How to attach bike bags?

Svetlana November 11 2021

There are different types of bike bags, from light-duty nylon bags to heavy-duty canvas messenger style bags. You can attach a variety of these bags to a bike using a standard set of handlebar and saddlebag support cables.

What do you need?

  • bike bags (obviously, though)
  • standard set of the handlebar and saddlebag support cables (parts: metal wire, plastic zip ties, end caps for the wire, rubber band or tape to secure parts 2 and 3)

Handlebar bag support cables

  1. Cut out lengths of metal wire. The length you need will vary, depending on how wide your bars are and how big your bag is. You want the supports to hold the top of the bag near where it attaches to its shoulder strap so that when you lean forward or back it doesn't swing, but not so high up that they'll hit either your hands or legs in the normal riding position.
  2. Remove any factory plastic sheathing from the wires and zip tie them together in pairs (so bring two ends together and run a zip tie through them). Optional: for added strength and durability, you can use nylon wire ties instead of plastic ones; if using these, you'll need to drill holes through your padding (if any) and through the metal of the bars before threading the ties.
  3. Add end caps to each set of wires, by sliding them on from one end; you can slide them all the way on or leave some sticking out for easier attachment later.
  4. If necessary, trim your rubber band so that it's just long enough to go around your handlebar plus about an inch; you want it tight enough not to come off easily but not wound too far up at this point. Slide one wire pair into each loop in your rubber band (so two loops per rubber band).
  5. Wrap the wires around your handlebar once, tucking any loose extra length in tightly against the handlebar, and secure with an end cap; this way your wires will stay in place while you wrap them (to make things easier, it's a good idea to mark one of the rubber band loops at both ends with an indelible marker or pen beforehand). Wrap the other wire pair around the front brake cable below your bars.
  6. You should have enough length to bring each set of wires back to its original location on either side of your headtube spring, spring bolt, or whatever part attaches your top tube to your headtube - you can wind it clockwise around this part so that when you pedal the bag moves up and down instead of swinging out too far sideways.
  7. Attach handlebar bags to your bars.

Saddlebag support cables

  1. Cut out lengths of metal wire, as before (the length you need will vary depending on how big your rack is and how big or heavy your bags are). You want the supports to be fairly close together along the entire length of the racks; I like mine about one inch apart for this particular set up (this varies by type of rack, though, so check yours first to see if there's a better way to space them). You can also use bungee cords instead of zip ties for this step, but be aware that it'll make removal harder--and do NOT use thin rubber bands made for hair because they won't hold up under repeated stress.
  2. Remove any factory plastic sheathing from the wires and zip tie them together in pairs (so bring two ends together and run a zip tie through them). Optional: for added strength and durability, you can use nylon wire ties instead of plastic ones; if using these, you'll need to drill holes through your padding (if any) and through the metal of the racks before threading the ties.
  3. Add end caps to each set of wires, by sliding them on from one end; you can slide them all the way on or leave some sticking out for easier attachment later.
  4. If necessary, trim your rubber band so that it's just long enough to go around your rack plus about an inch; you want it tight enough not to come off easily but not wound too far up at this point. Slide one wire pair into each loop in your rubber band (so two loops per rubber band).
  5. Wrap the wires around your rack once, tucking any loose extra length in tightly against the metal of the racks, and secure with an end cap; this way your wires will stay in place while you wrap them (to make things easier, it's a good idea to mark one of the rubber band loops at both ends with an indelible marker or pen beforehand).
  6. Attach saddlebags to your racks and use zip ties if necessary for added security--stretch the zip ties as far along as possible so that they'll hold securely.
    You can also buy a rear rack for a 150/197, including a matching pannier, and mount your bag on the rack instead.
  7. If you have small or oddly-shaped accessories that don't seem to stay put no matter how much you wind the rubber band around them, try placing them inside plastic storage bags first--they'll stay snug enough to keep from falling out of the band without causing too much friction to be unwieldy. Smaller items (like lightbulbs) can even go inside sandwich bags; you might need an additional zip tie around these if they're still too loose after this step, though.
  8. You can also use bungee cords instead of what I've described here; attach them to the racks, in the same way, using looped rubber bands instead of wires, but try to place them lower on your rack for more security. Placing bungees too high may allow them to peek out or flap around enough to be cumbersome--and will also make your bike's silhouette look weird when you're riding behind it.
  9. Zip ties are easy but can be pricey if you need a lot of them - some people prefer wire ties because they're sturdier and tend not to break, even with repeated use/abuse (wire is just stiffer by nature). Also, consider that adding extra loops at each end requires either snipping away some of the plastic sheathings from the individual zip ties or using nylon ones instead - and if you're using one of those, you'll need to drill holes through the metal of your racks and into whatever padding you have along their length first or risk breaking your zip ties from repeated stretching.

- Can I leave any unused rubber bands attached to the wires?

Yes, you can - but try not to. Extra loops may be helpful during transport (especially if your cargo is extremely heavy or lumpy), but they can also get caught in your wheels, break your zip ties (or wire ties) from repeated stress, or else flap around enough to become a nuisance on their own.

- My wires are too short/long! Can I swap them out for longer/shorter ones?

Sure - if you have an open hardware store near where you live, just pick up additional wire of the length and thickness that fits best with what's on your bike now and replace it as necessary. In an emergency situation where it's not convenient to buy new wire, you can simply cut down or lengthen your existing wires with some sturdy pruning shears, but obviously, they'll be far less secure this way--and if any of them break during transport, your cargo may go flying.

- Can I use bungee cords instead of rubber bands?

You can, but it's harder than using rubber bands. A bungee cord will need to be tied through the rack at least once (inside two loops of a piece of a rubber band), so it won't stretch as much--and if you plan on wrapping it around more than once for extra security (which is strongly advised) then chances are that either your bungee cord itself or one or both its hooks on the end will end up snapping from repeated stretching/releasing.

You can try using multiple bungee cords instead of a single wire, but if you do so you'll need to secure them at least once with one or more loops of the rubber band as I described above--and it's not advisable to stretch the bungee cord any further than its minimum length.

- What about using a cargo net?

Cargo nets are great for holding bulky items, but they're meant for flat surfaces and not racks. If your cargo is too large or lumpy for your seat bag and pannier(s) alone, consider mounting a cargo net between the two instead of trying to squeeze it into a smaller space; this will ensure that it stays securely in place wherever you go.

- Can I attach my bags vertically instead of horizontally?

You can, but it's much less secure and will likely follow your generator in the event of a wreck.

Conclusion

So there you have it - the quickest/cheapest way to attach your bike bags. Whether you're carrying groceries, traveling light with only a seat bag, or hauling your whole house across town, these are all great ways to make sure that heavy items stay where they should without breaking the bank. Good luck!