My Thomson and Ortlieb Decaleur Hack – Morgan Taylor

Words and photos by Morgan Taylor

Carrying stuff on bikes can be complicated – especially when you’re a notorious over-packer who likes to have a DSLR on hand. The Wolverine is my first ground-up drop bar build in a while, and I wanted to ensure that both transporting and accessing my camera would be well thought out.

Since we got married last October, Stephanie and I have been putting the pieces together to take off on a multi-month trip beginning in July. Wanting to produce galleries and stories on the road means having a bike-camping friendly way to carry my camera gear. I decided on a Swift Ozette rando bag – and the Hinterland Collection made with X-Pac VX21 had classic rando utility with a technical, modern twist.

My Home-Hacked Rando Bag Decaleur Setup – Morgan Taylor

I got talking with Martina at Swift over email, and ended up heading down to Seattle to visit their studio and pick up my bag in person. While Martina does get out on a lot of adventures herself, she also loves to live vicariously through others. Finding out that Stephanie and I were headed in the direction of the Great Divide route and planning on sticking to dirt as much as possible, she recommended finding a robust decaleur solution for my Ozette.

With a few months before Stephanie and I were to depart on our big trip, I didn’t want to rush the decision. I had heard enough about cheap decaleur failures and didn’t want to end up with a busted bag holder in the middle of nowhere. I considered the Berthoud decaleur, but I felt the retro-rando look didn’t really jive with my build.

Of course, with our bikes rideable, I couldn’t help but use the Ozette without a decaleur. I picked up a camera insert that Ortlieb makes for their handlebar bags, and immediately I fell in love with the utility of the Ozette. At first I was concerned that my Gevenalle shift cables might get in the way; while they do make it more challenging to get into the bag while pedaling, I rarely find myself wanting to do that anyway.

My Home-Hacked Rando Bag Decaleur Setup – Morgan Taylor

I found my inspiration when I saw Robert from Ocean Air Cycles’ home-hacked decaleur setup. The readily-available Ortlieb pannier rail was a system that I trusted (and would already be using on the trip), and it being quick release was a bonus. The Nitto lamp holders that Rob used were an excellent off the shelf solution, so all that was left was the bar for the pannier rail to hang on. While his initial design used a drilled out handlebar for the pannier rail to attach to, the updated version used a kitchen cabinet handle from Home Depot.

Shortly after I began scheming, the light bulb clicked on: a two-piece direct mount downhill stem would give me the modern look the lamp holders did not, while providing a flat surface on which to mount a piece of bar stock. I looked at a lot of options out there in the DH world, many of which either had a single bolt clamp for the bar or a shape that wouldn’t work with my idea. I stumbled across the Thomson Direct Mount stem, at that point not even knowing they made a DH stem, and the rest fell into place. I did some measurements and ordered up the parts.

My Home-Hacked Rando Bag Decaleur Setup – Morgan Taylor

Once I had all the parts amassed, it only took about an hour to put it all together – including the most stressful part: burning the holes in the Ozette to mount the Ortlieb rail. I first put the DH stem on my handlebar, attached the Tubus stay, and then hung the Ortlieb rail on it to see where to best mount the rail on the Ozette.

Because I’m using a medium Ozette, I ended up having to mount the rail as low as it would go on the bag and in the top holes of the DH stem. If you have a small bag, you will be even more limited in placement options, but if you have a larger bag, you have a bit more leeway.

I was concerned that I may have to redo my cable routing, or worse, that it wouldn’t work out at all. I don’t have a lot of room between the front of my handlebar and the Ozette, but it turns out that this system actually creates more space as you can push the bag forward a bit with your rail placement. Using a different mini front rack, with adjustable stay lengths, would also make for more room between the bar and bag. Alternatively, you could run a bar with more forward reach and a shorter stem.

