Gear Combo Guru
Custom frame bags for a touring tandem
We did a one-week tour on our tandem in Brittany last year, and barely had enough space in the 4 panniers plus various other bags for everything we needed, which included full camping gear. We just about fit it all in, but with some stuff strapped to the outside, and the bags bulging. However, we didn't have room to carry more than one or two meals worth of food, and there was no space for anything extra.
When planning to do five weeks touring in New Zealand, we decided that we needed to improve our luggage capacity. Getting a trailer would have been straightforward but we really didn't want to make the bike any more unwieldy than it already is, plus it's a significant amount of extra weight to tow and to transport.
Our solution was to order custom frame bags that were made to measure and so maximized our carrying capacity inside the frame. We'd previously used several smaller, stock frame bags, but they never really used all of the available space that well. Here is the final setup:
There are several people who make these types of bags, we got ours from a guy in Canada whose company is called Porcelain Rocket. We chose the color and design (number of compartments) for each bag. We then sent him a full-size outline of the bike frame with all braze-ons and mounts marked, and he produced the bags to our specifications.
Note: we added the flags ourselves, and the bag hanging below the captain's BB is not one of his, it's a stock model from ABUS - he just made the 3 internal frame bags.
He's pretty busy, with an 8 to 10 week waiting list, although this partly depends on the season. Most of his clients are people with mountain bikes who want to tour without using racks, so he makes a lot of oversized seat bags and handlebar packs as well. I believe ours was the first tandem that he had done, at least the first one with multiple bags like this.
The bags are very good quality - the zippers and material are extremely strong, and everything was put together very nicely and was exactly as we'd asked for.
We ended up with 14 bags on the bike! The total weight of the luggage was about 35 kg (75 lbs), plus up to 5 kg (11 lbs) of food (enough for 2 people for 2+ days on a dirt road with no services), and sometimes 4 kg (10 lbs) of water. It was great having none of the bags over-stuffed, it meant that we could organize things well and always quickly get to whatever we needed.
One reason to use a trailer is so that there is not too much weight on the bike frame (including the bike, bags, and two riders, we probably had up to 210 kg / 460 lbs total). I was slightly worried about this given that we'd be going over some pretty rough roads without any suspension, and the wheels are not as bomb-proof as they could be - we used a 36-spoke dynamo-hubbed front wheel and 40-spoke, 145 mm OLD axle, rear wheel, and the frame and fork are a stock Co-Motion Speedster Co-Pilot. Happily, we had no wheel or frame issues in 2500 km (1500 miles) of riding, including 400+ km (250+ miles) of dirt roads (which were occasionally even rougher than we'd expected). After the trip, I turned two nipples on the rear wheel a half turn each to make it perfectly true again, and I didn't need to touch anything else.
We rode for one day with a guy on a mountain bike with a BOB Yak trailer. He had mixed feelings about it, and we were very pleased to have not gone with that solution. We can highly recommend using custom frame bags to anyone else who wants to tour on their tandem, and Porcelain Rocket is a good company to work with.
Last edited by Chris_W; 03-13-13 at 03:02 PM.
- I'm glad to see the triple!
- That is a Garmin 800, correct? Do you have a link for the upload of this tour?
- Given the surface area of these frame bags, was there any problem with cross winds?
- If you were touring in New Zealand, why the New Zealand flag? Wouldn't a Swiss flag have been more informative? (Of course, that would have been somewhat incongruous with the pirate flag, as that landlocked nation isn't usually associated with pirates).
Rod & Judy
Looks like a very doable set up. Do you have specs on the empty bag weight(s)?
Gear Combo Guru
> I'm glad to see the triple!
Originally Posted by Ritterview
It's not a proper triple. As I discussed on another thread before the trip, we're using only the inner and middle rings of a triple (26 and 42 teeth); the outer ring is for the timing belt, a Gates CDX CenterTrack. This allows us to use single bike cranks in our preferred length, 165 mm. With an 11-34 10-speed cassette, we were never needed any more gears (we had a comfortable pedalling range of 7 to 50 kph / 4 to 30 mph).
> That is a Garmin 800, correct? Do you have a link for the upload of this tour?
Correct, it's a Garmin 800 for the captain (loaded with free, open-source maps), plus a 500 for the stoker. Navigation was generally very easy because there are very few roads. The complete track is below (click the image for a larger version). We didn't originally plan to spend so much time in the very southern part of the country, but we adapted our route as we went along based on the weather forecast and what we found most interesting.
There are several breaks in it because we took many forms of other transport, including a ferry, a lake steamer, a water taxi (from the end of a dead-end coastal road back to the main highway), 3 buses (to skip the less interesting sections that we didn't have time for), a pickup truck (2 km through a tunnel that we weren't allowed in), a tourist train, a commuter train, and chartered a small aircraft to take us between the ends of two dead-end roads in the mountains. Having a coupled bike was essential when taking it on the buses and small plane.
> Given the surface area of these frame bags, was there any problem with cross winds?
This had also been something that I wondered about before the trip. We actually had several very windy days. It seemed that due to the mass and momentum of the bike it tended to keep a straight line reasonably well even in strong side-winds, and the frame bags didn't seem to cause much of an impact on this. It was only when the front wheel caught a big blast of wind and got turned that we had any issues, but I was just about able to keep things under control every time - although my arms got more tired than usual on the extra-windy days.
> If you were touring in New Zealand, why the New Zealand flag? Wouldn't a Swiss flag have been more informative? (Of course, that would have been somewhat incongruous with the pirate flag, as that landlocked nation isn't usually associated with pirates).
The locals love seeing their own flag. Plus, although we currently live in Switzerland, neither of us are from there, so it's not really appropriate either. The four flags on the frame bag show where we're each from, where we're living, and where we're currently travelling. The pirate flags are because we're pirates sailing a big ship, and everyone loves seeing a pirate flag.
> Do you have specs on the empty bag weight(s)?
Weight is not something that I usually consider when choosing touring gear - functionality and durability are my main criteria. Anyway, from the smallest to largest, they weight 240 grams, 280 grams, and 540 grams. I'm not sure of the volumes, but I would estimate the total of the 3 bags to be about 10 to 15 litres - not huge, but it made a significant difference for us.
Last edited by Chris_W; 02-01-13 at 03:57 AM.
Looks like you just about went by our house. Sorry we missed you!
Well it looks like interesting. Conclusions: 1) When you two get into something, you really get into it! 2) Beware cross winds as your rig looks like it could easily get pushed into another lane of traffic or entirely off the road!
Gear Combo Guru
As I mentioned above, we experienced some seriously windy days, but bike handling was no more challenging than I would normally expect and we generally stayed in a pretty straight line.
Originally Posted by ksisler
A bit OT, but I've used a Bob trailer before and they are a bit cumbersome and heavy. I have yet to try the following, but it looks pretty reasonable...if you're not averse to using a trailer.
You have definetly used all available space on your tandem to good use! Looks Great!