John C. Kirk (johnckirk) wrote,
John C. Kirk

Brompton bags

I've had my Brompton bike for a few years, and in that time I've tried out several of the luggage options that are available. Here are my thoughts, which may be useful to other Bromptoneers.

When I originally specced out my bike (in September 2008), I knew that I wanted a front pannier and mudguards. I wasn't sure about a rear rack (for extra luggage): my boss had one fitted to his bike, but he said that he never used it so he didn't recommend it. Based on that, I decided to stick with just the front carrier block.

Cloth pannier

I bought a cloth pannier to fit on the front of the bike:

Front of cloth pannier Rear of cloth pannier

This is quite smart, so it doubles up as a briefcase, and I sometimes carried it when I didn't use the bike. The main compartment zips up, and there's a stiff partition near the back which creates a separate section for A4 documents. That's quite useful if you want to avoid crumpling the paper, e.g. when I've been issued with certificates. There are two pockets at the back which also zip up: I used one for a bottle of water and the other for keys, wallet, etc. There's also a shoulder strap, which you can unclip if you don't need it. The total capacity is 22 litres.

Unfortunately, this bag was damaged when I collided with a car door in April. Looking at the second picture above, the socket at the bottom slots onto the carrier block (mounted on the front of the bike frame). Here's the underside of the bag, which shows the damage in more detail:

Bottom of cloth pannier

The plastic socket has been shattered, so that bag will no longer fit onto the bike. As I said at the time: "I don't know whether the socket can be replaced on its own; if not, I'll have to replace the entire pannier." It turns out that you can buy replacement frames (part number QFCFA), which cost about £20. I assume that you can pull the old frame out, slot the new one in, then reattach the velcro straps. However, I decided to buy a replacement bag instead. If anyone would like to salvage the old bag, just let me know, and it's yours free of charge. (I hadn't actually looked underneath the bag before, so this blog post has been informative for me!)
Edit: I've now given that old bag to someone from Freegle.

The cloth pannier is no longer manufactured, but you may find some shops that still sell it if they have old stock.

Rack sack

I picked up my bike in October 2008, but I had a bit of trouble when I wanted to move it between platforms at Clapham Junction: "I tried a halfway method, by unfolding the handlebars and towing it like a suitcase. However, that didn't work very well because the floor surface isn't entirely even; it went "trundle trundle clunk" every time it hit the edge of a paving slab. So, I wound up carrying it instead."

The issue here is that when the bike is folded up you can't use the normal wheels to roll it along the ground. The rear mudguard came with a very small wheel, and there were two other (slightly larger) wheels on the frame, but they'd only really work on a completely smooth surface, e.g. the inside of a train. There's another option of "EZ wheels" (pronounced "Ee-zee", as in "easy"), but you could only fit those to a rear rack.

By August 2009, I was hitting the limits of my front pannier: it simply didn't have enough space for everything I wanted to do. For instance, if I go out on SJA duty then I need to take my uniform, including high-vis ambulance jacket and peaked cap. I don't like cycling in uniform, particularly if I don't have a first aid kit with me, but I couldn't fit everything into the front pannier. So, in January 2010 I had a rear rack fitted, and I later bought a "rack sack" (rear pannier) to go on it. One downside to this is that I had to replace the rear mudguard at the same time; there are different versions that go with/without a rack. So, if you are planning to get a rack, it will be cheaper to get it right at the start.

Here's the difference that the rack makes to the folded bike:

Folded bike without rack Folded bike with rack

The small wheels at the bottom of the seat post are now a bit bigger, and there's an extra pair of wheels (same size) at the end of the rack. That makes it much easier to move the bike around without unfolding it or carrying it, and I use these new wheels as part of my daily commute. You can also see that the rear light has moved, so that it's now at the back of the rack. That makes sense, since it would otherwise be blocked by the rack sack, but the bike shop mentioned that it was quite a challenge to stretch the cables that far from the hub dynamo (in the front wheel). I had the rack installed when I took the bike in for a service, and I think I would have struggled to fit it by myself.

Here's the rack sack fitted to the bike:

Rack sack on bike

I took that photo at night, using a flash, which demonstrates the reflective strip quite nicely.

Using a front pannier is very simple: you basically just drop it into place, then pull a lever to release it. Using the rack sack is a bit more complicated, since it attaches in three places:

Front of rack sack Back of rack sack

There's a loop that goes under the rear frame clip (the plastic bung). That means that you need to pause partway through folding/unfolding the bike, when there's a small gap to get the loop through. There's also a velcro strap that goes around the seat post, and another strap that goes through the rack and clips together underneath.

As for the bag itself, there's one big compartment (16L capacity) and a small pocket at the front (next to the seat post) that might be useful for storing a wallet or a train ticket. It came with a shoulder strap, which can clip into the loops at opposite corners on top of the bag, but I've never used that. I don't need this bag every day, but it often comes in useful, e.g. when I go swimming on the way to work.

The rear rack has a couple of elastic straps on it, which I could theoretically use to carry items without using the rack sack, but I've never tried that.

