If you think politics can divide a nation, just wait until saddle bags are mentioned! It's not that cyclists are divided by the convenience of a saddle bag; it's just whether or not they would personally use one.
Saddle bags are made for carrying things needed on every ride. Whether it's a tube, C02 canisters, spare cash or identification - it all goes into the saddle bag. Unfortunately some cyclists like the idea of adding everything else into their saddle bag too! You know, those expandable ones with 4 hidden compartments and a key pouch - clearly just bad form.
Should Mountain Bikers Use Saddle Bags?
When hitting the trail it's handy to have a neatly stashed pouch with your essentials. But no one wants a rattling saddle bag. If it's not rattling, then how the heck did you pack it so tightly and furthermore can you open it without busting the zipper? The truth is, mountain bikers need to carry more gear, be it tools or spares. Perhaps a hydration backpack is more appropriate?
When packing a mountain bike saddle bag, you must absolutely have the following items:
MTB Saddle Bag Essentials:
- Tire Levers
- C02 canisters
- Cash note
If you're a racing snake, you might argue that these contents can be made into a neat package, slotted into your middle pocket. You'll also argue that a tube should not be in the saddle bag, as it will get chafed and punctured over time. This is true, but for some people, fitting small packages into pockets isn't an option. Skinny people with loose tops keep having to adjust their clothing, while most other riders require pockets for other things, like food and a phone.
It's a tough call for mountain bike riders, but most recreational riders could benefit from a neatly packed saddle bag with secure attachment points and tightly packed so that it makes NO noise. If you don't like saddle bags, and resist using a backpack, you'll be taping a spare tube and canister to your seatpost anyway, so choose which form of ugly you'd prefer.
Should road cyclists use saddle bags?
Road cyclists seem to use saddle bags far more frequently because they can fit almost everything inside them! Seeing as road cyclists don't use hydration packs with added storage, they have to revert to saddle bags. However, there are some bunch etiquette rules surrounding the use of the saddle bag. After all, road riding is a group sport in most circumstances, and looks, or form, are important...
- A saddle bag must be small enough to fit under the seat completely (and NO DANGLY BITS!)
- A saddle bag must be silent, even if an old rag is used as stuffing.
- A saddle bag must not have a light on it. It might fall off mid ride (and look uncool)
- Light must be visible, not obscured by saddle bag.
- No loose change is ever stashed into the saddle bag - NOTES ONLY!
As you can see, the rules are easy enough to adhere to. Once you've taken these into account, you're welcome to store a spare tube, tire levers and house keys in there. Maybe a 2nd tube and small pump in your center pocket.
When packing a saddle bag for your road bike, it's going to be a tight fit. You're best off sliding the tube in first, and then the two tire levers in on top of that. Lastly, slip in a CO2 canister and regulator, some cash, and zip her up. That should be about it. When riding, you have the bare essentials to make it home - but the saddle bag contents are strictly for emergencies. Carry a 2nd tube, your pump, and more cash in your pocket, in one neat little bundle (held together by tape or elastic band).
Roadies should almost definitely use a saddle bag, especially on longer rides where two tubes are required. If you're worried about ruining the lines of your sexy carbon bike, then remove all other accessories like a frame mounted pump - Bad form!
If you are going to use a wedge saddle bag, the most important rule of the road and the trail is to keep it tightly packed, silent, and indscrete.
When purchasing, look for something of the right size and attachment points suited to your riding. For mountain biking, avoid velcro straps as they weaken in grip when sand and mud is added (and they also tear at the stitching from vibrations). For road, keep it small enough to be hidden under your seat. This will also prevent it from blocking your rear tail light from view.