Brompton Luggage C-Bag or S-Bag?

Because I’m buying a new Brompton under the UK tax relief scheme for commuting bikes I have a one-off chance to get a big discount on accessories, so although I have a Touring Pannier and an S-Bag I was interested to see whether the new C-Bag, which came out just after I bought my S-Bag, was worth getting.

cbag-official

I bought the S-Bag because it makes good cabin luggage for flying and quite a good briefcase, however I’m used to the cavernous Touring pannier and the S-Bag is extremely limited,  no room for anything more than the basics, certainly not much use if you are shopping. I found that it is possible to take the S-Bag and Touring Pannier on the bike together for example when travelling by rail or air and needing the luggage capacity of the Touring pannier en-route, but the convenience of a smaller bag for day trip, business or conference use at your destination.

The C-Bag is higher (can’t be used with S-Bars) but nominally only 2 litres bigger than the S-Bag which seems hardly worth paying for. So today I went to Cycleheaven in York to look at the C-bag alongside my S-Bag. I also had the chance to see the Carradice City Folder, designed to fit Brompton, which might be a much better proposition at 28 litres. I packed a selection of stuff that you might take on a day trip:

Light fleece sweater, litre of water, tools (in the wedge pack which is normally on my saddle), newspaper, book, iPod, pump and notebook. This pretty well fills the S-Bag

Here are the S and C Bags side by side

The C-Bag is bigger in every direction, and the external pockets look a bit more useful, with waterproof zips instead of flaps (no idea whether waterproof zips really work but…) The front flap looks a bit bigger with the zip for its document pocket much higher up. the zip half-way down the flap on the S-Bag is a pain with A4 sized documents. Although it’s bigger I think the C-Bag is still a practical size for a briefcase or airline cabin bag. It would probably be possible to do my S-Bag Saddlebag trick but it would be quite a big saddlebag.

The interior of the C-Bag is a lot better:

The yellow lining helps you see what’s in there (I can lose stuff in the touring pannier for weeks), there’s a divider like the S-Bag but it has a zip pocket in it, more document space. It still has a restricted throat (the real curse of the S-Bag) but not as small as the S-Bag so that should not be a problem.

Here are the two bags with the same stuff in each:

It’s not completely clear from the photos but the S-Bag on the left is pretty well full whereas the C-Bag could take nearly as much again. So I was convinced and I ordered one with my bike.

While in the shop I had a look at the Carradice City Folder, a few people have commented that it’s a good bag and, with its boxy shape,  its certainly a step up in size from the C-Bag:

In the flesh my expectations were confirmed. Carradice make robust kit but the bag just looks a mess. The shape is VERY boxy and untidy, the colours of the canvas, leather and trim all clash  (the leather will age I guess) and the general appearance is 1940s army surplus with a hint of the Orvis huntin’ shootin’ and fishin’ catalogue. The really horrible visual feature and the one that destroys any credibility is the combination of a leather strap with buckle and a modern plastic snap-fit fastener. Carradice are determined to keep their retro style but they mix traditional and modern materials in a totally insensitive way. I’m not completely prejudiced about this, I use the Carradice leather straps with my S-Bag saddlebag setup and I think they look OK that way because it’s a tidy and uncomplicated arrangement.

That said, if you can live with the army surplus style, it’s a roomy bag, with useful pockets and divisions and the throat is a proper drawstring affair like a traditional pannier so it should be possible to overstuff the bag. They do a waterproof silver version (1940s army surplus meets 1960s Courrege space suits maybe? Could end in tears).

(Update 20 September 2009 – having owned a C-Bag for a month I’ve posted some additional comments in a new post)

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28 Responses to “Brompton Luggage C-Bag or S-Bag?”

  1. Gail Says:

    Hi, I’ve just bought a brompton having hardly cycled since I was 12! I’m loving the bike and really enjoying your blog. Thanks for all the useful information. Gail

  2. David Says:

    Chris, thanks for the nice comparative review and pics. While waiting for my first-ever Brompton to be manufactured, I’ve been pondering accessories esp. luggage.

    I decided on the Carradice City Folder bag because of its larger capacity and retro styling. I see what you mean about the weird mix of retro and modern fasteners, but overall I like the aesthetic and will appreciate the fast opening/closing of the plastic buckles. I wouldn’t want to have to constantly thread and unthread leather straps throughout the day, so the utilitarian compromise is worth it to me. And the army green will look fantastic on my raw lacquer Brompton.

    To me, the modern Cordura materials and construction of the Brompton S-, C-, and Touring bags are too high-tech for the look I want, esp. the C-bag, which is unfortunate because it’s an extremely well-designed and functional bag. I especially like that its shoulder-strap attaches tidily, the rear pockets have waterproof zippers, and the interior is yellow so you can easily see things.

    BTW, the Carradice bag does NOT include the rail frame which attaches to the Brompton Front Carrier Block. Do you happen to know if the rails in the Brompton bags (S-, C-, or Touring-) can be removed and reused with the Carradice?

