Riding Loaded!

12 05 2011

My Berthoud bag equipped Boulder Bicycle...

I remember reading a blog post years ago that Kent Peterson authored. I want to say it was in the preparation phase for his first GDR race. He noted that he didn’t really train in the conventional sense of the term, but instead rode his bike with all it’s race kit for fun in the months prior to the event. That seemed like a lot of work at the time and while I can certainly relate to not getting into the whole HRM/intervals/cycling coach training thing riding a loaded bike all the time seemed excessive. Of course he was making a lot of sense I just didn’t have the sense to make full use of that advice when I first read it. I’ve become smarter over the years and I can certainly agree that riding your “event” bike setup for the event in question is the way to go. Not only do you get some extra exercise when riding it around, but you are learning how to handle the bike loaded and how to make the most of it. A naked bike feels nice, but you can’t muscle the loaded bike around the same way so it seems like a good idea to ride the bike with everything you’ll carry in the event. And of course you get to test out all your gear so that if something is going to be a problem it’s much better for that to happen 2kms from home on a Wed PM a week before the big day rather than 20kms into the event.

Berthoud handlebar bag...

I got my Boulder Bicycle All Road 650B randonneur bike with the Berthoud handlebar bag shown above. It sits on a Nitto M12 front rack. I really like this bag because it is so lovely while being 100% functional. I can open it on the bike while riding, it’s waterproof in extended heavy rain, it provides a useful place to store my cue sheet for navigation and the decaleur [QR] I got for it is very secure. I’ve seen decades old bags just like this that are going strong so I expect it will last my entire randonneur career.

Front bag profile...

Other than a couple short test rides when I first assembled this bike I have always ridden it with a loaded bar bag. It was designed for that and I always want to have a few items with me. A blog reader asked me what the bike handled like without the bag and my reply was “…I don’t know…why would I ride it without the bag?”

Front view with Edelux headlight...

For a shorter ride – say up to 200K with decent weather I just use the front bag and I’ll carry:

  • spare 650B tire
  • spare tubes x 2
  • tire levers, patch kit
  • multitool
  • fiber-fix emergency spokes x 2
  • small bit of duct tape
  • reflective sash & ankle bands
  • energy bars & other food
  • rain jacket [I never trust the forecast completely – maybe I’d skip this at the peak of summer]
  • cue sheet & control card & pen
  • iPhone
  • Visa & cash & ID
  • spare GPS batteries if the ride is long enough
  • as things warm up I’ll throw spare clothing in the bag

Decaleur detail...

The decaleur [bag QR] attaches to the stem and then the bag is placed on the rack with a leather strap looped over a small hoop of metal that sticks up from the rack. A metal rod is pushed through the decaleur parts on the bike and on the bag [bolted through the leather]. Once in place  a retention pin is used to secure it. I’ve used a thin bit of keychain wire in the photos above.

Other side of decaleur...

This style of decaleur is a bit of a PITA to use as you have to line up three metal parts and slide the QR rod through them, but it’s cheaper than the other faster decaleur options and it’s very secure. When I crashed pretty hard on a 200K the bag didn’t budge. This system is also more theft resistant and you’d have to really examine the bag to figure how to take it. If I am leaving my bike at a brevet control I just grab my money and my iPhone and leave the bag in place. It’s too much hassle to remove and reinstall it each time. I’m not sure if I would spend the $$ for the faster QR decaleur option that just drops onto the bike with no retention rod. I guess if I was headed to PBP and wanted to take my bag with me at each stop I would. For BC brevets that doesn’t seem necessary.

Small Berthoud saddle bag...

I wanted to free up some room in my bar bag so I got the small Berthoud saddle bag shown above. When it arrived it was a bit smaller than I had hoped so I’m not sure how much use it will see. I’ll probably put it on another bike like my Surly LHT when I complete the rebuild/upgrade I’ve got underway.

I used it for the 300K last weekend and carried:

  • spare tubes x 2
  • tire lever & patch kit
  • small roll of duct tape
  • fiber fix emergency spokes x 2
  • multi-tool

Small saddle bag profile...

