Atwater Atelier: Locally Crafted Bags From Montreal
To prepare for this year's bikepacking season, Trevor visited Atwater Atelier in Montreal to explore and experience the maker's lineup of bike bags. He had the opportunity to get a hands-on feel for all the bags before installing them on his bike and jotting down his thoughts.
If you do any sort of long-distance cycling or off-road adventures you know how essential a great bike bag is. When looking for bags for my escapades, I value bags that are lightweight, durable, dependable, and versatile, allowing me to securely pack my camping equipment, clothing, food, and any other necessities while still maintaining a balanced and stable ride. With different combinations of bags, I can carry as much or as little as I need, depending on the sort of ride I’m on.
When I evaluate bikepacking bags, I believe it's crucial to consider several factors. First and foremost, I look for bags that offer a range of sizes and shapes to accommodate different items based on my specific needs. Durability is a top priority for me since bikepacking often involves rough terrain and exposure to the elements. That's why I opt for bags made from sturdy and weather-resistant materials, such as abrasion-resistant fabrics, robust zippers, and reinforced stitching. Another aspect I pay attention to is the attachment system. I want to ensure that the bags have a reliable and secure attachment system, so they don't move or sag during rides. Common attachment methods like Velcro straps, buckles, and webbing give me peace of mind. Accessibility and organization are also important to me. I want to be able to access my gear easily while on the go. Bags with well-designed compartments, internal dividers, or external pockets make it convenient for me to organize my belongings efficiently. Additionally, I consider the weight and weight distribution of the bags themselves. I know that the weight of the bags can impact the overall handling and balance of my bike, so I choose bags that distribute weight evenly and don't compromise stability. Lastly, I prefer to support local bag makers who source materials locally, contributing to the community and minimizing environmental impact.
Recently, I paid a visit to Atwater Atelier, a local bag maker in Montreal, to try out and test their stock bags for this season's setup. Narek, the owner and maker at Atwater Atelier, has been involved in the bag-making industry for over 6 years. He started small, crafting bike courier bags in his bedroom, and has since expanded to a spacious studio located in the Saint-Henri area of Montreal. My goal was to find a collection of bags that could be easily interchanged and used for longer rides, catering to both road and off-road requirements. I even wanted to see if they would be suitable for a light overnight trip. After discussions with Narek, we selected four bags that could be utilized in various ways to accommodate my bike and specific needs.
You can easily see that Atwater takes pride in their work. From sourcing local materials to crafting the bags and providing customer service, it's evident that you're dealing with an experienced small business. However, how do the bags perform outside the showroom? I wanted to thoroughly test each bag and see what it was capable of. I tested them individually and in different combinations to determine the optimal setup. This is where the bags truly shine. With generous storage space, they worked well on shorter rides when used alone, and even better when combined for longer rides and overnight trips.
Let's dive in!
The Scavenger Handlebar / Hip Pack Bag
The Scavenger handlebar bag and hip pack is perhaps the most versatile of all the Atwater bags. The Scavenger roll top gives you easy access to what’s inside and can be flexible enough to overload it and still keep things secure and still tie down things like a rain jacket with the magnetic buckle. On the bike, it's secured with Velcro and paracord with a toggle to be put around the head tube. There’s even a secret zippered pocket to stow away things that you need for quick reference like a map or phone. On the outside, there are numerous molle straps to make it modular for extra bags like The Forager bag to carry snacks or water. You can also quickly turn the handlebar bag into a waist pack If you prefer to carry the Scavenger off the bike.
Stowed inside the mesh back are an adjustable waist belt and buckles. No matter how I stuff the bag I find it comfortable. On longer rides, it comfortably holds my food, wallet, pump, glasses, rain jacket, and gloves, and still has room to jam in a tallboy or two for the end of the day.
Cordura 1000d nylon external, brightly colored 70D DWR internal liner, roll-top access, Fidlock magnetic snap buckle, YKK Aquaguard zipper, molle strap system, waist belt, and Velcro fastening system, approximately 4 litres, $188 CAD.
The Jellybean Saddle Bag
My favorite bag of all is the Jellybean! I've been searching for a saddlebag that's just the right size, adjustable without any annoying sway. The Jellybean easily mounted on and off the saddle in seconds and immediately felt incredibly sturdy. Everywhere I went, fellow cyclists would stop and inquire about it. It's compact enough to carry a towel and sandals for a quick ride to the beach or hold a rain jacket, light sweater, pants, and tools. However, for longer journeys, it expands surprisingly well to accommodate my OR Helium bivvy bag, Sea to Summit's ultralight sleeping pad, Spark sleeping bag, pillow, and even my puffy jacket. Admittedly, it was at its full capacity, but it handled the load beautifully and cinched down effortlessly.
Cordura 1000d nylon external, brightly colored 70D DWR internal liner, quick release saddle attachment, paracord buckle, fully adjustable and expandable, comes in around 4.5 liters, $164 CAD.
The Expedition Half-Frame Bag
The Expedition half-frame bag just looks great. I never really understood the laced paracord system before now. Other than looking slick, the lacing distributes the weight and doesn’t attract dust like other large Velcro straps would that can scratch your frame. Once it’s on the bike you never want to take it off. The one drawback is that it does take a few minutes to mount it properly. I gravitated to this piece for my longer trips that easily carried my tool roll, MSR pocket rocket stove and pot, tubes, headlamp, and food. It still leaves room for two medium-sized water bottles on your frame without having to jam them in. The zipper seemed indestructible and easily held everything in its place. Inside the bag, the bright ripstop fabric made things easy to find when it got dark and the extra pockets helped keep things organized and the smaller items are easy to find. As well, with the three sizes available I also found it fit my bike's geometry like it was a custom job.
Cordura 1000d nylon external, brightly colored 70D DWR internal liner, YKK Vision #10 zipper, top tube paracord lace system, adjustable velcro loops, internal pockets, 2.6 litres (medium size), $150 CAD.
The Wafer Bolt-On Bag
The Wafer should not be underestimated for its subtle yet rock-solid design. Thanks to its bolt-on system, you can effortlessly avoid the issue of top tube bags shifting from side to side. It quickly became my favorite, underrated piece of gear that performs its job admirably. It offers ample space to store and conveniently access my phone and snacks, with a zipper that never jams and effectively keeps water out when things get wet. Countless times, I could access the bag with one hand to grab a bar or a bag of gummy bears, sealing it up smoothly with a single zip.
Cordura 1000d nylon external, brightly colored 70D DWR internal liner, YKK Aquaguard zipper, $78 CAD.
After analyzing and testing all of these bags, it is easy to see why Atwater has experienced significant growth in recent years. These bags are well thought out, built with attention to detail and quality, making them my favorite choice. They ticked all the boxes and exceeded my expectations effortlessly. While they may require an initial investment, the knowledge that they will endure years of constant use is an added bonus when purchasing bags of this caliber.