After Babes in Bikeland, Melissa Lo and I made a few observations about how we could improve our performance for the next race. I will be writing a blog post about all our learnings, but first, I wanted to share some details about our hip bags that earned us a much improved ranking at Cirque Du SoGay.
The do-it-yourself nature of the alley cat makes you feel sort of like a poseur if your bike is a brand new Masi with a bright red wheelset and you're wearing a crisp Chrome messenger bag (unless it's fairly broken in and covered in patches stating whatever subdivision of Minnesota Statute 169.222 you feel the strongest about). A Chrome bag proves to be the most efficient when you're couriering files for a law office or simply commuting to work with gym clothes, but its design can be hindering in an alley cat.
We took on Babes as a first pancake experience. We observed what made the faster riders faster, other than physical superiority. Several of the top 15 wore a hip bag, which is a larger fanny pack. They grabbed their manifests quicker without having to swing a large bag around their torsos. They weren't as weighed down or sweaty. They didn't have to remove both hands from the handlebars to check the map while riding. So, like in Babes, we followed their lead.
Hip bags are available on Etsy. Chrome and Trash Bags make a higher quality hip bag. But Melissa and I were looking for something a little more cost effective and customizable. We did our research too, finding many sites like these that offered up step-by-step instructions. Melissa spent a lot of time creating a pattern and sample bags to test her brainchild. Because Melissa essentially designed these and I brought my home-ec skills to the table, I don't feel it's right to share her pattern, but I'm going to offer some considerations you should take into account when making your own.
When choosing materials, stick with heavier fabrics, but ones that your sewing machine can handle (we were using a machine from the 80's so I was super nervous when I had to go through six layers to attach the flap to the body.) I chose a canvas with a mystery synthetic (maybe a nylon-poly-cotton blend based on the texture) at about the same weight and stretch. Melissa went for two nylons of similar weights and stretches. You do not want a lot of stretch. We found our fabrics at SR Harris Fabric Outlet in Brooklyn Park, MN, but JoAnn's Fabrics carry these as well (but twice the price). We were also searching for fabrics with a moderate amount of waterproofing to them, but while SR Harris' warehouse style gives you discount prices, um, they give you crap for information about the fabrics.
Make your flap wider than your bag's body (which I did not do here). Since I sewed my lining, outer shell and flap together at the same time, it would have worked out perfectly. Also, take more time and have fewer glasses of wine when you're sewing the flap's curve.
This is quite possibly the most important part of the bag's construction. We wanted to have a loop (the largest part of the nylon webbing) that you could slide in a U-Lock. A lot of designs you'll find out on the internet have the U-Lock loop on the outside of the bag. Some simple deductive reasoning figures that this would make the bag heavy on the outside and slouchy. We placed ours on the inside and didn't find it uncomfortable at all.
We found all of our nylon webbing at SR Harris again, but the dual-adjust buckle came from Midwest Mountaineering. Melissa also attached a Midwest Mountaineering D-ring to the interior of the bag to hold her keys. Seal all of your nylon webbing with a lighter to prevent fraying in a well-ventilated area. Otherwise, it not only looks like you're heating up some heroine, but it starts to feel like it as well.
We modeled our Velcro after the Chrome bag. This way if you have to put something larger in your bag (like a t-shirt you won on a stop), you can still close the bag. I placed the hooked portion of the Velcro on the flap though as I've had enough of finer tights, dresses, and coats being ruined after I accidentally brush against the bag when it's open. Like the U-Lock loop above, sew the Velcro on before you attach the lining to the outer shell to avoid having the stitching show on the outside. We supported all our notions with a piece of scrap fabric hidden between the layers.
We also sewed in a pocket to separate our manifest, maps, after party information, cell phone, highlighter and pen from the other contents of the bag (keys, sunglasses, patch kits, tools and wallet).
We're not pattern makers. We're not seamstresses. We did not have all the correct tools (a serger would have been amazing). I'm obviously not a model. But, Melissa and I made a pretty satisfactory and attractive product considering our limitations and for $13 a piece.