  3. chrisrust Says:

    Hi David, glad you like the Carradice bag, it would be boring if we all had the same tastes.
    Yes the luggage frame is interchangeable between the Touring Pannier, C-Bag and Carradice bag and it’s not too much fuss to swap it around. The S-Bag uses a smaller version of the same frame. I’ve also cannibalised a frame to fit inside a wheeled “road warrior” case so I must post some pictures of that. It’s interesting but maybe not as useful as I’d hoped because the case ends up quite heavy and limited capacity.

  4. Andrew Says:

    Chris – thanks for your thoughtful review. Are you sure the C bag can’t be used on an S bike? It looks lower than the full touring pannier so I would have thought it might work on the S bike.

    Andrew

  5. chrisrust Says:

    The C-Bag uses the same frame as the touring pannier. Touring panniers can be packed up very high but if empty I think both the Touring pannier and the C-Bag will not fit the S-bars, that was the design thinking behind having both S and C bags.

    But you can always go to a shop and try it. I’ve never looked that closely. I have a colleague with S-bars so I must give it a try.

    ps, 31 October 09, having tried out a C-bag on a bike with S-bars I feel it’s possible. The bag interferes with the brake cables a little and somebody commented that it may reduce cable life but the bike is rideable.

  6. Mike Stead Says:

    Just got the C-bag to go with my M6L. Cannot rate it highly enough. Tons of room (fitted 4 ringbinders in it the other day plus a 15″ laptop) but when not full doesn’t flap about as the lid velcros down. Balances well when empty or full, a critical feature as you will be putting it down a lot to fold/unfold the bike. Shoulder strap is very comfy. Overall, I’d use this even if I didn’t have a bike to clip it to. It’s that good.

    Cheers

    Mike

  7. Nigel Healy Says:

    Hi, based on your superb comparative picture of C-bag vs S-bag, I’ve ordered a C-bag, will fill the gap between too-small S-bag and too-big/not-enough-pockets Touring pannier.

    My personal goal, is to try to spend 19 days living out of the C-bag, California, Houston, Paris, Manchester, Preston, Keighley, Milton Keynes, Manchester, Paris, Houston, California. The Brompton part where the C-bag will attach to the Brompton will be Preston-Keighley.

    My C-bag will be driven past Sheffield in 4 weeks time.

  8. chrisrust Says:

    Thanks for that Nigel, California, Texas, Paris (Texas?), all easy but I can’t guarantee that the C-bag is up to the mean streets of Keighley.

  9. Nigel Healy Says:

    Paris, France. Yes, Keighley’s mean but I’ll only be Brompton’ing down to Keighley to get some Fish+Chips and then back up t’hill to me mum’s.

  10. Andrew Says:

    Excellent reviews, and very useful photos. I still haven’t made my mind up between the C and S, but I’m now better informed!

  11. chrisrust Says:

    When I had an S-bag I frequently found myself frustrated by not having quite enough space and wishing I’d brought my touring pannier. With the C-bag I’ve never found that and the touring pannier has been relegated to big trips and big shopping.

  12. Nigel Healy Says:

    My C-bag arrived last week and I’m currently struggling to fit all my stuff in it for my imminent 3 week trip. It is taller than the S-bag and the mouth is more open but it is not much deeper than the S-bag, so its capacity is significantly less than touring pannier. I agree that the C-bag has more room than S-bag, but I’d say its closer in volume to S-bag than it is to touring pannier.

    I would conclude that the S-bag is the one least likely to be useful and should be only considered for those who know they will carry little and/or for long-distance road trips where aerodynamics are a concern. The touring pannier and the C-bag complement each other, and indeed the touring pannier is now available at a lower cost and you can buy just one frame to move between the C-bag and touring pannier. If they’d designed the C-bag with small but important changes such as the rear pockes being deeper and the fabric not so cut tight on the front corners, you’d add another litre or so and not compromise looks or aerodynamics.

  13. chrisrust Says:

    Here’s a tip to expand your C-Bag – overstuff the flap pocket and it becomes like a separate bag sitting on top.

  14. Andrew Says:

    What a brilliant review. I use my Brompton everyday to commute from Manhattan to Stamford in Connecticut via the train, so a good bag is really important. I currently use the standard black Brompton bag, but it’s A) got zero padding, so I fear for the life of my MacBook Pro as I bump along the roads B) no internal pockets, so it’s hard to organize stuff in the big black space C) it has no protection from the elements. Other than that, it’s fine! Based on your review, I think I’ll order the C bag.

  15. Gareth Says:

    Hi Chris
    I have just placed and order for a Turkish Green M3L Brompton- my very first Brompton- and found your C-bag review very interesting.
    Does a carrier block come with a new bike or does it have to to be purchased seperately? Also, everytime you unhook the C-bag to remove it from the bike do you have to remove the carrier block if you then want to fold the frame? Cheers.