It’s a nice size for a spare tube or two and a few tools which may suit a lot cyclists. I did free up enough space in my bar bag to be helpful when the day got hot and I wanted to strip off a lot of my cold weather gear.

Large Berthoud saddle bag...

So I called up Mike at Rene Herse and he sent me a large Berthoud saddle bag. This is an older model as the new ones all come with a QR bracket rather than a leather strap. I actually prefer this model as I won’t be removing it from the bike during a brevet.

Enough cargo capacity to be dangerous...

I’ve packed the larger bag to see what I can fit in and will carry the following in it for a 400K+ brevet and perhaps for some fast credit card touring:

  • spare 650B tire
  • spare tubes x 2
  • patch kit & tire levers
  • fiber fix emergency spokes x 2
  • multi-tool
Overall I’m quite pleased with the quality, functionality and aesthetics of these Berthoud bags. If you are in the market for bicycle bags and don’t want to go the modern Ortlieb route these are worth some consideration.



12 responses

12 05 2011
Janice in GA

Do bags like that fit on bikes that have brifters? Seems like the cables would get in the way. 😦

12 05 2011

@Janice – depends how the cables exit the brifters. I think you’d be fine using Campy. I’m not an expert as I don’t really use brifters.

12 05 2011

The cables on Shimano STI brifters come out of the sides, either making it impossible or at least a huge pain to use a handlebar bag. It’s a shame, because I’d love to have a future bike set up for a handlebar bag, but I also love my STI brifters.

13 05 2011

The latest Ultegra & Dura Ace levers have the cables routed under the bar tape as well. If you don’t mind spending the coin 😉

14 05 2011
Victor C

@Janice, I’ve read of using brake noodles on the cables to shunt them out of the way, to make room for the handlebar bag.

14 05 2011

@ Victor – I’ve seen that and it looks workable.

21 05 2011

I also do the ´loaded substitute for training´ thing. I routinely ride with my Carradice Nelson full of

A spare Schwalbe Marathon Racer
2x spare inner tubes
Blackburn Mountain mini pump
4x tyre boots
3x tyre levers
2 spoke keys
Fibre spoke
A multitool
A proper chain tool
several power links and a few spare links
Spare gear, brake and straddle cables
5 reusable zipties
bonk rations (several gels and an energy bar)
A waterproof jacket

I also tend to ride with my bidons full, even if I don´t need them. If I am not on an brevet, I´ll also throw in my Krypto NewYork 3000 lock and my cable lock. With that lot, the bike usually feels relatively light if I am on an event. Whilst I can get to the side pockets on the move, it´s not as convenient as a bar bag, so I´ve added a toppeak tri bag for stuff I want easy access to, like keys and flapjack. It´s not as pretty as your combo, and you can´t access as much easily, but for a normal fork trail setup, it´s pretty good without potentially doing anything weird to the handling. In that I´ve never tried a low-mounted bar bag, I have no idea whether the fork trail is more important than the low bag mounting.

22 05 2011

@Dr.M – I think the low trail geometry will have benefits for a low bar bag as well, but the lower and closer to the steering axis the less impact it will have on any bike.

27 07 2011
Carlos Hoyt


I just built up a Boulder Bike 700C and had a question on your tail light. What kind of bracket did you use to fasten the Superflash blinkey to the light holder that extends from the rear cable hanger?


27 07 2011

@Carlos – that’s just the stock PB mount.

26 12 2012

Berthoud bags do work on long brevets, but: 1. They are boat-anchor heavy when dry, and all that leather absorbs rain (heavier!). 2. The map cover is glossy, unlike satin finish on some others. Sunshine, reflection, difficult reading. 3. The map pockets let humidity in, causing it to fog, ruining paper and obscuring the cue sheet. The stitching is like a towel, drawing the water right in. 4. The shape support piece is too heavy and should be removed.

4 06 2013

I use mountain bike brake noodles with my Shimano Dura Ace 9 Speed brifters to enable the derailleur cables to clear my Berthoud 2086. Works fine.

I had gotten use to the quick release on my Topeak Tour bag so am thinking of Velcro to hold the Berthoud to my rack.

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