by Stan Purdum
For bikepacking, after seat packs, handlebar packs and frame packs, the pack many riders consider is a top-tube bag. These are mini packs ranging in capacity from as little as about 1 liter to as much as about 8 liters, which sit on the top of your top tube, usually near the head tube end, though most can be reversed and sit at the seat post end of the top-tube as well. (In fact, I’ve seen riders with two bags, one at each end of the top tube.)
Most top-tube bags attach by straps, one around the head tube/seat tube and one or two around the top tube, but if your bike has top-tube bolt bosses, you can find bags that bolt on. Some manufacturers offer bags that have both straps and gromet holes for bolting through.
Since these bags are intended to be placed in the “cockpit” area of your bike, most are designed to be opened and closed with one hand while continuing to ride. All of them will fit on virtually any kind of bike that has a top tube, even full-suspension mountain bikes.
Key factors in selecting top-tube bags are your anatomy and your bike’s geometry. The anatomy factor determines how close your knees come to the front of the top tube, especially when standing up to pedal. Some riders find a top-top bag an interference with pedaling. Likewise, some riders — me among them — find bags mounted at the seat post end of the top tube to interfere as well (in my case, my thighs rub on the bag). Bike geometry also has a bearing on whether a bag on the top tube is clear of your legs when in motion. What’s more, if you have a short top tube, you may find a larger tube bag in the way when you are straddling your bike. Thus, you may prefer a smaller bag or none at all.
Here is a sampling of some bags to consider:
Weighing just under 3 ounces, and being waterproof, this 0.8-liter bag is designed to carry snacks, your smartphone, camera or other small items you want to keep close at hand. Made with stiffened material on the inside, the bag retains its shape. The zipper begins at the halfway point on one side, runs around the front, and continues to the halfway point on the other side. When unzipped, the front half of the top lifts like a flap, allowing insertion and removal of items.
Revelate Designs Mag-Tank
Instead of a zippered opening, the Mag-Tank is accessed via a contoured top flap held in place by a magnetic buckle with mechanical engagement (that is, the magnet aids in closure, while the load is placed on a connection). Even so, you can open the bag one handed by pulling outward on the cord loop. To close it, just flip the flap down and the buckle self-engages. Revelate issues this caveat: “While the cover to this bag is designed to shed rain and spray, due to the large panel opening, it is not a sealed bag or waterproof bag. Additionally, while the closure is secure, due to the flap style opening there is the possibility that small-loose objects can come out of the bag from rough trails and lying the bike on its side.” Revelate recommends first putting small items like single keys and M&M’s in a Ziplock bag.
The Mag-Tank is 8.5-inches long, 5-inches high at its tallest point, 2.5-inches wide at the stem end and tapers down to 1.5 inches along the top tube. Side panels are stiffened to hold the bag’s shape. The interior is lined with yellow fabric to make seeing items easier.
Revelate also has top-tube bags in other sizes and configurations, including a bolt-on version of the Mag-Tank.
The TopLoader has a full zipper down the middle of its top side to allow quick access to this 7.5-liter bag. It measures 9.3 x 4.7 x 2.8 inches and weights just under 6 ounces. The bag has a built-in, pull-out rain cover.
Blackburn Outpost Top Tube Bag
This water-resistant bag weighs just under 6 ounces and has a half-liter capacity. The zippered lid opens to the side like a hinged coffin lid, revealing a red-lined interior to make the contents easy to see. The Outpost Bag comes with attached straps but also has holes for bolting onto top-tube bosses. Available in your choice of black or digital camo.
Bedrock Dakota Tank Bag
The water-resistant Dakota Tank Bag weighs 4.5 ounces, is 8.5-inches long, 4-inches tall and approximately 3-inches wide. It opens by means of full-length zipper down the middle of the top panel. The Dakota utilizes an extra attachment point on top of the head tube for extra rigidity (assuming you have a spacer on top of your stem; if not, you can simply remove the extra loop). The bag is available in a bolt-on version for Salsa and similar frames that have top-tube bosses. The bag can be purchased in a variety of colors. Bedrock also has peripheral bags in other configurations and sizes.
eoGEAR Century Bag
$26-35, depending on size
This bag comes in three sizes with a zipper running the length of the top panel, right down the middle, which can be operated with one hand. The medium and large bags have two outside pockets, one on each side of the bag: an exterior mesh pocket with quick-access Velcro closure for small accessories and a zippered fabric pocket for cash, I.D. etc. The bag has reflective strips to make your bike more visible in dim light. A 3mm closed-cell foam padding on bottom provides protection of electronics against vibrations of road or trail. All three sizes are available in black. The medium and large bags can also be had in gray.
Specialized Top-Tube Pack
This 7.5-liter bag features a full-length zipper down the middle of the top panel, as well as a zippered side pocket for cash or other very small items. Made of durable, nylon-coated water-resistant material. Weighs just under 5 ounces.
Rapha Waterproof Top Tube Pack
With a one-liter capacity, this bag is one of the small ones, good if your larger bags interfere with your pedaling. It has a top centered zipper, and an internal mesh pocket that allows you to separate essential items from tools. The bottom of the pack features a foam layer to prevent rattling and hi-vis pink lining to make finding what you need a little easier.
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Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, and Methodist minister, lives in New Jersey. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.