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

Update 2/7/17:

Just a word on my tire inflation strategy. The CO2/Mini Pump combo does work, but it's not ideal for high volume tires like the Schwalbe Big Bens on my Cross Check. I ended up attaching a more traditional pump to the frame, and I stuck the mini pump in the seat bag on my city bike. I think it makes more sense for this application since the Vittoria Randonneurs on my city bike are much lower volume. I'm also using Schrader valves on that bike, so I can just use a gas station pump in a pinch. Besides, after a couple years of city riding, I still haven't flatted on the Vittorias. Those are some tough tires!

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