Friday, January 20, 2012

Review: Rivendell Sackville Bags - Part 1

If you're like me, you like to bring stuff with you when you ride. After all, it's not simply about pedaling a bicycle ... it's also about finding fun things to take photos of, stopping to write down some notes of the inspired thought that would otherwise disappear by the time you get home, making sure you're equipped for minor road or trail mechanical emergencies, and so on. Basically, you want to have the stuff with you that you might need or find useful for your daily adventure. And who knows when you'll find some kind of unique treasure along the way that you just have to take home ...

It follows that if you're going to bring stuff with you, you'll need some place to put it while you ride ... something to carry it all in. Sure, you could just grab a backpack ... but then you have all that extra weight hanging around your neck, shoulders, and back ... and that can be restrictive, hot, and tiring ... and it makes the riding less fun. No ... you need bike baggage ... and I have some product reviews for you today that might be just what you're looking for.

Here's my disclaimer:  None of the products reviewed here were provided to me by the manufacturer or any retailer for evaluation. Nope. I'm not one of those famous bloggers who gets stuff for free. I purchased everything with my own money, and without any sort of special interweb journalist discount, so you can rest assured that the opinions expressed here are unbiased and come purely through my own experience ... good, bad, or otherwise. That being said, should any manufacturers out there wish to provide some cool bike-related products for ... ummm ... testing and evaluation ... I would likely be open to offering my honest review.

Rivendell Bicycle Works offers more than just a fine selection of bicycles. Among their other products is a line of bags designed for use on your bike. This set of bags is produced under the name Sackville:

I like the slogan "Sacks for Cyclers" ... sounds better than "Cyclists", don't you think?
The Sackville line is made in the good ol' USA, and the bags are constructed with high quality heavy weight waxed and waterproof cotton duck, with leather trim and brass hardware. Non-leather versions are available in some models for the anti-leather folks out there. Several styles are available, from simple tool rolls to handlebar bags, rack-top trunk bags, saddle bags, and some unique bags designed for basket use.

Today's review (Part 1 of 2) will focus on the two bags I'm currently using the most on my Hunqapillar. These are the Medium SaddleSack and the SlickerSack.

First, let's look at the Sackville Medium SaddleSack:

Lots of brass hardware for strapping on what can't fit inside!

Zippered pockets on both sides for easy access! Leather flaps to keep water out!
This bag has a large main compartment and two side zippered pockets. It is large enough to hold my toolkit, small camera tripod, notebook and pen, picnic blanket, and lunch with room to spare for an extra layer of clothing or extra camera gear. The side zip pockets are great for my cell phone, keys, and wallet. The bag comes with a snap-on pouch that could also be used for small valuable personal items, the idea being that you can quickly remove it and take it with you, leaving the saddlebag attached. I like the idea, but generally don't use it, since I'm always with my bike when I'm out (this is not my shopping bike ... too attractive to would-be thieves).

The main compartment is accessed through a large rear cover flap that has a nice strip of reflective material sewn on for safety. It's very bright when lights hit it at night, but is also very useful in the daytime ... can't imagine anyone not seeing this. The cover flap is secured with adjustable-length leather straps, smartly equipped with sturdy brass snap fittings for quick and easy opening and closing. This was an important feature for me, since buckling and unbuckling of the normal strap closures is tedious (and I'm often impatient).

Snap open ... just guide through the D-ring for opening or closing the main flap

Snap closed ... strong and secure ... fast and easy.  I like!
For the same reason, I really appreciate the zippered side pockets. Many large saddlebags use buckle closures on the straps for those, and it's just too much extra effort when I want to get in or out of the pocket. Zippers and snaps are fast and easy.

Inside the bag, you'll find a Corroplast plate attached to the bottom with wide Velcro strips to provide a stiff and stable shape, keeping the bag from getting droopy. It works very well, and is virtually weightless, but since it's a hard material, things can rattle around on top of it without some kind of padding. For this, I purchased a clearance bin fleece throw blanket and trimmed it to picnic size, then used it to line the bottom of the bag. It serves double purpose for providing bag padding and occasional lawn covering for actual picnic applications or if I need to lay the bike down for a quick tube replacement, etc. The main compartment has a large inner cotton duck storm flap that also helps to keep your stuff secured, and might even help keep it in the bag if you forget to snap the straps on the outer flap.

