Portage: 40 litre MOLLE backpack

I’m pretty obsessed with bags. I believe that bags maketh the bicycle. The ability to carry reasonable loads converts your bike from being a piece of sporting goods to a useful machine.

I’m a big fan of the urban, courier bag aesthetic but not a fan of the unbalanced load on the left shoulder. I’m a big fan of military designs too. So imagine my joy when I found a bag which combined military spec with an urban friendly look.

The bag in question is Kombat UK’s 40 litre MOLLE bag. ‘MOLLE’ is an acronym for the multi tabbed system on the bag’s outer, enabling all manner of stuff to be secured externally. More on that later.

The bag is made from ultra heavy duty PVC backed cordura – 1000 denier to be precise. This promises long long life and a fair degree of weatherproofing too.

The straps are well padded and comfortable with a sternum strap and broad, comfortable waist strap to keep everything stable when you’re out of the saddle.

The back system is simple, just padded mesh but in my experience complex back systems rarely do a better job of keeping your back sweat free.

The bag also features a hydration pack slot behind the paddle mesh back, so it’s useful for longer rides and hikes.

The main body of the bag, however is where the action is and features three roomy compartments. The main compartment is big enough for a 13 inch laptop, charger, full change of clothes and more besides. The medium sized compartment is perfect for waterproofs, tools etc – the sort of stuff that you might want to separate from the main compartment. The smallest compartment is great for small items that you access regularly, such ad wallet, keys, phone etc.

Each compartment is secured with chunky self repairing zips which feel very robust if a little stiff when new.

Quick release compression straps cinch the load in when not full but allow easy access to gear when needed.

The bag isn’t light: anything made from 1000 denier ‘truck tarp’ material will never be but it’s ultra hardy, with not a single mark on it in nearly a year of commutes in all weathers.

It’s not completely waterproof but it holds off most of the weather. I’ve gaffer taped the drain holes in the bottom to prevent road spray entering from beneath.

The real USP of this bag is the MOLLE system on the exterior. While conceived to attach ammo packs etc it’s great for attaching bike related items. As you can see from the image, I’ve attached my lock and slid a hi viz wrist slap into the tabs. The possibilities are endless.

In winter or at night the bag is easily festooned with led lights or you could easily strap big bulky items to the tabs.

I love it. It compares well with high spec bags like Vans’ Fortnight pack and Timbuk2’s Especial range but it’s a whole lot cheaper. Just £35. Kombat UK are not the only supplier of these US military inspired bags. Google MOLLE rucksack and you’ll find a variety of styles, manufacturers, colours and pricepoints.

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Swedish Army Rucksack

Is this not the Brooks B17 of rucksacks?

Lately I’ve been enjoying riding the bike in its unladen state, as I’ve referenced in recent blog posts. A good portion of my commuting and recreational riding takes place off road, either on canal towpaths or woodland trails and the sprightly feel of an unladen bike on rough ground is hard to beat.

Previously I’ve been a champion of the ‘let the bike carry the weight’ philosophy and a daily saddlebag user to boot. But lately I’ve hankered after something different. The trouble is, I carry a laptop and video camera on my daily commute, so some sort of capacious bag is essential. The problem is most backpacks are high-tech, nylon items which don’t really sit well with Resurrectio’s staunchly traditional looks. Thus my search began for a ‘country bag’ to match my country bike.

I’ve always liked the looks and rugged utilitarianism of military gear, so I began my search on army surplus websites. Pretty soon I stumbled across a rucksack that blended perfectly with my country bike’s honey leather and green colour scheme.

The bag in question is an M39 Swedish Army rucksack, produced, as its name suggests, from 1939 until around 1960 . It’s a 35 litre canvas bag with one main compartment, closed with a leather drawstring and a storm flap. The bag features a lightweight metal support frame, painted in olive drab and a wonderful honey-coloured harness system made from saddle leather.