C bag

When I replaced my cloth pannier, I bought a C bag (25L). I considered a T bag (touring pannier), which is a bit larger (31L), but decided against it because I had a separate touring bike and I didn't think I'd need the extra capacity on a daily basis, and the C bag was already a bit bigger than the bag it replaced. I also read a very favourable review of the C bag at Seven League Boots. Here's what it looks like:

Outside of C bag Inside of C bag

There are two main differences between the C bag and the cloth pannier:
* The C bag is bright yellow inside rather than black, which makes it easier to find things.
* The C bag has lots of pockets.
Like the cloth pannier, there's a main compartment with a small section at the back for A4 documents, and two zipped pockets on the back. However, the C bag also has a zipped pocket on the right side (with some slots for pens), a mesh pocket on the left side, a zipped pocket inside the top flap, and a zipped pocket inside the main compartment that stores the rain cover.

The main compartment doesn't zip up on the C bag, so I was initially concerned that things might fall out while I was moving. However, that hasn't been a problem. There are two velcro strips on the flap, and two extra straps that clip together, although I've never bothered with the latter.

C bag straps

There's also another small pocket between the straps (clear plastic). I'm not sure what you'd use it for, but the designers were apparently on a mission to fit in as many pockets as possible! The rain cover fits neatly over the bag, but there's enough stretch to make it easy to fit:

C bag with rain cover

The shoulder strap is padded, so it's more comfortable than the one from the cloth pannier, but it's a bit of a faff to adjust it. On the rear pockets, the zips go down the sides rather than around the top. That makes it easier to find things at the bottom, but it also means that you have to zip it up again right away to stop things falling out.

All in all, I prefer the C bag to the cloth pannier.

City Trailer

In May, some Mancunian git stole my touring bike, so the Brompton is now my main bike again. Using the front/rear panniers together, I have 41L of capacity, whereas I had 87L from the five panniers on my touring bike. This means that I'm a bit more limited if I want to go away for the weekend. For instance, here's my sleeping bag compared to the rack sack:

Rack sack and sleeping bag

They're roughly the same length, but the rack sack gets narrower at the front so it's a bit tricky to squash the sleeping bag inside. Even if I do fit it in, that doesn't leave me with much space for anything else.

There are also situations where I'd like to carry bulky loads, e.g. going to the supermarket or the recycling depot. I normally do that by bus, but it's frustrating to stand around for 15 minutes thinking "If I was cycling then I'd be home by now".

When I mentioned trailers before, other people were a bit dubious about the idea. However, I met someone in Southampton who'd attached a trailer to the back of her Brompton (I believe it was an Adventure CT2) and that seemed to work well; the only problem I noticed was that the wheels had become slightly skewed. I did a bit of digging online, and the concensus seems to be that two-wheeled trailers are better for roads while one-wheeled trailers are better for off-road cycling. The Brompton isn't really built for off-roading, so I decided that a two-wheeled trailer would be best for me, and I wanted to attach the trailer to the axle rather than the seat post. I heard good things about Carry Freedom, and the City Trailer seemed better for me than the Y-Frame. VeloVoyages have used this for camping, as described here and here.

I had a few initial problems with the trailer, but they were soon resolved:
* The instructions in the box referred to an old type of hitch. You can download the relevant instructions for the new "lollipop" hitch from their website.
* The bolt that attaches the plastic lollipop to the trailer arm was missing. It's supposed to be an M6 x 35mm. Looking online, Chain Reaction Cycles sell titanium M6 bolts that start at £3 each (not including the washer/nut). However, the local DIY shop charged 20p for a bolt and 5p for a nut, which is a lot more reasonable, assuming that "normal metal" (steel?) is sufficient.
* The hole that had been drilled through the plastic lollipop was slightly off-centre, so I couldn't get the bolt through the plastic and the arm. (I could put the bolt through the plastic on its own and through the arm on its own, but not through both together.) The workaround was to use an M4 x 40mm bolt, and the manufacturer has confirmed that this will be strong enough to hold it all together.

The trailer comes with a bracket that you attach the bike, and this needs 4mm free at the end of the axle. There is just enough space for this on my Brompton:

Brompton axle without bracket Brompton axle with bracket

If I'm using the Brompton with front/rear panniers, I can put everything down at the top of the stairs before I lock the door to my flat. That's useful, because it saves me having to do two trips up and down the stairs. I can fit the bike and the trailer into that space, but there's not really enough space for the front pannier there too (since I need somewhere to stand while I lock the door). However, I can get round that by using the shoulder strap on the C bag.

Bike and two bags on stairs Bike and trailer on stairs

This is an advantage of the City Trailer over the Y-Frame: it can stand upright.

I need to be careful about weight limits, both for the trailer itself (45 kg) and for the bike (110 kg total load). However, that's not a problem if I carry things that are bulky but light. For instance, I had a 50L bin liner full of empty orange juice cartons. This weighed 600g, and I could lift it with my little finger, but I couldn't fit it into either of my existing panniers.

