Saturday, June 5, 2010

Product Review

Acorn Medium/Large Saddle Bag

As we all know you can rando with just a brevet card and a twenty dollar bill in your jersey pocket, or you can go with panniers, seat and handlebar bag, and a Camelback or adventure pack … or somewhere in between.

In the rando continuum I probably run to the heavy side: I ‘rock’ a large Berthoud H-bar bag and I favor a Caradice Barley in back.  (Here they are compared)

I’ve ridden with more luggage and I’ve ridden with less but this combo has served me well, or well enough for the last few years. What I have learned is that bike luggage is a lot like closet space: more space, inevitably means… more stuff. Fine if you have to keep those old 70’s fly collar polyester disco shirts, or all three pair of worn out running shoes ‘just in case’. But on a bike, there is a dimension beyond length, height, and width: Weight. More stuff usually means more weight (I don’t know too many riders who load up on feathers or marshmallows) and weight is our enemy.

My whole kit is heavy, I have a heavy frame, heavy wheels, even a heavy saddle; It’s a Brooks, they're heavier than most and mine is the commemorative Boat Anchor model. Some of us are a bit superstitious so we have totems or charms that we bring along to ward off evil spirits and mean rednecks. Some carry plush toys, complete with custom made rain gear(!)  I am both blessed and cursed by my obsession for my particular icon, my lucky cinderblock.

Over the last year I have been making gear choices that favor weight reduction when there are choices to be made. I don’t think I’ll give up fenders until I move to SoCal but the last time I broke a fender, I opted of the spendier, lighter, Alu Velo Orange set over the cheaper, sturdier, more utilitarian stainless set. I just switched from the heavy Jack Brown Blues to the slightly lighter Greens (better tires for summer anyway). Here I must admit that I have looked more than a few times at that set of Gran Bois hanging up in the shop. Lighter, and a better ride too … but not quite tough enough to handle our crappy local roads.

In late winter I went through the standard inventory for the Barley. I took everything out and put back what I thought was the bare minimum. I consider ‘bare minimum’ to be the things that I would want to have on board for a ride of up to 400K. Longer, multi-day rides are a different story: How much clothing are you going to bring along? Is there support or not. What’s the weather going to be? Are there mountains involved (mountains make their own weather … and they make sweat!) I should do this periodically regardless of weight concerns, I was surprised how much trash and redundant ‘emergency rations’ I was hauling around. As a result the bare min remnants sort of rattled around in the bag.

Anyway, back to the gear review. This Acorn bag, my second offering from Acorn by the way. is definitely going to see road time. Ron has been refining his wares since I bought the medium bag a few years ago and I think this little gem is right in the sweet spot for my needs. Like those magical gizmos down at Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe, this thing seems smaller on the outside yet larger on the inside! Lord’s Prayer on the head of a pin aside, I was able to fit ALL of my bare min kit inside the bag, and there was still some room. With two D rings on the closure flap I could also lash on a stuff sack with my raincoat if needed,

I usually carry a nylon stuff sack for this and other purposes. When you’ve got wet soppy socks or gloves to bring along, the stuff sack helps keep the wet stuff wet and the dry stuff dry. and ther's a blinky light tab on the back.

What’s good about it?
I’ve already discussed the capacity, Here’s a shot with one tube inside,
here’s a shot with a rolled up Showers Pass raincoat.

As you can see, still plenty of room. It’s got a couple easy-in-easy-out pockets under the flap.

The main compartment closes with a zipper, which is covered by the flap. It’s heavy duty cotton duck, known for durability and water repellency. I think Ron really nailed it with the wedge shape: Narrow at the seat post and wide at the rear of the saddle.

I have not experienced any leg brushing, and because it snugs up to the saddle and seat post
 it will not sway when you are rocking from side to side up Knee Buster pass. It is designed to mount to Brooks or other saddles with bag loops. You non-bag loop people will have to cobble together a work-around, there are plenty out there. The Medium bag I bought a few years ago was Olive colored, that’s no longer an option, now you can choose from black or tan. I chose tan which ‘goes’ better with the organic ‘palette’ of the Tournesol, but I also like that it is a little lighter inside.

Nothing like trying to find something inside a black bag on a moonless, rainy night. I wish makers would make bags with white, glow-in-the-dark liner fabric: I’d buy it!

What’s wrong with it?
First, it has those leather straps with plated buckles. I know this is the classic, timeless standard, and I also know that these are perfectly functional and durable. But personally, I’m partial to nylon web strapping and fastek snap buckles: They are cheap, quick, and east to use and well, they are light. But mostly they are idiot friendly which means a lot to me when I am exhausted and trying to get to my stash of performance enhancing drugs. Likewise the material. I have a long and successful history with cotton canvas duck. From that old cavernous camping tent my dad had from Seattle Tent and Awning we camped and hunted in, to the tin Filson cruiser coat, right up to the Carradice Barley. That stuff has been used for generations because …. It works. But really, technology has marched along and there are plenty of water proof lighter weight fabrics available and if there was an option, I’d probably go with it. That zipper closure for the main compartment makes me a little uneasy. I can imagine me trying to stuff one too many wool jerseys in there, either breaking or jamming the zipper, I’ll have t be careful, (not my forté).

Probably the biggest drawback is getting one. Seriously. Ron has a first come first served purchase policy. It is a home based business, just he and his wife and because they produce a high quality, reasonably priced product, and he’s been discovered …. he can‘t keep up with demand! Nice to hear in these times of market slump. The proletarian in me likes the equity in this system. But the impatient, me-generation boomer in me had a little trouble waiting. It took me three tries (that means three months) to get this gem. It was worth the wait, and given the circumstance I really can’t complain, but if you are interested, get ready for some online-order-at-midnight action. At $88.00 it is not cheap, but then …it’s not a cheap item. And compared to similar offerings it is not at all expensive and I am confident that this thing will still be fictional the day they pry my handle bars from my cold and wizened old hands. It’s a keeper, Dr Codfish approved!


  1. That IS a nice looking bag =)

    Don't feel bad about having "heavy wheels and frmae"...all my road riding (considerably less mileage than you I'm afraid...but I'm working on that ;) ) is on my 29" wheeled mtn bike,LOL! I'll be converting it to more road friendly in the coming weeks with a few well chosen-and easily replacable for the burly mtn stuff for trail duty-parts,most notibly some 35-38mm wide cyclocross tires.

    Good read,I really like thet bag!


  2. philosoraptor6/6/10, 7:25 AM

    Thanks for the review. I love my Carradice saddlebag, but am always really interested to read about other options out there.

    By the way, you wrote, "...I am confident that this thing will still be fictional the day they pry my handle bars from my cold and wizened old hands."

    I think that you meant "functional" -- did you?

  3. Steve:
    My mileage has been 'considerably less' than me in the last two months too. Riding heavy is great training ... if you have a 'light bike' to revert to for events.

    Yes that is what I meant, spell check sometiimes provides a little too much help.

    And just for the record:
    I really like this bag and I am a very big fan of Acorn products. I am glad to see them making it. I put up a lot of negatives but that is mostly to conform with the standard established by amature-bike-blog-product-review-'expert'-wannabes. This is how we demonstrate that we are 'serious' about our product reviews. It wouldn't seem nearly so 'ofishul' if I just said "I really love this bag!"

    Thanks for your comments, good to know someone is reading.