.
So, the bag in my hands. Its small pannier in deep orange with brown leather trim. Having worked for years to refine my skills and improve my process, I could see that Roger had really thought through his approach and was able to produce an impressively well-done bag. Was he working from an example? How did he land on this design? Like any building process, you may have a design or pattern in hand, but it is the repetition that refines and improves the result. I think of making a Waxwing bag a bit like solving a puzzle. Sequence, shape, adjustment, intersections, shortcuts and technique all converge to produce a quality outcome. Decisions are made, avenues abandoned, and sometimes the solution to the puzzle take a while to figure out. Roger clearly had a mind for this.
Among Roger's collection from his bicycle days was the handlebar bag of his friend Sumner White. I suspect this was produced by Sologne or TA
I was moved to think of a craftsman intent on his effort, working outside the mainstream, maybe even a little against it, in pursuit of his vision. Seated in front of the sewing machine, making panniers to accompany his newly completed Routens-inspired touring bicycle. I feel inspired picturing Roger engaged in the same work decades ago. Since we no longer live in a world of guilds or traditional apprenticeships my avenue into this work has been solitary and at times hard-won and I’ve often daydreamed about where and how I might have learned from others--sometimes I still do. Roger may have had a similar feeling.
He did great work. It is one thing to master the myriad skills required to build a complete constructeur bicycle, and it's yet another to take it to making bags. Since we met Roger has consistently made a point of complimenting my bag-making work. Perhaps what he’s seeing is someone, like him, who has dedicated his life to craft, to making, to the work required to hone a skill, and who combines the production of goods with the deep satisfaction that comes with making as its own reward. I’m so glad Roger’s little-known story will be shared with the broader bicycle community.
*Bicycle Quarterly is available by subscription and at select bookstores and bike shops
I was delighted to receive a note from Roger's son Larry with this photo attached of a matching handlebar bag that went with the panniers. Larry said he snagged the bag from his dad in the 70's and has been using it ever since. He said he'd forgotten that it was once part of a full set his dad had made. I wonder if theres a picture somewhere of the whole set together on one of Roger's bikes? That'd be fun to see!
Do you ever struggle to keep your handlebar bag steady, stable and secure atop the front rack? Do you wish it was quick and easy to remove, yet more firmly in place while riding? The intersection of the bag, the rack and the decaleur is a work in progress in need of improvement.
This important task can be a challenge to achieve. Almost all elements of a bike are precisely brazed or bolted in place, but not our bags.
Most riders find it handy to be able to remove their bag, ideally with little fuss and yet make it reliably secure for all the bumps, twists and turns encountered while riding. The flexible quality of fabric plays into the equation along with bag size, cargo weight, and loading choices. For many years I relied on velcro straps to hold the bags I make to the rack with reasonable success, but that was never completely satisfying. Now I do my upmost to talk customers out of velcro straps...
There is a better solution.
RaClips are now available from Waxwing Bag Co; they are quick-release clips that attach to the bottom of the handlebar bag for a secure hold on the front rack. These handy clips quickly and reliably attach the bag to your rack while remaining discretely out of view. As long as you have 1 1/4" length of clear run on tubing (up to 5/16" diameter), you'll be all set. What's so great about these is the ease with which you can mount your bag and engage the clips. There's no crouching over trying to fish velcro straps over tubes; theres no worrying as you watch your bag sway from left to right as you round corners; you just drop the bag in place on the rack, reach under to feel the retention clips then slide them into place. That's it. When its time to remove the bag, simply reverse the action and the bag is free.
For a small bag like the Waxwing Mini Front Bag, you may find that RaClips --in conjunction with the backstop sleeve-- are all that are needed to hold your bag in place, You'll need to be the judge based on your riding style and typical cargo. For larger bags, RaClips used in conjunction with a decaleur, such as the Dock-It™, and the backstop sleeve, create a nicely triangulated retention system that's easily accessed and simple to use.
Depending on how much you want to limit movement, you can mount the clips through the base leather of the bag, add a flat piece of coroplast or plastic to match the interior footprint of the bag, or acquire a full bag stiffener that extends up the interior sides of the bag. RaClips can be added to any bag. ABS stiffeners come as an option with our standard bags.
To demonstrate this system, I created an "invisible bag" out of plexiglas and made a brief video to show how it works. The second video shows the same process with an actual bag.
