Big And Cheap: DIY Cargo Bike Bags

There is another post that shows later improvements to these bags.  Here is another one that covers a hole I left in this article below.
Great Big Bags 2.0 uses a better attachment method.

I have a Mongoose Envoy that I turned into a project bike.  I essentially took a very inexpensive bike with low end components (but a fantastic frame, with a good fork and wheels) and rebuilt it into a high power, heavy duty cargo bike with better components than I’d get if I paid for one from a major manufacturer.

The Envoy comes with two almost-38L-each panniers (24″ long x 16″ tall x 6″ deep).  Thats one hell of a lot for a bag on a normal bike.  But on a mid tail cargo bike frame, they’re smaller than what they could be.

The stock bags look skinny, and are no thicker than a normal pannier.  But I’ve had them loaded with a complete Costco grocery run where the bike ended up well past its 140-lb rated cargo capacity.  Using an elastic bungee net to make sure everything stayed tight to the bike, all I had to do was lumber home without killing myself.

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Figure 1.  A light shopping run – not using front bags.  The bags we’ll make here are about the same size as the ones shown, but more than double the width.  Note the cargo net used here as insurance that those bags stay put.

So… the bags work great and are essentially free.  But I’d like something that better suits the capacity that the mid-tail cargo frame can handle.

I managed to score a brand new set of Surly Dummy bags for a great price.  I found they were great bikepacking bags not suited to bulk grocery hauling.  Whats needed is a giant hole you can dump stuff into and zip closed.

It looked to me like the Yuba Go-Getter bag ($300 plus shipping for the pair) was the closest fit to this idea, and to my frame (It is meant to fit their popular Yuba Mundo cargo mid tail)  I contacted Yuba about the exact size of the bags, and that they would be going on a non-Yuba bike.  They promptly got back to me with this:

  • Length – 29″ / 74 cm
  • Depth – 10″ / 25cm
  • Height – 17″ / 43cm
  • Volume comes to about 84 quarts or 79.5 liters.
  • It is important to note that we designed the Go-Getter to be specifically compatible with our Yuba Mundos and we cannot guarantee its compatibility with non-Yuba bikes.
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Figure 2: A single Yuba Go-Getter bag mounted on a Yuba Mundo cargo bike.

Thats pretty awesome in terms of capacity.  However, those dimensions are just enough to worry me on my bike.  The Envoy’s bags are 24″ long.  29″ might end up pushing into my heel clearance.  The height of 17″ is for sure an issue.  Envoy bags are 16″ tall, and its already a problem that those bags essentially sit directly on the lower rack.  While the bike frame is rated for 90 lbs, the lower rack is only rated for 20 per side, or 40 lbs total.  Now, they can handle much more than that in real life, and I have reinforced the lower rack’s attachment to the frame (Supplementing the factory’s four connections with an additional six that are each stronger than the simple factory bolt), but still a bag that basically sits its weight on that lower rack is not ideal.

What would be better would be a bag that is a little shorter, that bows downward under load, putting strain primarily on its hanging hooks, so only partial weight is borne by the lower rack.  Add in a couple straps to help take the load off those 4 hooks and its better still.

I think my solution accomplishes that.  Bear in mind everything I did here was done specific to this bike.  You can take these ideas and make adjustments so this basic concept fits to yours.

The Budget

Lets call the number I am trying to beat the cost of the Yuba Go-Getter bags, which were my benchmark for capacity:  $300.  So I wanted this project to come in as far under this number as possible and still get a quality bag.  As you can see from the build sheet below, I came in well under the commercial product’s price point.

Build Sheet ($111.50, or $55.75 each)

Rothco Parachute Bag (2)             Amazon   45.98
3"x30"velcro cinch straps (8)        Amazon   21.54
C.S. Osborne #6 13/16" grommets (8)  Amazon   11.36
Stainless 0.3"/0.78" S hooks (8)     Amazon    2.67 
Therm-a-Rest Classic Foam Pad        Amazon   29.95

The Bags

I want something more durable than the fabled, dirt cheap Ikea bag.  But really those bags got dropped as candidates because the zippered version is so short at 11″ that it would be putting the load unnecessarily high.  Also its 28″ length is again just enough to worry me.  And how sturdy is it?  The zipper in particular?

I had a candidate already in my hands in the form of a Rothco Parachute Bag.  These are simple, cheap $23 bags made of reasonably thick canvas and strong, smooth zippers with a snapped storm flap.  Dimensions are 24″ long (identical to the Mongoose stock size), 15″ tall (1″ shorter than stock, so addresses my height/weight concerns) and 13″ deep.  Work out those measurements to cubic inches (4680) and convert to liters and you have a 76.7L pannier bag.