My Home-Hacked Rando Bag Decaleur Setup – Morgan Taylor

What I used to make this happen:

Swift Industries Hinterland Ozette Bag – Medium
Nitto Campee 32f mini front rack
Thomson Direct Mount stem 30º x 40mm
Ortlieb QL1 short top rail E107
Ortlieb QL1 top hooks E162
Ortlieb screw set E205
1 x Tubus Roundstay 240mm
2 x Tubus stay clampset
2 x random button head Torx screws

Rough and ready!

As with any home-hacked solution, I’m not saying this is the be-all, end-all for attaching rando bags to handlebars. But, I think it does a pretty good job of providing me with the versatility and dependability I was looking for, without resorting to custom machining or welding. There are potentially still some tweaks to be done, including chopping the end off the Tubus stay and finalizing cable lengths, but I’m really happy with how it turned out.

I’ve continued to talk with Rob from Ocean Air about the design, and we are throwing ideas around about getting the adjustable reach that would allow a system to be more universal. As I said this isn’t the only way to solve the problem of attaching a rando bag to your bike; I just want people to get stoked on figuring out what will work for their own needs, and to see that some off the shelf parts can help make it happen.

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  • This is GREAT!
    I made a steel frame to that same bag to be fixed with bolts to that same front pannier (using the front bolt and 2 rear), it works but takes time to remove and install, your solution is much better! Well done!

    • I really did want it to be easily removeable. I still need to do up and undo the velcro straps underneath when it goes on and off.

      • Why not add the same Ortileb locks to the underneath too? They do are bulky but maybe on the side, so you could pull a cord and release them.

        • I think that would be complicated, though definitely even more secure. It takes 30 seconds or so to get the bag on with the front velcro straps because my dynamo light wiring runs from the left side, under the rack and down the right stay to the hub. Without a dynamo light it would be a 10 second job. It’s been super secure like this, though, even with some pretty fast and rough mountain biking. For around town use I just put the rear elastic over the tombstone and hook up the decaleur, and it’s great.

  • kasual

    That wolverine is the best out. I see it cross my instagram feed on the regular and I always look up at my frame sitting on the wall waiting for parts (i.e. money) to get out there. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Thanks! I was in the same position for a few months, looking at others and planning out my own build. It’s rad!

  • AdamBike99

    Very nicely done! Regarding your cabling, replacing your standard shift housing with Nokon beads or Jagwire Road Elite Links would give you the flexibility to route around the bag rather than over (you probably know all this, haha). Looking forward to seeing/reading all about your adventure!

    • Good point, thanks for that. We used Yokozuna compressionless brake housing which is super resilient to going around weird corners. For the shift, I may do something up when I redo the broken ferrule (which you can see in the last photo). I accidentally used plastic ferrules; replacing with metal before departure.

    • Chris Balduc

      I have the same bar shifter/front bag set up as shown in this article. I have often pondered how to re-arrange the shifter cables so as not to block the lid, but the shifting is very clean the way it is and the obstruction is not that much of a problem. I hate to add a deterrent to a smooth shift with another bend in the cable routing.

      • AdamBike99

        That is the beauty of the independent ferrule style housings. They don’t kink or add friction when following a curve that the shift cable can easily handle. Traditional housing is the limiting factor- and friction bandit- when making too tight of a curve. One of the most creative things I ever saw in the pro peloton was Erik Zabel’s use of Nokon housing to loop his external shift cable back under the bar tape (Shimano DA 7800) before Shimano redesigned the system to hide it a’la Campy and SRAM in 2004. http://autobus.cyclingnews.com/photos/2004/tour04/tech/jul13/zabel_bars.jpg

  • trololo

    Awesome post and super clever use of the direct mount stem. Literally just bought the Tanaka decaleur yesterday otherwise I’d give this a go. In fact maybe they’ll let me cancel that order…

    • Tanaka is a nice and clean solution without any messing around, can’t complain about that!

