While searching for locally made COVID masks, I came across a Portland cycling bag company I wasn’t previously aware of. North St. Bags is located in SE Portland, and was founded by Curtis Williams back in 2009, a bold move considering not only the difficulties of small manufacturing on U.S. soil but also that the Great Recession was fully underway. The company makes not just cycling related bags, but backpacks and travels duffels as well as PPE gear for virus protection.
The bags pictured above are the “Gladstone Grocery Panniers”, and are available in a number of colors. However, you can’t go wrong with basic black, no matter what bicycle you ride, and the bags look quite handsome as mounted on my 1975 Centurion Semi Pro.
I’ve used many bags and panniers over the course of my cycling adventures spanning the last 50 years (and hopefully continuing for many more!). Those many decades of experiences have made me very picky about my cycling bags. I want a bag that is so well constructed that it will last for a long time if not forever, and to have all the right features that actually work, rather than just looking good.
Most important is how well the bag connects to the rear rack and whether that connection is versatile enough to work on various rack heights and styles, as well as providing for adjustment when used on bikes with shorter chain stays which need to position the bag more toward the rear of the rack to eliminate heel strikes while pedaling. These bags fill the bill, with 3 positions for the hook and a very sturdy connection to my vintage Blackburn touring rack. It was a little difficult stretching the elastic loop enough to get the hooks over the rack tubing, but once on they are completely secure, with no danger of them popping off on rough roads. However, it might be difficult to mount them on a really tall rack. This hook system also only works on racks that have a place for the hook to connect to at the bottom of the rack. Most, but not all racks have this, and that’s why some manufacturers use the “Ortlieb style” connection which can absolutely fit any rack.
The stitching is straight and there are no loose threads or sloppy corners. The bags close with a buckle and tightening strap, feature two long handles, as well as D-rings for attaching a shoulder strap, which can be purchased as a separate accessory.
I also purchased this organizing pocket which can be attached with Velcro to the bag’s interior. This model doesn’t come the the strip already sown in, but it’s easy enough to DIY it myself. Most of their other panniers do feature the strip sown in, and it would be nice if that feature were consistent across the company’s product line.
Here’s where I will position the pocket once I have the Velco strip, as well as a view of the bag’s interior. It looks reasonably cavernous, but we’ll see about that shortly.
Now for the true test: how do these grocery panniers compare with the the best grocery panniers out there – Jandd’s. I’ve been using their grocery panniers, pictured above on the left for at least twenty years, and the bags still look new and have shown no wear. They have an interior frame which keeps the bags from sagging when loaded down. The frame collapses and the bags can be folded up when not in use. Of course, the North St. bags are not constructed with a frame so they do sag a bit when weighted down with a grocery bag filled with a few canned goods and some veggies. Anything much heavier and they might sag significantly.
Another concern is how the top hooks are positioned: they place the bags significantly higher than the rack. Strapping stuff to the top of the rack, as is often needed for oddly shaped items, is more difficult due to the high placement of the bags.
One advantage of these North St. bags over the Jandd bags is the cover, which could help to keep groceries dry during a typical Portland autumn downpour. I use a rain cover with the Jandd bag, stolen off one of my old motorcycle panniers, but these bags have a long flap. Unfortunately, it is not long enough to actually cover a grocery bag. As to being waterproof in general, the bags are not advertised as such but are constructed with Cordura, a tough fabric which is very water resistant and should keep water out for a while if the flap can be fully cinched down.
Panniers can swing from side to side, especially when heavily loaded. One way to minimize this is to position the mounting hook very low on the bag. The North St. bag can be easily pushed away from the rack, and has a lot of “swing potential”, due to the high placement of the hook on the bag. For comparison, the Jandd bag, shown on the right, has the hook placed much lower. I’ve never felt the Jandd bag swing back and forth while climbing with groceries, and I don’t know yet how the North St. bags will perform as I haven’t tested them out long enough, so on that count, the jury is still out.
I’ll be using these bags over the coming fall and winter, and will plan to update this post with my conclusions. But, so far I can say that these bags are well-constructed and practical. They easily hold a full bag of groceries. They are very competitively priced at $60 each, a price so low that I wonder if there is any profit margin at all. As many readers know, I am highly critical of our American-style consumerism which focuses only on price and not on quality. These bags seem to offer both, and that’s one reason to consider them for your next pannier purchase.