Review: Carradice SQR System

Product: Carradice SQR System| RRP: £26.95

The bag and SQR system in full effect - carrying around 10kgs of luggage with ease.

The humble, venerable saddlebag is, and has always been, a great way to carry moderate loads on a bike. The bag sits neatly in the slipstream of the rider, high enough to avoid being snagged on gateposts and undergrowth (if you’re riding off road) and out of the spray and grime (when you’re on the tarmac). Traditionally, saddlebags are attached to the bike by straps which thread through saddle loops on Brooks saddles with another strap which wraps around the seatpost, meaning that you don’t need a rack, keeping your bike a little leaner when you’re not toting a load.

The problem

One downside with traditional saddlebags is the faffing around involved in attaching a reattaching them. Another is that many modern saddles don’t have the necessary saddle loops to attach a saddlebag. Step up the SQR system from Carradice, which makes removing and attaching the saddlebag a two second affair and also allows a traditional saddlebag to be carried on a bike without saddlebag loops.

The solution?

A close up of the rear of the bag with SQR metal frame attached. See how the existing leather straps attach the bag to the frame.

The Carradice SQR comprises two main parts; a strong, rigid, powder-coated steel bracket to which the saddlebag is attached using it’s standard leather straps; and a tough ABS plastic bracket that attaches securely to the seatpost with two stainless steel bands. The bracket contains a spring loaded retainer which means that, once attached, the bag and bracket cannot break free.

The bracket attached to the seatpost. Two 6mm allen bolts tighten the stainless steel bands against the seatpost using the same type of tightening mechanism as a drop bar brake lever. The red button at the top operates the spring loaded retainer that keeps the frame and block firmly attached to each other. Simple, secure, strong and effective.

Two sizes of stainless steel bracket are available; the standard bracket s fit seatposts from 25mm to 32mm, while the oversized version fits post sizes 32mm plus, therefore ideal for folding bikes with large diameter seatposts.

The attaching and detaching procedure is simple. To attach, you just offer up the bottom rung of the bracket to the slot at the bottom of the seatpost bracket, pull back the red spring-loaded retainer, drop the bag into position and release the spring. Detaching, as they say in instruction manuals the world over, is the reverse of attaching. Bottom line is that it’s quick and intuitive.

Once detached, another neat feature becomes apparent when you’re carrying your bag into work/college/shops. The black metal frame incorporates a black webbing carry-handle, making bike to workplace portage a cinch.

If you’ve got more than one bike, you can buy additional seatpost brackets, meaning you can hot swap your saddlebag from bike to bike. The SQR metal frame fits all the bags in the Carradice range, from Barley (tiddly and small!) to Camper (freaking huge!) and other traditional saddlebags that are designed to fit laterally across the bike attached to the saddlebag loops.

Other solutions

The SQR isn’t the only quick release option for traditional saddlebags. Carradice also market the Bagman, which is a more traditional saddlebag support with a quick release. This also allows non-loop equipped saddles to mesh with saddlebags. However (though I’ve never used one) the attach-detach system doesn’t look quite as slick as the SQR and the rack remains in position when the bag’s not on the bike. It does however, give the bag some support at the bottom, which some riders  with low saddles, might appreciate. For me, however, with my high saddle, it’s not an issue.

The boat-cleat trick

A quirky  DIY approach using a boat cleat bought from a marine hardware shop (that I’m too chicken to try), but it might work for you! Check out the YouTube link.

Summary: A simple, tough, cleverly though out solution to a generations-old saddlebag toting problem.

Rating: theeverydaycyclist double thumbs up (that’s pretty darn good)

Link: www.carradice.co.uk

NB: This is a non-sponsored, honest to goodness, ‘I use this every day’ review – not some rehashed product press release.

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.

Superb Touring Videos

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=1107409&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1
Some days in the life of a Siberian cyclist… a dazzling rush through some random encounters from Rob Lilwall on Vimeo.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=2436036&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1
How to make a cycling expedition film if you are both the cameraman and the presenter from Rob Lilwall on Vimeo.

My S240

Above: The bike, sporting a Rivendell inspired basket, laden with dew on a cold, clear September morning. 

A couple of weeks ago, on what was possibly the last fine weekend of 2008 I finally go around to doing my S240 camp. Can’t believe it took me so long to get around to it, and just how easy it was to do, even with a full time job and a family to work around. 

I chose a camping destination that was around 30 miles away from home and set out a few hours before sunset, so I got to the campsite just as the sun was setting over the fields. Beautiful. Even the bunch of skateboarders on tour in the camping field who sang songs around the fire until 2am didn’t get me down (until one of them tripped over my tent, that is). Great experience. I detailed the trip in full on my site but here it is repeated here. 
Many cyclists dream of loading up their bike with a tent, sleeping bag, stove and mess-kit and heading off into the great blue yonder on a cycle tour, no doubt inspired by the stories of travel writers, or older cycling relatives who remembered cycle touring in the golden age of cycling – the 1950s. But when you say ‘touring’ to most cyclists, they’ll think of month-long epics across continents, or at the very least, taking a week out to explore a new part of the country.

However, this doesn’t always fit neatly into life, especially if you’ve got a full time job and a family to consider. “Erm, kids, darling, I’m off on a fortnight’s tour of Brittany, bye” doesn’t go down too well in most families, so what do you do? We’ll how about experiencing the joys of self sufficiency, freedom and relaxation that unsupported touring gives you, but in a bitesized package where you wave goodbye to the folks in the afternoon and are back to share your adventures with them over lunch? Welcome to microtouring.