  • Nicholas Tingey

    Definitely the slickest rando bag setup I’ve seen. I screwed a decaleur into the side of my timbuk2 duffle bag & have been using it for 6 months as my commuter/rando bag. It was meant to be a crutch until I could afford a Swift/Nitto setup but it has been working so good that I’ll wait for something to break.

    • That’s what I’m talking about! Doing it up DIY and finding out that it works!

  • Alex Hillis

    I encountered many of the same issues with stem length when mounting my own medium hinterland Ozette. I have a 100mm stem and managed to use the Berthoud decaleur, but just barely. The stem mount is pointed straight down and I had to make the holes for the bag mounts about 5mm above the small pockets. I’m impressed with the quality of the Berthoud decaleur and not worried about breaking it, but the repairable nature and DIY street cred of this solution is appealing!

    • What front rack are you using? I think the Campee 32f rack sits really tight to the fork crown, resulting in that decreased space. Something like a Mark’s Rack or even the Soma Champs Élysées would likely give more space.

      Beyond the aesthetics, the thing that deterred me from the Berthoud was the two bolts that come in from the side to hold the decaleur to the stem mount. I can’t say how they do in practice, but I feared they may rattle loose over time.

      With that as a background I looked at Rob’s Ortlieb hack and set out to put something together with as few bolts as possible. I feel good about the way the Torx (in this case) screws put tension into the rack mounts, if that makes sense.

      • rocketman

        I’ve used the Berthoud on some really rugged off-road rides and have yet to have any issues with any bolts coming loose. I also have my Ozette bolted to the rack on the underside as well using a SS P-clamp attached to a the rack with a bolt and a 1″ diameter waster inside the bag.

        • Right on. I saw someone who had bolted some thick plastic to the bottom of the bag that then hooked underneath the front of the rack. Once clipped into the decaleur, that thing wouldn’t be going anywhere, neither side to side or up-down.

      • Alex Hillis

        Using the same rack. Good ‘ole Nitto! I think the serrated washer in between the bolts will help the side bolts stop from rattling loose, but I see the concern there… and now am thinking about it.

        • It just becomes another bolt that you have to check religiously if you’re using the bag often. Definitely put some loctite on it.

          • A leather washer can keep it from rattling loose, too.

  • Kevan Rutledge

    Excellent setup! Question about the eyelet bolts holding the Tubus stay – it looks they’re female threaded to accept the Torx bolt. Is that right? I can only find male threaded eyelet bolts that take a hex nut. Can you provide more info?

    • Those are the “stay clampset” that comes with Tubus rear racks. Appears not to be available on their site, though the nyloc nut style stay clampset in the photo would still work.

      I actually wonder if the one I used is available separately, or if someone in the manufacturing business knew of a different source for such a simple piece.

  • Definitely going to bite your style on this one. I was going to go berthoud but this seems way more sturdy as someone who also puts their camera in their swift bag.

    • I can’t take credit for the design, it’s all off the shelf parts! Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

  • Igor Belopolsky

    This is great, looks like relatively easy to put everything together. The downside is it’s still expensive thanks to the Thomson stem.

  • Igor Belopolsky
    • Frank

      I reckon you could also use the clamps that attach a wald basket to the handlebars. I’ve got my eye on the handlebar brace on my kids bmx once they grow out of it.

  • PGH_small_adventures

    The question I’m sure many are wondering. How much did this cost to do?

    • The Ortlieb and Tubus parts are relatively cheap, and there are definitely less expensive / used / free options out there to connect them to the handlebar. It’s worth mentioning that the good quality decaleurs out there run for $80-90, so this system isn’t really that expensive comparatively.

      I began this project with a parts bin DH stem but it wasn’t exactly the right fit, and and the Thomson is a really nice piece that matches my X4 stem perfectly. When you’ve scrutinized every single piece of a bike build, you’re willing to shell out an extra few bucks for the part that is exactly what you want.

