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Review of Green Guru’s Hauler Bike Pack Saddle Bag

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Taking my Green Guru bags out for a test ride on Marshall Mesa in Boulder, CO

During our travels this summer, Dallas and I were lucky to meet a few of the good folks from Green Guru, an awesome company out of Boulder that up-cycles old bike tubes and tent fabrics to make useful things like wallets, backpacks and panniers. We applied to be ambassadors after talking with them at RAGBRAI, and at the end of our season we got to check out their shop in Boulder and receive some gear to test out. I’m writing my first review of the Hauler Bike Pack Saddle Bag in total honesty.

Here are all of the positive features. This bag is like an over-sized saddle pack that attaches to the rails on the underside of your saddle by a clipped strap on each side, and a Velcro strap to secure it to the seat post. The best thing about this bag is there is no need for a rack, so it can literally attach to any bike. At 425 cubic inches of space, you can pack enough stuff in there for an overnight trip if you needed. This pack is made of up-cycled tent fabric

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The Hauler Bike Pack looks great on my mountain bike!

and bike tubes on the outside with a waterproof nylon inner lining. It has a reflective strap that faces back towards car headlights when it’s on your bike. This strap is sewn into the bag as a series of loops, and a bike tail light can easily be clipped onto one of the loops. Also on the outside of the bag is a small zippered pocket on the top and a Velcro pocket on the bottom containing a removable plastic stiffener. It has a Velcro and roll-top closure, with 2 more clipped straps to keep it tightly rolled while riding. There’s also a removable, adjustable strap that clips onto the bag easily to convert it into a shoulder bag, or pannier-shaped messenger bag. It’s pretty versatile.

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Now for the things that I don’t like about the bag. It can take a while to attach to the saddle, especially if your saddle is mounted all the way forward on its rails. The female half of the clip needs to be fed through the rails, and the bulk of the plastic can be tricky to get through and hold there while you try to bring the male half of the clip to meet it. I know in order to be able to tighten the straps down so the bag isn’t hanging low and loosely between the saddle and rear wheel the strap that is fixed to the bag needs to be short, but maybe the other strap could be longer to make this easier (or there could be a loop attached to the end of that strap so it’s easier to grab to tighten after you’ve loosed the clip all the way). The clips could also be smaller, but then you may sacrifice weight capacity for the bag. The only other thing that is annoying about the bag is riding with it. The bag swings back and forth when pedaling, and I don’t think it is avoidable. Maybe it’s my massive hamstrings that hit the side of the bag with each pedal stroke, batting it back and forth like a pendulum, creating some weird gyroscopic feeling while riding with a heavy load. I’ve tried using the bag with both my mountain bike and road bike, and still get this swinging. However, it’s much better than riding with a backpack! I’ve tested it on the road and on trails, and it’s actually less noticeable on trails, perhaps because the terrain is already bumpy and pedaling isn’t as frequent and rhythmic.

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Overall, I am very happy with the Bike Pack Saddle Bag. I look forward to taking it on more long mountain bike rides, and using it to commute around town (although I’m going to have to add to my collection of bike packing bags if I want to take my tent with me). I don’t have a rack on any of my bikes right now, so I haven’t been able to use panniers, and this bag offers a solution, allowing me to carry everything I need without having to wear a sweaty backpack.

To see the Hauler in action, check out this video description that Green Guru made for their Kickstarter campaign

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Review of North St’s Woodward Convertible Pannier

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Riding to the grocery store using my new bag as a pannier

I am writing this review on a bag that I purchased with a preconceived bias, so keep that in mind if it sounds slightly like I may be searching for a reason to love this bag.  The Woodward Convertible is a bike pannier that can also be worn as a backpack.  North St Bags, which is located in Portland, Oregon, was named for the street the owner grew up on in Montpelier, Vermont.  Unfortunately, I left Portland just before discovering this amazing local company, and had to wait for the bag to arrive in the mail.  Since I don’t remain in one place for very long, it was a bit tricky to coordinate where to have the bag shipped, and to make sure I would actually be there.  Consequently, by the time I did receive the bag, I was over a thousand miles away from my bike, so I had to test it out as just a backpack first.

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The bag converts easily between a pannier and backpack, with a zippered flap that contains the backpack straps while being used as a pannier and a velcro strap to secure the pannier hooks and bungee while wearing as a backpack.  The bag is also waterproof, so there’s no need for rain covers if it starts to rain on you during your ride.  There are good reflective stripes all over the bag, and my favorite part is that you can customize the colors of both the main bag and the reflective stripes.  

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Inside the main bag is a padded compartment for a laptop (or papers that you don’t want to get crinkled), and there are two velcro pockets on the outside as well as a pocket that perfectly fits a U-lock.  The side velcro pocket is perfect for my water bottle when I’m walking around town or already have my coffee thermos in the water bottle cage on my bike.

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I did get to try the bag out as a pannier when our friends, Dustin and Katie, from Alaska came through Durango after bicycle touring around Arizona and New Mexico.  The bag fits best on a rear rack, since it would hang pretty low and may hit the ground if you were to try it out as a front pannier.  There is a bungee cord with a hook that hooks onto the bottom part of the pannier rack, and two hooks at the top of the bag that hook over the top of the rack.  It does allow the bag to bounce away from the rack, since there’s nothing securing the bottom of the bungee to the bag, but it seems pretty secure and I don’t think it would easily fall off of the rack.

