Swift Sugarloaf Review: #basketpacking

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Thinking of giving ‘basketpacking’ a go? Swift’s Sugarloaf is designed to fit snuggly within the wire confines of a Wald 137 basket. With its side clips and internal pockets, it brings an element of practicality and refinement to both dirt road campouts and commutes around town. Even better, it might even encourage you to ride your bike more…

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Basketpacking 101

Basketpacking. Yes, it’s a thing! In fact, it has been for some time, thanks largely to Rivendell Bicycle Works and their enthusiasm in promoting this quirky-looking yet undeniably practical way of carrying gear. It’s also one that’s surprisingly all-encompassing, suited as it is to weekend campouts, daily commutes, and grocery shopping. Unladen, a basket has relatively little impact on steering, meaning that a setup like a rigid Plus bike is still perfectly capable at tearing around local trails too.

And, if the growing number of manufacturers making basket-specific bags is anything to go by, basketpacking is a style of bike touring that’s becoming increasingly popular. But let’s be clear. Given a basket’s position and its extra weight, it’s not a setup we’d recommend for anyone choosing technical singletrack as the mainstay of their bikepacking explorations. Rather, it’s a very practical option for those who consider dirt road touring to be more their style, especially when combined with the likes of lightweight framebags and seatpacks. Another side perk of basketpacking is that it plays nicely with brake and cable housing, which isn’t always the case when running a handlebar roll. And you can lash all kinds of things to a basket – both on top or underneath – should the need arise.

For those new to the concept of baskets, a popular model like the US-made Wald 137 typically costs $25, weighs 550g, and be attached to a small, minimal rack using zip ties, like Rivendell’s stout 335g Mark’s Rack M1, as pictured (tip: once tightened down, cut the ends with nail clippers to get a nice and flush fit). #Basketpacking #Basketlife

Designed specifically around Wald’s 137 wire basket – also available through the Swift website – the aptly named Sugarloaf resembles a plump loaf of freshly baked bread. It’s anchored in place with two elasticated straps that slip under and over the sides, making for quick and easy attachment and removal.

A waterpoof YKK zip runs along the top of the bag to access the main, padded compartment within, along with a magnetic closure front pocket and a zippered rear one, both good spots for stashing extra snacks, cutlery and the like. Inside, there’s another zippered sleeve, a handy area for a passport, money, keys, along with a series of open sleeves for a pen, papers etc… Bearing in mind this bag is designed for commuting too, these are all useful features. There are two colours available: steel and multicam. As we’ve come to expect from Swift, the Sugarloaf is beautifully built with obvious labour and love.

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  • Swift Sugarloaf Review
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  • Swift Sugarloaf Review
  • Swift Sugarloaf Review

Constructed primarily from X-Pac (or Cordura, depending on the colour), I’d describe the bag as relatively water resistant rather than 100 per cent waterproof, given its exposed seams. With this in mind, I packed a lightweight waterproof rollbag at the base of the bag in case I was caught in a downpour.

As for day to day use, the Sugarloaf is a joy to use. For the most part, it’s been my go-to method of hauling my laptop around town (an 11in Macbook Air in Sea to Summit’s Traveling Light Laptop Sleeve), along with a lock, layers and food, without the need to resort to a backpack. When pressed into service for weekend campouts, I’ve used it to carry my DLSR camera, protected on a bed of clothing. The padded structure of the bag means that it’s well suited to hauling pretty much anything you choose – food and a potset, for instance. What’s more, its ease of removal makes it especially convenient to bring into your tent at night, or even just detach and drop down whether you’re planning your al fresco dinner. Compare this to a softbag bikepacking setup, where everything tends to be strategically stashed across the bike: great for handling but often a pain to access during the day, or to remove quickly when popping into a cafe or restaurant.

It’s this portability that’s the real plus point of the Sugarloaf/Wald 137 combo. It’s just so emminently practical. On the downside, there’s a definite impact on steering, given where the weight is positioned compared to an ultralight handlebar roll, which sits considerably more flush beneath the handlebars. But unless you’re really loading your basket with your very heaviest of goods – better to stash those in your framebag, in any case – it’s one that you can likely get used too. Run it empty and your bike rides almost as well as you’re used to.

In terms of stability, the Sugarloaf’s two side straps are more than sufficient to keep the bag anchored down when riding gravel roads. Should rambunctious dirt two track be your preference, an additional strap is useful to really secure it in place and stop it rolling backwards and forwards. I found Surly’s Loop Junk Strap works especially well, as it’s quick to both loosen and cinch down, and you can tuck it away under the bag when you don’t need it.