C bag with recycling Rack sack with recycling Trailer with recycling

If you look closely at the last picture, you can see that the "lid" of the trailer bag (lying on the floor) has a mesh pocket and I've used that to store a couple of other carrier bags. I rode down to the recycling depot, and I was a bit nervous in case they turned me away. The council website says: "The sites are accessed by car (if you aren't a car user then ask a neighbour or friend if they could take some of your items next time they are going)." I was turned away from a different depot a few years ago, but I've been able to get into this one on foot. Anyway, the staff on duty were happy to let me in, which was good. I "parked" by swinging the Brompton's rear wheel underneath, and I'm quite impressed that I could do that without unhooking the trailer:

Bike and trailer at recycling depot

They don't have any bike racks there, so I just locked the rear wheel to the frame while I carried my bags to the relevant recycling bins. That all went smoothly: the journey time is roughly the same as it would have been by bus, and it's quicker overall because I don't have to stand around waiting.

I then repeated the journey with my big green recycling crate:

Recycling box in trailer

That crate weighs 2.0 kg empty, and it weighed 7.4 kg on this trip when I'd loaded it with cardboard, cans, etc. As the manufacturer suggests, I used the bag as a hammock to support the crate. However, this arrangement isn't quite as fragile as it looks, since there's a metal bar going across the trailer between the wheels. My main concern is that I don't want the box to fall out of the trailer. In this case it was ok, because the journey between my flat and the depot is very flat, but I wouldn't want to go up or down any hills with the box like that.

If you compare that photo to the one on the stairs, and look closely, you can see that the reflector on the trailer arm has disappeared. I'm not sure what happened to that; it was there when I left the flat on my first trip, but it had gone by the time I reached the depot, so I assume it fell off when I went over a bump in the road. There were originally two red reflectors as well, but they've also both disappeared. As a related issue, the green box is blocking the rear light on the bike; that wasn't a problem during daylight, but I may need to get an extra light to clip on the back of the trailer if I go out after dark.

For my third trip of the day, I took a bin liner full of plastic bottles to a recycling bin in a local park (rather than the depot). If I'd been on the bus, I would have carried both bin liners together, and I could easily support the combined weight on the trailer, but I need to find a way to balance them both.

When I cycled with the trailer, I was conscious of my extra width, so I needed to stay further out from the kerb. Really, I should be doing that anyway (following the Cyclecraft principles of primary/secondary position), so the trailer is actually forcing me to adopt better habits rather than riding "in the gutter". In particular, I noticed that one car held back instead of overtaking when there was traffic coming in the opposite direction, and I think that normally cars would squeeze past in the same lane.

When I'm not using the trailer, I can unclip the bag and fold up the frame:

Folded trailer

B bag

Everything else on this list has involved using the bike to carry luggage. The B bag is the opposite, since it allows you to carry the bike as luggage. For instance, this is useful if I take the bus between London and Oxford.

The empty bag looks like this:

Empty B bag, closed Empty B bag, open

The bag has two pockets inside: a zipped pocket on one side, and a clear plastic pouch with the top edge open on the other side. That's a metal plate in the middle, and you load the bike by putting the rear of the bike on that plate:

Bike in open B bag Bike in closed B bag

When the bag's closed, you can see that it's a bit taller at one end, so that's where the saddle needs to go. The bike fits in fine with the rack installed, and with the trailer bracket sticking out to the side, but I have the telescopic saddle fitted and I need to push that all the way down before I can close the bag.

There are three straps on the bag:
* The small handle at the front. If you lift this, you can tow the bag around, using the wheels under the metal plate at the back.
* The main handle. You can use this to pick the whole thing up.
* The shoulder strap. This is only useful if the bag is empty, not when the bike's inside.

There's no internal padding, but it's a sufficiently snug fit to protect the bike, e.g. the paintwork won't get scratched. I've had to replace the front light bulb a couple of times after the bike has fallen over on a train; the glass was still intact, but it must have had enough of a jolt to snap the filament inside. So far that hasn't been a problem on bus journeys when I've used this bag. If I'm transporting the bike and trailer together then I load them into the luggage area like this:

B bag and trailer

That photo appears to be upside-down, which is deliberate. I push the trailer in first, then rest the arm on top of the B bag. (If you have the trailer bracket attached to the bike, make sure that you lay the B bag down on the other side, i.e. with the front wheel underneath.) When I get to the far end, I can use the handles to pull them out. That picture also shows the mesh pocket on top of the trailer which I can use for my bike helmet.

The only real drawback to the B bag is working out what to do with it when it's empty. If I'm cycling a short distance to the station then I can sling it over my back, but I wouldn't want to do that on a longer journey. If I'm also using the trailer then this gets easier:

Trailer with empty B bag on top

I've used compression straps to tie the empty B bag to the sides of the trailer, on top of the full trailer bag that was carrying my other luggage. At the moment, my straps are fairly short (1m) because they were intended to attach luggage to the rear rack of my touring bike, so I'll probably buy longer ones that can extend all the way across the trailer and loop around both sides of the frame.

If you just use your Brompton for commuting then you don't need a B bag, but it's useful if you want to go further afield.
Tags: cycling, recycling

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