Preview: Hjeltness Panniers
I’m really excited to give an exclusive preview of these fantastic looking panniers by Eric Hjeltness of Hjeltness Panniers (Yes, it’s a Facebook page. They don’t have a website yet). Eric’s family business has been estoring European sports cars, specifically, specializing in ground-up restorations of the Mercedes 300SL gullwing. When the economy turned south, he started to look for other forms of income. Being a cyclist himself, he decided to try his hand at making bicycle accessories.
Utilizing his knowledge of materials from car restoration, Hjeltness bags are made out of the same waterproof material used in the convertible tops of automobiles. His first handlebar bags were made from scrap pieces that his upholsterer had. Currently, he is offering a full product line: a handlebar bag called the Bar Duffle; a seatbag called the Lunch Pail; front panniers Rosie Bags and large rear panniers called Fantastic Voyage.
His aesthetics lean heavy on the classic, so he has opted for leather straps rather than quick releases; leather instead of plastic webbing and rich looking plaid patterns instead of the boring ho-hum technical fabrics that most mass produced bag manufacturers offer.
For Eric, the process of making the panniers have also given him an opportunity to involve his family. “My three oldest kids really helped a lot. Sjur my oldest is 18. He riveted every stiffener sheet into every bag plus made the HJELTNESS emblems. Tahna, my oldest girl is 17. She also helped make the HJELTNESS emblems and riveted them on and blew clean, stuffed, bagged, and labeled every pannier and small bag. Terren my next oldest girl is 13. She also cleaned, bagged, etc. etc.”
Now on to the bags. I only had access to the bags for a short time and didn’t get to do an actual tour with them, so this is more a preview than a full blown user review.
First, the bag material. The plaids are beautiful. This is where Eric’s eye for classic aesthetics really stands out. The color combinations are masterfully chosen. The material he uses is a canvas or vinyl canvas that is used for the tops of convertibles. Eric says that the material itself is waterproof, but the bags may leak through the seams if subjected to heavy rain.
The vinyl canvas is soft and pliable, similar to the leather of a driving glove. Again, having not used the bags for any long period of time I can’t really comment about their durability over heavy use. However, I would be weary of packing anything with sharp edges that could abrade or puncture the bags. Further, I would have some concerns about the scuff resistance of the vinyl canvas (again, not something I tested since these were loaners).
The bags all utilize leather straps to wrap around the handlebars, seatpost, rack tubing etc., On the set I received, the leather straps on the handle bar bag were a little on the short side. The widest setting had the bag fairly snug to the handlebars. So close, in fact that I couldn’t wrap my fingers across the straight section of the bar. I told Eric about this and they’re looking into lengthening them.
The panniers utilize a hook spring that must be custom made to the dimensions of the rack you are using. It is a very secure mounting system that really keeps the bottoms of the bags from flailing around. They seem infinitely better than traditional bungee hooks. The downside, however, is if you use the bags on multiple bikes with different racks, you may run into some compatibility issues.
The interiors of the bags are simple with no interior pockets. Unfortunately, this is where the bags could see more improvement. With the panniers, the stiffener material (a black corrugated plastic), and the rivets are exposed and this sort of breaks up the aesthetic of the exterior. There’s nothing to conceal the hardware. I’ve tried bags by several makers and generally there is some attempt to cover the interior with fabric and hide the hardware. This is largely aesthetic and probably has no functional affect on the product, but it would be nice to see as much detail applied to the interior of the bags as well. In terms of finishing, there were some slight issues with straight seams and the trim in parts puckered or was not cut perfectly straight.
These are, of course, some of the idiosyncrasies of handmade products. Hjeltness Panniers is still a new venture for Eric, so there are still some growing pains in production. However, If he continues to pursue pannier making, he could have some of the nicest looking bags on the market.