In just under a month’s time I’m off on another long cycle tour in Germany – Konstanz to Koblenz – and, as most cycle tourers are, I’m always on the look out for things to make touring a bit easier. The other week I was idly perusing the most excellent blog of Dave McCraw (known on the yacf cycling forum as EdinburghFixed) and I came across his review of the Radical Banana Bags. I clicked, read the review and was immediately interested.
As much as I love my Vaude panniers which have given me excellent service over several years, there are some drawbacks to panniers on recumbents. Well, the drawbacks are the same on upright bicycles (you can’t reach into the panniers when travelling along), but on an upright you’ve usually got jersey pockets and a bar bag or tri bag to put things like phones into. On a recumbent you don’t have those options. In winter there might be forward-facing pockets on your winter jacket (I have three on my Altura Attack jacket which gives room for phone and gloves and keys) but in summer when you might just be wearing a jersey and shorts, there’s nowhere convenient to stash your phone whilst triking. If, like me, you regularly stop to take a photo, having to extract the phone from a pannier is a major pain. ICE trikes do have a small pocket in the seat but I find that my phone tends to drop down into it and it’s hard to extract, plus I might easily forget it and leave it on the trike when going into a restaurant or whatever.
The other thing about panniers is that they render the trike very difficult to move when not actually riding it. The centre of gravity is forward of the seat so with such a weight on the back it becomes very hard to pick up and wheel. I usually take the panniers off and stick them on the seat, but they have a tendency to roll off. They also make the rack wings creak a bit, as you can see from the angle.
These panniers also slightly obscure my vision in my mirrors as they stick out so far.
When not on tour but doing general daily leisure cycling I tend to use my Radical Alfa sidepods, bought five years ago when I got my Trice Q. They are showerproof rather than waterproof but have never let rain in. They hang off the seat rather than the rack and – best of all – have zips that you can reach whilst riding so I can grab my phone if it rings. They can also be slung over your shoulder when leaving the trike so can be easier to carry than full panniers. They’re only 25 litres though (as opposed to 45 litres for my Vaude pannier set), which is enough for my usual daily rides to get bread and a few other groceries but not suitable for a bigger shop (when I take the panniers).
They attach to the headrest at the back of the seat although have a tendency to droop.
The view from the rear shows that they are much more sleek and give less wind resistance, plus the weight is on the seat so the trike is easy to lift by the rear rack and wheel around without any issues of weight.
I had long been thinking that some much larger sidepods would be really handy for touring, but hadn’t actually done anything about it (like looking at Radical’s website). Dave McCraw’s excellent blog post spurred me into action and I visited Radical’s site. The Banana bags (larger versions of the sidepods) come in three sizes – Small, Medium and Large (there’s a surprise) – and the price differences between the three are surprisingly small. The Large bags are a whopping 70 litres – almost three times the volume of my current sidepods – so they looked like a great option for touring. I have always managed to fit everything in my 45 litre Vaude panniers for touring but a little more space might give more options for packing stuff.
Radical’s website did warn:
NB: Often too big for bikes with 2 x 20″ wheels.
(Interestingly, it’s only when copying this text to put in this blog I’ve noticed it specifies “two x 20 inch wheels”; I read it at the time as “bikes with 20 inch wheels” which could conceivably include a trike).
The bags looked great. A bit pricey but I get a heck of a lot of use out of this stuff. I was just a bit concerned whether they would fit my ICE Sprint. Dave McCraw’s review had been done with some bags loaned by his local recumbent bike shop, Laid Back Bikes of Edinburgh, about whom I have heard only good things. I thought I’d ring Laid Back and see if they still had the bags available and if they would fit. I had a good chat with David Gardiner there who kindly took some photos of the bags on a Sprint and sent me the pics. Yes, they fit, although without a great deal of ground clearance, but the bags he had in stock were now sold. We had a good general chat about recumbents, as one does, and I will definitely be recommending Laid Back Bikes to others again (and have indeed already done so to a friend looking for a recumbent).
So I decided to go ahead and order some bags from Radical in the Netherlands. In red, of course, to match Alfie’s paint job. The process was painless (well, as painless as spending 250 Euros can be) and my early birthday present arrived just a couple of days later.
They are Omnifit which means they fit hardshell or mesh seats as they have various adjustment options.
The straps were already fixed to one set of the plastic 3-bar slide buckles so I just slung the bags over the seat, tried to size the straps correctly and see where I got. I had to remove the flag to put the Banana bags on as they don’t have a click buckle thingie like the sidepods do.
