...this is the kind of stuff I'd post on it.

Monday, October 04, 2010

DIY handlebar bag

UPDATE: If you're just looking for links to the pattern and instructions, they're available here, and here.  The original thread on Google Groups apparently no longer contains the files.

As any good randonneur knows, having a handlebar bag is a huge boon during a long ride.  Being able to access your food, clothing, camera, etc. without having to pull over, or get into some hard-to-reach pocket somewhere is reason enough to get on the handlebar bag wagon.  Add in the fact that a good handlebar bag rack makes a perfect place to mount a dyno-powered light, and you've got a pretty compelling case to set your bike up with one.

I've got a saddle bag from Acorn that I totally love, and will use for years and years to come, but with each long ride I did this summer, I found myself really wanting all the conveniences that a good handlebar bag has to offer.  So, when I saw this thread come up on a newsgroup I read, I thought "Hey, we should give that a shot.  How hard could it be?"  As it turns out, it's pretty damn hard.  But wait... I'm getting ahead of myself.

Grace and I headed out to Seattle Fabrics, and got all the fabric, velcro, and assorted doodads we'd need to complete the pattern as given.  I started with some black coated Cordura fabric.  Traditionally, a good handlebar bag would be made out of cotton duck, but I wanted to try something a little different (that, and they didn't have any suitable cotton duck).

While the pattern and directions call for making your own seam binding/edging out of the same material as the rest of the bag, Grace and I quickly realized that this is a metric ton of work, and seam binding is available really cheap, in a variety of colors.  If you still want to make your own, knock yourself out, but the pre-made seam binding worked like a charm.

I took the pattern to Kinko's and had them print it out on one large sheet of paper, since the pattern PDF is actual size, rather than scaled down fit on a standard 8 1/2x 11" page.  They were able to do it in seconds for a buck or two.

First, we cut out all the pattern pieces:

Then we pinned them to the fabric, cut out the pieces, and transferred over all the relevant markings with a fabric pencil:

We added a nice bright reflective strip to the front pocket flap for added safety, and some additional color contrast.  You can see just how reflective it ended up being:

The pockets came together fairly quickly, and got attached to the main body of the bag without much trouble.  The seam binding, while simple, ended up taking a ton of time to get right.  You can tell what a meticulous job Grace did getting the binding to lay flat around the rounded corners of the pockets.  She used a spray bottle of water and an iron to coax the fabric around the corners.  Sounds easy, but I'm still not sure how she was able to do it.

Here's the main body of the bag, with the main front pocket, two small rear pockets, and the top map case all attached.  All that's left now is to sew on the sides, cover up all the edges with seam binding, and attach hardware!

Putting the sides on to the bag ended up being quite challenging, due mainly to the fact that Grace's old sewing machine just didn't have the guts to power through the multiple layers of Cordura and seam binding.  After many frustrating attempts to get the machine to cooperate, we ended up forgoing electricity altogether, with me  turning the hand wheel of the machine while Grace guided the fabric underneath the needle.  It took the "machine" out of "sewing machine", but it was the only way we were going to get all the stitches in.

The pattern didn't call for it, but we added two velcro flaps to the bottom of the bag a la the Acorn handlebar bag, to help keep everything secure and square on the front rack.

Here's the bag with all the sewing complete:

As great as the bag looks, it wouldn't work at all without some internal stiffener to help it keep it's shape, and to provide some structure to the whole assembly.  For that task, I turned to everyone's favorite construction material: coroplast.  Luckily, we'd just finished some local elections here in Seattle, so supplies were plentiful:
For the record, I am not endorsing Rob Holland for Port Commision.  I have no idea if he'd make a shitty Port commissioner or not.
The pattern didn't give any dimensions for the stiffener, so I just eyeballed it, cutting a piece intentionally large, and trimming it down until the fit was snug, but not tight enough to stress the seams.  A large "U" shaped piece formed the majority of the stiffener:

To finish off the stiffener, I cut some thin strips, and connected the tops of the "U" shape along the left and right sides of the bag.  To fasten the pieces of coroplast together, I used a couple zip ties.  Like the coroplast, they're cheap, plentiful, and weigh almost nothing.

To finish off the entire bag, I added the eyelets, hook closure, and elastic cord to the top flap, forming the closure for the main bag compartment.  I don't have a good picture of that assembly, but it's the same method that's used on these Berthoud bags.

I also added a couple of D-rings to the sides of the bag, to allow for attaching a shoulder strap, or for lashing extra items to the top of the bag with small bungee cords (Which, by the way, works fantastically.  I've tried it.)

Total price: somewhere in the neighborhood of $25-35.  Total time spent sewing: uhhhh, a ton.

When it was all said and done, Grace (who did the vast majority of the sewing) said, "Now I see why those bags cost $200.  Actually, why don't they cost more than that?".  Of course, this entire endeavor wasn't just about the cost, since the cost of the bike I'm attaching it to makes saving $150 or so seem less significant.  It was more about seeing if it could be done by a couple of laypeople (laypersons?), and with what results. I ended up with a bag that's well constructed, functional, and completely one of a kind.

The pattern I used is available here, and the directions are here.

Once I figure out how to organize and add my changes/clarifications/feedback into the pattern and instructions, I'll update these documents.  Some of the steps were pretty confusing, and both Grace and I ended up making some changes that makes the whole process go smoother.