      • PGH_small_adventures

        I really was just impartially asking for a figure on price. Mentioning that you can find parts used is helpful, and obviously the cost suited the multi-month trip you were creating it for. Thanks for the reply.

        • The prices are online for everything on the parts list. About $40 for the Ortlieb/Tubus stuff and whatever your chosen direct mount stem costs.

          • PGH_small_adventures

            It really does look like it was meant to be there, it’s just so clean.

  • Depestel Christ

    Is it ok to steal this idea ? I’m gonna use two clamps that were used as extra electronical mount. Same idea , different clamps ; Thx !!

    • For sure! Post a photo of your finished product when you’ve got it done.

      • Depestel Christ

        Will do , just waiting for the second clamp to arrive.

    • ap

      I had a similar idea after seeing the Ocean air version but the one complication and what makes the Thomson version a bit better is that light bar is a 22.2 diameter bar. You’ll need an 8/11/or 16 mm bar for the Ortlieb QL1/2 hooks to mount onto. So you’d need to find a way to shim down from the 22.2 clamp to a 16 mm rod, or similar to the Ocean air solution have another secondary rod in the 16 mm diam. that is attached to the 22.2 mm light bar. http://oceanaircycles.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/8.30-decaleur-hack-1-1024×645.jpg

      • One of Rob’s later versions just bolts the cabinet handle (same as in the photo you posted) directly to the lamp holder, skipping the drilled out chunk of handlebar.

    • Depestel Christ

      Forgot to mention that i’m gonna use this idea to hold my harnas with drybag.

  • I’ve made a decaleur hack using rack hardware as well but mine is not quick release. It utilizes the rear facing bolts on an Oval Concepts stem and then two bent and cut rack stays with the mounting hardware bolted directly to my Acorn Boxy Rando bag.

  • Frank
    • On the somewhat industrial side of the spectrum aesthetically, but definitely possible.

  • AaronBenjamin

    Dear frame bag manufacturers: It shouldn’t be this hard. Best regards, cyclists everywhere.

  • colinworobetz

    Shit Morgan that’s clean as hell! If you end up wanting any more custom-fab hacks give me a shout, especially if you’re in Van, I’d be happy to fab/prototype cool shit for free99

    • Thanks Colin! I’ve got some ideas brewing for a more adaptable setup…

  • Masterchief

    Pretty clever execution with the ortlieb qr! It actually seems like the world needs a well thought through, adjustable, with a qr version of the decaleur for the modern threadless stem.

  • Ok, somebody has to… ‘OMG what bar tape is that?’

    • Soma Thick ‘n Zesty Striated in “grass stain” (green camo). Really nice texture and grip from the striations!

  • Finally got around to checking this out, nice effing work on this one man!

  • Jon Schultz

    Here is my make-shift decaleur for my large Ozette bag. My XL Salsa Marrakesh was too big for any of the standard decaleurs out there.
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/jon_baler/26298401703/
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/jon_baler/26629617470

    I used an old pump mount and Minoura Accessory Holder with Angle Adjustable LW-Clamp. The clamp mounts on the stem, so it doesn’t clutter your bars. The pump mount uses standard bottle cage spacing should I ever need to replace it.

    Been using it for a few weeks, and it seems really stable and looks clean. I added a 4″ x 6″ sheet of plastic sheet from my old VO bag in the internal layers of the bag to
    help stiffen and spread the load. I thought about adding a strip of aluminum sheet metal with additional outboard mounting points, but seems ok for now.

    A wrap of electrical tape at the on the bar prevents most of the side-side shifting by blocking the hook. The velcro strap is a rubber backed for additional friction, though it is overkill with the straps under the bag.

    • Nice! I like the pump mount. Again, good use of off-the-shelf parts.

    • StaySaneSleepOutside

      Genius!

  • jc

    if anyone is following the recipe above, this bundle saves a little $$ on a few of the Tubus items: https://ortliebusa.com/product/mounting-set-for-classic-carriers/