Thursday, September 24, 2015

Review: Arkel Seat Bag

arkel seat bag

It’s really sort of depressing how much time, energy, and money I spend on theft prevention. The latest example has to do with my bike tools. Like many cyclists, I carry a portable toolkit so I can fix minor breakdowns on the road. The problem comes when I park my bike out of sight for longer than a few minutes. Even if the bike itself is secured by a U-lock, there are usually parts and attachments that can still be removed quickly and easily by passersby with sticky fingers. Bike tools certainly qualify here, and since the individual parts can add up to a significant about of money, I’m never comfortable leaving them unattended for long. Unfortunately, this involves the tedium of removing my seat bag and my frame-mounted pump before leaving my bike unattended, and reattaching everything once I return. Not an ideal situation.

While searching for a solution, I came across the Arkel Seat Bag which offers a unique design: The “bag” part is an actual waterproof bag that holds a generous amount of gear, but it does not attach to the bike. Instead, it slides into a four panel “shell” that attaches to the seat via velcro straps. One buckle opens and closes the shell, then you can insert or remove the bag without much fuss. Great!

arkel seat bag

Next, I considered the pump. Since it is kept in a separate location on the bike, it necessitates another step for removal, so I thought about what inflation device I could fit into the seat bag. The natural choice here is a CO2 inflator, but since they use small, single-use CO2 canisters, the ability to inflate tires is limited. Once you run out of CO2, you're pretty much stuck. I wanted to have a backup for this, so I started an online search for a hand pump that would fit into my Arkel Seat Bag. Lo and behold, I found the Airace Torch Mountain Mini Pump. At just 5 inches in length, it easily fits into the Arkel bag. Now, I wouldn’t want to make a habit of fully inflating tires with this pump. Its small size necessitates a lot of pumping to boost those PSIs. But it is perfect as a backup for the CO2 inflator, or for just topping off your tire if it seems a bit low. For day rides, this combo seems like a good solution. For more extended rides or tours, I carry a more substantial hand pump for flat fixing duties.

airace torch pump

So, problem solved. I've got all of my tools in one easily removable bag. Here's what I'm carrying in it, and I still have room to stuff a few more small items.

seat bag contents

I had one more idea for my new seat bag. On short local rides, I usually carry a Kryptonite Evolution Mini-5 U-lock. I've been looking for a good way to attach the lock to the bike, since the mounting bracket it comes with is sort of weak. I discovered that my U-lock fits nicely into the Arkel shell.

arkel seat bag

Of course, this is really an either/or scenario. I can't fit both the lock and the stuffed dry bag into the shell, but it's nice to have this option.

All in all, I’m happy. The Arkel bag seems very well constructed, and it will probably last as long as I do. It secures solidly to the seat, so there isn’t any flopping around or jangling of tools. It also has a small strap on the back for clipping on a taillight. One minor quibble is that I can sometimes feel the bag on the back of my thighs during the pedal downstrokes, but this can be corrected with some adjustments at the mounting points and/or repacking the bag. Aside from that, I can’t think of anything wrong with this bag. Arkel has a reputation for producing top-notch bike bags, and this seat bag certainly lives up to it.

arkel seat bag

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Taking a Break

Posts to the Roam blog have been infrequent lately as I have been busy working on a long form writing project. There will be more posts in the upcoming weeks.

bike and redwood

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Perfect Day Ride

point reyes road

Sometimes, it all just comes together. There are some things within your control when planning a day ride, like where to go, who to go with (even if it's just yourself), and making sure your bike is well maintained, yet still bringing basic tools in case of a minor breakdown. Packing a good lunch doesn't hurt either. Your choice of roads and terrain are somewhat within your control, and scenic roads with rolling hills and little traffic are hard to beat. We had all of this going for us on our latest day ride, a trek out to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, but the one thing we can never control is the weather. Fortunately, the sun gods were smiling upon us that day. But don't take my word for it. Here's the weather report that was posted at the lighthouse:

point reyes lighthouse weather report

This was not an exaggeration. We really lucked out. And yes, we did see whales spouts during our lunch break. You can also see a note about elephant seals in the area. Viewing marine mammals is a bonus in itself, and it also means that part of the road is closed to most motor vehicle traffic this time of year, with the exception of shuttle buses and private vehicles with disabled occupants. Otherwise, the area around the lighthouse would be mayhem. Elephant seals and migrating whales attract a lot of people.

I can't think of anything that would have made this ride better. This one was pretty unforgettable. I suppose the best way to find the perfect day ride is to ride as often as possible. Sooner or later, it will happen.

point reyes sunset

Monday, December 22, 2014

A ride through the cemetary on a foggy morning

cemetary bike fog

This was an inaugural ride of sorts. In the search for the perfect bike fit, I made some more changes to the Cross Check. The 60cm frame was good, but I had a feeling the 62cm might be even better. I was able to land a new frame at a discount, so I moved forward with the conversion. Another fit mod was the handlebar. I was happy with the shape and rise of the VO Milan bars, but I wished for them to be just a bit wider. So, I searched for a bar that was close in shape to the Milan, but in a width of around 600mm. I think there may be only one bar that fits this description, and it's called the Ahearne/MAP Handlebar. The right bar depends a lot upon the individual rider, but for me, the 615mm Ahearne/MAP might be the perfect handlebar. I rounded out this rebuild with a set of stronger wheels for touring and bike camping activities. The result is the best bike fit I have ever had. I think I have finally nailed it.

cemetary bike fog

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Wald Hacks

A Wald basket is a low-cost accessory for your bike that is eminently useful for stuff-carrying, and while it's a great addition as-is, it can be improved with some easy modifications. I started with the mounting. The trick is to get the basket as low and as close to the bars as possible. This puts the center of gravity in the most desirable position. Unfortunately, some Wald baskets ship with stays that have only one mounting hole which places the basket too high and too far forward on many bikes, that is, if you want a level basket. Fortunately, the metal is pretty pliable, so I was able to shorten the stays without much trouble. I basically drilled new holes with a cordless drill, sawed off the excess, and filed down the sharp bits. The result is a nice, level basket, low and close.

wald 137 basket

Once I'm underway, I like my stuff to stay in the basket. So, I added a small bungee net to the top. I was a little worried about casual theft of the net if I left it on the bike, but then I saw a simple tip on the Rivendell Bikes website which solved that problem. I've zip-tied the net to the back of the basket and left two hooks to attach up front. The zip-ties hold the net securely to the basket, but it's still easily opened and closed via the hooks up front.

Finally, I was looking for a good headlight mounting solution. The basket's top brackets take away the obvious light mounting positions on the handlebar, and it's often blocked anyway if I have stuff piled in the basket, so I wanted to put a light out in front somehow. I came up with this simple solution:

wald basket light mount

This is basically a wooden dowel and two wood screws. I cut the dowel to size, drilled holes in each end, drilled holes through the tops of the basket stays, and attached the dowel with wood screws. I wrapped the dowel in black tape to camouflage it a bit, but this step is optional. The mod also serves as a cross-brace, so the basket is more stable overall. I was a bit worried that the dowel would not allow the stays to spread apart far enough for wheel removal, but they still swing out easily enough to clear the hub axle.

These simple and cheap mods have taken my humble Wald basket to a new level of sweetness.