Thursday, December 1, 2011

Making a handlebar bag

The bag doing its job admirably

Mounted on the bike

The new bag next to it's (smaller) inspiration, a worn TA bag of unknown vintage

Cutting pieces, sewing on the leather trim and attaching hardware

The bag starting to take shape

Since we finished building the house I've been able to redirect some of my attention to making bags again for the first time in a long while. Ever so slowly over the last handful of years I've been refining my skills and working out solutions to challenges that get in the way of a satisfactory result. The first bag I ever made was a replica of the Rivendell Bicycle Works 'Hobo' handlebar bag. It was a great jumping off point for me; I got all excited while I was making it knew I was on to something, but the bag itself was not going to last forever. I sewed it on my mom's portable Singer, which she inherited from her mom. Since then I've been incrementally getting better at crafting bags. The acquisition of an industrial sewing machine was a big step.

Since the summer, I've been slowly building up my bike to accommodate a traditional French-style handle bar bag. The first step included some frame repairs which allowed for installing a new front rack which in turn provided the mount for installing a generator hub powered lighting system. The last piece of this project was the bag.

Having come across a beat up old TA bag, I used this bag as a model for my new bag but sized it up to what I thought would be a useful size. I used the TA bag briefly and found it too way too small for anything other then light duty service.

I drafted all the fabric pieces on brown paper and then cut them out to make full scale patterns. I then transferred the patterns to the heavy waxed canvas that I was to make the bag from, allowing me to then cut and assemble them.

Sewing the bag was pretty straightforward and went well. The most challenging aspect was sewing the leather edge trim on. I found actually hot-gluing it in place before sewing made the process a lot more controllable and in the end made the process work pretty well.

When the bag was complete I affixed the decaleur through the leather to a strip of maple on the inside of the bag. (A decaleur is a metal fixture that attaches to the back of the bag and seats in the handlebar mount attached to the stem). With some work, the bag now sits just where I want with the bottom of the bag resting on the Velo Orange rack below it.

To my satisfaction, the sizing of the bag worked out just right. It is large for this style bag, but I see no drawbacks and only positives for my needs. It fits a lot of stuff and can accommodate most of what I'd need for almost all of my trips, be it a work commute, a daylong trip, or going out to get some groceries. The top of the bag sits just about at bar height and this to me is one of the unheralded wonders of a handlebar bag: it becomes a very effective windbreak for my hands in chilly weather.

There are a few things I still need to do, such as purchase elastic cord to complete the pocket cover closures and decide on the best way to close the large top cover through the decaleur posts. I'm getting closer to solving that.

This is the first bag that comes close to meeting my expectations in terms of quality of both materials and construction. I've whittled away at the process a little more and look forward to further improvements gained from this effort. I'm proud of this project, but aware of the shortcomings as well. Each one brings me a little further along.


ekr said...

Great write up, thank you for posting this.
For the leather trim, I've tried a few things.
One is to use a 1" trim attachment, available from Sailrite. It bolts onto the machine and folds the trim. There is also a double fold attachment, but I have not used it.
I've found that I get the best results from using my finger as a guide. I've been doing all of my trim this way and I can now eyeball when the stitches are the correct distance from the edge of the fabric. I usually get it right.
If I dont fight the leather around corners, the leather agrees with me and the three of us, the machine, the trim, and me, all do what we need.
For the main closure, there is no way to figure it out. It all sucks. Watanabe has the elastic cord reach around the stem sometimes.
We should see what Berthoud does.
I've ordered some waxed fabric from that is in this color, hopefully, it will work out and I can try your color combination.

fridaycyclotouriste said...

incredible. really impressive. your bag oozes wabi-sabi, craftsman style. i get tremendous vicarious pleasure from seeing the steps leading to its creation and then seeing it in use on your bike. bravo!


Dave said...

Hi Ely and Nathan,
Thanks to you both for your encouraging comments. I'm psyched about the bag--it was a confidence booster to have this one work out as well as it did, and I'm gearing up to make some more with tweaks learned from this version.
Cheers to you both,

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I'm not surre I have the courage just yet to try anything this complex: if I had the skilly I'd love to make panniers for my xtracycle in this style. Maybe one day...

By th way, why's the blog called 'Yurtville'? Am I missing something?

Dave said...

Hi Workbike,
The Yurtville name comes from my wife and I living in a yurt here on our property for almost 8 years. We just sold the yurt this fall and are now living in the super-insulated home we built for the long haul. We used to have an extensive website about the whole building process, but it got made redundant by Apple a couple of years ago. I now teach a yurt building class at Yestermorrow Design/Build School.

If you were interested in me making you a set of panniers for your Xtracycle, I'd be interested in doing so.

Andy in Germany said...

Hello Dave. Thanks for the offer and the information. Unfortunately I couldn't afford to pay you a fair price for a set of Xtracycle panniers.

Ironically, one of my dreams is to build a Yurt. Not sure it it'll make it to be a resolution just yet though...