Bicycle bags
from 95% recycled materials

Posted on August 9, 2003

When planning to bike to Point Pelee (a two day trip), I needed bags on my bike to carry gear and food. Being on a budget with lots of time in my hands, I decided to make my own while spending as little as possible.

Gathering materials

Spokes lined up to begin permanent placement. The two vertical bones were later removed be-cause I couldn’t flip the bags inside out after sewing the pieces together with them inside.

Finding a large piece of fabric for this project can be difficult. I found an old bed sheet in the basement of a house I rented. I made sure that the cloth was not too old, lest it will tear under weight.

To prevent bicycle spokes from catching the back of the bags, the backs needed to be stiffened with – ironically – bicycle spokes. Being around bicycles, old spokes were readily available.

Preparing materials

Cutting cloth can be difficult. The cutting line is hard to keep straight as cloth, unlike paper, tends to sway in all directions. Make sure to leave lots of leeway so that you can tuck away imperfections to places that can hardly be seen. 

Painting the cloth serves two purposes – to colour it, and to make it more water resistant. Since paint itself is waterproof, applying it on the cloth reduces the size of the pores. A layer of paint also makes it more resistant to the elements.

For the bike spokes, I removed the heads to prevent them from cutting through the cloth. Then simply sew them onto the back of the bags.

Stack of 22 quadruple-layered cloths stapled. This will form the hooks for adjusting the lid tension. Sewing them together is one alternative, but more time consuming than stapling

Putting them together

As seams are the weakest points in structures, the design of the bags called for the front and back being one long continuous piece of cloth for maximum strength. The back of the bag would first run vertically down, then circle back up for the front.

To create this large “U-turn”, a large cylindrical jar is used as a placeholder when sewing the front-back portions to the sides.

A cover for the bags serves two purposes. First, it keeps light and water away from the contents. Second, a tight lid keeps the bags compact. I sewed covers to the back panel of the bags, sandwiching a bicycle spoke in between for added strength to the shape.

While a zip will help keep a tight lid on the cover, it cannot change the cover’s tension invariably. A solution to this is to create a series of hooks (made of the same cloth) tied to the tops of both front and back panels of the bag. By running a string through them, the tension on the cover can be adjusted by tightening or loosening the string.

Final Results

Bike panniers in action, with a sleeping bag on top

I was quite pleased with the results. The bags managed to carry a lot of weight for two-day my trip to Point Pelee.

A side benefit of using cloth, I found, was that the material is completely breathable. The contents do not get wet during light rain, yet water manages to evaporate through the pores. Just make sure to wrap anything that cannot survive dampness in plastic bags before you put them in.