As it is, I suspect that the Sugarloaf was designed for slightly mellower demands than the ones I put it through, which could be a reason why one of the top zippers is starting to fail. Generally speaking, I’ve not had the best luck with those that feature waterproof closures. While they work well at shedding water, I’ve not found they handle dust especially well. I personally prefer the burlier, non-waterproof style – like the ones used by Revelate and Bedrock – supplemented by a storm flap if need be. Given that the bag itself isn’t waterproof, it doesn’t seem especially necessary that the zipper is.

Elsewhere, the Sugarloaf has handles that snap together when riding, so they don’t flap around. Off the bike, they’re too short to sling the bag over your shoulder but useful for carrying it short distances, like a tiny duffel. Side loops open up the option of fitting a dedicated shoulder strap, which Swift offer for $10. Small point, but I also added in pull tabs to the zippers, to make them easier to use with gloved hands.

Swift Sugarloaf Review

Over a long, burly tour, I might be concerned that the elastication on the side straps – and the points where they’re sewn into the X-pac – could show signs of wear. But again, I’m looking at it from a hard usage point of view, rather than a day-to-day commuting/dirt road riding at weekends perspective. As it is, mine’s seen regular daily use and a 500 mile bikepack, with no wear issues at all thus far.

Things I’d like to see? For the price, the inclusion of Swift’s shoulder strap would certainly be welcome, given how useful it is from a day to day perspective. To help thwart water ingress, a lightweight, elasticated waterproof cover would be a handy accessory too. Bearing in mind my personal use is more demanding than some, I’d also welcome a series of daisy chains underneath the bag to further secure it to the basket, that can be used when it doesn’t need to be regularly removed.

Pros

  • Extremely practical
  • Works reallywell for both camping out and around town too
  • Extremely easy to fit and remove
  • One bike for everything!
  • Lovingly made

Cons

  • Impacts from steering if overloaded – best suited to dirt roads rather than techy singletrack
  • Top zip is undersized for more extreme/dusty uses
  • Bumps around over rougher terrain without an extra strap
  • Capacity: 11.5L
  • Weight: 350g
  • Price: $150
  • Place of manufacture: Seattle, USA.
  • Contact: Swift Industries

Wrap Up

Although running a basket isn’t necessarily the most obvious way to go bikepacking, it turns out it’s an extremely practical method… enough to usurp its weight penalty, in my opinion. Used in symbiosis with Swift’s Sugarloaf, it’s helped usher in a different, yet eminently practical way of using my bike. For dedicated dirt road touring, there are changes I’d make – like a larger, non-waterproof zipper and perhaps daisy chain attachment points underneath. But as part of a system that straddles both day to day riding and weekend campouts, it works extremely well.

In fact, the Sugarloaf and basket have also reminded me that there’s a satisfaction to running one setup that fulfils the vast majority of my biking needs – whether commuting in the day or heading further afield at the weekends. It’s a packing system that only really falls short over more technical terrain. Unladen, a basket has relatively little impact on steering, meaning that my rigid Plus bike is perfectly capable at tearing around my local trails too. This has the knock on effect that I end up riding more, because I don’t always have to go home to get the ‘right’ bike.

Swift Sugarloaf Review

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  • Swift Sugarloaf Review

Have you given basketpacking a go? Let us know how you got on and if you have a preffered setup!

  • Smithhammer

    Good write-up, Cass. It may seem like an odd approach at first, but when versatility and practicality are priorities over riding sustained tech terrain, it’s a good way to go. Here’s my setup from a recent 7-day trip in southern UT:

    http://imagizer.imageshack.us/v2/800x600q90/923/Nt6Tme.jpg

    There were some stretches where the riding got a little rowdy, but the basket/bag held up just fine and didn’t budge noticeably at all:

    http://imagizer.imageshack.us/v2/800x600q90/923/QE0Nbb.jpg

    And once in camp, the basket proved useful for other things as well…

    http://imagizer.imageshack.us/v2/800x600q90/924/L4o6HC.jpg

    I’ve also found myself wondering if I was pushing the Sugarloaf well beyond what it was ever intended for, but so far it has held up just as well as the other bags I use and abuse. And being able to easily pop it off and bring it in the tent at night is a great bonus. Agreed on the zipper however, and the zipper pulls. But all in all, I can see continuing to use this set up for lots of my trips.

