One of my favourite things in life is to figure out how to fix or build something rather than to buy it off the shelf or pay someone else to fix it. This most certainly applies to bikepacking. When I started looking around for gear to setup my rig I quickly realized that the frame bag, the literal centrepiece to my kit, was going to be a custom job. The frame bag I currently use is a homemade job thanks to my friend Melanie and her amazing sewing skills. I’m not that adept with a sewing machine so when my wife’s bike needed a frame bag I resorted to what any hack of a bike geek would do. I procrastinated. If I wasn’t so cheap and had planned ahead I could order a custom made bag from one of the many high quality professional outfits but by mid-summer they are all so busy you wouldn’t expect to get yours in anything short of 4-6 weeks and often much longer.
In brainstorming ideas for making a frame bag one of my buddies jokingly suggested I make one out of Gorilla Tape (thanks Chris!). At first I thought that would be silly. All frame bags should be made out of fabric, right? That’s how it’s done. But then I started thinking, hmmm. How could I do it with tape? Well it only took a few minutes digging through the odds and ends in my shop to come up with a first edition prototype for a Gorilla Tape Frame Bag. I’m sure you’re thinking “Oh, I could slap together a little duct tape bag in no time”, and I’m sure you can. Well this particular design is removable, fully lined, remarkably waterproof and not simply taped to the frame. The true beauty of this design is in using a plastic frame that can be mounted at the water bottle braze ons. The ideal fit would be on a frame with two sets of water bottle mounts, one on the down tube and another on the seat tube. This gives the ultimate in stability and minimizes the need for velcro which I find annoying especially once it’s coated in mud.
Keep in mind that this is a prototype and that I’ll probably make improvements once this one falls apart… if it falls apart.
Okay, here goes.
- Corrugated plastic or foam core or a recycled political campaign sign
- Gorilla Tape
- 3/4″ OR 1″ flat webbing and buckle, about 24” for one strap or double that if you want two
- 1″ Velcro OR you could use zip ties. Approximately 12” should do
- Cardboard for a template
First things first, crack a beer and make sure you have all your tools and materials together. Start by measuring the length of the down tube and the seat tube on the inside of the triangle. Also, measure the diameter of the frame tubing. This doesn’t need to be overly precise and will give you a rough measurement for the plastic sub-frame. I added about 1/2” to the width to create a little more volume to the finished bag.
Once you have measurements you can cut out a piece of corrugated plastic to fit your frame. Remove the water bottle bolts then bend the plastic to fit the bottom corner at the bottom bracket. At this point you may need to trim your ends so that the plastic frame completely fits in the triangle of the frame and is centered to your liking.
Once it fits and you’re happy with the position you can use a Sharpie to mark the braze on holes. Make sure that the plastic frame is well centred before you mark your holes. Take the corrugated plastic off the bike and either use a drill and bit (much easier, cleaner and safer) to make the holes or use a sharp knife (a bit sloppy and potentially dangerous depending on how many beers you have before you start) to delicately punch holes through the plastic.
When you have all of the holes made you can take the water bottle bolts and put them through the plastic to verify that they line up with the braze ons. If you happen to mis-align these holes don’t worry. You can either remake the holes or ream them out enough to make it fit. You can always add washers to the bolts if the drilled holes in the plastic are a little too big.
Once your are happy with the fit of the bolts go ahead and tighten them down to be sure everything works. Double check that the plastic frame is centred to your liking before you proceed.
- Razor knife
- Drill and 5/16” drill bit (optional)
- 2-3 of your favourite beer (optional)
Now you can mark locations for your 1” velcro straps (or zip ties). Depending on the diameter of your bike frame tubing you should have at least 1” between the slits you’re going to run your velcro/zip tie through. On this frame I placed these at the upper most end of the down tube and the seat tube. I found that once the plastic frame is screwed down to the bike frame it needs almost no additional connection but on a bigger bike frame it will help stabilize the bag once fully loaded with gear.
Use a knife to make your velcro holes in the locations you marked. Once the holes are made you can feed the individual pieces of velcro through the holes and connect the pieces as if they were on the inside of the bag. It’s ideal to overlap your velcro by at least 2-3” where it passes through the plastic frame. Pull them tight to the plastic and reinstall on the bike frame to check the fit. Cut the velcro to length once it has been wrapped around the frame. Cover the velcro inside the bag with a piece of tape so it won’t slide or move.
Now is the ideal time to make a cardboard template you will use later in the process. Hold the piece of cardboard up to the plastic frame on either side and trace the shape of your triangle. Then cut out the template and set it aside for later. You’re probably ready for that second beer.
Now you’re ready to tape up one side of the frame bag. Decide which side of the bike you want the lid. My design ended up being a lot like a messenger bag with a large flap type lid that allows for easy access. That’s right, no zippers! They’re not practical to install on this kind of bag and besides, they’re likely to blow out anyway. For whatever reason I put the opening on the left, non-drive side of the bike. I don’t think it matters either way.
With the plastic frame securely in place you’re ready to start layering tape from the bottom up. Wrap tape around the edges of the plastic frame about 3/4”, or enough to hold it securely. Each layer of tape should lap the previous one by about 1/2”. Work your way up to the top tube then start on the inside of the bag. This starts to get tricky but just take your time and make the corners square and tight, minimizing wrinkles as much as possible. Be careful not to tape over the braze on bolts.
Once you’ve taped up the inside of the bag you can go back to the outside and alternate adding layers (inside then outside) to make the flap lid to your bag. Mine ended up being about 3-4 courses of tape. Leave the flap folded back for now. When you’re all done you can fold it under the top tube.
Now you’ll need the cardboard template. This part gets a little tricky as you will have to make a tape “panel” based on the template and then attach it to the plastic frame. This will become the finished interior side of the bag.
Figure out which side of your template would be the inside of the bag and lay that side face down. Start layering tape with the smooth side to the cardboard and sticky side up. Be sure that the lengths of tape extend 2-3” past the edges of the template. These will attach to the plastic frame.
Once you have a layered tape panel as large as your template you can install it in the plastic frame. The trick here is to install it loose enough to make access easy, but not too loose that the overall bag width is too flared. Try to install the tape panel to the down tube side first then fold it up and attach at the seat tube side. If it doesn’t work out you can always make another one. Be careful not to tape over the braze on bolts.
Now that the hard parts over crack another beer and take stock of the super rad creation before you!
You can now put the last layers of tape over the outside of the bag up to whatever height makes sense.
Fold the flap lid under the top tube and add however much length of tape you need to bring it all together for a nice fit.
The final step is to install the 3/4” webbing strap that helps secure and compress the load. I loosened the braze on bolts at the down tube and fed the webbing between the plastic frame and the bike frame then re-tightened the bolts to hold the strap in place. If you feel inclined you can put a hole in the webbing and put one of the braze on bolts through it but I found this unnecessary. Lap the webbing over the lid, under the top tube and install the buckles. Trim the webbing to length and you’re done!
Once you have finished one of these frame bags you will likely see many opportunities for improvement and upgrade. The main one that I have found is to better address the lid flaps at the front and back end of the bag. These awkward transitions can be hard to tape while maintaining a nice wide opening for bag access, but I think it could be done better.
The other upgrade I see is with the 3/4” webbing. It could potentially be integrated into the tape layers for a more secure design but it might not compress as effectively.
Now you can get out there and do some exploring!
Do you have your own bikepacking hacks, DIY adaptations or customization ideas? We want to hear about it. Send me the details and we will put it out there for the people!