The concept is very simple. Pick a campsite that you can get to within 2 to 3 hours – at fully laden touring pace this means around 30 miles unless you’re an Olympic medallist. Pack up your bike with the bare essentials that you’ll need to be comfortable overnight. Head out to your camping spot, have your alfresco dinner, watch the sun go down, snug down in your sleeping bag with a good book, wake up with the morning light, pack up and pedal home. You’ll get back home full of stories feeling like you’ve somehow squeezed an extra day out of your weekend, and your family will hardly have noticed that you’d gone. 

It’s not a new concept by any means, and one that’s been heavily championed by Rivendell’s Grant Petersen. Petersen coined the term S24O (Sub 24hr Overnight) to describe this distilled form of cycle camping. Reading their exploits on the website, it seemed idyllic, especially when they’ve got the San Franscisco bay area as their camping playground, and the stunning peak of Mt Diablo within striking distance of their Walnut Creek HQ. I’ve long been inspired by the idea but wondered long and hard about how it would translate to the UK, and in my case Liverpool. 

Some cities are easier to escape from than others and Liverpool is blessed with some great scenery and tranquil spots within easy microtouring range. I chose the Vale Royal of Cheshire as my target and the area around Delamere Forest. I found a campsite on the great www.ukcampsites.co.uk and all of a sudden, the micro tour was on. 

Loading the bike was pretty straightforward. I had a front and rear rack and managed to get everything into a saddlebag and two 30 litre waterproof drybags, one of which was strapped to the rear rack, the other in a basket (shamelessly Rivendell style) on the front. In hindsight, for my next microtour I’ll just use a rear rack with maybe two panniers for the heavier stuff and a single drybag strapped to the rack, making for more nimble handling – I found a lot of weight up front made for interesting handling on the gravel tracks I encountered. 

Picking a decent route was key – if you’re escaping from a city and you’ve only got 2-3 hours in the saddle, you don’t want to spend the first of these braving the misery of congested arterial roads out of the city. So I chose a Sustrans path as my escape route, which took me south out of the city, crossing the Mersey at Runcorn, where the route climbed over a quiet road in Weston, overlooking the Mersey Basin and the sandstone ridge of Mersey View and Helsby hill, which concealed the Vale Royal of Cheshire behind. Despite the area being heavily industrialised, the distance and the hazy sunshine made beautiful the contrast of natural and man-made landscape. From here the route dropped down down down, crossing the Bridgewater Canal and the River Weaver at the market town of Frodsham , before climbing the long testing ramp out of Frodsham and towards Delamere and Norley, with fantastic views of the Cheshire plain on your left and the steep flanks of Mersey View on your right – classic cycling country, as any dyed-in-the-wool Liverpool roadie will tell you. From then on in, I headed toward Delamere forest, turning left at the peacful pool of Hatchmere and heading into the charming village Norley, finally arriving at the campsite along an ancient, high hedged , twisting singletrack road. My destination was the Forest View Inn (http://www.ukcampsites.co.uk/sites/details.asp?revid=5686), a charming red brick coaching inn with its own campsite, cask ales, great food, a log fire and even a hound basking by the fire. Behind the inn is a wonderful site on the side of a wooded vale. 

Setting off at 3:30 in mid September meant that I arrived at 6pm, with the campsite basking in early evening sunshine. I pitched up and unloaded my gear which didn’t take long because I’d only brought what I needed for one night. Nothing beats eating a hard earned meal watching the sun go down, listening to birdsong and watching the rabbits jump in the field at the edge of a wood. After my meal and cup of tea, I headed over the the pub and grabbed myself a seat in the corner and a pint of Directors, and listened to the chatter of the locals and the spitting of the wood fire in the hearth. It was dark outside when I returned to the tent, brewed up and watched the stars while the water boiled, after which I zipped up and read a book by headlight until the eyelids started to drop, which is pretty quickly when the effects of a bike ride, fresh air and a good pint (or three) take their toll! 

I awoke with the light (about 7am) and waited until the sun warmed things up a little before I got up. The night was cold because of a clear starry sky but now the fields were dew laden and beautiful in the low morning sun, as I brewed up and began to pack my stuff away – which took no time at all. I was off on the road by 8:30, enjoying the quiet roads and morning sun as I headed back to Liverpool. I arrived back to find the household doing their normal Sunday morning stuff, grabbed a bath and bite to eat before spending the day shopping with the family, feeling very smug indeed that I’d crammed in a guilt free mini tour, which had all the essence of the real thing. 

What I took (over and above normal commuting tools, spares, waterproofs, etc)

  • Lightweight backpacking tent – about 1.5kg – mine is a single layer tent which pitches in about 5 minutes and weights next to nothing
  • Sleeping bag and mat – don’t skimp on the warmth of your bag – being cold in the night is not fun

  • Camping stove – again light and simple is best

  • Aluminium pan with lid – lid is important for a fast boil – pan doubles as an eating vessel

  • Penknife style knife, fork and spoon set

  • Enamel billy can with cup – for the essential brew

  • Head torch – for reading/finding stuff in your tent/navigating the site after dark

  • Spare jersey, baselayer, socks

  • Food – instant noodles, flavoured couscous, cereal bars – the key here is lightweight, simple to cook and carb laden

  • Drink – green tea (no milk required)

  • Small digital camera

  • Wallet

  • Mobile Phone

I wore clothes that were as much ‘pub specific’ as they were ‘cycling specific’. That way I didn’t have to change after the ride. For me this meant ¾ pants, and two merino t-shirts, (wonderful if you don’t want to stink the pub out after hauling your heavy bike all the way to the site). I also wore normal trainers and used flat pedals, but you could easily use casual SPDs and clipless pedals if you think they make a difference.

All of this stuff should add up to less than 20lbs and fit easily on a bike with a rear rack. I’ve been more heavily loaded coming back from Tesco, so its no big deal. What are you waiting for?