When I was briefly considering cargo trucks for the official ride of Bicycle Astronomy, I found a company in San Francisco (you kinda knew it had to be there, or Portland, right?) called Inside Line Equipment. ILE is pretty much one dude named Eric Fischer, and they make a variety of cycling-oriented bags and backpacks, including a totally I-mean-business looking camera backpack. I love small companies, and I love that people in the USA still make stuff. And I love bags and backpacks. I justify this by repeating to myself that my bags replace, to a great deal, my car trunk. I have a great bumper sticker from a short-lived indy travel magazine that reads “My other car is a backpack”. These days, my other car is a car, and the bike is my main ride, and even before my two-wheeled obsession I was an inveterate walker (hence another of my material weaknesses, well-made shoes).
But anyway, what caught my eye on the ILE website then was a series of rack bags made for common front-mounted baskets and porteur racks. After I added the “off the shelf” cedar floor to my Yuba Mundo’s front frame-mounted “Bread Basket”, described in my last post, I checked ILE’s line of rack bags to see if any would fit. Close, but not exactly. So, this being a one-person shop proclaiming to do custom work, I emailed Eric. It only took a few emails to get it all hammered out. I placed my order.
A few weeks later, I got a box in the mail, opened ‘er up, and oo-lalah! There it was.
Eric Fischer professes to be self-taught at sewing, and I believe it. Not because it’s amateurish. Far from it. The ILE rack bag evinces design smarts, skillful construction, and attention to detail. Build quality wise, it’s as good as the US-made bags of larger companies like Chrome and Mission Workshop. It falls in the same genus as well, with a heavy truck tarp liner. I’d like to see all of these companies come up with a PVC-free solution for the liners, but until then I have to admit its holds up well, is rigid enough to give the back some backbone, and keeps the bag’s innards nice and dry.
The rack bag is basically a box designed to be folded at the top like a paper grocery bag, with a flap that goes across and keeps it all shut with some velcro. I opted for the clear map pocket…soon I’ll put a Bicycle Astronomy advertisement in there along with some flyers that passers-by can take. That flat also hides a long pair of straps that can be used to cinch the rack bag when it’s too full for the flap. That’s very full. Like the Bread Basket it’s designed to fit into, the ILE rack bag will easily hold two 12 packs, and then you have space left over to stack other things on top of it, like 5 pounds of corn meal, two cans of Diafine developer, and the two beautiful Love and Rockets hardcover collections. Not Freight Baggage massive, but close.
I love the two pockets that are designed to face the driver. I keep my Randi-Jo saddle rain cover in one, and two of the nylon cargo straps in the other. At least, for now. They are designed to carry a U-lock, which at the moment I’m not using. (I have a cable lock and a frame lock on the back wheel.) There’s another nifty pocket on the side that I keep the shoulder strap in. The shoulder strap is great. If I have my rack bag loaded with the Ark of the Covenant, I can easily attach the shoulder strap, lift that bag out of the Bread Basket, and run inside, all before the SS soldiers find me. The bottom of the rack bag has some lightweight padding, which is a nice touch. It’s protects delicates and helps the bag keep it’s shape.
The bag has two straps on the bottom so it can attach to the Bread Basket. Eric had no way of knowing this, but I discovered when I tried to attach it the first time that the webbing holding the female clip end is just barely long enough to reach all the way around the Bread Basket’s bottom bar. If Eric makes more Bread Basket rack bags, this should be made a tad longer for a slightly-better fit. I never thought of it and Eric had no way of knowing. Anyway, it’s no big deal. Just takes a little more effort to clip it into place.
Overall, this is one impressive piece of kit that turns the Bread Basket into a carryall supreme. It massively increases the already massive cargo capacity of the Yuba Mundo. The ILE rack bag is pretty much always on my bike, and in addition to the cargo straps I typically carry my rain gear in there (Cleverhood, Showers Pass shoe covers), and on most days I put my entire Rickshaw Zero Messenger, my day bag, into the rack bag for the commute to and from work.
There are two inconveniences with the rack bag illustrated by this pair of photographs:
When the ILE rack bag is used to its full cargo potential, it literally runs into two problems: the brake and shifter cables, and theEdelux headlight. The rack is so close to the handlebars that the cables dig into the bag and make it a little harder to turn, depending on how the cargo inside the bag is sitting. The Edelux light is mounted on a moveable post so most of the time, I can angle the post vertically and adjust the beam so it goes over the top of the rack bag. But if it’s full to the brim, the light can’t get over the top of it. I might need to think about mounting my Edulux to either the front of the rack, or under the rack, on the fork. Both positions have their pros and cons; thus far I rarely carry enough in the rack bag to make it an issue, so I’m not sweating it!
The ILE rack bag has already seen Bicycle Astronomy duty proper. During both star parties I’ve done so far here in Geneva, the rack bag held all the little important things I needed: a small Pelican case with my eyepieces in it, a clipboard with my observing list and handouts on it, my green laser pointer in its locked case (“There’s something very important I forgot to tell you! Don’t cross the streams… It would be bad… Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.”), a few red flashlights, a thermos of hot tea, my ipad with Sky Safari loaded on it, and whatever other odds and ends I need. I like how I can place it on the ground, open it up, and throw random caps and tidbits into it as I’m presenting a night sky program. Helps me keep everything together.
All in all, I’m impressed with Eric Fischer’s Inside Line Equipment rack bag. I’m currently designing a pannier for the back rack of the Yuba Mundo and hope to get sewing once the winter really socks us in up here.* During those weeks the ILE rack bag will serve as a worthy teaching object, a provocation of the level of fit and finish to aspire to, and a reminder that a simple design ethos is sometimes the best way to marry function and aesthetics.
* I also hope to use that time to build the Veloscope prototype. So I hope it snows a lot this winter. Plus if it doesn’t I’ll be even more freaked out about climate change. Which is real, by the way.