  16. chrisrust Says:

    Hi Gareth,

    You buy the block with the bag, there are three elements, block, bag and internal bag frame and you just need to check which combination you are ordering. You will need all three but if somebody has a C-bag they might buy a T-bag without the frame as they could swap a frame between bags. If you order it with the new bike the shop will usually fit the block pre-delivery (that happened to me on both occasions I bought a Brompton).

    And of course the Brompton front luggage block is designed to stay permanently and unobtrusively on the bike, does not impede the fold. The luggage system is one of the most satisfying and life-enhancing aspects of a singularly satisfying and life-enhancing product.

    As a new owner you might like to subscribe to the Bromptontalk online forum http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/BromptonTalk/ where a lot of knowledge gets shared but it’s also a genuine community.

  17. Gareth Says:

    Thanks Chris. Really looking forward to the new bike. I have always ridden bikes carrying luggage on my back, but I think the stability of frame mounted luggage may make quite a difference and probably result in a pleasanter ride (certainly a less hot back!).

  18. chrisrust Says:

    Gareth, that’s probably the understatement of a lifetime. As an old-time touring cyclist I can’t believe that people carry stuff on their backs. Even on a mountain bike you can quickly clamp on one of those seatpost racks for commuting etc. One of the liberations of the Brompton luggage is being able to carry everything you might need and then pick up shopping on the way home. When travelling, the Touring Pannier is my complete life support system – mobile office, snack-bar, wardrobe – all right there beside me and nothing to carry. The only problem is you discover stuff at the bottom of the bag that you had forgotten was there.

  19. John Bray Says:

    Is the S bag able to hold a laptop?

  20. chrisrust Says:

    Should be OK for most laptops although I’ve only used it with a small one. Being a fabric bag able to change shape it’s pretty accommodating. The frame inside is around 400mm wide so it should do that and a bit more

  21. Nigel Healy Says:

    My Thinkpad T61 which has 15″ screen and extended battery pokes out the top of the inside of S-bag. It is inside the bag otherwise with the flap still able to close. For maximum protection, either use smaller screen or C-bag.

  22. Gareth Says:

    I believe a new T-bag has come out for 2010. I went to several Evans in London last weekend, and none of them carried it. I understand this is the largest front luggage bag. Has anyone had any experience of one- if so what was the consensus?

  23. chrisrust Says:

    I’ve seen one at J.E.James in Sheffield. It’s generally the same as the old T-bag. Lighter weight fabric and a few details that make it a little more useful but nothing exceptional, certainly not enough to make me trade in my old T-bag which is still going strong after 7 years of hard use. The old model was made by Carradice who have a reputation for making very tough kit. I imagine the new one is by Radical Designs who produce the other Brompton bags but it doesn’t have the stylish looks of the C and S bags, in fact it’s uncompromisingly functional.

    But the T-bag is a very practical piece of kit and if I only had one bag that would be it. I’ve used it for commuting, shopping, camping, international travel, business trips, and it does everything I’ve wanted. The C-bag has the great advantage of allowing better organisation of your stuff – eg if I need something to hand it lives in the big front pocket – but the T-bag is definitely the boss for capacity, roughly the size of one and a half large bike panniers.

  24. maurice Says:

    regarding the bag frame, is it (usually) aluminum or plastic ?

  25. chrisrust Says:

    It’s a combination. Aluminium tubes and a couple of chunky plastic mouldings to provide the handle at the top and the mounting socket at the bottom.

    The original design was a one-piece welded steel frame which was a little heavier and a lot tougher but the plastic and AL version is fine and easy to adapt to unusual uses, as you will see in my luggage at the Brompton World Championships post

  26. Alexis Says:

    Chris,
    I was wondering if you can help here… I have very recently acquired a second-hand Brompton (M shape). It is the old model and hasn’t got the latch to attach the rear-frame once unfolded… It works perfectly fine but I guess this latch could come handy. Do you know if I can fit a latch onto it? And what does it entail to do so?… And thanks again for this bag review as I was a bit puzzled and now it is clear to me the C-bag is a winner!

  27. chrisrust Says:

    You can buy a kit to replace the seatpost clamp with the new version incorporating the latch. Several online sellers for this including sjscycles and (possibly) Brilliant Bikes. Brilliant Bikes have a great reputation for price and service, sjs are probably the best if you are outside the UK and can’t buy this locally. It’s easy to fit if you have basic mechanical skills. The new seat clamp seems to work better too.
    Questions like this are best addressed to the bromptontalk forum on Yahoo Groups, a great resource and very nice people.
    enjoy
    Chris

  28. Armin Buchholz Says:

    Chris,
    thanks for your review – it was very helpful for me! Now I have a C-bag which I use almost every day commuting to work. I got it attached on a german build “Bernds” – a folding bike which is equiped with the brompton block as well.

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