Gravel Bike Frame Bag

This August, I will be participating in the 5th and final “Day Across Minnesota” (DAMn) gravel bike race. The race is 240 miles across the state from Gary, SD to Hager City, WI. I’ll be treating it more like a long ride than a race and will be doing it with my friend Bryce. Now onto the bag:

Design Needs

This frame bag must be able to do the following:

  • Mount snugly within the front triangle of my gravel bike (I’ll write a post on the bike soon)
  • Hold snacks & food for 60+ miles, arm warmers/rain jacket, external battery pack for lights & phone, maybe some tools as well
  • Be able to be unzipped and re-zipped with one hand while riding
  • Be mostly water/weatherproof
  • Allow me to access my water bottles

I am hoping to run this frame bag without a handlebar bag in order to stay decently aerodynamic. I will still be running a small saddle bag that will hold my flat kit/extra tubes and tools, and I will have my jersey pockets for storage, though the pockets will probably be fully occupied by my phone, keys, “wallet,” some snacks, and a water bottle.

Addressing Needs

Mount snuglyI will not be using a pre-defined pattern for this bag. My plan is to use cardboard to create a pattern that fits my bike perfectly and create a scrap pack first to test the fit.
Hold everythingOnce I’ve made the scrap pack, I can load it up with everything I plan to carry to see if it all fits. If I need more room, I’ll make it longer (extend further toward the seat post) or slightly wider.
Zip one-handedThis will come with trial and error. Hopefully there is enough tension on the bag from being strapped to 3 different tubes to allow smooth zipping. If I need to add rigidity, I may use HDPE or PET recycled from milk jugs to line the bag.
WeatherproofI plan to use an X-Pac VX21+ variant sent to me by Taylor North from Dimension Polyant. I have not tested this fabric for waterproofness but I trust DP’s X-Pac products. I will likely seal the seams with silicone.
Access BottlesThis will be addressed in the patterning stage. I’ll make sure to size the pattern to allow for smooth retrieval of water bottles.

The Fun Part

Now that I’ve addressed all my needs for this bag, I can start developing ideas for what it should be and look like. I only have so many options, but tinkering with different ideas is the most fun part of making new pieces of gear, followed closely by completing a project and getting to use the finished product in the field.

I spent some time window shopping for frame bags to see what different designs were out there and what I might be able to incorporate into my design. As a gear maker, this is an exciting part of the process: seeing other people’s ideas and tweaking them to make something that will work well for you. One bag that caught my eye was the “Racing Frame Pack” from Apidura. It looks sleek and I think the general shape will work well to accommodate my bottle demands. I also don’t love the look of frame bags that go all the way to the seat tube, so if I can use a bag that is smaller like this one, I’d love to for the sake of aesthetics. The other key feature that I found on some bags is the attachment style. Most bags use either hook and loop straps or cinched webbing to secure the bag to the bikes tubes, but some use shock cord over the tubes and through grosgrain loops that is reminiscent of shoe laces. I like the look of this a lot and would rather let my custom paint job show through than cover it up with a hook and loop sleeve or webbing. From a visual standpoint, this is perfect, and I think it will do a better job of securing the pack to my frame than straps would. This system will take longer to attach and remove the bag from the bike, but I don’t foresee frequent removal, so it shouldn’t be an issue.

Two more features, and the ones that matter most for the functionality of the bag, are the zippers. I plan to have one waterproof zipper on the right side of the bag, probably an inch or two from the top, with a zipper hood over it to aid in waterproofing. This zipper will give access to the entire body of the bag and should be easily opened and closed while riding. I plan to have one waterproof zipper on the left side of the bag as well. This will open into a narrow pocket on the left side of the bag and not into the full body of the bag. The left pocket will be ideal for storing maps or cue sheets (or other things that need quick access and shouldn’t be mixed in with everything else) or trash, wrappers, etc. I have an almost identical pocket on the front of my cross-body bag for backpacking, which I will do a write-up on soon. I use that pocket to store my phone and cash, and it works great.

One feature the Apidura pack has is a small port to run a charging cord out of at the front of the bag. I may borrow this from them, but I think I should be able to run any cords out the front of the right side zipper. It’s an easy feature to integrate if I choose to.

Preliminary Design

Given that this is my first gear design post on this site, my words probably have not been as clear as they could be. I will work on that going forward and will hopefully get better with the practice and repetition. I will leave here at the end some hand-drawn sketches to illustrate my ideas.

If you have any feedback for me or ideas for me to try, I always appreciate brainstorming and experimenting with different approaches. Head to the “Contact Me” link and shoot me an email. Or leave a comment on this post. Thanks for reading!

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