QUESTION: Do you need a saddlebag on a road bike? I notice some riders have them and some don’t. —Jen W.
RBR’S STAN PURDUM REPLIES: If by “saddlebag,” you mean something sizable enough to stuff your jacket and lunch into, the answer is no. But unless you count on handling all mechanical problems that may arise by phoning for help or pick up, you need some provision for carrying a few things, and a seat bag or other bag comes in very handy for that purpose.
Your wallet and phone can usually travel in your jersey pockets, but most experienced riders choose to also have a spare tube (or a tubeless kit if you’re running tubeless tires), a multitool, a pump or CO2 inflator, and a few more items of personal choice. Those can often go in your jersey pockets as well, but many riders put them in a little under-the-seat wedge-shaped bag, in a handlebar bag, a small top-tube bag or even in a “tool bottle.” (The latter is a container that fits into one of your water bottle cages. You can purchase containers made for that purpose, or simply use a wide-mouth water bottle.)
The no-saddlebag choice has grown out of road-bike riders’ desire to keep their bicycle as lightweight and as aerodynamic as possible for fast-and-agile riding and hill climbing. Why drop $5,000 on a carbon-bike with lightweight components and then add two or more pounds of wind-dragging saddlebags plus contents, plus, depending on the type of bag, a metal rack to attach the bags to? (Besides, riding a steed unencumbered by bags looks cool!)
Bike-accessory suppliers make minimalist items to help riders go without bulky bags — such as sleeves that cover your arms on cool mornings but which can be removed when it warms up and put into your jersey pockets, windbreaker jackets that stuff into their own back pocket and which then can be carried around your waist by means of attached elastic straps, and similar products.
Still, if you’re not worried about speed or a bit of extra weight on the bike, a small but not tiny seat bag can make it easier to take your lunch or a few additional items along.
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, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.