RaClips are available in the Waxwing Bag Co. store--free domestic shipping included. Installation instructions are included.
Please be in touch about RaClips or any other custom or standard bag needs you may have in mind. I look forward to working with you to create the right bag for your needs.
We recently enjoyed a cycling journey through the mountains and peninsulas of County Kerry in southwest Ireland.
This was an excellent opportunity to try out my new xPac x10 handlebar bag and a set of roll-top panniers. We do lots of rides locally and make occasional longer trips regionally, but rarely do we get the opportunity to use our bags day after day for nearly two weeks. Both performed great and I was grateful for the hard test they received. Making and using are two distinct aspects of bringing a bag to fruition and its important to get that immediate feedback that extended, repeated, hard use can bring.
My handlebar bag is a medium size and has the optional exterior side-pocket feature that I really appreciated. As the saying goes: A place for everything, and everything in its place. This is easier when you've got lots of pockets to keep things sorted and I was able to access food, clothing, electronics, wallet and other items quickly and efficiently. Tools were housed in a matching tool roll in the front pocket and that system worked well. If I needed anything I knew just where to go and the tools were easily accessed from the roll.
Likewise, the panniers were great--this was my first time using roll-top bag and I really liked them for the quick and easy access they provide. The roll-top also creates a nicely adjustable storage space that accommodates greater or lesser amounts of stuff.
The back roads of County Kerry are frequently lined with blackberry bramble and there was a certain amount of brushing up now and again when we had to move to the side to make way for a passing car or to lean over for a few ripe berries. Despite some abrasion, the bags did fine. I suppose that's the periodic hazzard of low-rider mounted panniers.
We traveled with a friend who used mostly bike-packing style bags and he was certainly hampered in mounting and removing his bags whereas my bags were simple and quick to mount. My handlebar bag employs the combination of a Dock-It™ decaleur and a set of RaClips, while the panniers are held onto the rack with the traditional hooks and bungee. Our friend also struggled to pack easily because the small bags required care to fit things in while having the big spaces of the handlebar bag and panniers allowed easy and quick packing.
As long as all the pocket covers were hooked in place, I was completely confident in the stability of my bags and the only time anything went awry was when I laid the bike down on its side the panniers had a habit of unhooking from the top bar of the racks. Despite being a minor annoyance, I'm contemplating a solution to keep this from being an issue. Likewise, I find the elastic/hook pocket closure to be simple and effective, but I'd love to figure out a system that almost closes itself.
I posted a few more pictures and a bit more about our trip on my non-bag blog Yurtville
In mid-July I got an email from Peter Weigle with a photo that showed a wedge-shaped piece of cardboard standing on the rack of one of his recent bikes.
Would I be interested in making a bag to this shape? Did I have any suggestions that might be useful in bringing this idea to reality?
Peter’s aim was to have a shape that lightened up the front bag--both visually and in weight--, didn’t bury his lovely racks, and maintained the usefulness of the map case found on standard bags. His intention was to put lesser-used items like tools and a spare tube at the bottom of the bag, keeping the weight low and centered in the small footprint at the base. Jackets, food and other frequently needed stuff goes in the upper portion of the bag.
I was immediately taken with the bold shape and wrote back saying I thought it was a great concept and it would be a pleasure to be a part of the project. The goal became to have it ready for use at D2R2. We had a great back and forth with sketches, mock-ups and refinements including working out the wedge-shaped front pocket that tapers to the bottom that provides an expandable yet svelte storage option. I fed-ex’d the finished bag down with just enough time to fit it before heading to Deerfield.
The shakedown ride at D2R2 proved a great success. After riding it hard, he was pleased with how it handled the rigors of the ride and stayed in place well. Shortly afterwords he made a couple of changes: preferring the location of the hook for the cover elastic to be a bit higher than I placed it (its always a challenge to find the perfect location for this detail!) and adding two magnetic buttons to the top flap to act as a automatic closure system with the decaleur bracket. An additional feature that came a short time afterwords was a making a small pencil bag that mounts inside the the bag. It rests at the top of the back panel for quick access to small items while riding and is held in place by the decaleur mounting bracket mounting bolts.
I’m grateful Peter included me on this project and look forward to taking this design forward.
