When I am warned that my bag is falling off my bicycle I do not despair for the future of the human race

When you live in a foreign country one of the subjects that often comes up is “how to break the ice with the locals”, especially where language is a barrier.

I have found an unexpected source of conversation that lets me meet someone new almost every week.

My briefcase.

I use an Altura Urban 17 bike briefcase, a design that suit me because it is a big baggy number that can absorb laptop, papers, lunch, waterproofs and even a change of clothes.

To allow for its size it has one particularly distinctive feature – it is mounted on the pannier rack at 45 degrees to horizontal to give heel clearance. That is a really sensible adaption.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

I think it must be my second or third version of the bag and until I came here the angle hadn’t really crossed my mind. But it seems to have a really unsettling effect on passing Belgians, whether they be cyclists, pedestrians or even car drivers.

Hardly a day goes by in Brussels without someone approaching me with a look of real concern on their face and saying “your bag is coming unhooked”.  This includes behaviour like chasing me down the road even when I am thrashing along in my lycra and pedestrians rushing off the pavement waving.

Perhaps most unnerving of all for me is to be shadowed by cars and vans who hover just off my back wheel until they can pull up beside me, wide down the widow and gesticulate furiously until I recognise the magic words “sac” and “décroche” over the noise and realise I have found another good Samaritan, not a nutter.

Initially I was really surprised and slightly thrown because I don’t recall a single comment in the many years I rode with a similar bag in the UK and I really do not expect to be approached when riding. Perhaps us Brits don’t do that sort of thing, there are legends of two Englishmen castaway on a desert island who didn’t speak to each other for forty years because they hadn’t been introduced.

Now I have got used to it I am really rather charmed by the concern of the Belgians for my safety, and even the fact that they could look at a passing stranger in enough detail to notice the angle of my bag. It is a nice feeling that they care enough to make a real effort to look out for my welfare.

My alternative title for this post “Invisible cyclist? Get yourself a wonky bicycle bag.”

8 thoughts on “When I am warned that my bag is falling off my bicycle I do not despair for the future of the human race

  1. Some things do get you noticed. Two of my bikes have a similar effect – an almighty Giant expression city bike, which makes me taller than most cars and my birdy folder which has a WTF? effect on some drivers. I always notice – and I mean ALWAYS – that cars slow down more and give me a wider berth when using either of these two bikes. I shall try strapping on a pannier at a jaunty angle to attract even more empathy 🙂

    (as an aside……..very recently, the boot of a car I was using wouldn’t close and I had to drive to a garage. Over the course of 3 suburban miles, I must have been told 10 times, “Your boot is opening”).


  2. I am intrigued by how you reply to these warnings. Do you have the time to explain that the precarious angle is just fine and that they don’t have to be concerned? Or do you simply shrug and indicate that you know that the bag is about to fall off but it probably won’t before you reach your destination?


    • The first couple of times I was somewhat stunned and registered little more than a mono-syllabic grunt of acknowledgement.

      Now I am much more relaxed and I find a jaunty “merci, mais c’est fixe comme ca” makes the right contact, although then they sometimes seem a bit embarrassed to have said anything.

      Odd that nobody ever says anything to me in Dutch or English, it is always French. Super concerned walloons for some reason?


  3. Surprisingly, you get a similar effect walking through crowded London tube stations with your backpack unzipped. The scatty among us are constantly reminded of the essential goodness of human nature…


    • So I might conclude that riding with an open wonky cycling bag could completely destabalise the good people of Brussels!


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