Wil checks out this strap-on top tube bag from Bike Bag Dude for carrying the essentials on your mountain bike
Mountain biking these days is a little different to the (good?) old days. Wheels and tyres have gotten bigger. Seatposts are now expected to go up and down. Figure-hugging Lycra is out, and baggy shorts and jerseys are in.
Suspension has replaced, err, not suspension.
I for one am happy with all of those luxuries. But they have thrown a slight spanner in the works when it comes to carrying stuff on a ride.
Baggy jerseys and tech-T’s don’t have pockets. And thanks to long-stroke dropper posts, rear suspension and big wheels, it’s basically impossible to run a saddle bag anymore. Or at least, not without the chance of a hilarious suspension-bottoming-tyre-locking-bag-exploding experience…
So where does one store their tube & spares?
The obvious answer is in a backpack. But then not everyone wears or wants to wear a backpack. Same goes for bum bags. And given the option, I’d prefer to store as much stuff low down on my bike rather than up on my back.
If you’re the owner of a modern carbon fibre Specialized dually, at this moment you’ll be able to bask in your own smugness while pointing towards the SWAT door on your bike’s downtube. Yes, that little storage cavity is a fantastic idea, but it’s not exactly a common feature outside of Specializandia.
For the SWAT-less riders out there, you could bust out the electrical tape and just strap shit to your bike. That’s certainly a fashionable trend these days, but I ain’t into it. Bungee cords – like those from Backcountry Research – are a much neater solution. They’re not exactly foul weather friendly though, and they’re also limited in what they can carry.
Personally, I want easy access to my tools and spares. And since I’m often testing up to three or four bikes at a time, I also want to be able to easily swap spare kit from bike to bike, knowing I’ve always got the basic essentials to get me out of a pickle.
As picky as I am, it turns out I might have found the ideal solution.
Bike Bag Dude Top Tube Mini Garage
Best known in the bikepacking scene for producing custom frame bags for some of the world’s best ultra endurance riders, Bike Bag Dude is an Australian-based outfit led by Kath & Kedan Griffin. The husband & wife team design, prototype and manufacture every bag in their Newcastle workshop.
As well as coming up with custom framebag solutions, BBD also produces handlebar roll bags, chaff bags, handlebar slings, and top tube bags.
For the top tube bags, BBD offers two different sizes; the standard Garage, and the Mini Garage. I’ve been using the latter for the past couple of months, and I really quite like it.
Designed to strap onto your bike’s top tube, the Mini Garage is a small-ish storage bag with a large, single zippered opening. In the triathlon world, you’d call this a ‘Bento Box’, which is basically a little top tube pouch for storing all your gels and various go-juices. The BBD Top Tube Mini Garage is kind of a beefed up Bento Box, with three Velcro straps designed to hold it securely to your bike, and sufficient volume to carry a spare tube, tools, repair kits, and spares.
Bento Boxes tend to get a bad rap in the road world for their ungainly appearance. I’d like to think us mountain bikers are a little less vain than our bitumen-dwelling cousins though, so I figured I’d give one of these a crack to see if would be the solution to my storage needs.
Weighing in at 124g, the Mini Garage is a sturdy little bag. The top and bottom panels are made from heavy-duty Nylon, while grey side panels utilises a smooth Dimension Polyant fabric called Liteskin. Everything is sewn together using sailmaking techniques that Kedan perfected in his previous line of work, and the quality of construction is clearly very high.
The inside of the pack is bright orange to help you spot smaller items, and the walls are lightly padded to keep everything snug and rattle-free. The fabric is also waterproof and the bag is fully seam taped too. Along with the snug water resistant YKK zipper, the Mini Garage is built to shield the booty within for as long as possible.
One of my favourite features of this bag is the flexibility of strap placement. There are three Velcro straps – two to go round the top tube, and one that goes around the steerer tube.
The straps aren’t actually part of the bag though. Instead, numerous loops are sewn along the underside and front of the bag, which are there to anchor the Velcro straps in whatever location they make sense for your setup. And because the straps aren’t part of the bag, it makes them easy to replace if they do get damaged, or simply wear out over time.
What Can You Fit Inside?
Though it’s the ‘Mini’ version of the Top Tube Garage bag, this little guy can actually hold a decent amount of kit. Here’s what I’ve been carrying inside it;
- Spare 29er tube
- Lezyne digital pressure gauge
- 2x tyre levers
- 16g CO2 canister and chuck
- MaXalami tubeless tyre repair kit
- Park Tools GP-2 Super Patch kit
- Spare 10, 11 & 12-speed chain links
- 1x packet of Skratch Labs energy chews
- Spare tubeless valve
- Spare valve core
- Valve core tool
- Schrader valve adapter
- Zip ties
- A $10 note
With all of that, the Mini Garage is comfortably full, with everything held securely within.
In terms of dimensions, the bag itself measures 25cm long, and sits 7cm wide through the belly. I’ve actually been able to fit a small pump and a digital shock pump inside, which is pretty impressive. This would be a good option if you were carrying a spare tube elsewhere.
With just three Velcro straps, the Mini Garage is a cinch to install. The current strap configuration seems to work well with my current test fleet, including a Santa Cruz Blur, Giant Trance 29 (pictured), Merida One-Twenty, and Whyte S-120.
The only slight issue I’ve found is when I don’t have many spacers between the stem and headset, which leaves less room for the front strap. The strap will still tighten securely though, it just doesn’t look quite as neat.
If you are considering a top tube bag like this – whatever brand it might be – it’s worth putting some protective tape on the frame. This will help to stop the bag from slowly wearing away the frame’s lacquer over time.
No matter how tight the bag is held down, there’ll always be some movement. Add in some dust, dirt, or pasty mud, and the added friction will eat into whatever it can. Better that be some protective tape, rather than the surface of your frame.
I’ve used electrical tape along the top tube of all the test bikes I’ve strapped the Mini Garage to, and it’s worked a treat.
On The Trail
In use, the Mini Garage is plenty secure. The edges of the pack curve around the top tube slightly, which helps it to hug the frame. And as long as you tighten the straps sufficiently, the pack won’t bounce or slide around.
I was initially concerned about the size of the Mini Garage, but it’s surprisingly low profile once in place. I will occasionally brush my knees along the side panels when I’m climbing out of the saddle, though it’s the sort of thing you subconsciously adjust to. And as a riding buddy recently pointed out to me, it’s actually nice to have some useful padding between my knees and the stem. Or in the event of a front endo crash, my groin and the stem.
The YKK zip does require a firm tug to open and close, though that has meant it’s never self-opened and spilled its guts on the trail. I did find the stock metal tab to jingle around a lot on the trail, which was annoying. After speaking with Kedan at BBD, he suggested removing it and fitting a looped cord instead. Since doing that, the pack has been silent.
It’s worth noting that Kedan can make this modification for anyone looking at buying this pack, and additionally, he offers a full range of colours if the stealthy grey ain’t your flavour.
This is a really well made pack that serves its purpose exactly as intended. It’s provided a legit saddle bag alternative for my needs, and it’s actually easier to use on the trail.
No, it may not be as trendy as taping stuff to your frame. And it’s certainly a more expensive solution. But it is hella practical, and for those who prioritise function over fashion, this’ll provide you with usable access to spares and food, with less reliance on carrying gear on your back.
|Bike Bag Dude
|Top Tube Mini Garage
|$100 AUD (approx £54.88)
|by Wil Barrett for 2 months