You can see that the rearmost strap sits over the rack on the trike, rather than attaching to the seat. Despite doing this they were still very close to the ground and I was a little concerned about general ground clearance on tour – if they were going to be dragged through mud my belongings would not survive very well!
I was very pleased with the mesh pocket on each side but it was when looking more closely at the pocket that I noticed another set of 3-bar sliders outboard of the pocket. And when I opened the bag to have a look at the internal structure I pulled out a magic piece of paper.
It would have been handy if I found this before I started! A clear explanation that I had to use the other set of slider buckles for a mesh seat (which I have).
So I quickly changed them round and things were much better.
There’s much more ground clearance – and these bags are empty. When they’re full of touring kit/shopping they’ll be wider and a bit higher off the ground. I have lost access to those nice mesh top pockets though!
So they looked good and I have high hopes for touring. Except… the pesky requirement to remove the flag each time I take them on and off. My trike’s flagpole got run over by a car (when it unexpectedly flew off the back of the trike) and doesn’t separate into its three parts very well any longer. I try to just leave it be. These banana bags are missing the click fastener that their smaller brethren, the sidepods, have.
Here’s the strap sitting on the rack of the trike.
You can see the arms of the rack holding the bags away from the back wheel, very handy.
Anyway, I had an uncharacteristic lightbulb moment! These straps are adjustable/removable, why don’t I put a click fastener in the middle of this strap?
So after spending the grand sum of £1.67 for six 3-bar sliders and £1.99 for two side release buckles (plenty of spares for if I got something wrong), and picking up the bit of 50mm webbing that had been lying on the road a mile from home (it appears to be the remains of a seatbelt) I was good to go. I had intended to buy a bit of webbing rather than cut up Radical’s one but my husband remembered seeing the discarded seatbelt and it was still there when he next went past. It’s a bit dirty and a bluey-grey rather than greyey-grey colour but that’s not a major issue!
So anyway I got the kitchen scissors out and cut the webbing at its cleanest part, giving myself two lengths that my careful measurements had suggested would be about right. James then sealed the ends for me with his gas gun.
And here is the result (with Radical’s original black webbing beside them)
It was a matter of moments to assemble them correctly, attach them to the Banana Bags and then sling the whole lot over the trike seat, clipping in the rearward strap without having to remove the flag. Hurrah!
Eh voilà – ready to go!
So it seemed sensible to do my first ride with these with a fair bit of stuff in the bags. I was due a trip to the charity shop to donate some unused clothing so I sorted out the clothing, put it in a plastic sack and stuffed it into the bag. It fitted easily – here you can see Alfie ready for the off.
We headed to Colchester with a three mile ride to the charity shop. All seemed very easy, the bags weren’t noticeable as I rode along and didn’t obscure my view in my rear-view mirrors, even though the left hand side bag was fairly well stuffed.
One thing I do notice when riding with different panniers/bags is the change in road noise. On a trike with a 20 inch rear wheel your head is fairly near that wheel and you consequently get a fair bit of road noise from the tyre and mechanical noise from the gear/chain/derailleur/chain tensioner. Whenever I’ve been using one type of pannier for a while and switch to another I notice the change in noise. With the Radical Banana Bags I felt like overall noise was reduced (they buffer the noise from my chain tensioner) but that the noise that was reaching me came from a fairly narrow corridor (up the middle of the rack).
As I arrived at the charity shop I had to bump up a low kerb which I did at speed – and grounded the left hand side Banana Bag. This is obviously the disadvantage of them being low and also the weight wasn’t evenly distributed between the two so the left one had sunk a bit lower. There’s a slight scuff on the bottom of the bag now, nothing significant. If this happens more frequently I might put some duck tape on the bottom just to protect it.
It was very easy to get everything out of the bag as the zips open very wide. After giving the shop assistant the clothes I headed off to Aldi (it was Bike Stuff day). I wandered round, not buying much bike stuff but instead taking the opportunity to buy bulky items – lots of bags of puppodums, some big bags of crisps, popcorn, fresh bagged salad etc and a box of 36 Weetabix. It all fitted in just one side of the Banana Bags but mindful of the issue earlier with the heavier side slipping lower I evened out the weight a bit (Weetabix and bike bits and my tools on one side, food and phone etc on the other). The bags are lovely and easy to carry around when off the bike as there are two handles in the middle – the weight distribution is about right and I can carry them with one hand. I haven’t tried slinging them over my shoulder yet as hadn’t felt the need.
