A saddle bag on a road bike can be a contentious topic, mainly because of aesthetic considerations. However, how to best carry the essentials on my rides goes beyond superficial appearance.
I still vacillate between stuffing all my gear in my jersey pockets and carrying it in a saddle bag. Both options have their pros and cons. So, depending on my mood, I might carry everything in my jersey pockets or use a saddle bag.
Pros and Cons of Using a Saddle Bag
Below are the pros and cons of putting the things I need in a saddle bag.
- It removes the hassle of loading my jersey pockets every time I go out for a ride.
- It virtually empties my jersey pockets. (When I use a saddle bag, I still carry the remote control to the front gate in my jersey pockets.)
- Less risk of forgetting something if I prepacked the bag.
- Some saddle bags have a loop (taillight hanger) to clip a compatible light, negating the need for a seat post-mounted taillight.
- Adds weight and bulk – two no-nos on a road bike.
- There is a possibility of inner thighs rubbing against the side of the bag.
- Contact with the seatpost may occur for a few different reasons. The size or shape of the saddle bag may cause contact with the seatpost. In addition, many designs incorporate a Velcro strap around the seat post to stabilize the load, e.g., Giant Shadow DX Seat Bag). Whatever the reason for the contact between the bag and seatpost, there is potential for rubbing and superficial damage from the friction.
- Often fiddly to put on and take off the bike because attachment to the saddle rails involves straps or a mounting bracket fastened to the rails (e.g., Ortlieb Micro Two or Topeak seat packs that use the QuickClick system).
- It looks less pro compared with having no saddle bag. (This is a trivial issue for me.)
Giant Shadow DX Seat Bag
Before receiving the SNAP.B, the Giant Shadow DX Seat Bag was my go-to saddle bag if I wanted to take one out on a ride. I liked this bag for its compact size, nifty internal and external pockets, which facilitated better organization, and the rear plastic loop for an additional taillight (I attached a Guardian Dual Function Light). I had only two issues with this bag:
- Contact between the bag and the seatpost, as shown in the photo above.
- Access to contents was impossible while the bag was under my Selle SMP Dynamic saddle because of the way the zipper of the bag runs like an inverted U behind the rear Selle SMP logo.
The Topeak Aero Wedge Pack Strap Mount Saddle Bag, which I previously owned, has a similar design to the Giant Shadow DX Seat Bag and, therefore, the same issues.
What I Was Looking for in a Saddle Bag
Although I am not a minimalist shopper – I have loads of cycling-related items I don’t consider essential – I put considerable thought into what I wanted in my next saddle bag from the first quarter of last year (2019).
The following were the features on my wishlist.
- Compact size, i.e., not too bulky, but enough space to hold:
- Inner tube × 1
- Tire levers × 1 pair
- Small multi-tool × 1
- Zip ties × 1
- Latex gloves × 1 pair
- Credit card × 1
- House key × 2
- Spare cash
- An Apple iPhone 5, which I use as a dumb phone (I leave my Samsung Note 10+ at home when out riding.)
- No contact with the seatpost
- Easy to insert and take out the contents when the saddle bag is under the saddle
- Secure attachment to the saddle rails
- Option to mount a taillight (read about the problem I was having with my Bontrager Flare R Rear Light below)
- Nice-to-have: Reflective elements
Issue With Mounting Bontrager Flare R Taillight on Seatpost
I use an older-generation Bontrager Flare R rear light, which I mount on the seatpost. The seatpost mount isn’t secure in my experience – occasionally, I find the light rotated off-center, sometimes by a large angle (but no more than 45°), without my knowledge until the end of my ride when I turn it off. This problem could be because of the Bontrager mount not working well with the D-shaped seatpost of my Giant TCR Advanced (compared with, say, a standard round seatpost) or me accidentally knocking the light with my thigh when dismounting, but it isn’t enjoyable.
If I could attach the light to a saddle bag, as I do with the Giant Shadow DX, it would eliminate the taillight rotation.
SNAP.B Saddle Bag by VOUEL
Kickstarter Launch: Success on the Second Attempt
I couldn’t find anything on the market that met all my criteria for the perfect saddle bag until I found a series of posts describing the SNAP.B saddle bag, which was about to be launched on Kickstarter.
Unfortunately, the October 2018 project failed to reach its ambitious goal of $35,000. That initial setback didn’t deter SNAP.B’s inventor, Howe Shien Chee, and his team at VOUEL from rebooting the Kickstarter campaign in April 2019. They timed this second attempt to coincide with the Sea Otter Classic, North America’s largest bicycle exposition, and decreased the funding goal to $5,000. The campaign garnered 266 backers, who pledged more than $21,000.
