Saddlebagging

It sounds slightly dubious. Like sandbagging, or teabagging (no hyperlink on this occasion). Maybe a combination of the both, sandyteabagging. With a saddle. Others call it ‘credit card touring’, on account of the lightness of the tour, i.e not going full touring bongo, front and back panniers, dynamo hub, SPD sandals and other CTC erotica. Either way, and whatever hankie you’ve got in your top pocket, I’m going on a short saddlebag tour. These are convenient and can be woven into a busy life, allowing a short glimpse of the outdoors without the kind of legal compromises that can ensue with the unexpected announcement of a forthcoming world cycling tour.

Previously I’ve done Devon/Cornwall. It was very hilly and very beautiful. We (me, Graham and Steve) missed a fatal helicopter crash by inches. It was very hilly. We went to a pub and were lucky to escape alive. The road out of Lynton was the most beautiful ride I think I’ve ever done. A pint of Exmoor Ale on Exmoor never tasted so good. Day two was enlivened by the three of us catching up with a clubmate who had been dropped in a road race. It was strange. Day one was way too hard. It was all absurdly hilly and incredibly beautiful.

I also did the Brecon Beacons and Gospel Pass with Will. It was very hilly. In fact, it was so hilly I think he had some sort of minor breakdown halfway up the climb to Foxhunters. We survived. We met with Jack Thurston and featured in his book about Wales.

This year I’m opting for a straight ride back, an A to B, from Withernsea (the Saint Tropez of the Holderness peninsula, said no-one ever) to Bristol, over three days. It’s big miles, but it hopefully should be relatively benign until I reach the Cotswolds.

The bike is ready to go.

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I’m using a Carradice Nelson on the back and a Carradice Barley bar bag on the front. It’s a nice set-up, and one I haven’t used before. In the past I’ve always opted for the super C, which is a total whopper of a bag, and nothing on the front. I like the option of having ready-to-grab things up front. It also means you can opt for the slightly smaller bag at the back. Accommodation is then provided by the good folks at Air B+B (a high-end shed in someone’s garden near Newark) and Premier Inn.

super c.jpg
The Super C. SUPER MASSIVE BLACK HOLE. 

I’ll try and keep people posted. Probably best for the three long-suffering readers of this blog to check out my instagram feed for live pictures of unending tarmac and the lincolnshire badlands. So excited.

 

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Brooks Cambium Saddle Review (best buy of the year)

The title gives it away. The best bike-related item I bought this year was the Brooks Cambium Saddle. I didn’t actually buy it, it was a birthday present from the wife. Some people have real trouble with saddles. I’ve generally had no difficulties in finding the right perch.

Can you smell fish?

Some time ago i experimented with a San Marco Regal, it’s one of the nicest looking retro-saddles. It made some unwarranted and painful changes to my lower goochular region and has been banished to the shed ever since. The Cambium is not dissimilar in looks, with a riveted construction. The base is made of vulcanised and hard rubber with the top coating of cotton canvas. It’s slightly rough compared the smooth sheen of a Fizik or San Marco, to the extent that some johnny-come-lately peak-millenial bike boom converts have taken to lambasting the saddle for wearing out or through a pair of expensive jeans. It doesn’t wear through lycra, but if you’re over anxious about distressing a pair of pre-distressed jeans then this might not be the saddle for you. Unless of course you’re pairing it with the Rapha city riding jodphurs and softshell kepi, for epic, concierge-led rides with the Dalston Chapter.

As a general rule, the only time saddles really matter are when I’m doing lots of fixed miles, usually over winter. This is because there is more lateral movement, or movement in general, when riding fixed, thus leading to an increase in chafage and other unpleasantness. All of which reliably answers the question ‘how is the new saddle?‘, with ‘it tore me a new one‘.

