This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of saddlebags and top tube bags in relation to one another.
The Advantages of Saddlebags
1. Large capacity
Large saddlebags have a very large capacity and can transport bulky items.
For example, I have a Carradice SQR slim bag that I’ve routinely used to carry a laptop, rain gear, food and, repair tools with room to spare.
You can’t fit luggage of that size in a top tube bag regardless of its size.
2. Quick Installation and Removal
Saddlebags often have a quick-release mechanism allowing you to install or remove them fairly quickly. This option is very convenient for commuters who lock their bikes outside and want to take off every accessory that can be stolen.
In different, frame bags do not have similar quick-release functions because the bag attaches to both the top tube and the seat tube.
Nonetheless, the small top tube bags are fairly easy to mount and get off.
When I was using one, the most annoying part was getting the Velcro loop under the front derailleur cable behind the seat tube.
I encountered this problem because I have an MTB and subsequently a top pull derailleur with a cable going behind the seat tube.
(Side note: MTBs have top pull derailleurs to get the gear cable away from the downtube which is where it will be with a bottom pull derailleur common for road bikes.)
3. Rear Fender
A large saddle bag can act as a partial mudguard. Of course, it’s not as good as a dedicated full fender, but it’s better than being completely “unarmed” against road spray.
4. The Water Bottle Cages Can Still Be Used
A full-size frame bag “eats” the entire triangle of the frame and prevents the installation of water bottle cages. A saddlebag, on the other hand, leaves the area free.
The Disadvantages of Saddlebags
1. You can’t see the cargo.
Saddlebags are behind the rider and thus not visible when moving. As a result, one cannot monitor the state of the bag and its contents while pedaling.
A top-tube bag, on the other hand, is visible because it’s right under the rider.
2. Fights With Seat Post Accessories
Saddlebags want the entire seat post for themselves. This prevents the rider from using seat post fenders and lights.
The way to circumvent this issue is to install a light directly on the bag and a full fender on the bike. Unfortunately, not all lights can be mounted on a saddlebag.
Also, some race bikes have very tight clearance and no fender eyelets. Thus, one has to improvise or buy expensive road bike fenders with a non-standard attachment mechanism.
The bike-packing saddlebags with banana shape tend to swing, especially when pedaling out of the saddle.
Some bags come with special frames that prevent that but not all models provide that option.
4. Difficult Access
To access the contents of the saddlebag, the rider has to get off the bike.
The Advantages of Top Tube Bags
1. Easy Access
The contents of a top tube bag are fairly easy to access. The rider doesn’t even have to get off the bike. Stopping and unzipping the bag is enough.
Thus, a top tube bag is nice for storing small items that one needs frequently throughout a ride.
2. A Slim Profile
A top tube bag fills “dead space” whereas a saddlebag changes the bike’s dimensions.
3. Do Not Interfere With Handlebar and Seat Post Accessories
Top tube bags are part of the frame and do not interfere with accessories mounted on the handlebars or the seat post.
The Disadvantages of Top Tube Bags
1. Low capacity
A top tube bag doesn’t come anywhere near the capacity of a large saddlebag. Moreover, frame bags are narrow and cannot store bulky items such as a jacket.
Thus, if you want to transport large cargo, and you have to choose between a top tube bag and a saddlebag, the latter fits the goal better.
2. Slow Installation and Removal
Top tube bags do not have quick-release mechanisms and subsequently do not offer a convenient way to quickly get them off the bike.
If you want to take off the bag when you make a stop, the process may annoy you over time.
3. Fight With Water Bottle Cages
Large top tube bags make it impossible to use the water bottle cages on the frame. Thus, one will be forced to look for an alternative way to carry water.
The two most common options are to mount the bottles elsewhere (seat post, seat, handlebars, downtube…etc.) or to use a hydration bladder.
4. The Bike Is More Difficult to Carry
A top tube bag prevents the rider from grabbing the bike through the frame and shouldering it. This could be a severe downside for people who have to carry their bicycle over stairs.
Nonetheless, there are alternative solutions:
- Install a bike carrying handle (it attaches to the lower part of the seat tube and the downtube).
- Shoulder the bike by placing the underside of the seat on your shoulder.
When To Choose a Saddlebag
A saddlebag is a good choice when:
1. You want maximum capacity and volume.
2. You want to install water bottle cages on the frame.
3. You don’t use seat post accessories.
4. You have another bag for items that you need frequently throughout a ride.
When To Choose a Top Tube Bag
A top tube bag is a good choice when:
1. You want a bag for storing small items (e.g., bars, keys, money, tools…etc.).
2. You don’t transport bulky objects.
3. You use seat post accessories preventing the installation of a seat post bag.
4. You want to preserve the aesthetic lines of the bicycle from the front and back.