Can a bag be too big? I recently completed a 13.75” tall bag which got me thinking about some the largest bags I’ve made. How big is big enough? Is there a limit for size?
Four examples come to mind that stand out, literally.
The one-bag-to-rule-them-all is unquestionably Alain's colossal porteur, achieving the gold medal at a stratospheric 15” in height and nearly as wide at a remarkable 14.5" (15” tall x 14.5” wide x 10” deep overall). I was initially cautious about the wisdom of making such a large bag, but gained confidence in the project as I came to feel sure Alain was clear about his goals. (Seen above with a 8" standard Waxwing bag, and below, on its own)
Claiming the silver medal is Glenn's newly minted bag reaching a towering 13.75", seen below. This bag straddles that point between "really big handlebar bag" and a sort of tall porteur; the proportions are adjusted such that the bag looks reasonably normal, despite it's notable size. Overall dimensions are 13.75” t x 11” w x 7.5”d, and it's made of waxed Brush Brown canvas.
Maintaining its perch, but knocked down a notch by Glenn's bag, Geoff's bag holds the bronze at 13". This is one of the first bags I made in the early days of Waxwing and it's still going strong. At 13” t x 10” w x 6” d, it is probably safe to consider this an extra tall handlebar bag. For reference, standard Waxing front bag heights are 8", 9.5" and 11", each with a 10" x 6" footprint.
Honorable mention goes to Christine's porteur, below. While her bag has a traditional porteur configuration; 14" w x 11" d x 9" t, it is deceptively large. The key being the expandable sleeve which can be tucked away within the bag, or expanded when needed allowing the bag's capacity to grow by a third, standing proud at about 15" tall when completely filled. She wanted to be able to fit a six-pack and a dozen eggs in the bag. It think there's 10 dozen nesting here!
How does this collection stack up together? Here are the bags mentioned along with the standard Waxwing handlebar bag sizes for comparison.
How big should a bag be? Answering this question means balancing a number of considerations.
First off are the constraints of the bike itself; how much bag can fit within the cockpit of the bike? Will the bag tower over the bars? Is a decaleur a part of the plan? If the bike has drops, how wide are the bars? Will the bag interfere with brifters or brake action? Can the rack support the expected load?
There's also the rider; tall riders have taller frames, allowing more vertical space between the rack and the bars. Geoff's bag looks right on his bike, because both he and his bike are tall enough that everything is in proportion. Ideally the bike, rider, and the bag all fit well together as a whole. A basic rule of thumb I go by is that for most bags, the bag will look out of proportion if it extends above the height of the bars.
I’m always a little concerned that there’s a slight bias towards “bigger is better” when customers start proposing their wishes for a bag. Of course there will be times when a bit of extra space is handy for everyone, but, like driving a truck that’s empty 95% of the time, it is important to ask if that capacity is more a theoretical benefit rather than a frequent necessity. There’s no one answer, having a clear sense of your typical hauling needs is valuable information when thinking about bag size. By the same token, its equally valid to ask how small a bag can you get away with, again thinking clearly about the likely requirements of the majority of your riding. And yet again, a bit of extra capacity is rarely a problem. A secure attachment plan is always important, and the bigger a bag gets the more critical attachment becomes.
I often suggest making a cardboard mock-up to get a tangible sense of how well the numbers translate into reality. It is so much easier to adjust the plan when it's only a cardboard box! Ultimately I trust the bag owner to make a decision that works best for them.
This faith was confirmed by Alain, unprompted, wrote recently to report how happy he is with the bag and his decision to go with size he chose.
“I don't regret having you make the bag so large for one minute. I'm often cycling packages to the PO once or twice a week, and it's not unusual for me to fill the bag”.
He continues, “It's never a lot of weight, just bulk, and the bag helps keep the packages and other contents safe from the elements. Also, during COVID, people mistake me for a food delivery person, and get out of my way... an added bonus!”
He also noted the weight of the bag, which was made primarily out of xPac, weighed in at 1460g or 3.22 pounds, which is pretty astounding for a bag of this size. This bag features a zipped storage pocket for the shoulder straps on the front and the back; the straps are sewn into the bag and can be tucked away when not needed, creating a really clean look.
The bigger the bag, the more the elements need to be adjusted to maintain a natural look. It has taken time for me to get a feel for this, but now have some basic parameters that make it work; extending the front pocket cover a bit, lowering the side sleeves, etc...
There is not a clear dividing line between “handlebar bag” and “porteur”, but for the sake of simplicity I consider any bag spec that extends out beyond the standard footprint of 10”w x 6”d or over the height of 11” to be in some sense a porteur, although one might argue that a porteur is at least partially defined by the size of porteur racks, about 14”w x 11d”.
Lastly, you might wonder about the smallest bag I’ve made. That's easy: a customer with a love for his partner--and for bikes-- wanted a mini-Rivendell Shopsack-styled bag with which to deliver a ring… how could I not help make that happen?
Cyclist and craftsman.