Rear view of the bag showing the beautiful and elaborate back system

The bag is supremely comfortable to wear; the broad, flat leather straps and lumbar support taking the weight, while the frame keeps the bag away from the back, making for a largely sweat free experience. The bag’s main compartment will swallow my laptop and camera with room to spare, while the smaller internal pocket is the perfect size for my bike tool kit.

It’s great to find a vintage item like this which is just as functional now as it was when it was made, way back in 1942. I’m lucky to have found an example in pretty much unused condition – I suspect that my bag has never seen service and must have been stored well to be in such remarkable condition after 69 years.

And the price for this wonderful, evokate ‘Brooks B17 of rucksacks’? £5.99 plus postage, from a popular auction site.

Another ‘Essential Cycling Toolkit’ Article

Click the image to play the video (link to Vimeo)

Getting around by bike is all about fresh air, freedom and a feeling of getting from A to B under your own steam. However, the utopian dream of free-spirited, low-impact travel can die a death very quickly when you hear that dreaded hissing sound from your tyres. The sinking feeling of a flat half way from home, half way to work, can be a real pain – unless you come equipped. With this in mind here’s what I carry on my bike at all times – and, without sounding too preachy, it’s what I’d suggest you carry too.

  1. Spare Tube – make sure it’s the right size and check it regularly for air-tightness
  2. Pump – make sure it fits the tubes on your bike
  3. Tyre Levers – Three of them will remove even the most stubborn tyres. Plastic ones are best.
  4. Multitool – with flat-head and cross-head screwdriver plus 2-8mm Allen Keys
  5. Chain tool (if you know how to use it)
  6. Pliers – handy for pulling nails/chunks of glass from tyres plus a whole raft of other uses
  7. Puncture Kit – to be used as a last resort if your inner tube fails
  8. Mobile Phone – the ultimate get you home accessory (store the numbers of a few local taxi firms)
  9. Cash – If all else fails – for taxi fare home.
  10. Pair of latex gloves or a small pack of wipes – to keep your hands clean when doing repairs
  11. Lock – even if you don’t plan to leave the bike

All of this (with the possible exception of the lock) will fit in a small bag which should be permanently attached to the bike, so you never leave home without it. Everyone has their own variation on this ‘essential’ list so feel free to chime in with your suggestions, or to point out any frightful omissions!

Happy cycling!

Bike Luggage: Carradice Zipped Roll Coming Soon

The Zipped Roll - coming to a handlebar near me...

On it’s way in the post as we speak. For a while, I’ve needed a smaller bag that’ll fit on the handlebars or the saddle. I currently own a Carradice Camper Longflap which is excellent for toting the laptop and other commuting junk. But there are times when I want a light and unencumbered ride but don’t want to use a backpack or even worse – overloaded jersey or jacket rear pocket – there’s nothing worse than the ‘cyclist’s bustle’, as a friend of mine coined it.

The Carradice Zipped Roll is manufactured in Nelson, Lancashire from heavy-duty waterproof waxed cotton duck with thick leather straps and is 14cm x 30cm – the perfect size for day-ride essentials. Its roll shape is a lot more useful that the conventional saddle wedge shape and will equally at home on the handlebars or the saddle.

My current repurposed bar bag - originally a Swedish Army gas mask bag. We'll see how it fares against the bike specific Zipped Roll.

Currently I’ve got a repurposed Swedish Army gas mask/barbag as a bar but I’ve been toying with buying a Zipped Roll for a while. My original plan was to buy some Carradice leather straps to hold the Swedish bag on (it’s currently secured with zip ties which keep snapping and don’t allow me to remove and replace the bag in a hurry). However, the Carradice leather straps alone would have cost around £18 including postage, and I’ve got the Zipped Roll (which includes three straps) for £23. A no-brainer…

When the time comes for some overnight camping, I think I’ll be able to accommodate my full S24o kit using a combination of the Camper Longflap at the rear, the Zipped Roll at the front and maybe a stuff sack on the Nitto front rack – cyclotouriste style.

Watch out for a full review when the new bag arrives in a few day’s time.