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
I was recently contacted by Jesse Fox of Seneca Cycle Works and we schemed up a saddlebag modeled on the Carradice Nelson. Part of the fun of a custom bag is that you get to make it become a part of the overall bike scheme, and Jesse's bike is red with black accents, so we went with colors that mimicked the bike, but didn't try to compete for attention. We also dispensed with buckles on the pockets since they can be fiddly to open (and close) when you just want to get into them. I also tried to flatten out the wooden support spar on the inside since I find the dowels to be intrusive when you are trying to overfill the bag, although I'm not sure my solution made a significant difference.
As we all know, the downside of large saddlebags is the dreaded thigh-rub, where the bag entends perpendicular to the bicyle behind the saddle and can hit the back of one's thighs when pedalling. To solve this, Jesse and I planned the bag so that it would mount on a custom rack that would both support the bag but also hold it out from the seatpost a few inches. Jesse's progress photos of the rack remind me of a randonneuring front rack turned around, which sort of makes sense when I think about a big saddlebag basically being a tilted box hanging from the saddle.
Rather than try to coordinate sizing and placement we decided I would just finish the bag based on a quick sketch and then Jesse would build the rack to fit the connection points I'd worked into the bag. A strap will run through the leather wear patch to fix the bag from below.
I love projects like this and am grateful to Jesse for his interest in working with me! I hope we get to do it again.
(Middle and bottom photos: courtesy of Jesse Fox)
photo: © Wil Matthews
Waxwing Bag Co. had a successful first outing at the New England Builders' Ball in Thompson, CT on Friday, September 30th. It was a big push to get ready and very exciting to present my work to visitors. Its been a long-time desire of mine to "Attend the Ball" and this year finally felt like the right time and I'm glad I did.
I used Nancy's Tom Machack bicycle as the model display and had a nice set of duel-colored panniers on the front low riders, a new waxed handlebar bag that joined the bike with a custom Dock-ItTM decaleur. On the back of the bike I mounted a smaller set of rear touring panniers in blue with brown leather trim. Additionally, I had an assortment of handlebar bags and various other types for display on the table. Oh yeah, I also had some nifty carved signs a pal of mine created with a CNC machine, adding a nice professional look to my signage.
To my delight I was positioned between Peter Weigle on my right and Brian Chapman on my left, both amazing constructeurs whose work I admire and take great inspiration from.
It was fun chatting with curious onlookers and discussing the finer points of bag construction and the like. A bunch of folks took my card and a few expressed interest in possible projects, which is largely what I expected. Looking ahead to next year I would love to have, say, three bikes, each kitted out with their own specific set of bags--improving upon the little-of-everything approach this year.
It was a great evening and I look forward to being back next year!
This is Mark's cardboard mock up. Note the need to fit the bag within the shifters located on the inside of the handlebar drops. His model also allowed him to check both the height, but also the reach of the decaleur. If I light were affixed to the top of the rack, he'd be able to check that too. (All photos courtesy of Mark G./Flickr)
Deciding on size and color can be challenging. Some folks know without hesitation what they want, others are less certain. Here's the story of one customer who didn't leave anything to chance:
Mark G. of Oregon is an exceptional craftsman, wielding a torch with deft precision and bending a fork radius with exacting care. Not surprisingly, when it came to planning for his bags he made sure he knew exactly where he was going before we started the actual bag making process.
You can see here Mark was thinking about typical stuff that he'd be carrying in his bag that he needed to account for.
Using cardboard, he mocked up his bag and was able to mount it atop his rack and make sure it fit where he wanted it to. A front bag sits within a virtual box defined by the decaleur, the rack, the handlebars and the brake levers. (Were a light mounted at the front of the rack he’d have been able to make sure there was no issues there either.) In addition to the functional concerns, his mock-up allowed him to look at the overall proportions in relationship to the bike. Too tall? Too narrow? Cardboard is cheap and easy to modify and takes a good amount of guessing out of the process.
(Its worth mentioning here that 90% of the bags I make tend to fall within a reasonably narrow range of dimensions, so even if you aren’t interested in going through the work that Mark did, we’ll have a good sense of what’s appropriate for your bag. Any unusual measurements would be thought through before proceeding.)
In the meantime I sent Mark a small package of canvas swatches with leather trim options. This facilitated choosing the colors he wanted and I was then able to send him a test panel that he could affix to his bag-box. This allowed him to get a feel for the color choices in relationship to the frame and components. There’s nothing like being able to see all the elements together to know if your ideas are going to work the way you’d like.
Here Mark has fixed the sample panel I made for him to the side of his text bag, allowing him to step back and take in the overall impression with the entirety of the bike. This Mark character is a wise man...
See that light mounted on the front of the rack? The box and the light aren't exactly getting along here. It's time to get out that box cutter and resize the bag (or relocate the light if you need a bag this big).
I do my best to make color suggestions, but I’m learning as I go and sometimes combinations that wouldn’t occur to me look great, while other times what I would think seems like a logical pairing isn’t quite as strong as I would hope.
I you want to leave nothing to chance, do as Mark has done, but if you want to just talk it through and rely on our mutual ability to sort it out, that works too!