Way back in the mists of time, I tested the Carradice Super C saddlebag. I fell in love with its simplicity, convenience and retro-styling and it has been strapped to my bike ever since. What I didn't fully appreciate is that the Super C is in effect the modern version of the Nelson, which is what I'm testing here.
The Nelson is the all-time classic saddlebag. Made from cotton duck fabric with leather straps, it is a beautiful piece of kit and if you roll with the audax/CTC crew then you're bound to see several in varying degrees of vintage. Along with wool, cotton duck and leather form a holy trinity of original technical materials and as the merino revival goes to show, they have never been bettered in some ways.
Duck is pretty much impervious to water as the fibres swell and lock together when wet. It also breathes, so your damp kit will dry out rather than rotting gently inside. The straps that close down the main flap and the side pockets are leather with shiny buckles. They look fantastic but the quick-release buckles on the Super C are much easier to use, especially if you're reaching behind to open a pocket and extract a cereal bar. Although it is made from the same cotton duck as the Super C, the Nelson seemed stiffer and held its shape better when empty.
Capacity is modest at 18 litres, but that's enough for a day ride, long audax or ultra-lightweight mini-tour. The top of the flap has fittings to strap on extra luggage, although you could always upgrade to the longflap version which will accommodate bulkier items under a longer main flap. The main flap on the standard model is perhaps a little short at the sides, which might let some drops of rain blow in, although the inside of the bag is protected with a drawstring storm flap. On a recent blustery and foul hundred miler my kit, including a couple of OS maps, stayed dry and happy for eigt hours of sideways rain and spray.
Feature-wise it's fairly basic. You get two side pockets, a drawstring stormflap, a light loop (big enough to carry two rear lights) and that's your lot. Sturdy sewn-in reflective strips, like those on the Super C, would have been welcome.
Although the bags themselves are nigh on perfect, fitting them to your bike can be a bit of a fiddle and a faff. I know from experience that the Carradice SQR system (which allows you to simply lift the bag plus mounting cradle off the bike) won't fit on my bikes and that I'm too short to get away with simply letting the bag dangle. The answer is one of the various Bagman support brackets, as supplied by Carradice. They don't come as standard, although our test Nelson came with the Bagman QR Expedition, which I'll be reviewing separately. Models in the Bagman range aren't cheap and if you need one you'll need to factor that into the price.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed using the Nelson and it will be permanently occupying a space on one of my bikes. If you're tossing up between the Super C and the Nelson it comes down to what you value most. The Super C edges it on practicality (size, reflectives, quick-release buckles) whereas the Nelson has the handsome vintage looks. As I scored the Super C at 9/10, it seems fair to give the Nelson 8/10.
Superb bag with smart vintage looks although it doesn't quite have the practicality of the Carradice Super C.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Carradice Nelson saddlebag
Size tested: Black
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Carradice say - "Traditional Style and Unsurpassed Quality"
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
"Carradice have been handcrafting saddlebags in our factory in Nelson, Lancashire since the 1930's. And we still are!
Made from 100% waterproof 18 ounce cotton duck – the original performance fabric with self-sealing seams read more
No coatings to peel off; easily re-proofed and repaired
Straps are made from chromed leather*, which means they keep their strength and looks no matter what weather and conditions they face.
Buckles and fastenings are all metal – we know they can take decades of regular use!
Each bag is checked for quality before leaving our factory in Lancashire, and personally signed by the maker"
My bag was made by Debby and I'll not hear a word said against her.
Just brilliant for pretty much any kind of riding where you need to carry more than just a pump and spare tube.
Looked after, these things last forever.
Based on quality and longevity, these bags are excellent value. You'll probably need a bag support though, which racks up the price a fair bit.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Carradice bags have been around for so long that they have been pretty much perfected.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The style; a comfortable way to carry modest loads
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Could do with reflectives and the strap/buckle isn't as easy to use as modern clips.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Definitely
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
A true classic and a thing of beauty.
About the tester
I usually ride: Kona Dew Drop, Dawes Century SE, Carlton Corsa My best bike is: Guess SC1 scandium
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, Audax and long distance solo rides