Innovative problem-solving, tenacity, entrepreneurial spirit coupled with features I was looking for in a saddle bag, and possibly a touch of ingroup bias on my part (Chee is an exported talent from Malaysia) led me to sign up as a backer of the SNAP.B project. This project was the first – and remains the only one to date – I’ve backed despite the many products I come across on Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
The wait was long – I signed up in May 2019 and received the SNAP.B bundle at the end of June 2020. The original estimated shipping date was in October 2019. Waiting this long might have disappointed some fellow backers. I had expected the project completion date to be pushed back – delays in such projects are commonplace. So, I never felt disappointed whenever an update by Chee announced further delays. On the contrary, I enjoyed following VOUEL’s journey to bring SNAP.B saddle bag to market through Chee’s informative manufacturing updates.
Design of the SNAP.B
The design of the SNAP.B saddle bag has several unique features, which I’ll describe below.
Two-part Design: Flexi-Frame and Sleeve
SNAP.B essentially comprises two main parts:
- An internal frame (which VOUEL calls a “Flexi-Frame”); and
- A sleeve.
The Flexi-Frame has three parts:
- “T-bar” – a stabilizing T-shaped bar at the front of the Flexi-Frame pushes up against the bottom of the saddle.
- “Attachment clips” that contact the top of the saddle rails and provide downward force.
- “Adaptive clips” that contact the bottom of the saddle rails and provide upward force.
There was a change in the design of the Flexi-Frame in June 2019, which basically shortened the right and left arms (“flexi-arms”) considerably and removed the frame extender, which joined the flexi-arms at the rear of the bag. I didn’t and still don’t have a problem with the new design, mainly because the long flexi-arms and frame extender are more applicable to the plus-size sleeve, and I envisaged myself only using the compact size sleeve. If I was going to use the plus-size sleeve (which came with the bundle I received), I don’t think the lack of lateral and posterior frame support would be a significant issue.
The sleeve comes in two different sizes, i.e., “compact” and “extended”/“plus” – I can select which size I need and slip it onto the Flexi-Frame before my ride. I go with the compact-size sleeve most of the time because it holds most things I want to put in a saddle bag (my phone being the most obvious exception). The volume of the plus-size sleeve is excessive for my needs.
The compact-size sleeve is approximately 9.5 cm long, measured from the rear of the sleeve, where the zip passes, to the posterior edge of the elastic webbing. There is some useful space between the two arms – this space is under the elastic webbing. The width of the compact-size sleeve is 9.5 cm.
The SNAP.B plus-size sleeve is approximately 11.0 cm long and 11.0 cm wide.
X-Port Accessory Port
SNAP.B has a small slot at the bottom of the Flexi-Frame, under the T-bar, called an “X-Port”. The function of the X-Port is to enable an optional “frame extender” to be fitted underneath the SNAP.B. This frame extender has a GoPro-like mount. You can attach any device that uses the GoPro mounting system, e.g., a GoPro camera or taillight with a compatible adapter mount (Bontrager Blendr Universal Light Mount or See.Sense ACE and ICON2 GoPro Mount.
Below are photos of the frame extender when connected to the X-Port.
Folded Top and Bottom Panels
Both sleeves’ top and bottom panels fold in the middle and accommodate slight expansion of the internal volume if necessary.
F.A.S.T (Full Adaptive Snap Technology) Attachment System
The SNAP.B attaches to the saddle rails through a clamp-like mechanism without additional hardware or tools. The designer incorporated the entire attachment system into the Flexi-Frame.
To engage and disengage SNAP.B, one needs to apply force (not much) on the levers (that look like wings) on either side (right and left) of the Flexi-Frame. Doing so moves each attachment clip laterally and off its saddle rail.
I have (successfully) attached SNAP.B to my Selle SMP Dynamic saddle at least two dozen times. Attaching SNAP.B to the saddle and removing it from the saddle are both straightforward tasks.
VOUEL claims that SNAP.B is “the world’s fastest saddle bag.” Removing the SNAP.B from the saddle is the fastest of any saddle bag I’ve owned. In my limited experience, putting it on the saddle takes perhaps 10 seconds – not as fast as in the VOUEL video above, but still faster than any other saddle bag I’ve come across. The lack of tactile or auditory feedback (e.g., a loud snap) to tell me the clips have fully engaged may be a factor.
Once locked in place, the attachment system is secure with no wobble, and it has shown no sign of coming loose so far.
A small (#3) YKK coil zipper, about 9.5 inches (or 24 centimeters) long, goes around the sleeve, making it a breeze to pack stuff and access contents without taking the SNAP.B off the saddle. The zipper seems to do its job, but opening and closing it doesn’t quite feel the same quality as those I’m accustomed to from using the YKK zippers on my TOM BIHN bags and pouches. You need to take some care when using this zipper.
Putting the Sleeve on the Flexi-Frame and Taking It Off
Putting on the sleeve and removing it from its Flexi-Frame involves some stretching of the elastic webbing (as one would expect), but it is not too difficult, and the fit is tight (in a good way).
The overall quality of the SNAP.B bundle I received – Flexi-Frame + compact size sleeve + plus size sleeve + frame extender + mudguard – is good.
