Racks, baskets and on-the-bike bags are essential accessories for making cycling a part of everyday life, at least as far as I’m concerned. Most people start off with whatever bag they already own slung over their shoulder, gradually making their way through messenger bags and backpacks up until that epiphanic moment of realizing that the bicycle makes an ideal beast of burden and and can carry cargo directly, rather than just on the body of the passenger-engine. Rear racks and panniers are the first choosing of most if for nothing other than availability and general ease of installation, but over the years I’ve learned to love front racks and baskets for most of my cargo hauling. Full touring brings out the traditional side mount panniers, but day to day it’s a backpack for the essentials and front rack for everything else.
Enter the Swift Industries Pelican Porteur bag, an 11″ square bag made specifically to fit the CETMA 5-rail cargo rack. The bag has the classic Cordura outer and vinyl tarp interior combo to keep nature’s elements on the outside, with a set of four clips and straps to attach the bag to the rack at the corners. The square bag has a rolltop design that stands tall for overloading, with a large flap and long straps to keep everything secure. Inside there are a few side pockets for organizing pens, tools and small items with a single zippered outside pocket on the front perfect for the removable shoulder strap and a few other small bits. Besides the rack itself the bag has removeable corrugated plastic inserts in the sides to give it shape — while the rolltop is pliable, the body of the Pelican bag is rigid. Reflective strips, a light loop and a top-mounted clear map pocket round out the bag. For what it’s worth the bag weighs 3 lb 14 oz empty.
Over the course of the summer months I used this bag for daily errands and an overnight camping trip, maxing out the capacity and giving it a run at what I’d imagine most people are using it for. The capacity is more than enough for most anything I’d imagine wanting to commute with on a daily basis; my camera, laptop, lunch, and a change of clothes all fit. The weatherproofing keeps it all dry in a downpour, enough that I wouldn’t worry about electronics in anything but a deluge you shouldn’t be riding in anyway. You can haul a fair amount of groceries home in this Swift bag, especially paired with a backpack, and the rigid sides help to protect delicate fresh cargo. The bag swallowed up my weekly CSA half-share without a problem. For an overnight trip I was able to fit my lightweight tent, sleeping bag, camp kitchen, change of clothing and food for two (check the last image in the below gallery). The finer points of keeping the extra long straps out of the way of the wheels even when unloaded shows that Swift Industries is paying attention.
While the bag is easily removed and reattached to the rack, I found myself leaving the bag at home for some in-town trips as I didn’t want to fuss with it at every lockup. Not an issue with longer commutes, but for running into a few different places in short order (post office, bank, lunch, pharmacy…) I found removing and reattaching it a burden. Cough it up to me being impatient when it comes to my bike being ready to ride. It didn’t help that the carrying strap is on the top, rear corner of the bag, making it awkward to hold as it pitches forward and jostles your cargo (make sure those straps are secure). You could use the removable shoulder strap of course, but that would make the on/off process that much more involved with four clips to the rack, and a clip on either side of the shoulder strap every time you want to remove/reattach the bag. Like any front bag it can interfere with bar mounted lights, and while the bag has a front blinkie light loop, the days of riding around with nothing but an amber blinkie up front are over me. And particular to my use of a front rack I tend to be carrying small boxes here and there frequently, something anything but an empty rack and a few bungees can hurt more than help. The Swift Pelican Porteur is more for backpack replacement or all day rides than box carrying capacity, not an issue for the majority of rides.
Riding with a loaded front rack takes some getting used to, and is perhaps the main criticism of the Pelican Porteur bag. With such capacity it’s easy to overload the front end which can lead to unstable handing, especially to those not used to riding with weight over the front wheel. The unsteadiness goes away with practice — with time I’ve come to strongly prefer the feel of a front rack over that of a similar load on the top of a rear rack. If I was putting in the serious touring miles or going out for multiple days I’d certainly move the load lower to traditional panniers with a lower center of gravity and better handling, but for a quick trip or around town the accessibility of the racktop bag wins out every time.
The Swift Industries Pelican Porteur bag is a lifestyle item, as at home on the commute or the overnight tour. Everything you need for the day fits and stays dry, and the construction is up for daily abuse. The $200 asking price is on par with high quality backpacks and other bags, especially given the Seattle construction out of a small shop of dedicated makers. Choose your own colors and check out the other bags from Swift Industries at www.builtbyswift.com