The humble saddlebag is one of those items in cycling that really didn’t need to become controversial – but has somehow managed to do so.
Like sock length, and the orientation of cycling cap peaks – everyone has an opinion and there are some individuals that will tell you that you shouldn’t have a saddlebag for cycling. That same individual will probably be the one asking you for a chain tool at the crucial moment.
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Thoroughbred roadies will, more often than not, forgo the saddlebag – instead using the three rear pockets provided in most cycling jerseys. For many riders, this is indeed more than sufficient – but if you’re heading out for a long day on the bike, you might wish for more space. That’s where the saddlebag comes in.
What goes into a cycling saddlebag?
Common items found nestled within a saddlebag include: an inner tube (un-used, unless you’ve been unlucky), inner tube patch kit, two tyre levers, Co2 inflator and canisters (at least two), multitool.
Those using larger saddlebags will also be able to cram in their phone, some cash and keys, and super sized versions can manage arm warmers and other light layers.
Saddlebag size and weight
One of the most crucial elements to come into play when choosing a saddlebag is the size – or in this case, volume. Saddlebag size is often listed in terms of capacity in litres – as per backpacks and other travel bags, though some brands provide dimensions instead.
Those intending to stow away the bare essentials for a short ride around their local lanes probably don’t need a huge capacity. A small, lightweight saddlebag will fit an inner tube, CO2 canisters and inflator, plus tyre levers and a multi tool.
Anything else can be chucked into your pockets, and a small saddlebag will maintain the streamlined appearance of your (no doubt otherwise immaculate) bike whilst also being more aerodynamic and lighter.
At the largest end of the scale, super sized saddlebags – called saddlepacks and capable of carrying loads in the region of 15 litres – are used by some bike packers in place of traditional panniers. This is becasue they’re often lighter than a rack and pannier bags, and less obtrusive since they don’t increase the width of the bike.
Of course, there are many options in between – each affecting weight, aerodynamics and aesthetic appeal. The right option for you will be the best compromise between space and size.
Saddlebag attachment and closure
The size and weight of the saddlebag you opt for will affect the ideal attachment system. Small, lightweight options may simply fasten with a thin strip of Velcro – and this should be more than adequate if kept in good condition.
Heavier options of course will need more support – and these may have plastic mounts to be attached to the saddle, or hooks that fit to the seat post itself for additional security. These added fixing will, in turn, increase the weight – but if you’re travelling with a tent and sleeping bag, a couple of extra grams are probably a minor concern.
Traditional saddlebags use a zip to secure their contents. However, most saddlebags face a hard life ahead, and zips can fail in time – so other solutions have been sought such as roll-up cases, clasps and even buckles. This said, the vast majority of models still feature a zip, which in most cases will outlive the accessory itself.
8 of the best saddlebags for cycling
Lezyne M-Caddy QR saddle bag
Available in a range of sizes, the Lezyne QR Caddy fits to the saddle rails – holding the bag solidly in place, with no rattling or rubbing of frame or clothing. The base material is a durable nylon, and water resistant zippers help to keep the rain out, alongside a neoprene pocket in the Medium size.
An aero shape will please those concerned with counting the seconds – though ‘QR’ does not appear to stand for ‘Quick Release’ and you’ll need time to remove and refit this bag properly if swapping between bikes.
Storage capacity is 0.5 litres, with a weight of 115 grams.
Evoc also offer a ‘Race’ and ‘Tour’ model, but with a capacity of 0.65 litres, the simple ‘Evoc Saddlebag’ is the middle of the road choice that can contain the basic essentials with ease – we filled it with two inner tubes, a set of tyre levers, a multi-tool and a chain tool.
Velcro loops keeps this one in place, with a further attachment at the seat post to prevent any wobbling. Out only quibble was with the lack of waterproofing. We clocked the overall weight of this one at just 66 grams.
Radial Cycles Porter Saddlebag
A super compact version that fits to the saddle rails using two Velcro strips, with a zipped front and two compartments internally. The narrow shape of the bag meant that the Velcro wasn’t in danger of interfering with the pedal stroke (or vice versa), which can be a negative to this design style.
In our small (there’s also a medium option) saddlebag, we could fit an inner tube, tyre levers, and multi-tool into the main compartment, using the other pocket for keys and loose change.
There’s also a ‘pro’ version, with a twist lock fastening, if you don’t fancy Velcro.
Scicon Compact 430 Saddlebag
A mid-sized version from the Scicon range, the Compact 430 features a ‘roller 2.1 system’ – once the mount is attached to your saddle rails, removal and replacement is quick and easy on the ride – though this will make swapping between bikes more difficult. An internal Velcro strap keeps everything together, with an external zip. The capacity is 0.43 litres at a weight of 144 grams.
Arundel Dual saddle bag
The ‘Dual’ sits in the centre of Arundel’s offerings – the ‘Uno’ being the smallest and the ‘Tubi’ the largest.
Sitting nearly beneath the saddle using Velcro fastenings, this option promises space for two inner tubes and Co2 canisters – though of course you could opt for one tube and a handy couple of tools. The capacity is 0.4 litres, at a weight of 62 grams.
The oval retro styling is attractive, though we thought a little more waterproofing would take this saddlebag closer to perfection.
Blackburn Zayante Mini pack
We last reviewed this handy pack back in 2011, and the fact that the design hasn’t changed much (aside from reorientation of the zip) is a positive given its 9/10 rating at the time – if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
We managed to cram in two tubes, a CO2 inflator plus spare canister, two tyre levers, a multi tool, emergency tyre boot and patches – calling it a ‘little Tardis’, the overall capacity coming in at 0.35 litres.
The pack sits on the saddle rails via Velcro, but also features an o-ring attachment at the seat post to keep it from rubbing or moving around. The fabric is resilient and the zip water resistant.
Specialized Wedgie Bag
If all of the options above look only large enough to house your Elevenses, and you want to stuff items such as arm warmers and a gilet into your pack, then the Wedgie could top your list.
Constructed from Nylon, with a Neoprene sleeve and water resistant zip, this bag is expandable – so if you don’t want to fill it (as pictured) you can use the Velcro straps to collapse the remaining space, creating a more streamlined space.
Blackburn Outpost seat pack
Can this really be classed as a saddlebag? Highly debatable. But for those looking for large capacity – in this case 11 litres – then the Outpost from Blackburn is worth a look. The bag hooks onto the saddle and seat post, and features a Nylon outer and removal inner dry sack to keep your kit in good condition.
We found the size sufficient, and noted it also kept muck and spray off our own back – much like a mudguard. The max load weight is 4.5kg (the pack itself weight 468 grams), and this option is not recommended for use with carbon seat posts.
Alternatives to saddlebags
Of course, the saddlebag is far from the only available option – though it is perhaps the most popular.
For those taking on long distance events and races, small frame bags designed to carry energy bars and snacks up front can present a handy solution.
For more heavily laden trips, such as touring or bike packing, handlebar bags, frame bags and pannier racks all present handy options. Handlebar bags mean that items such as maps and cameras can be easily accessible, some coming with see-through plastic cases so you can track your route as you ride. However, they will affect the handling of the bike.
Pannier racks and frame bags are both suitable if you’ve got a lot of kit and need a high volume option – but again they do change the distribution of weight and handling a bike laden in this way can take getting used to.