I’ve owned a Carradice Camper Longflap saddle bag for almost 18 months now, so I thought it was about time to share my experiences of this capacious, rugged and unashamedly traditional item of bicycle luggage.
Carradice is one of Britain’s longest established cycling-related companies, based in a small factory at Nelson, in the heart of Lancashire. A small production team churn out traditional canvas bike luggage which is shipped around the world to discerning bicyclists. Carradice produces other, modern offerings in Cordura and PVC, but it’s the classic range of canvas bags that is Carrdice’s stock-in-trade.
The Carradice Camper is a saddlebag in the traditional sense – a capacious bag that sits laterally across the bike, attached to the saddle loops of a traditional saddle (e.g. a Brooks) and to the seatpost (Carradice also markets a number of alternative ways of attaching its bags to bikes without saddle-loop equipped seats – The SQR system and the Bagman). The traditional saddlebag differs from current trend for panniers, slung low on a front or rear carrier, or a rack top bag. Take a look at archive pictures of tourists and day riders and you’ll see wall to wall saddlebags from makers like Carradice, Karrimor and Brooks.
The Camper Longflap is the largest of Carradice’s traditional saddlebags, with a huge internal capacity of 24 litres – to put this into context, the same capacity as a single large rear pannier. At the other end of the range is the Carradice Barley, a shrunken version for lightly loaded day rides, with a 9 litre capacity. In between, there’s a huge range of different capacities available, all fashioned from thick waxed ‘cotton duck’ canvas, with leather straps, proper metal buckles and a wooden internal dowel to stiffen the top of the bag. The Camper (and indeed many of Carradice’s saddlebags) are available in two colourways – black canvas with off-white straps or olive green canvas with honey brown leather straps. Either choice looks great – especially on a classic looking bike.
To give you an idea of what will fit in the Camper Longflap here’s a list of things that I regularly taken with me with room to spare:
- Full toolkit
- 2 spare tubes
- Rain Jacket
- 14 inch laptop
- Laptop Power Supply
- Sandwich box
- U Lock
- Spare clothing
The two outer compartments make short work of the tools and spares, leaving the main compartment free for office stuff, clothing, stuff you like to keep clean. But that’s not the end of the Camper’s TARDIS-like trickery…
Hey, why the Longflap?
The Camper Longflap (and its smaller cousin, the Nelson Longflap) share a simple and cunning feature that has the ability to vastly increase its load-lugging ability. Undo two press stud fasteners on the waterproof, double thickness lid and a further section of lid plus two longer leather straps reveal themselves. This allows you to stow larger, wider loads like tents, sleeping mats, folding stools, tripods, bushels of hay etc, between the main body of the bag and the lid. This feature means that, rather like an ant, the bag can effectively carry loads much larger than itself.
Some may find that a large bag like this may need some support from below, preferring it to rest some of its weight on a rack. However, I find that having the bag suspended from the seatpost effectively eliminates its contents from road shock, meaning that I have successfully carried a laptop computer to and from work for the past eighteen months without so much as a hiccup.
Some riders switching from a pannier setup may notice that the bike’s centre of gravity feels raised, especially when riding out of the saddle. However, stay in the saddle and the load is very close to the rider and its weight seems to disappear. A positive side-effect of the bag’s placement behind the rider is that it doesn’t catch the wind, is out of the worst of the rain (provided you’re using mudguards) and is also out of the way of undergrowth when riding narrow, bramble lined trails.
18 months on, my Camper has become an integral part of my daily commuting setup. It’s just beginning to take on that vintage feel – a bit of road dirt, a slightly sun faded look and some leather strap beausage – I suspect it might start to look truly vintage at the same time as I’m due a hip replacement – suffice to say that these bags are indestructible; they get better with age and are easily repairable with a needle and cotton. You can also re-proof them with a tin of special stuff from Carradice (or some Nikwax).
I have chosen to attach my Camper Longflap to the bike using Carradice’s excellent SQR system, which attaches to the seatpost (reducing stress on the saddle and the seat clamp) and enables one to remove and reattach the bag in seconds, rather than faffing with straps. (I’ll post a separate review of this excellent device).
To sum up – 18 months in, with any other item of luggage, I’d probably be looking at a tired, ready to replace item. However the Camper and I are just at the beginning of a very long life together.
More information: www.carradice.co.uk