Inner flap covers and secures your stuff!
Inner flap open ... inside: tripod, camera strap, tools, and more!
Tools, spare tubes, large portable pump, notebook, picnic blanket for more
This bag can be attached to just the loops on your Brooks saddle, with a strap around the seatpost, as the Corroplast stiffener will maintain the bottom shape. There are rings on the bottom of the bag if you need to raise it or provide some additional support in this mounting fashion. Or ... as I prefer to do, especially with a smaller bike frame ... you can mount the bag to a rear rack. Almost any rack will work, but I've opted to use a Nitto R-14 Top Rack, which can be positioned lower and closer to the seat tube than a standard rack on my small frame. This rack also has a U-shaped loop on top that fits into a leather slot on the bag front:

Leather slot fits over rack loop to secure the bag.
The main straps wrap around a sturdy wooden dowel inside the leather strip on the bag for solid support and stability, and are attached to the bag loops on my saddle:

Wooden dowel anchored straps attached to Brooks saddle bag loops
The bottom of the bag has a leather surface for abrasion resistance, with slots for additional security when mounting on a rack. I used two heavy zip ties to secure the back end of the bag to the rack top.

Zip ties through leather slots secure the bag and prevent any movement.
I almost forgot to mention this, since it's generally not a huge concern of mine, but this bag is very light. Looking at it, one might expect it to add considerable weight to the bike. In reality, although it's made from heavy-duty materials, those materials are also quite light in comparison to the weight of comparable bags or panniers. When empty, it feels the same to me as if there was no bag there at all. The only weight I ever notice is that of its contents, but even then, it's not a problem, because it's positioned properly where bike handling is not affected.

I love the Medium SaddleSack! It has made it possible for me to go ride without ever having concern for where I might put something. It's never more than I need ... and never less. I must admit that when I first received the shipment from Rivendell, I thought I may have made a mistake. I was unaccustomed to seeing a bag this large on my bike, and it almost looked like much more than I needed. However, after using it for a few days, it suddenly didn't look so out-of-place to me, and the usefulness has made me wonder why I waited so long. It is now just a part of my bike ... I put in what I need, take out what I don't, and don't even think about it being there when it's empty.

The second bag I use regularly now is the Sackville SlickerSack, which is unfortunately now discontinued (but still available as of this post writing). That's a real shame, because it's a brilliant design. I almost never got it, because it was fairly expensive, but when Rivendell had their first ever sale and put it on their "going away" list, I figured I'd better get one while I still could.

The SlickerSack was, according to the product information, designed to be the ultimate commuter bag for carrying a small laptop, books, or camera gear. It was made specifically to fit the Nitto Platrack (also now discontinued ... but still available as of this post writing). The Platrack is an add-on "porteur" style platform for a Nitto Mark's Rack or Mini Front Rack. The Platrack platform, once initially installed and adjusted, can be put on or removed from the front rack in a couple of minutes, making the whole system quite versatile for quick changes with different front bag setups. Possibly the reason the bag didn't sell as well as hoped is the requirement for the two rack components, but the idea was that many people already had the Mark's or Mini Front rack (which I did), and so only need the Platrack and bag. I also already had the Platrack, which I used as a base for a large basket on my "grocery bike". It worked extremely well there, but has now been transferred for use with the SlickerSack.

Here's the SlickerSack/Platrack combination, mounted on a Nitto Mini Front rack:

Nicely designed ... great attention to small details ... notice the wrap-around reflective material

Even the zipper pulls are leather and brass ... awesome!
It's basically a nicely designed briefcase-style bag, but with some well-thought-out touches. It has a sturdy zipper around the top, with nice brass and leather pulls. There are two brass D-rings for use with the included matching shoulder strap, so you can carry it easily off the bike. The top has slots for attaching straps ... handy if you need some extra space to secure a jacket or yoga mat or whatever. There's a handle on the front for carrying, which is firmly sewn in ... I can't see it ever coming off. And there's some nice reflective material sewn all the way around near the bottom. It is an extremely lightweight bag, but is also very durable and well made.

It attaches to the bike with a leather slot that fits over the U-shaped loop of the rack, and four heavy-duty brass snaps on leather straps that attach around the Platrack rails.

Leather slot slips over rack loop
Brass snaps secure the bag to the Platrack rails
I got this bag to use as a case for my Olympus PEN E-PL3 camera, with extra lens, flash, viewfinder, spare battery and other accessories. I love the look of these bags, and it seemed like a nice way to go that would work well on the bike, but also be presentable off the bike for any of the more "professional" places that I would be taking the camera system. It has worked very well in that regard, although I did make some internal modifications for protection of my camera and gear.