The trike is also easy to wheel around with the bags in situ. It’s not as light as with the Sidepods, which was to be expected, and if I took really big strides my knee might hit the banana bag, but it’s massively easier than wheeling the bike with panniers so that’s an excellent result.
I headed back home with my Aldi goodies. The combined weight wasn’t all that much and the trike didn’t feel any different than it did unladen (whereas pannier weight tends to be more noticeable) so I took a longer route home.
Here am I, back home with probably 40 litres worth of bags of popcorn, puppodums, salad and crisps.
I did a small further adjustment to the middle strap of the bags when I got home – I shall probably do a couple of other fettles over time, but overall I’m happy with the bags and I think they’ll be really useful on tour. They wouldn’t be good for a winter tour when it’s likely to rain but I expect them to survive the odd shower OK and I will probably wrap my clothes in plastic bags when inside the Banana bags anyway.
For those who never carry large loads and tour with less kit than me, the 45 litre Medium size bags would probably be easier to manage (without the issues of them hanging low) but at only a 10 Euro saving over the Large bags I felt the Large were better value for money.
I’ll be off on my Konstanz to Koblenz trip in just over three weeks so the Banana Bags will get a real baptism of fire then – keep reading my blog to find out how I get on!
The marvels of the internet means that, following the initial posting of this blog, a couple of recumbent cycling chums and I got into a discussion about how I could perhaps raise the lowest part of the bags so they don’t scrape on the floor again.
Of course, the obvious solution is to raise the bags up the seat by attaching them further back on the rack. So I thought about this a bit more and came up with the following idea, using parts that I already had – another 50mm buckle, 3 sliders and the original piece of webbing from Radical that I had taken off.
I attached either part of the clip buckle to a long piece of webbing, wrapped it around the rack and made sure it was fairly tight.
What you can’t see from the photo above is that there are some bits of metalwork under the rack that mean the arrangement has to sit where it does (perhaps slightly further back than I would have liked).
Here is a view from the back so you can see how I’ve done it.
Interestingly I was able to use the pocket on the top of the bag with this arrangement. It was also noticeable that my arms slightly rested on the bags.
I have ordered 2 metres of 50mm webbing to see if I can let out the middle strap a bit more as I may be able to attach it to a different set of clips which could make things sit a bit more comfortably, but overall this seems to be working well and cost me precisely nothing! It is also quick to remove the gadget on the rack which I will need to do if I use the dog basket.
Edit after my first tour using these bags.
So I have now done a cycle tour using the new Radical Banana Bags and they don’t look as new any longer – mud, rain, grot and dust are all over them, which is to be expected. But how did they perform?
Overall I was reasonably happy. The large volume is very handy as I was able to bring back some cakes and chocolates on the last day which I could fit into the bags. They are definitely easier to ride with than panniers on the rack (the weight distribution is better) and the wind resistance issue also helps as they are tucked away more than normal panniers. I also found it handy that I could put my phone in the pocket and get it out again whilst going along (although it could be tricky to do up the zip).
Unfortunately my tour dates clashed with the heavy rains around Bodensee and there was a lot of driving rain and also some flooding. The fact that these bags aren’t waterproof was noticeable at the end of some days with water pooled in the bottom and the outsides of the plastic bags that I wrapped my luggage in wet. However the bags dried pretty quickly (always by the next morning).
The bigger issue was the fixing. Over the course of my 16 day tour I changed the fixing. In the end I found it best to fix the bags to the trike rack whilst empty (i.e. with no weight in) and I connected the straps directly to the rack. No quick-release, I had to thread the sliders manually, but everything stayed in place. Once it was tightly fixed I could put the contents in the bags. This meant, of course, that all my luggage was strewn about for people to see which wasn’t always ideal and would not have been possible in the rain. I didn’t sort this out until I’d ridden for about eight days so was struggling a bit before then with getting the rearmost strap tight enough to hold the bags up and away from the ground and floodwater.
More significantly, I noticed after about ten days that there were a couple of holes in the bags. The photos aren’t great but you can see a bit of daylight where daylight should not be!
I was able to patch these with insulating tape once the bags had dried but it was rather disappointing.
I expect the holes developed through grounding or perhaps scraping against a stick or some other object on the cycle path (there was a fair amount of debris across the paths in places due to the flooding in central Germany).
I will be touring again in September and if the weather forecast is for mostly dry then I will take the Banana Bags but if there’s a reasonable amount of rain forecast then I will take my Vaude panniers. So these banana bags are a useful addition to my luggage library but are not the perfect solution by any means!