How do you carry the essentials you need for a bicycle ride? It’s commonly a choice between a saddle bag or filling your pockets, and it’s a choice that divides opinion.
To find out exactly how much the choice splits opinion, we conducted a Twitter poll recently. The results showed 70% of road.cc readers choosing a saddle bag.
Do you put all your spares and essentials in...
— road.cc (@roadcc) November 12, 2019
What spares do you need?
Before we get into the pros and cons of stuffing jersey pockets versus a bag hanging from your saddle, let's look at what spares are considered essential.
There are a few basic things it’s advisable to take on a ride in case of a flat tyre or mechanical failure. Here’s a typical bare essentials checklist:
- Spare tubes x2
- Tyre levers
- Multi-tool with chain breaker
- Chain links
Your list might vary of course. How much you carry very much depends on personal preference and can be influenced by how prepared you like to be for every conceivable scenario. Some riders are happy taking the bare essentials, some need to take a veritable bike shop worth of spares.
You might be happy with one tube, you might consider two the minimum. If you’re running tubeless you might want to pack some tubeless plugs and while it can be tempting not to take any spare tubes if you are on tubeless, it’s often wise to be on the safe side and pack a couple of spare tubes just in case.
The ride you’re embarking on can also be a factor. What you carry for a short lunchtime ride can be different from an epic ride in the mountains. So pack accordingly.
Extras you might want to carry and which will influence how you carry them include CO2 canister, cable ties, a tyre boot, chain links, cleat bolts and other nuts and bolts, a spare gear cable. As someone who has lost a saddle bolt at the start of a 300km ride, anything can happen on a ride. I always pack a couple of spare contact lenses too.
You’ve also got to consider food, spare clothing, phone and money and the space these bits take up when deciding where to carry the essentials. The space these things take up can leave little space for essentials, which is where saddlebags come in.
Pros and cons of saddlebags
A saddlebag is always attached to your bike so you’re ready to ride and can spend less time finding all your essentials when you prepare a ride.
Using a saddle bag keeps your pockets free for food and extra clothing, useful in the winter when the weather can be changeable.
Saddlebags can be a right old faff sometimes, tricky to cram all your essentials into and difficult to attach to the saddle in a satisfactory way that prevents it from moving about.
A saddlebag is also easy to swap between bikes as well if you ride more than one bike on a regular basis.
We’ll admit, saddlebags don’t always look that good on bikes especially humongous bags on sleek race bikes, but a compact neatly attached saddlebag does it for us. And you can’t see it when you’re riding anyway so what’s the problem?
There’s nothing worse than a badly attached saddlebag that is swing low and free from the back of a saddle, bravely making a bid for freedom.
Pros and cons of pockets
Most typical cycle jerseys and jackets stick to the traditional formula of three pockets. Some deviate from this with fewer or more pockets, but three is considered normal.
You can get a lot of stuff in those three pockets. The middle pocket can take spare tubes and a pump, the outside pockets small items like tools and remaining space for a phone, keys and snacks.
Using pockets saves fiddling and faffing with saddle bags and trying to get them attached securely to the saddle. Pockets also keep your bike looking clean and devoid of clutter, and it also keeps the weight off your bike, though it’s still in your pockets. For some people that difference can really matter.
Being organised can be tricky with pockets. You’ve got to have a pocket loading strategy!
Many cyclists will have a set way of loading the pockets and this differs hugely, coming down to a simple matter of what items you’re carrying to what items you might want easier access to. Generally, bigger stuff in the middle pocket because it's more stable, and easier access things like food and phone in the outer pockets. There are no rules.
Our Mat Brett uses this Lezyne Phone Caddy to store all his ride essentials and carries it in a middle pocket.
If that’s not enough stuff, Dave Atkinson takes it to the next level with a Sticky Pod crammed with stuff hopefully won’t need on a long ride.
Putting all the tools and spare in a bag or something akin to the Lezyne Caddy Sack means you can grab the bag and stuff it in the pocket of whatever jersey or jacket you’re heading out for a ride in.
There is a third way
Another old school method is a tool bottle. It can be an off-the-shelf product or with a removable lid, or if you’ve got an old water bottle lying around, simply but the top off, wrap your essentials in a plastic bag and you have a very cheap solution.
The downside is you lose a water bottle which could be an issue on longer rides, but you could use a bigger main water bottle, one like the massive 1 litre bottle featured elsewhere on the site recently.
And there's the bikepacking option
Not quite so popular with road cyclists yet, but a hit with gravel and adventure cyclists, there’s now a wide range of bikepacking bags that provide an alternative approach to carrying your essentials plus a lot more besides. A small top tube bag, frame pack or handlebar bag is a potential alternative if a saddlebag isn’t big enough or doesn’t do it for you.
Resident bikepacking enthusiasts Pat Joscelyne prefers to use a front bag in combination with a top tube bag to store everything he’s likely to need on a ride. He rarely ever uses pockets, occasionally for keys and sometimes extra clothing like gloves of buffs.
The advantage of using bikepacking bags is it frees you from the restraints of traditional cycle clothing with three pockets to wear more relaxed clothing that might be more comfortable for commuting, touring or bikepacking.
Our advice? Do whatever you're happiest with
Use whatever you’re comfortable with. There are no rules in cycling so experiment and find a solution that works for you. A straw poll in the road.cc office reveals... nobody has the same setup! Everyone has a slightly different approach based on their bikes and the type of riding they're doing.
Right, over to you lot now, let's hear how you carry your load in the comments section below.
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.