Quality of the Flexi-Frame
The plastic used for the Flexi-Frame has the same look and feel as any employed by popular bike accessory manufacturers, e.g., Topeak, Ortlieb, SKS (to name a few), for their plastic parts. Further, the injection molding used in manufacturing the SNAP.B looks to be of high quality – the entire Flexi-Frame is well assembled with no apparent defects. Despite attaching and detaching the SNAP.B over two dozen times in the past three weeks, it doesn’t feel like the F.A.S.T. attachment system will fail soon.
Quality of the Zipper
As mentioned above, I have some reservations about the durability of the zipper. The zipper may be acceptable to the average layperson, but it does not meet the standard set by the big brands in the bicycle accessory industry. I sense some anchoring bias in play here: for the past 15 years, I’ve had the luxury of using exceptional gear made for many years (a lifetime?) of hard use, particularly products by TOM BIHN.
The zipper is not water-resistant, which is what I prefer – it is much easier, in my experience, to move the slider on non-water-resistant zippers, which don’t have any coating, than on the rubber- or PVC-coated water-resistant variants.
Quality of the Sleeve
The sleeve material appears to be a thin polyester or nylon fabric. This material seems adequate but not great for its intended purpose.
Why the Quality of the Sleeve Doesn’t Matter Much to Me
In reality, the sleeve, including its zipper, isn’t an issue for me. Why? Two reasons:
- In the short term (next few months), I strongly doubt any part of the sleeve will fail.
- I’ll design a custom sleeve within the next couple of months. Sewing a bespoke sleeve for the SNAP.B Flexi-Frame is easy.
What I Like About the SNAP.B
Though I have used the SNAP.B for less than a month, it has become my favorite saddle bag.
The SNAP.B has solved most of the problems I was having with the Giant saddle bag:
- Compact form factor, yet adequate for my storage needs.
- Zero contact with the seatpost and minimum contact with the saddle rails (via the attachment and adaptive clips) and saddle (via the T-bar).
- Easy to access the bag’s interior while below the saddle.
- Secure attachment to the saddle.
- Option to attach a taillight using the frame extender and a GoPro adapter mount (which I have ordered).
Other features I like about the SNAP.B include:
- Two-part (frame-and-sleeve) design provides options, i.e., two different sleeve sizes (if you use the sleeves made by VOUEL) or a custom sleeve. The first time I read the description of the SNAP.B, it immediately occurred to me that I could (and would) make a custom sleeve while still using the F.A.S.T attachment system.
- The saddle bag is mounted high, almost level with the saddle rails. Unlike many other saddle bags, there is no discernible space between SNAP.B and the rails.
- Good overall quality.
What I Don’t Like So Much
I am less enamored by a few things:
- The rounded shape of the sleeve in the axial (transverse) plane. I can see how a rounded shape fits the profile of the existing Flexi-Frame arms. However, I would have preferred a more streamlined rectangular/boxy shape instead because I believe the latter can reduce redundant space (particularly at the sides and rear of the bag).
- Elastic webbing that holds the sleeve onto the Flexi-Frame. This 3-centimeter-wide webbing was the first thing that caught my attention, mainly because my experience with such material has been poor – it loses its elasticity over time, especially with repeated stretching.
- Both the compact and plus sizes of the sleeve do not accommodate the iPhone 5. Their interior sagittal (front-to-back) dimension is too short for the phone.
- The top panel meets the rear Selle SMP logo and partially obscures it.
As mentioned, I have an alternative design in the works, which will make all these issues I have with the sleeve irrelevant in a couple of months.
Ideas for a Revised Sleeve Design
I am considering the following changes to the sleeve design:
- Lengthening the sagittal (front-to-rear) dimension so that I can fit an iPhone 5.
- Changing the rounded shape to a more rectangular/boxy one. The sleeve’s widest (left-to-right) dimension is the distance between the tip of each arm of the frame, so this is the limiting factor to how narrow I can make the sleeve.
- Lowering the top panel, effectively reducing the effective height of the sleeve, so that the bag does not touch the rear Selle SMP logo. Doing this will sacrifice some practical storage volume.
- Replacing the existing zipper with a more robust one or with a different closure mechanism.
- Lining the interior with a brightly colored, waterproof, and lightweight fabric to aid visibility, especially on night rides, and improve durability.
- Replacing the elastic webbing on the sleeve with a Velcro closure (which is more durable and looks cleaner) or with mil-spec elastic webbing.
- Removing the middle folds on the top and bottom panels, which don’t serve any useful function in my case.
The SNAP.B, with its F.A.S.T. attachment system, frame-and-sleeve concept, and accessory port, represents a significant change in saddle bag design. It meets most of my needs and then some. The sleeve is lacking both in its design and construction. However, the shortcomings of this saddle bag are comparatively minor, and I can overcome them with a custom sleeve.