Rambler Bags, Kuba, and the Troubadour: a Bag for Banjo-Packin’

My name’s Kuba, I make the bags at the Rambler Bags’ bag factory, and I made this weird bag called the Troubadour for banjo-packin. The Troubadour is a roll-top bag for carrying full-size instruments on a bike tour with a padded modular external harness that uses secondary load-lifter straps to raise the weight to the external dowel. The original Troubadour prototype was designed for a 4-month bike tour that included dirt and gravel from southern Pennsylvania to Chicago, riding the New Mexico Off-Road Runner from Santa Fe to Las Cruces, mountain climbs, wild descents, clay-like mud, hail, and a final jaunt from Tuscon to New Orleans.

Previous attempts at carrying instruments included a banjolele under a longflap, a guitar gig-bag pannier, strapping cases to platform racks and baskets, and just tying the instrument behind my rear bag and running shoelace between its neck and my seatpost. Something was wrong about all these attempts, especially the last one which broke one of my banjos in a matter of months. I didn’t want to cave and spend hundreds on a fancy travel guitar that sounded quiet and I was sure I’d break – I wanted to carry my full size beater banjo, and so the Troubadour was born. It performed like a champ, had very little sway on all but the rockiest of conditions, and every stitch was intact at the end.

The Rambler focus is on good lookin’ proper touring gear, long haul bags that are made to be overstuffed, covered in dangle, dropped, dragged, and repaired with the most basic materials. At the core of most designs is a simple dowel attachment held in by several lengths of webbing and then drilled in place. What started as me being resistant to cutting holes in my nice new bags, like the classic Carradice longflap design, evolved into something far more useful: through testing, I realized that, when used with a rack support, the external dowel could be counter-tensioned to a rack to reduce sway by a dramatic amount! The external dowel made its way onto panniers (the ones in this photoset were the first I ever “made” out of British P37 backpacks and what I took on my first bike tour) longflaps, rolltops, whatever I was making, and it really shines on the Troubadour.

Since it’s a frankly weird concept, people usually wanna hear what caveats it has, and there are a few. Mainly:

-The roll-top bag portion needs to be filled to the dowel-line (about 15L) with soft camp gear for everything to function well. If you’re worried about your gear not being soft enough, there is an internal pocket for a foam pad. (I keep my sleeping bag in a compression sack and just compress it less when the bag is less full) You get on your bike via the top tube now.
-You need rear rack support and depending on your instrument of choice, one with a good weight rating.
-You need enough room between your saddle loops and rack for the bag to sit upright. The stock dowel height is 9″ but it can be lowered for riders working with less space, you should take a measurement before ordering and share it with me.
-Accessing the inside of the bag requires you to undo two cam buckle load lifter straps, then one G-hook before unrolling.
-Your rear rack should have a lip on the seat-tube end to get the counter-tensioning strap around. If it doesn’t, you need to put another loose strap around the back of the platform and counter tension to this.
-First-time setup will take a moment, and you may have to tweak as you go to get things just right.
-No positioning yourself behind the saddle for techy descents.

Now that I said the bad stuff, here are some pros and design notes:

-You can carry full-size instruments on tour!
-The straps hold adjustment for months and an instrument can be removed in seconds by undoing two buckles, then repacked by sliding it in place and closing those two buckles again. No tightening or adjusting after the initial setup.
-By counter tensioning the external dowel and using the rack loops on the bottom, there is very little sway.
-No balancing weight side-to-side like with an instrument case pannier
-When packed right it’ll never bonk yer head/back. I’m six feet tall and ride choco-bars atop 5″ of headset spacers – you’d have to be bolt-upright to have an issue. If the instrument is leaned too close to you, the bag isn’t packed enough. Overhead clearance was never an issue with me, although I never took it on any overgrown jungle singletrack. Shock cord side “pockets” hold things you may need quick access to like a rain jacket, and also keep the contents of the bag snug (can you tell I’ve thought a lot about reducing sway on this bag??)
-You can carry full-size instruments on tour!!!!

If you look at this and can just feeeeeel the adventure, the Troubadour (and all my bag designs) are available by special order via email.