Since I already had one of these bags in my closet, I was able to toss in some full size pillows (it ate 3 of them and still wasn’t quite full) and sized it to the bike.  Looked like a perfect fit.  So I bought two more for testing.

Attachment

After a fair bit of fussing around, trying to figure out exactly how I wanted to attach the bags to the bike (it actually took a few weeks), I settled on primary support being grommet holes in the bags, which will connect to simple S hooks mounted to the frame.  These will be further supported by straps.

I used the C.S. Osborne #6 grommet, which has a 13/16″ hole.  Why this brand and size?  Well, there are drapery grommets, shower curtain grommets and outdoor tarp grommets.  The grommets for curtains are nowhere near strong enough to work on a tarp… or a pannier.  I knew from experience the Osborne grommets are solid and will distribute the forces involved as well as possible.

I chose a 13/16″ size because… I had the grommets and the grommet tool already.

20170218_143537Sidebar:  The #6 grommet size is the smallest size commonly available that will let you fit an XT90 connector thru the hole.  Thats why I have the grommets and tools in my garage – from building battery bags for my custom ebikes.  I grommet the pass-thru holes in the bags.  And since I have been using them for years, I know they hold up.  The bag on the right was made in early 2017 and is still in use today.  This $12 Amazon bag with reinforced holes is way cheaper than a custom ebike bag.

  • You can see in the first pic below, three of the four grommets’ upper edges match the seam of the bag, while the forward-most grommet is lower.  Oops.  My second bag had them all even and all in the lower orientation.  Despite the different mounting, you can’t tell the difference in how they sit on the bike.
  • The single brass grommet was deliberate as I wanted a quick visual cue to help me orient the bag.  Brass = rear for both bags.

Straps

Not wanting to rely totally on the hooks, there are two dedicated three-inch velcro cinch straps.  These are actually made up of two 30-inch straps combined to make one longer strap.  I had to do this as there does not appear to be a 3″ wide velcro cinch strap in a 60″+ size on the market.  If you wanted to save some money and use a narrower strap, 2″ cinch straps are widely available.  In fact, the pics below show an early test fitment where I was using 2″ x 72″ straps, which worked OK but were so long they were a bit unwieldy.  Shorter straps were more convenient and the wider 3″ version provided more support.

The right way to use the straps:  Loop over the rack at top, and the very bottom, directly underneath.  But do NOT loop under the lower rack and then go up over the bag.  Instead, from the bottom of the bike frame, loop the strap directly under the bag and then back up to the top.  The top loop over the rack helps support the bag’s weight.  The bottom loop onto the lower portion of the frame (or rack depending on your bike) helps hold the bag close to the frame so it won’t flop around.  And the remainder of the strap, directly up against the bag and not under the lower rack, holds up the bottom of the bag, preventing – along with the padding – the bag from sagging.

Hooks

These are pretty straightforward.  I wanted an S hook with beveled edges that allows quick attach/detach, but at the same time is shaped in such a way that the bag will not easily come undone from it as I bounce from pothole to pothole.  I searched for months for such a hook for a cargo net and fell into the ones I am specifying in the build sheet.  Originally meant for my cargo net, they are also perfect for this project as well.  I have the painted black versions but I am spec’ing the unpainted stainless versions.  For your own personal bike, you may need something different.  Follow the link above and note the seller offers three sizes.

More Options

  • Most of the reason I used pre-made cinch straps rather than buying webbing and fastex-style buckles is that hook/loop strapping is much easier to adjust.  This makes it easy to cinch up the straps when the bags are empty, and fold the bags up quite nicely.  There is even a deep, wide pocket formed by this process that is a decent candidate for stuffing in whatever fits.
  • During testing of the bag when fully loaded, I ran a 15″ x 30″ cargo net from my top rack, over the bag and underneath to the bottom rack.  It provided great support to keep the bag from sagging, and held it firmly, close to the frame.  For really heavy loads this looks like a smart thing to have available; especially since it can lay flat in the bottom of the bag and take up no extra space.
  • I have a 24″ x 36″ cargo net (see it in action in Figure 1 above) that I can use to stretch over my entire cargo area.  Up over a side bag, the loaded upper deck and back down over the other side.  For big, heavy loads, a net like this can put a gentle, compressing and enveloping grip over the entire load in the rear.

Where Do You Go From Here?

Unless you have a Mongoose Envoy then your bags will need to be tailored to whatever your bike fittings are.  Expect to put the grommets in different places.  Maybe use a different size of S hook.  Don’t expect my project to work perfectly for your bike although the parts I am using should be mighty close to universal once you space things out per your bike’s needs.

In the photo above: I had so much room in the new bags after loading up my shopping cart, I never even used the 36″ x 12″ duffel that sits atop my 40″ rear deck.  There is almost 154 liters of pannier space in those bags, and after dumping that whole shopping cart into them (the front bags helped too)… they still aren’t full!