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Sturdy Bag Designs: Cargo Cage Bags Review

Not super content with his Salsa fork bag setup, Barry tested the 3.5L Cargo Cage bags by Sturdy Bag Designs from Minneapolis, Minnesota. The bags blew him away with their eye-popping colorways and 'sturdy' fabrication. Read on.

Sturdy Bag Designs: Cargo Cage Bags Review

Up until recently, I thoroughly enjoyed using the Salsa EXP cargo bags. The EXP bags marked my initial foray into running cargo bags on my front forks nearly three years ago. They served me well and played a pivotal role in familiarizing me with the concept of utilizing storage on my front forks. I primarily used the EXP bags to carry food and cook kit, and their inclusion had a profound impact on my overall bikepacking setup. At the time, they were a revelation to me. However, the more I used the EXP bags, the more I saw room for improvement. I'll get into those points as we go.

Earlier this year, I had a conversation with Joe Mauntler from Steady Bag Designs, where he proposed that we test his Cargo Cage bags. Joe mentioned that he incorporated a ton of customer feedback into the design of the bags, which immediately intrigued me. However, what really caught my attention was the fact that these bags were specifically sized to perfectly hold a Jetboil. As a Jetboil fan, I used to carry mine tightly packed in the rear section of my framepack. In our area, where bears are a consideration, I always questioned whether storing the Jetboil in my framepack was the wisest choice. The option to keep my food and entire cooking kit in a set of front fork bags presented a neat solution to keeping food odors away from the bike. The bags could easily be detached and hung in a tree when needed. I was excited to try these fork bags from Sturdy and rethink my setup in the process.

Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Joe is a former bike courier who transitioned into bag-making after creating custom bags for his friends. In 2018, he took the leap and devoted himself full-time to his craft. When examining Joe's bags, one can't help but notice their purposeful and straightforward design. Unlike many other bag makers who often incorporate complex features, Sturdy Bag Designs exudes confidence in its utility. Joe's design sensibilities strike a chord with me as he embraces simplicity while offering enough customization in colorways to satisfy any potential customer. It is also worth mentioning that Joe obviously runs his business like a well-oiled ship, emphasizing clear and timely communication—something I appreciate.

Design & Construction

When I received the bags and took them out of the shipping packaging, my initial impression was simply "wow." Joe had mentioned that he would be sending a pair of bags of mismatched colors, and though I agreed without much thought, I wasn't fully prepared for just how mismatched they would be until I laid eyes on them. One bag was a pale green with bright pink voile straps, while the other boasted an electric purple color with olive green voile straps. Despite their complete mismatch and clashing appearance with my Surly Krampus "Tangled Up In Blue" frame, they still managed to look fantastic. Compared to my old Salsa bags, these new ones appeared vibrant and full of life, while the Salsa bags seemed like relics from a bygone era.

The bags are sized just right at a typical 3.5L capacity. When open, they measure 16" in height and 6.25" at the top, tapering down to 4.25". When closed, they measure 12" tall and 4.25" wide. They weigh only 7.2oz (204g), striking a good balance between durability and lightweight design. Furthermore, they come in an XL size that can hold anything up to 5" wide.

Structurally, Sturdy’s Cargo Cage bags are amazing. Unlike the Salsa bags, the lower section of the bag is completely reinforced, allowing them to stand upright and maintain their shape even when empty. Looking back, I was initially pleased that my Salsa bags could stand when packed. However, as the days disappeared along with the food in them, the Salsa bags would become floppy and messy on my front forks. I even had concerns about them getting caught in my spokes. The level of reinforcement in Sturdy’s bags is simply fantastic, providing a solid and reliable feel to the entire unit. One small downside to this reinforced design is that it makes the bags more challenging to store between trips. You win some, you lose some.

The Cargo Cage bags are constructed using 200 Denier Nylon, which ensures their durability and strength. In Joe's own words, he intentionally “overbuilds the bags to withstand more extensive use compared to the average user's needs”. While they may not be fully waterproof, they are rainproof, meaning they can effectively protect your belongings during wet conditions. As someone residing on an island, I would feel confident using these bags even in winter. Just don't go throw them in a river.

Installation

During my conversation with Joe, I inquired about the name of the bags and why they weren't simply called "fork bags." He explained that while they can indeed be attached to the forks, they are versatile enough to fit on any cage anywhere on the bike. Some riders even employ them in the inner triangle or on seat stays. For the purpose of this review, however, I decided to try them directly on my forks, boring! (If you have used them on your seat stays, please send us a photo - I'd love to see this in action.) Despite that, I opted to continue using my EXP Anything cages because, let's face it, they are awesome. While the EXP bags may require some improvement, I have yet to come across a cargo cage better than the Salsa Anything cage.

The true beauty of the Sturdy bags lies in their simplicity. They have been thoughtfully designed to fit any fork mount, featuring a single mount point that extends the height of the bags. Attaching and detaching the Sturdy bags from the cages is a breeze, taking only a few seconds. Finally, it was time to ride.

Usage

No matter the type of track I was riding over, the bags remained firmly in place, which was a stark contrast to the Salsa EXPs. I put them to the test on various terrains, including gravel road rides and even chonky singletrack trails. While I'm typically hesitant to use the term "singletrack-friendly" when discussing bikepacking bags, I must admit that the Sturdy Bags fork bags truly live up to that description.

Packing and unpacking the bags is incredibly straightforward, just like any other rolltop bag. The rolltop design allows for quick and easy access, no surprises or disappointments there. But let's talk about the Jetboil. Joe wasn't joking when he mentioned its perfect fit—it fits almost too perfectly. Fitting anything else in the bag becomes challenging unless it's placed on top of the Jetboil. I couldn't even slip my spork between the inner side of the bag and the Jetboil.

During one ride, I began to hear a rattling sound coming from one of the fork bags, prompting me to stop on the trailside to investigate. After a moment, I realized it was the Jetboil heating element rattling on the fuel canister. I managed to resolve the issue by placing a few leaves between them, and the rattling ceased. Hardly the bags' fault, I must mention that having the Jetboil upfront was new to me. If you decide to keep the Jetboil in a fork bag, you may want to consider using a liner or something between the element and the canister.

Wrapping Up

I must resist the temptation to overuse the adjective "sturdy" when describing these fork bags, but it truly is the most fitting description in every sense. These bags have proven to be among the most robust and impeccably crafted bags I have had the pleasure of testing. Not only do they excel in utility and performance, but they also boast an aesthetic that cannot be ignored. They look great. On the trails and at campsites, I received numerous compliments and inquiries about these bags. Their combination of durability and eye-catching design truly sets them apart. It is evident that considerable thought and care went into their design and construction, resulting in a product that not only fulfills its purpose but also draws attention for all the right reasons.

Starting at $75 USD and sold individually. Get them here.

✓ Pros
Simple and functional always wins
They look stunning and color customizations can allow for the matching of any setup
They are well... sturdy 🤷‍♂️
Quick and easy to get on and off any cargo cage
Perfectly holds a Jetboil
✕ Cons
The stand-up design makes the bags tough to store between trips
Slightly more costly than the Salsa EXPs
barry barry
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