The inside has a Corroplast panel, which is attached to the bottom of the bag with wide and strong Velcro strips. The side panels of the bag have some lightly-padded material, and there are two dividers included that can be placed with Velcro as desired. I did not use those, as I had other plans. Since I wanted the best protection from vibration and impact for my camera and gear, I used a set of foam pieces made for the interior of a Pelican equipment case. The foam had to be cut and glued to match the front curve and exact size of the SlickerSack, and sections removed to fit the camera, extra lens, and accessories. I used a 1" thick piece of foam as a bottom (which sits on top of the Corroplast), with a 2" thickness of custom cut foam for the camera/accesories, and a piece of 2" egg-crate foam in the top of the case. Once cut to fit and glued, it all worked perfectly, and the inside now looks like this:

Custom cut foam insert and top panel ... Olympus PEN E-PL3 camera and accessories ready to roll!

The camera is protected very well, and the entire bag (now really more of a "case") with camera and all accessories is incredibly light. The main foam insert for the camera can be easily removed if I ever need to use the bag in another capacity, since it isn't actually attached to the bag, but fits snugly and does its job well. The bag goes on and off the front rack quite easily, although I do need to unzip the bag and reach inside to assure a firm connection when snapping the straps (some pressure from inside the bag is required). When I get to my destination, a quick unsnapping of the straps and sliding off the rack loop frees the whole thing, and I'm off and running.

One nice benefit of this system is that I can stop and grab the camera relatively fast without getting off the bike. The zippers are within reach, and it's no problem to get the camera as its positioned in the case.

Having this bag on the front of the bike changes the handling in such a small way that I didn't even notice it after about 30 seconds of riding. Any front bag will change handling to some degree, but this one is so little that it's a non-issue. I only mention it because some of you may be wondering.

The only negative I have found is that the Corroplast panel tends to make some noise against the metal rack over bumps. I have resolved this little issue by inserting some light fleece blanket material (left over from the one I cut for the SaddleSack) under the Corroplast to give it a little cushion. The fleece is thin enough to fit, but cushy enough to buffer the Corroplast.

So there you have it ... the Medium SaddleSack and SlickerSack ... my two favorite Rivendell Sackville bags! Part 2 will include the Sackville Trunk Bags, ShopSack, and Mark's ToolWrap ... very clever items with many applications.

Stay tuned ...


  1. Thanks for the review! I'm considering the medium Sackville for a commuting bag. Rivendell's site says it'll fit a Mac book pro, but I was wondering if you might have the opening dimensions? Also curious about your lack of attachment to the stem. Is it still secure when riding? I'd love to hear from you, as I make my decision. Could you email me at grafx86@ gmail? Thanks!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Laura! I'll send the info to your email, and include it here as well, in case anyone else has the same question.

    The actual opening on the Medium SaddleSack is 12" x 6". However, the material is very flexible, so it easily expands to the full width to allow sliding in a laptop. The interior dimensions of the bag are 15" wide x 10" deep, with plenty of height to accommodate any laptop.

    As for the attachment, when you say "stem", I'm assuming you mean "seatpost". The bag comes with a leather strap to attach to the seatpost, and combined with the saddle loop straps, this would be pretty stable, and would allow reasonably fast removal if you want to take the bag with you.

    However, if you're using a rear rack, as I am, and don't need to remove the bag, there's a better way. The underside of the bag has a leather panel with four slots. I used some plastic zip ties running through the slots and around the rack rails. With the saddle straps and the zip ties, the bag doesn't move at all. There's a photo in the post of the zip tie rack attachment (last photo in the Medium SaddleSack portion). The rack method is also good if your frame is smaller, like mine (48CM).

    Rivendell also offers a quick-release saddlebag attachment that could come in handy if you need to remove your bag often. With that, you'd just have the seatpost strap to undo, along with the quick-release at the saddle. It's not cheap, but it is pretty useful, and the only one of its kind I've seen. Here's the link in the "racks" section:

    Hope this helps ... let me know if there are any other questions.

  3. You have a very nice blog and these are great reviews on Sackville products. I skimmed through part 2 of your review, but did not see anything on Mark's ToolWrap. Did you ever write anything up on that?