Once I'd added a decaleur to the bag, it was time to put it into service.  I've been on several brevets and long rides with it so far, and it's performed flawlessly.  The map pocket isn't 100% waterproof, but I usually tape up my cue sheets and brevet cards or put them in a ziplock if I think they might get wet. The combination of the decaleur on the back and velcro flaps on the bottom keep the bag mounted solidly to the rack, and the bag has been the perfect size for a long day's worth of tools, clothes, and food.

Here's a few shots of it doing what it does best: sitting on the front of my bike, holding stuff.  
Yes, I know I don't have a chain on my bike.  That's a whole other story...

Huge thanks to Grace for helping me sew this beast, and to William deRosset for posting the pattern and directions.  If anyone else ends up making a bag using this pattern, I'd love to see how it turns out!


  1. Dylan, the finished product looks great! Glad you decided to use CORDURA® fabric. We saw that you had trouble finding a good quality cotton duck fabric. We have great news for you! The CORDURA® brand team is launching a new, ultra-durable nylon/cotton CORDURA(R) Duck fabric in the very near future. Follow us on Facebook to find out when it is available for purchase.
    Tina Ingle
    Account Manager

  2. The process seems rather involved. The end result came out looking pretty sweet. You and Grace wanna do a batch of those? Just kidding, I'm sure you're ready to retire.
    Is that the fork/rack you were talking about during the 400k? How do you like it? Looks like it came out nice. Did it change the handling?

  3. Dude. Two words. 1 syllable: IM PRESS IVE

  4. Great job, and a great write-up too.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing the pattern and pictures. I'm not great at sewing but have been desperately searching for the affordable handlebar bag of my dreams, and it looks like I'm going to have to make it myself. I was wondering-- are you using the Velo Orange front rack with built-in decaleur? I need to confirm that the bag pattern is compatible with that rack/decaleur system before making the investment. Thanks!

  6. Dear Marisa,

    Dylan's using a VO decaleur, but not the rack with a built-in decaleur. The pattern itself is compatible with that design. You may want to add a second velcro strap above the one on the base, and use a full Coroplast stiffener (like Dylan did here, or Dr. Codfish did for his Berthoud).

    Hey, Dylan, if you get a chance to post your mods to the instructions, I'd be grateful. I'm hardly a pro pattern-maker, and any help for future users is welcome.

    Thanks again for posting your work.



    William M. deRosset
    Fort Collins, CO

  7. William is correct, I'm using a VO decaleur, but the front rack is custom. I have used the same handlebar bag however, on another bike of mine that uses a VO decaleur and a Nitto M-12 front rack (which the VO is pretty close copy of).

    I don't see any reason why this bag design wouldn't work with the VO front rack. The only thing that might change would be the placement of the velcro straps on the bottom of the bag. I added them because I like the bag to sit as firmly as possible on the rack.

  8. Thank you for posting the pattern, I have been looking all over for a DIY handlebar bag pattern and this one is perfect! I plan to add in a little Pendleton Wool 'Tweed' to give it a NW flavor and make it very unique.

  9. Hey Dylan!
    For some reason I couldn't find the sewing pattern on google docs...
    Maybe you could send me the PDF-files via Email?
    Would be awesome!
    Thanks, Stefan

  10. Thanks for sharing this. Do you still have the pattern and directions available? The links are not working for me.

  11. do you still have this pattern? i would love to use it.

  12. I, too, would like the pattern, so I can make one that actually fits my smaller handlebars.
    Or send a link. Thank you for your time. This was on the top of my Google search


  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. Making this bag in tan sun brella canvas and marine grade naugahyde. It's looking really great!
    Thankyou for the pattern

  15. Hi Dylan,

    I am wondering if it might be possible to get a copy of will's pattern, or perhaps you can suggest an avenue to get it.

    It seems to be removed from google groups.



  16. To all who've inquired about the pattern and instructions:

    I provided links to the pattern and instructions towards the end of the post. Those links should work for anyone. The Google Group does not contain the original files any more. Additionally, I just posted the links at the very top of the post.

    Good luck!

  17. If this bag were to be made with traditional unwaxed duck cotton (with no leather), what kind of sewing machine would be adequate?

  18. Any chance you would post a picture of how the bag is now, how it held up, and such? I want to make two for me and my husband. I would love to see how it has worked for you!

    1. Nice! I've been looking for a pattern like this. WIll let you know if I actually get something that works. Probably a winter project though, so not right now.

  19. Morning Dylan,

    I just found your project, and plan to make this bag, too. Question: did you opt for the Nitto m-12 rack, recommended for the Acorn Boxy Rando bag? I did notice that with the Boxy bag there is a leather patch sewn between the two small pockets, and it fits over the "decaleur" portion of the front rack. Would the bag be more stable if it included that attachment point? Love the project.



  20. Hi, would you happen to still have the pattern? have visited the site but cant find the file!
    awesome work.

  21. trying to attach piece 7 the side. Where is fold line 2 and fold line 4? Not marked on pattern. Really hard to follow the instructions.

  22. I made my own pattern, but I made a similar bag. Your photos definitely helped me design mine. I used a liner of interfacing and ripstop instead of the signs.