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This bag has been perfect for biking and walking around town and is wonderful for grocery shopping.  I am extremely happy with it so far, and would definitely recommend it to anyone who commutes by bicycle or even occasionally would use their bicycle for a shopping excursion into town.  It’s a pretty durable material, and while a bit costly for me, I think it could last a lifetime, and I feel good about supporting a local company that’s making handmade bags in the USA.

For anyone who is interested in purchasing from North St Bags, use the code “bagforlife” to receive a 20% discount on all orders over $100! This discount code is good until December 14th of this year.

A review of trustedhousesitters.com – from a sitter’s perspective

As the holidays approach and people are scrambling to solidify travel plans to see family, an important priority for many people is finding someone to care for their home or pets while away. Then there are people like Dallas and me, who are always trying to figure out where we’re going to sleep for the next few weeks (or months) and how we’re going to afford it. Websites like trustedhousesitters.com offer a solution for both types of people. Dallas and I joined trustedhousesitters.com on November 1st this year.  We have membership privileges for one year before we have to decide whether to renew or let lapse.  I have formulated a rough sketch of an opinion so far, from the perspective of a house-sitter who has yet to connect with the right homeowner.

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trustedhousesitters.com

First, you have to pay for a membership in order to contact homeowners, and it’s a bit pricey.  This could be why most of the members are older, retired professionals.  For homeowners, this filters through all the potential sitters and is MUCH better than posting an ad on craigslist.  Homeowners can feel more secure knowing that their sitter will not be partying or doing drugs in their home while they’re away.  However, as a younger house-sitter with no steady income or pension, it is a bit of an investment for me.  That said, the costs are well worth it if it hooks us up with the right home.  In most cases, the membership would pay for itself in just one sit, saving us on the costs of hotels or hostels.

Also, as a younger house sitter amongst a member base of “mature, responsible, house sitters with extensive references and resumes”, I feel at a slight disadvantage when it comes to getting chosen to be the house sitter.  We need to use our age to set us apart advantageously.  While many of the members advertise that they are fit, I wonder how many of them would run daily with the dogs in urban areas that have leash laws.

Most house-sitters are not expecting to be paid.  This is a great benefit for homeowners, for obvious reasons.  However, most people who can afford a membership can also afford to pay their sitter a little bit to reward them for doing a good job.  If there is no payment at all, there may be less incentive for the house sitter to make extra efforts to keep the house clean or the garden alive.  I assume that most of the members on here would go that extra mile just for the positive feedback to use a reference, but it is nice as a house-sitter to receive a little bit of compensation, not only to offset the cost of travel or the time involved in caring for pets, but as a token of appreciation for a job well done.  This would still be much cheaper and less hassle than boarding pets at a kennel or hiring someone through a pet-sitting service, and it would provide homeowners some extra peace of mind.  I don’t mind not being paid, but when everyone is offering their services for free, it diminishes the perceived value of all sitters. 

In search results, your sitter profile is not going to show up if you say that you charge “Sometimes” unless a homeowner indicates “I don’t mind” in the search query, so if you want homeowners to be able to find you, it might be beneficial to indicate that you don’t charge at all. I don’t like this, for the reasons mentioned above. Sometimes a free place to stay is more than enough and I would not feel right charging a homeowner, but when the house-sitting job comes with responsibilities like feeding and exercising animals, keeping house plants and gardens healthy, and helping to run a farm or bed-and-breakfast, I would expect a little bit of compensation. 

The reference feature allows house sitters to request references from other members or externally, and references are posted on sitters’ profiles. There’s also a feature to have a police report available, to prove that you have no criminal record. Homeowners can search for sitters based on references and police report availability. The references offer sitters great motivation to do a good job so they can earn more positive references to help them in finding future house-sitting opportunities.

The site is an excellent resource for both homeowners and house sitters.  It connects people who would never have found each other and opens people’s minds up to opportunities outside of their immediate vicinity.  Members are much more reliable and trustworthy than your average craigslist user, or at least the sketchy people are weeded out from the start. I have already started recommending the website to friends who may be interested in house-sitting as a way to vacation inexpensively.

Recommendations for the site:

Reach out to younger people and try to diversify the membership base. Maybe offer a Groupon or not charge a house-sitter for their membership until they have secured their first house-sitting gig through the website. OR, in addition to the membership option, allow people to join for free and pay per house-sitting gig that they obtain (members would not have to pay this fee). Also, try to attract people from other countries. Right now, the majority of homeowners are in the UK, US, Australia and western Europe. It would be nice to see an even wider range of locations, including South America and Asia.

Improve search result feedback. Allow people to sort search results in order of proximity, or other options. Your profile won’t have any priority if someone in your area searches for a house-sitter. Let the profiles of house sitters who indicate that they charge “sometimes” appear in search results for either paying or non-paying homeowners.

So far, I love the website and am excited for its potential in helping Dallas and me find places to stay while we are traveling. When we do find a house-sitting gig through here (and according to the site, 75% of members with complete profiles do), I will be sure to blog about it!

For those of you who made it through to the end of this lengthy review, Trustedhousesitters is offering a 25% discount on memberships when you enter the discount code, “nomadiccycling”!