  • Dylan Witwicki

    Wish they had the camo available

  • Nolen H. Brown

    Everything I’ve seen written about basketpacking is grossly underutilizing the basket’s customization potential. Shoulder strap pouches attach nicely on the rider’s side of the basket just wide of the feedbags. Intertwine bungee cord and you have customized slots for items. Zip-tie accessories like a helmet mount for a light to the underside. Just let your imagination run wild and the basket is really a blank canvas.

    As a budget bikepacker (geology student) the basket has become one my favorite pieces of equipment.

  • Smithhammer

    Agreed. It’s a platform that begs for customization and creativity. Personally, I’m looking for just the right set of antlers to zip tie to mine….

  • Dave

    I’ve done a couple overnights on my townie with a Wald 139 (the bigger version), with the stock mounting hardware that connects to the h’bars and the front axle. I also regularly ride pieces of our in-town single track on it as shortcuts to the grocery store, etc. The basket is remarkably durable and I love it. But for any sort of regular bikepacking trips, I’d go with the 137, because the 139 is big enough that you’re encouraged to carry the kitchen sink and then your handling gets way too floppy.

  • Dave

    You may be a genius.

  • John Rinker

    Not sure I’ll ever go adventuring without a basket again. Stellar for gravel and fire road touring, and very able to handle all but the most technical of singletrack. Super practical, and a basket really ties a bike together. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f2121fc46e19e76b2985bb0b8d4e46062f55d56b84add74140205f9c1324df7c.jpg

  • Zebadiah Hammer

    Nice review, what are the bars on the bike?

  • Andrew Wade

    What cage are you using for that 40oz(?) bottle under the downtube?

  • dirtnaps

    What handlebars are those in the title pic?

  • Smithhammer
  • Cass Gilbert

    Agreed. I use basket to lash on a couple of small bags underneath it as well – Bedrock’s Honiker and Rogue Panda’s Oracle. I also mount the velcro strap of my Lezyne helmet light too.

    I have a more in depth ‘guide’ in the pipeline… but it’s nice to ease people in to the idea first!

  • Cass Gilbert

    They’re custom spec Oddity Cycles bars; 30 degree sweep, 800mm wide, 35mm rise. Love them!

  • Cass Gilbert

    see above.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Yes, I agree. The 139 is wonderfully roomy. But the 137 keeps handling under better control.

  • Cass Gilbert

    Nice setup! And thanks for the thoughts. These days, for dirt road riding at least, I find it hard to imagine any other way than the basket (-; So very practical both on and off tour.

  • zero_trooper

    Wonderfully simple and practical for day to day use 😊

  • mat long

    What handlebars are those in the first pic?

  • happycatbasket

    Very true. Just a heads up, though. When you start attaching more things to the side of the basket, be sure to use a more secure means of attaching that basket to your rack. It’s pretty common to see people using zip-ties for this purpose, but they definitely don’t last when you start putting weird sorts of torque onto the outside of the basket.

    I commuted with a skateboard tied to the front of my basket and had other things inside. After an undetermined amount of time (probably a few weeks) with me doing the skateboard thing once in a while, the basket ripped off all the zip-ties and flew off after an unexceptionally rough drop off a curb. I use shoelaces now and have the basket lashed directly to my rack now.

  • dirtnaps

    Thx Cass. I’ll check them out.

  • John Nehls

    Load the rear of the bike (after the middle/framebag), then the front; put that basket/bag/wood/weight on a rear rack! You’ll thank me later! Plus, rear racks are cheap: Blackburn’s Ex1 can be put on nearly any hardtail mountain bike, no eyelets needed, for $50. I am a fan of a variety of setups, but I’ve found this one to be particularly bad for bikepacking. I’d like to share what I’ve learned. Keeping the front of the bike lite (often holding no weight at all) allows one to do two things much better. First is pushing a bike up climbs that are too steep/technical to ride. Imagine trying to will your bike up through a rooty section and having to get your bike up a lip 3ft higher than you. It is better to have your dominant hand on the saddle pushing the weight (which should be in the rear/middle) and your dainty hand on the near side handle only steering the ship. If the weight is in the front, it is far from your body and that makes it much harder (Physics:torque) to push around. If you’ve found a better way, please let me know!! Most importantly, WHEN IT COMES TO HAVING FUN, keeping the front of the bike lite allows you to handle your bike with your skillz: for technical stuff or just wanting to mess around. Its just more fun! See a stump or rock on the trail/road and want to pick your front wheel up it to soften the blow… Good luck with a heavy front end.

    I know the reviewer said that this setup is more for gravel than single track. So this is kind of expanding on that.. also adding that I don’t see the advantage of rolling like this. I like the bag/basket… just put that st*ff in on the rear rack!

    *this is just, like, my opinion, man.

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