Bag Man

So other than a couple of weekend grad courses, I find myself free from teaching until August. With time on my hands for the first time since Christmas, I can work on my backlog of paintings and book projects. On top of that there are several project ideas I’ve been kicking around and I decided to start one yesterday. I have a little tool bag that I once had mounted to the Shogun. It’s a size I like. It matches the robin’s eggshell blue of the bike. And my wife thinks it’s cute.

Who knows. It probably was designed for a little girl’s Schwinn or something, but I appreciate how the vintage vinyl and piping look. After using it for several thousand miles on the Shogun, I initially transferred it to my Boulder, in a mass exodus of racks and fenders and bags. I was dismayed to discover the straps were disintegrating where they lashed onto the saddle, so I decided to either retire the bag or find a similar replacement.

But the thing is that I’d actually like a leather version of the bag. So…

Never one to say never, I figured to try and make one myself. I’d originally thought that a small leather purse might be converted for my purposes, and while I found a couple of likely candidates at thrift stores, they nevertheless still wound up looking like I’d hung a small woman’s purse off the saddle. Strike one.

Now, I know next to nothing about leather work but I generally figure things out pretty well on my own and with a little trial and a lot of error, so I figured What the hell! and dove right in, head first. I began with a trip to Tandy Leather, where I purchased a small piece of lightweight — but stiff — cowhide, a small bottle of leather stain/sealer to match my honey colored saddle, rivets, a punch, and a couple of buckles. My own tools included an X-Acto, ruler, t-square and triangle, cutting matt, scrap newspaper and an old sock for staining. I also used an anvil in my shop as a last for smacking the rivet heads. On reflection, that was maybe overkill. (Maybe!)

The basic bag has no additional pockets and is a very simple design; without piping it is three pieces of material, which was easy enough to figure out and make a template. Essentially, the main body is 6 x 12 inches, with radius corners. The original bag is stiff enough that I could lay it down on a piece of paper and trace the shape. I corrected imperfections in the pattern and used the template for cutting.

I marked off a line 1/8″ from the edge and used the punch and some waxed thread to stitch the pieces together. I punched both pieces at the same time to ensure that the holes lined up, but as I turned the corner this technique got a bit dicey. Next time I will figure out a way to pre-punch all of the holes. There is also a tool I didn’t spring for that allows one to create straight and evenly spaced stitch holes. Hindsight is 20/20, but that would have been a handy tool to have on hand… another trip to Tandy will take place for a second piece of leather (and perhaps this tool as well.)

Halfway through the stitching I got to wondering if it might not have been prudent to stain it before assembling…!

With one full side attached, the geometry is beginning to take shape.

Shown below, both sides are stitched and the stain has been applied. Once dry — and this is amazingly fast — the surface gets buffed to achieve a glowing sheen.

A saddle bag is not much good without a way to hang or to close it. I experimented with an “improvement” on the original bag design that allowed me to dual purpose the closure straps also as the hanging straps. I left plenty of material to allow the bag to fit snugly, as I prefer, or to dangle. I’ve seen similar designs on tool wraps and took my lead from there. (I plan to attempt a tool wrap this summer also.)

Extra rivets were installed in back. The guy at Tandy Leather assured me that one per strap would be sufficient, but I feel better doubling up. Notice that the stitching is … uh … pretty crooked. I’d like to figure out a better way to keep the stitching lined up when I do this the next time, probably with a tool dedicated to this purpose, and with the entire segment pre-punched.

And here is the finished bag. I was going to trim off the lengthy straps but I’m thinking about leaving them to dangle for the moment. Total elapsed time for construction: two hours.

I’ve had several readers contact me with suggestions for stories. Some have asked for ideas (like this one) for DIY enhancements; others have asked for restoration tips. While the C&V folks on bikeforums.net are far and away the real experts at the use of OA baths and chrome survival, as well as all the minutiae of bicycle rescue (and from whom I steal ideas without any reservation whatsoever!), I am planning a couple of write ups that focus on some of the techniques that I’ve personally found successful. I’ve also been asked several times to compare my recent Boulder build with the similar, but still dramatically different Shogun 2000. I’ve been seriously pondering the comparison not only between those two, but with my Paramount as well. Sometime later this month I’ll begin to post my impressions of how these three bikes stack up.

In the mean time, I’ve got a lot of riding to do between now and August and I don’t plan to be at the easel every stinkin’ minute!

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2 thoughts on “Bag Man

  1. Although the original is “cute” (as the wife puts it), it looks to me like it belongs on a vintage Schwinn rather than either the Boulder or the Shogun. I believe your rendition is a much classier upgrade. Nice work with the project! I am impressed with your craftiness!

  2. Funny you should point out that the new bag is more congruent. I debated getting a teal dye to mimic the original. It wasn’t until I hung the new bag that I realized just how well it fit the build.

    I stuffed it with a tube, patches, and other odds and ends, and went for a good long ride this morning. It hangs well with the load and doesn’t touch the backs of my legs as I pedal. Functionally, it does the job it is supposed to and I was fortunate to also mail the “look” the first time out of the chute.

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