I have used a Brooks C17 and a Spa Cycles Aire. Both were OK. The Brooks is very heavy and little bit too antiquated. The Aire is much cheaper than the Brooks and is racier, but also has a high gap between the rails and saddle which make it look a bit wrong. The racier Brooks saddles are fiercely expensive. The Aire is also impossible to break in. It’s made of reinforced kangaroo-hide and is leatherier than Tom Jones’ face. Not that I’d try to break in the latter.

same leather as the Spa Cycles Aire and Wharfedale

Last year Brooks bought out a new line of saddles with a cotton covering, called the ‘Cambium’. They do a wide C17 and a narrow C15. They have managed to capture the middle ground between racy and retro. I took one on test from Strada Cycles and had no difficulties at all. They come in at about £110, but with club discount I essentially got it cheaper than it would be from any well-known online retailers.

The best way of knowing if a saddle is right is if you complete forget it’s there. This is unequivocally the case with the Cambium. It does the job with a minimum of fuss; it’s just wide enough with a sturdy and hard plastic base under the covering to support the sit bones. I’ve had no issues at all. In fact, i promptly went out a bought the narrower C15 for the Mercian.

After 6 months of commuting and longer rides the Cambium is proving its worth, it’s very comfortable. It’s the only saddle i’d recommend unequivocally to anyone. I’m not a huge Brooks fan, as a rule of thumb I’ve had difficulties even breaking in the C17, my low weight means i haven’t so much as dented the leather after thousands of miles. The Cambium has more ‘give’ because of the construction. It also looks lovely and complements both the Bob Jackson and the Mercian and both the C15 and 17 have a set of bag loops hidden within the construction; perfect for the Carradice. It’s not far off being the perfect saddle.

I can't believe it's got bag loops as well Dad, hidden away like that. Very clever.
I can’t believe it’s got bag loops as well Dad, hidden away like that. Very clever.

Preparing for a Cycle-Tour

it’s now three days to go until i embark on a short cycle-tour. it’s a proper old-schoolsaddlebag and youth hostel shindig. if you’re not camping or going really far then it’s perfectly feasible to tour with a real minimum of kit. in this respect, i’m a huge fan of the carradice saddlebag. they’re made in the peak district and each one has the signature on the label of the lady who made it.

thanks sue!

they do a range of different sizes. belle has the ‘junior’, which is ideal for a day ride. i have two, the nelson, which is the quintessential commuting bag and i’ve used it pretty much all winter, and i also am now the proud owner of a ‘carradice super C’. i cannot stress how enormous this bag is. it reminds me of the opening sequence of ‘you only live twice’.

carradice super C
chinese space capsule

it swallowed up the nelson without even blinking, and the nelson is a fairly whopping 15 litres. this new beast is a staggering 23 litres, with side pockets and some extra inner deluxe compartments inside. i think this means i won’t need to take a bar bag and can instead put everything in the super C. meanwhile, the nelson will continue with commuting duties. i’m beginning to think dangerous pipe-and-slippers thoughts, namely, ‘you can never have too many saddlebags’, or ‘tired of saddlebags, tired of life’. here’s the nelson:

carradice nelson

the principle reason for using a saddlebag is convenience when you haven’t got a tonne of stuff to carry. there’s no need for a rack and the geometry of the bike doesn’t change. more importantly, it keeps stuff off your back so stops you getting all sweaty and horrid. i’ve tried a rack and a saddlebag, and definitely prefer the latter. it looks lovely on the mercian with the brooks saddle.after two fatigue-ridden days commuting, i’ve decided to rest now until the weekend, so i washed the bike this evening and started to get a few things together. i built the mercian up this year to take on both commuting duties and some light touring. it’s slightly tweaked version of the ‘king of mercia’ frame, with rack bosses and marginally more relaxed geometry to make it a real mile-eater. the tubing is reynolds 531c and it has beautifully elongated spearpoint lugs with heart-shaped windows, it’s a really lovely frame and testament to the quality of Mercian cycles, a historic and significant british marque.

King of Mercia

I’ve been riding it for the past week or so to get used to it again after lots of uber-carbon tomfoolery. it has a brooks pro saddle and slightly mismatched campagnolo groupset, a bit centaur and a bit veloce. i can’t wait to take it out on the open road and gently undulate through the lanes of somerset, devon and cornwall.