Sunday, January 28, 2024

Aesthetics vs Practicality - Frame Bags and their Worth

The single frame bag in my possession, and it's a tight fit. I don't love it, but wallet and lock fits. I carry extra water in the stem bag.

Frame bags were created to allow carrying capacity in all shapes of mountain bike frames. And no wonder! With unique angles, and racks unable to withstand loads on uneven terrain, frame, seat and bar bags meant camping and touring on rough terrain was doable. Among other long distance events, it certainly enabled participants to ride the Tour Divide.

Packing light, Otlieb setup. Carrying the bare essentials in three compartments. Not bad if you can be comfortable in stable weather.

The bike bag industry was born! The big name brands capitalized on this market, but also lots of small makers created fun prints, colorways, and made (still do) customized frame bags. Panniers seemingly fell out of favor, taking a backseat to handlebar bags, frame bag, seat post bags, fork bags, gas tank and stem bags. Phew! Along with that, travelers sought out minimal camping equipment. Hammocks, lightweight sleeping bags and bivvy bags became popular.

Going stylish with matchy, matchy bags from Outer Shell.

Over the top. They look cute, though.

While handy compartments allow ease of access to munchies, food, and electronics if that's your thing, how do you grab a water bottle, or better yet, keep items dry? I'll never understand how camping with many small compartments makes sense, when ducking into a tent during a sudden rain storm. How can one quicky extract items or unlace the bags? I'm skeptical that the bags are completely waterproof. In addition, how do you ensure safety when dashing into a grocery store? There are a lot of zippers tempting thieves... 

I'm happy to see that panniers are making a comeback on mountain bikes. Four panniers has always been the best use of space, and I admit some of those extras, like a top tube or stem bag are brilliant additions, and the added bonus is they can be transferred to other bikes. However, personally I can't see using a frame bag for touring. But isn't it wonderful to have so many choices?


  1. Ooh, stirring up controversy! ;-) But I'm with ya on the "too many tiny pockets" thing. Panniers are useful. And every time I see one of those saddle bags that keeps on sticking out further and further, I wonder why they couldn't just use a traditional transverse saddlebag a la Carradice.

    1. We all have our preferences... It's astounding the amount of businesses making stem bags.

    2. Now stem bags I get. They can hold water bottles and the like, and for me are a great place to hold a camera. They are very handy on a Brompton or other folding bike where you may lack a traditional spot for a water bottle. All of my bikes have stem bags!


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