This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of bicycle saddlebags and tool bottles in relation to one another.
Note: This comparison is focused on small saddlebags designed for carrying repair tools rather than the large “banana” saddlebags used for bike packing and touring.
The Advantages of Saddlebags
1. Do Not Occupy Water Bottle Spots
Saddlebags are tucked neatly under the saddle and subsequently do not take any of the water bottle spots on the frame, unlike tool bottles.
Having said that, a saddlebag will prevent the use of water bottle cages mounted on the seat.
Note: If you want to have both a saddlebag and a water bottle under the saddle, purchase a saddlebag with a mesh water bottle compartment.
2. Aero Position
A saddlebag, especially the small models, does not add drag to the bike because they’re positioned behind the rider – a location from which they cannot hurt the aero properties of the bike.
Strictly speaking, a tool bottle installed on the frame is a bit less aero.
The extent of this effect, however, is slim and inconsequential for 99.9% of cyclists.
A small saddlebag blends with the saddle, especially when the colors are matching. Meanwhile, tool bottles are larger and a bit more in your face.
4. Does Not Require Mounting Hardware
Most small saddlebags do not require additional hardware. They attach via Velcro loops or a quick-release mechanism that comes with the bag.
5. Separate Compartments
A tool saddlebag usually has two separate compartments – a big one for a tube, patches, and a mini-pump plus a small one where you can put a banknote, keys…etc.
In different, some tool bottles don’t offer any sort of organizing.
Note: There are also “zip tool bottles” which have two separate compartments. However, those are bottle-shaped organizers rather than actual bottles.
The Disadvantages of Saddlebags
Some cycling clubs do not like the silhouette that saddlebags give to a bike and often scrutinize those who dare to use such equipment.
Obviously, it’s up to the rider to decide what kind of gear to use, but most cyclists are looks focused and do care about external judgment.
A tool bottle, on the other hand, is technically a fake water bottle and thus fits the appearance criteria.
2. Not Always Waterproof
A good saddlebag will be waterproof or at least extremely water-resistant. However, since most bags use a zip with a cover for the main compartment, water will enter the bag during a submerge or through the zip which wears down with time.
Conversely, a tool bottle is as waterproof as it gets because it’s made out of plastic and has a screw-down cap.
If a tool bottle is letting water in – there’s a crack. Nonetheless, such a problem can easily be fixed with glue and silicone.
My Zefal tool bottle cracked a while back, and I successfully glued it back together. It’s still waterproof.
3. Fights for Seat Post Real Estate
A saddlebag wants the entire seat post for itself. Thus, if you use seat post lights and/or a rear fender, there may not be enough real estate for all accessories.
4. Not Visible
Saddlebags are positioned behind the rider and aren’t visible when pedaling. Thus, you may lose the bag without even knowing.
It’s rare, but the bag may get stolen too. For example, if you’re waiting in line someone behind you may steal it while you’re holding the bike.
The Advantages of Tool Bottles
1. Stealthy Cargo
A tool bottle made out of an old bidon is a stealthy way to carry your tools and less susceptible to theft.
A thief is more likely to be interested in a saddlebag than a dirty water bottle on a bike.
Tip: If you decide to go this route, choose a non-transparent water bottle of low visibility color (e.g., black). The goal is to avoid dragging attention towards the bottle and to prevent others from seeing its actual contents.
2. Seat Post Real Estate
A tool bottle would free seat post real estate for lights, fenders, larger saddlebags…etc.
3. Quick Release
The quick-release on saddlebags can never match the speed offered by a tool bottle. To get to the bottle, you simply have to take it out of the cage. There’s close to no thinking involved and the failure rate is small to none.
If you hate the looks of saddlebags, a tool bottle could be a very good choice for you.
5. 100% Waterproof
As already mentioned, a tool bottle is as waterproof as it gets. It can even be submerged into water. However, this does not apply to tool pouches with a zip.
6. Multiple Locations
A tool bottle can be placed at any location that would take a water bottle mount.
The possible options are downtube, seat tube, handlebars, seat post, seat, top tube, fork legs…etc.
7. Can Be Used as a Bottle
In an emergency, the tool bottle can be used as an actual vessel. For example, if you’re riding on a hot day, and you need extra water capacity, you can throw the contents of the tool bottle in a bag and fill it with water.
Obviously, it’s highly advisable to sanitize the insides of the tool bottle before using it as water storage.
8. Visible During Riding
Unless you mount the tool bottle on the seat post or under the saddle, it will be easily visible during riding. This reduces the chances of losing it unexpectedly.
The Disadvantages of Tool Bottles
1. Take Water Bottle Space
The main shortcoming of tool bottles is that they steal one water bottle cage. During summer, this may be a problem, and you may have to add an additional water bottle cage to the bike.
If your frame doesn’t offer other mounting spots, you will have to use adapters. Luckily, there are plenty of those.
Another option would be to use a hydration bladder in a top tube bag or a backpack.
2. Falling off
A tool bottle isn’t attached to the bike as securely as a saddlebag and can fall off. A while back, my tool bottle fell off the bike and cracked.
3. Hard To Get To
The items stored at the bottom of the tool bottle are not easily accessible. To access them, you first have to remove everything else. Hence why it’s recommended to first slide the spare tube in and then follow through with the rest of the tools.
When To Choose a Saddlebag
A saddlebag is a good choice when:
- You want to use the original water bottle spots on your bike.
- You don’t have seat post accessories that the saddlebag interferes with.
- You like the secured attachment that saddlebags offer.
- You don’t mind the aesthetics of a saddlebag.
When To Choose a Tool Bottle
A tool bottle is a good choice when:
- You want a stealthy way to carry your tools.
- You have plenty of water bottle mounts on your bike.
- You want your tool box to be as waterproof as possible.
- You hate the look of saddlebags.
- You want to use seat post accessories such as a large saddlebag, lights, a rear fender…etc.