Basket bags in GRAVELBIKE? Let me explain. If you’re like me, your gravel rig probably does double duty as a commuter. And whether you commute two or twenty-two miles, you need a way to carry your stuff. But a basket? Bikepacking-style handlebar rolls may be lighter, and panniers might offer more capacity, but when it comes to versatility and simplicity, it’s hard to beat a basket. And although it can be tempting–and perfectly acceptable–to toss items directly into your basket, a purpose-built bag keeps your stuff clean, dry, and organized (and can double as a handy tote or grocery bag).
When it comes to baskets, Waldsports‘ 137 and 139 models are the undisputed leaders, spawning an entire cottage industry of bespoke bag makers. You’ll find both of the aforementioned baskets on my personal bikes, but I limited my testing to bags designed for the smaller, lighter 137 basket. My evaluation period spanned several months (summer through fall), and I tested each bag on bicycles equipped with drop and flat handlebars.
Note: Wald offers stand-alone versions of their 139 and 137 racks that clamp directly to your bike’s handlebars and front axle, but many folks–including yours truly–mount the bare basket to a lightweight front rack such as the randonneur-inspired models from Nitto/Rivendell, Rawland, and Velo Orange.
When not designing cool apparel and accessories, Austin-based Realm is busy turning out cycling bags under their Dark Realm imprint. Like the company’s Cordura-fabric basket bags, the $130 Liteskin basket bag features high-density foam padding, a coated 2.2-ounce nylon liner, adjustable quick-release buckles, roll-top closure, and internal handles for off-the-bike use. The Liteskin model’s unique fabric isn’t just for looks, either, the patent-pending composite material was originally designed for improving the abrasion resistance of carbon fiber racing sails, and offers improved UV resistance and waterproofing.
Standing 18″ tall (with a 14″ by 9″ base), the 432-gram Liteskin is the largest of the three bags tested. The combination of the fabric’s stiffness and the ample foam padding help the bag maintain its shape even when empty. And with its lay-flat carry handles, the Dark Realm is a sturdy-yet-lightweight tote that’s an eco-friendly alternative to paper or plastic grocery bags. Thanks to the separate, independently adjustable mounting and closure straps, accessing the bag’s contents is quick and convenient.
Baltimore’s PTAP Designs specializes in bicycle bags for everyday cycling and the occasional adventure. In addition to the $125 basket bag, head honcho Dan Doggett offers tool rolls, jersey wallets, stem bags, and fully-custom rolltop backpacks. Constructed from heavy-duty Cordura nylon fabric, the PTAP bag uses fewer seams for increased waterproofness. Inside you’ll find a padded base covered with brightly colored fabric, making your cargo easier to find. A 2″ reflective ribbon helps keep you visible from the front and sides while on the bike.
With its fewer seams and minimal padding, PTAP’s lightweight bag boasts a profile that’s far more organic (read, less boxy) than typical basket bags. Measuring 16″ tall, the 300-gram bag’s generous rolltop closure easily accommodates larger loads. The closure’s quick-release buckles do double duty by keeping the bag securely fastened via adjustable, bottom-mounted straps. Extra-long carrying handles and snap closure make the PTAP bag ideal for shopping or everyday carry duty. And if you find the PTAP’s grey color a little too pedestrian, PTAP offers eight other fabric choices, including splatter and black multi-cam.
What’s a Troutmoose? According to company founder André Costa, the unique name is an homage to the places where he’s lived (and not some weird creature dreamed up in a secret lab). Priced at $79, Troutmoose’s small roll-top basket bag is the least expensive bag that I tested. That low price, however, doesn’t come at the expense of quality. The expertly-sewn Troutmoose bag is constructed of durable, Cordura nylon and features the highest grade materials, including YKK buckles.
Weighing just 315 grams, the Troutmoose has a sleek, no-nonsense profile. The bag’s rolltop closure is easy to use, and the alternating buckles (female on one side, male on the other) let you buckle the opening together and use it as a handle to carry the bag off the bike. Hook-and-loop straps enable direct mounting to racks such as Surly’s 24-Pack Rack and the Rawland Demiporteur. While the 13″ ×7.5″ Troutmoose doesn’t have the capacity of the Dark Realm or PTAP bags, it easily accommodated a change of clothes and snacks. Troutmoose’s double-layer bottom lacks padding, but a piece of Coroplast mounted between the bag and basket reduced noise on bumpy roads and trails.
Summary & Recommendations
After several months’ testing, I can tell you that each of the above bags did an excellent job of keeping their contents clean, dry, and organized. Because most of my usage centered around commuting (i.e. removing the bag several times per-day), I preferred the independent closure and mounting systems found on the Dark Real and Troutmoose bags. When it came to sheer carrying capacity, it’s hard to beat Dark Realm’s bag (provided you have the necessary space and don’t overload your rack/basket). The PTAP bag offers slightly less volume, but the less-rigid construction does a better job of accommodating odd-shaped items. If your bike has limited clearance between the basket and handlebars, Troutmoose’s low-profile bag would be an excellent choice.
Disclosure: Each of the aforementioned companies provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.