A saddle bag on a road bike can be a contentious topic, mainly due to aesthetic considerations. However, for me, the issue of 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 carrying the things I need on a ride in a saddle bag, from my perspective.
Removes the hassle of loading my jersey pockets every time I go out for a ride.
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) on which to clip a compatible light, which may negate that need for a seatpost-mounted taillight.
Adds weight and bulk—two no-nos on a road bike.
Possibility of inner thighs rubbing against the side of the bag.
Contact with the seatpost. This may occur for a few different reasons. The size and/or shape of the body 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 bag, 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 that is fastened to the rails (e.g. Ortlieb Micro Two or Topeak seat packs that utilize the QuickClick system).
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:
The contact between the bag and the seatpost, as shown in the photo above.
Access to contents was impossible while the bag is attached to 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, also the same issues.
What I Was Looking for in a Saddle Bag
I cannot claim to be a minimalist shopper—I have loads of cycling-related items I don’t consider essential. Nevertheless, dissatisfied with the saddle bags I’ve owned to date, I put in a lot of thought into what I really 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 $\times$1
- Tire levers $\times$1 pair
- Small multi-tool $\times$1
- Zip ties $\times$1
- Latex gloves $\times$1 pair
- Credit card $\times$1
- House key $\times$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 while the saddle bag is still attached to 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-centre, sometimes by a large angle (but no more than 45°), without my knowledge until the end of my ride when I turn it off. It is possible this problem was due to the Bontrager mount not working as well with the D-shaped seatpost of my Giant TCR Advanced (compared with say, a standard round seatpost) or me accidental knocking the light with my thigh when dismounting but it’s annoying nevertheless.
If I could attach the light to a saddle bag, like I do with the Giant Shadow DX, it would eliminate the issue of 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. That is, until I found a series of posts describing the SNAP.B saddle bag, which was about to be lauched on Kickstarter. Unfortunately, the October 2018 project failed to reach its rather ambitious goal of \$35,000 USD. 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, timing this second attempt to coincide with the Sea Otter Classic, North America’s largest bicycle exposition, and also decreasing the funding goal to \$5,000 USD. The campaign garnered 266 backers, who pledged more than \$21,000 . Innovative problem-solving, tenacity, entrepreneurial spirit (… hmmm, these traits ring a bell), 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 numerous products (some highly attractive) being lauched on Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
The wait was a long one—I signed up in May 2019 and the SNAP.B bundle was delivered at the end of June 2020. The shipping date was estimated to be in October 2019. Some fellow backers might have been disappointed by the wait; I had expected the project completion date to be pushed back—delays in such projects are common. I never felt disappointed whenever an update by Chee indicated further delays. To the contrary, I rather enjoyed following VOUEL’s journey in bringing SNAP.B to market through Chee’s informative manufacturing updates.
Design of the SNAP.B
The design of the SNAP.B has several unique features, which I’ll describe below.
Two-part Design: Flexi-Frame and Sleeve
SNAP.B essentially consists of two main parts:
An internal frame (which VOUEL calls a “Flexi-Frame”); and
The Flexi-Frame consists of 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 make contact with the top of the saddle rails and provide downward force.
“Adaptive clips” that make contact with 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. Nevertheless, 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 is going to be a major 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. Most of the time, I go with the compact size sleeve 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.
Dimensions of the SNAP.B Compact Size Sleeve: Approximately 9.5 cm long (measured from the rear of the sleeve, where the zipper passes, to the posterior edge of the elastic webbing (as mentioned above, there is some useful space between the two arms—this space is under the elastic webbing); approximately 9.5 cm wide.
Dimensions of the SNAP.B Plus Size Sleeve: Approximately 11.0 cm long; approximately 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, which basically means you can fit any device that utilizes the GoPro mounting system, e.g. a GoPro camera or taillight with a compatible adapter mount (such as the Bontrager Blendr Universal Light Mount or See.Sense ACE and ICON2 GoPro Mount.
Below are photos of the frame extender when it is connected to the X-Port.
Folded Top and Bottom Panels
The top and bottom panels of both the compact and plus size sleeves are folded 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 entire attachment system is built 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.
VOUEL claims that SNAP.B is “the world’s fastest saddle bag.” 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 easy tasks. Though removal from the saddle is fast (in fact, 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 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 indicate the clips have fully engaged may be a factor.
Once locked in place, the attachment system is secure without any wobble, and it hasn’t shown any sign of coming loose so far.
A small (#3) YKK coil zipper, about 9.5 inches (or 24 centimetres) long, goes around the sleeve, making it a breeze to pack stuff and to 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. It does feel like some care needs to be taken 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 complicated, 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 without any obvious defects. Despite attaching and detaching the SNAP.B more than two dozen times over the past three weeks, it doesn’t feel like the F.A.S.T. attachment system is going to fail any time soon.
Quality of the Zipper
As mentioned above, I have some reservations about the durability of the zipper. To the average layperson, the zipper may be considered acceptable 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: you see, for the past 15 years or so, I’ve had the luxury of using exceptional gear made for many years (a lifetime?) of hard use, in particular 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 of the SNAP.B is made of what appears to be a thin polyester or nylon fabric. The material seems adequate, but not great, for its intended purpose.
Why 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 is going to fail.
I’m coming up with my own design of the sleeve within the next couple of months. Sewing a bespoke sleeve for the SNAP.B Flexi-Frame is not difficult.
What I Like About the SNAP.B
Though I have used the SNAP.B for less than a month, it has become my favourite 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 seat post, 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 it is attached to 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. This provides options, i.e. two different sleeve sizes (if one chooses to use the sleeves made by VOUEL) or a custom sleeve (provided one has the appropriate resources). In fact, 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 utilizing 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 empty space between SNAP.B and the rails.
Overall good quality.
What I Don’t Like So Much
I am less enamoured by a few things:
Rounded shape of the sleeve, in the axial (transverse) plane. I can see how a rounded shape fits the shape 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 (in particular, at the sides and rear of the bag).
Elastic webbing that holds the sleeve onto the Flexi-Frame. This 3 centimetre-wide webbing was actually the first thing that caught my attention, mainly because my experience with such material has been poor—it tends to lose 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.
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 widest (left-to-right) dimension of the sleeve 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 effective storage volume.
Replacing the existing zipper with a more robust one or with a different closure mechanism.
Lining the interior with a brightly-coloured waterproof lightweight fabric to aid visibiity, especially on night rides, and improve durability.
Replacing the elastic webbing on the sleeve with some form of Velcro closure (which is more durable and looks cleaner, in my opinion) 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 paradigm shift in saddle bag design. It meets most of my needs and then some. Where I find it lacking is in the sleeve, both in its design and construction. However, the shortcomings of this saddle bag are comparatively minor and can be overcome by a custom sleeve.
Disclosure: I am not affiliated with SNAP.B’s inventor (Howe Shien Chee) or his company (VOUEL) in any way. My opinions of the product are entirely my own and are current as of July 9, 2020.#bags #cycling #cyclingparaphernalia #snapb