Recumbent luggage in all shapes, sizes, colours
As reported elsewhere, I borrowed gear from Laid-Back-Bikes in Edinburgh to take on a three day, ~200 mile tour around the west highlands of Scotland. This included a pair of excellent Radical Banana Bags (recumbent side panniers) which I’ll cover briefly here:
The capacity of these bags is 55L, they’re reasonably water resistant, easy to use, light, stable, seem well built and come with a matching price tag…
The bags sling across the seat / rack (if applicable) as seen below. The three straps are all burly and offer a good range of adjustment for various shapes and sizes of seat:
I found it pretty easy to set them up – plop on the seat, adjust, away you go!
One caveat is that I did have to pull the bags quite far back (using a bungee on the rack) to keep them clear of the power side of the chain. Careful packing might mitigate the risk, otherwise you need an underseat rack or chain tubes in my opinion:
In the pic above you can see great clearance under the seat as a result of the extra couple of inches rearward alignment. There really is no dramatic problem when you let them slide forward, but as borrowed bags, I didn’t want to risk damaging them.
Unfortunately the paint on this particular bike wasn’t up to being rubbed against the Banana Bags for several days (as the suspension travelled, the rear stays moved up and down against the bags) and both sides of the frame suffered instead. Oh well!
The pair pictured here are medium size, 55L. This compares well with rear panniers (such as the classic Ortlieb back roller), most of which are in the 40-45L range.
You can go bigger or smaller – Radical offer bags at 10L (Solo Racer) 25L (Banana Racer), 40L (Small Banana) and 70L (Side Pannier large).
One thing I will say is that the notional capacity is perhaps not so easy to access as in a pair of traditional panniers – because the bags don’t have an internal frame, I found myself using them a little bit like a giant stuff sack, then having to redistribute stuff to close the zips!
The top surface of each bag has a mesh pocket on the leading edge – big enough to take spare layers, a thin waterproof, or bike bottles (not all together!). This is easy to access while riding and I used them to hold water, gloves, hats, and snacks very usefully.
There are also a variety of small loops, perfect for the attachment of odds and ends externally (camera bags etc).
The main section is accessed by a long zip, which sits under a very ample storm flap, all cinched down by a pair of sturdy compression straps. See it all done up in the photo below.
Internally, there’s a strap which connects the bottom and top of each bag around halfway along. The main thrust of this seems to be to keep the bags from being too big and flappy when only half full, although it also has useful implications for dividing stuff between front and rear:
Both front and rear have a strip of very useful retroreflective material – you can see this variously in the photos – which performs powerfully as it’s just at the right height to be struck by the headlamps of cars and other bikers:
At the end of the day, the price at around 200EUR (£165 / $260 at time of writing) is steep compared with regular panniers but not outrageous.
In this respect the small bags suffer a bit, as 200 Eurobucks for the 25L Racers is a lot more than an equivalent size seat or saddle bag, while 200 Eurobucks for the 70L side panniers (yes, really) seems like quite a good deal!
While Radical’s bags aren’t cheap by any means, they are pretty sweet. The Banana Racer, for instance, offers the same 25L volume of a Carradice Camper Longflap saddle bag, but at half the weight (less than half the weight if you consider a bag support to be necessary to ride with a saddle bag), the Solo Racer likewise versus the Carradice Barley.
For most purposes there’s no meaningful aero penalty – on my Easter tour, I had to freewheel into the wind to let upright tourers behind me stay on my wheel.
The Banana Racers are competing more with a back-box or tail bag, and in this respect may not offer such a clear advantage. They look to be slim enough to sit behind the shoulders, but I haven’t seen a pair in real life to know for sure.
The image on the right shows a traditional pannier (grey) mounted behind the Banana Bag on a Challenge Furai. The cross-section into the wind is over 2x larger, yet the pannier is much smaller (40L vs 55L per pair).
You also don’t need to worry about the weight limit of your rack, because the bags are supported almost entirely by the seat (although if you’ve got personal weight issues, you may have to worry about the seat!). The Challenge day rack, for instance, has a 12kg limit and although that’s quite a lot of stuff, I’d be worried about exceeding it on anything longer than a weekend.
Unlike the saddle bag, or even panniers, it’s easy to whip off and carry Banana Bags – there’s nothing clipping them to the bike, and you can put them on one shoulder to keep both arms free (what a contrast with carrying a pair of heavy panniers!)
I spent three days in solid wet misery with the Radical Banana bags!
Not all of my stuff was in dry bags inside them. For a non-waterproof bag, I was impressed that very little moisture penetrated, but you’d be in for a shock if you entrusted something like a down sleeping bag to them alone, because after 8-10 hours of rain, there was certainly moisture (not pooling fluid however) on the inside.
They don’t come with waterproof covers and on a short ride I wouldn’t worry about rain finding its way inside at all, but for touring use, a liner bag has to be recommended.
The Radical Banana Bags are a great product for keen tourers – or in the smaller sizes, for keen ultra distance riders – but for casual use the price of the smaller bags especially is a bit prohibitive. (Even I would find it tricky to justify over 200 euros for the recumbent equivalent of a £40 Carradice saddlebag!)
I own a small range of bike luggage and have to admit that the bigger bags on test were quite impressive though – very light for the capacity they offer, comparatively aerodynamic, robust and very stable (absolutely no chance of them coming loose, after all!)
- My main Laid-Back reviews page – all recumbents on one page