We were blessed with a two-week cycling journey around southwestern Japan. Our travels were largely based on the island of Shikoku.
Our plan included bringing out bikes and gear with us. I left the question of what bags to bring until somewhat late in the game. Initially thinking I'd bring a pair of smallish blue bags I'd made a while back I started to reconsider as the trip got closer; my stuff just barely fit with the existing bags, but it seemed like it could work....
As our departure drew near I decided it was going to problematic using these bags so I decided to make a somewhat larger set. With a tight deadline I pulled together a pair of waxed bags with leather straps and buckles and a small exterior pocket. The bags came out nicely (and match my DRB handlebar bag) and I was so glad I made the effort once we were en route in Japan. I had the space I needed and the bags worked really well. They are a perfect size for touring without having to leave too much behind, or for camping if you can be judicious in your packing.
I learned a little too--the bags slid horizontally on the top bar of my low-rider racks and one end would occasionally slip off the forward end. Not a good thing! Although it didn't cause any mishaps. Gladly, I devised a solution: the brass D-ring (for a shoulder strap) had enough movement that I could slide it over the trailing top end of the rack top-bar and it created a firm hook. This will be an important detail to cover going forward.
The bags acquired a nice pattina --beausage--and did their work admirably. I'm glad to have 'em.
This bag is dressed down and dapper on the outside, but conceals a lot of nifty features.
It is the first commercial version of a DRB, which stands for Dock-It™ Ready Bag. What does this mean? Let me explain: See in the image above how the vertical center strap on the back of the bag has a circular bump-out to the left? This is where the docking button will mount to the bag to meet the Dock-It™ decaleur that will be custom mounted to the bike. On the inside of the back the aluminum plate that distributes the attachment to the bag is covered by a velcro-closed flap (seen in bottom photo) so that no hardware is visible on the inside or outside of the bag.
On the interior rear wall of the bag there is a pocket sleeve sized to hold an iPad Pro with a slick lifting strap. The strap meets in the center but splays out as it loops down below the iPad to lift the iPad evenly. Pull on the strap and out it comes.
Within that sleeve is a cover flap that will conceal the Dock-It™ button mounting plate. The only sign of the decaleur apparatus you will see on the outside of the bag will be two bolt heads in the top leather band and the small docking button centered in that round patch of leather. The trick is to get all this interior stuff to be what you need, where you need it, but not have any (or very much) evidence of it on the outside where it might be seen. Getting that to happen is an interesting challenge!
The Velcro straps on the bottom are specifically positioned to fit the custom rack that Mark Guglielmana built for this owner. Mark suggested me to the customer for this project and it's been really fun to work collaboratively like this.
Lastly, the small leather tabs on the sides of the bag that conceal the d-ring carrying strap have a tan color in the windows that coordinates with the bike highlights.
Tom Matchak has been working steadily for the last year or so on the creation and refinement of a new kind of decaleur called the Dock-It™. Decaleurs are the mechanisms that have evolved over time as a means of stabiliziing and attaching a front bag to the bike. The earliest were simple straps from the bag that went up and around the handlebar, but more sturdy and user-friendly forms have become standard over the years.
Tom's design streamlines the connection between bag and bike, allowing for less clutter and custom placement of attachment points on both the bag and cockpit of the bike.
Last winter Tom asked if I'd be willing to be a tester for his new design, and of course I was anxious to try it out. I mounted an early prototype to an old bag and began using it through the 2016 riding season, and I'm still using it! I was able to offer a few suggestions for refinements based on use, and the unit is an even better design than it was then, although I'm still using the original with no complaints.
As a bag maker, it made sense for Tom to reach out to me. I've done work to evolve the bag-side arrangment to work with the Dock-It™. Because the design allows for total flexibility, the bag no longer needs to conform to the established conventions that match traditional decaluers--namely a centered wear strip down the back of the bag. The Dock-It™ can be places anywhere on the back of the bag, so the configuration of pockets and lid closure are now free to be rearranged.
I'm confident the Dock-It™ will find a home with both builder's who are excited about new and creative ways to build out their designs, and owners who are interested in a new and effective means of bag attachment.
Tom and I are partnering on this project. I will be the retailer and be making bags as needed that conform to the needs and designs of Dock-It™ customers.
Read more here: www.dockittm.com