The Womb

After trying a few different camera bags and talking with a number of people who are in the know about such things, I now have a secure and convenient system for carrying my DSLR on my bike. Here’s the set-up:

The Canon XSi plus extra lens goes into a modified LowePro Nova 160 AW camera bag that’s overstuffed with foam to suspend the camera flight-case-style. Then the 160 AW slips into the main compartment of an Arkel Bug convertible pannier with foam inserted in the outer pocket to further protect the camera in case the bike falls on that side. The camera bag is left unzipped (but snapped closed) to enable easy access by unzipping the Arkel’s main “mushroon” zipper. Set-up in this manner, the kit is safe and sound inside multiple layers of foam and Cordura nylon, yet it takes all of 15-20 seconds to access the camera for quick snaps. As an added bonus, the Arkel converts into a backpack, enabling it to serve double-duty off the bike as a backpack-style camera bag with the 160 AW inside.

Only time will tell, but I’ve yet to come across anyone who can attribute damage done to a DSLR to road vibration. In the event of a crash, I feel reasonably confident that my set-up would provide adequate protection, though a box-style (aka “boxy”) handlebar bag suspended between drop bars would undoubtedly be more secure. I’ll report back at a later date and let you know how it goes…

13 Responses to “The Womb”

  • Chris Cowan says:

    Have you had many falls on your bike?

  • Eddie says:

    I hope he never falls but if you do, Alan, save the camera and fall to your right.

  • Jim says:

    Over the past 3 years or so, I have carried my Canon 350D (Rebel XT) DSLR many miles in various bags less secure and less padded than yours. It has gotten banged around a bunch, gotten pretty wet a few times, and is often exposed to extreme-cold to room-temp transitions. Whatever the guy at the camera shop told me not to do, I have done. It still works fine.

  • Darryl says:


    I think you have enough protection for a child. But, seriously what you have will do. Falling over on a bike with your bags, or even one of them would ordinarily not be enough to damage the camera. I would recommend to remove the lens from the body, however, if collision with an external object or force is a concern. The reason is that any twisting or shearing action in the unlikely but arguably small chance it would occur, would damage the lens mount more than the camera body or lens by themselves. The otherside of that is digital cameras are more prone to dust on the sensor due to static charges and that the sensor does not advance through the camera like film used to do.

    So, in the end. forget I even mentioned anything. Live a happy and blissful life as a photographer, otherwise you wouldn’t even go out the door. ;-))


  • Alan says:


    “Have you had many falls on your bike?”

    Knock on wood… zero in recent years. The last time I fell was in my driveway while learning to ride a high racer recumbent – that was 5 years ago and I suffered a badly bruised ego. ;-) Before that it was a good twenty years of no spills.

  • Alan says:


    Thanks Jim. That’s pretty much what I’ve heard from others as well. A good friend is a pro fishing guide and semi-pro photographer; he beats the heck out of his camera gear. He’s using a 20D and a trio of L series lenses that he’s dragged all over the world for years. The camera body did give him trouble once on a Peacock Bass fishing trip to the Amazon, but other than that, they’ve suffered tremendous abuse and kept working fine.

  • Alan says:


    “Live a happy and blissful life as a photographer, otherwise you wouldn’t even go out the door. “

    I agree! Ultimately it’s just “stuff” and it’s worthless if it doesn’t get used.

  • ksteinhoff says:


    I spent close to 40 years as a professional newspaper photographer. The bulk of that time was using mechanical Nikon cameras. My “crash camera” – the one I always had in my lap for takeoffs and landings – was a 1969 Nikon F that had been dropped, gone for a swim (with me holding it) covering a flood and abused in every form imaginable. It was treated with respect, but it was still just a tool.

    The more electronic the cameras became, the less bulletproof. I wouldn’t subject my Nikon D-40 to a fraction of the abuse of that old F-body.

    The one time I had an unexpected mechanical failure was when I walked into an indoor swim meet from near-zero temperatures outside. The repair guy said the instantaneous condensation that formed in the camera caused all the dust inside it to turn to mud.

    I had been carrying my camera in an Arkel Trail Rider trunk bag on the rear rack, but I was concerned about the effect of repeated impacts on the camera and lens when I went over bumps and I hated the hassle of turning around to dig for it.

    This weekend I installed the Arkel small handlebar bag and found it solved both problems. There’s more room than I need for the camera, it has handy places for my business cards, note pad and digital tape recorder. Since it’s suspended, the worries about impact have gone away; the shell would protect it from just about any damage and it appears to be very water resistant. Best of all, it’s right in front of me where I can grab it for the quick picture that used to get away.

  • Alan says:


    Thanks so much for your valuable input. The Arkel handlebar bag looks like an excellent set-up. Do you use any extra internal padding? Do you carry any extra lenses, and if so, how are they protected from one another inside the HB bag?

    Thanks in advance-

  • ksteinhoff says:


    Arkel’s large handlebar bag has foam in the bottom, but the small one I bought doesn’t. While I was mounting it, I but a piece of closed cell foam I had in the shed for the bottom, but I really don’t think it’s needed.

    I only use one lens on the bike right now. If I wanted to create separate compartments, I think it would be fairly easy with some of the inserts I have kicking around from old camera bags and the like.

    I like some of the large bag’s features, but this bag looks like the perfect size for me. Anything larger and I think my camera would get lost in it and I’d be tempted to put too much junk in it.

    It’s going to move over to my new Surly Long Haul Trucker when it shows up any day now. When it does, I’ll shoot pix of it. My plan is to mount a second stem below the primary stem to mount the bar bag.

    Here’s the link to the Arkel site:

    Small bag:

    Big bag:

    For what it’s worth, Adventure Cycling had the best price I could find.

  • Darryl says:

    The real sage advice I have with bags, is to pack tightly. It’s the movement inside the bag that’s just as wearing as any impact from outside the bag. For years I’ve used a news photographer’s choice of bag, called Domke. It’s basically a heavy canvas bag with padding on the bottom and a shoulder strap that goes around the bottom for balance and support. It didn’t have bulky heavy padding but it protected the gear from most of the bumps and grinds and was very comfortable to wear.

  • ksteinhoff says:


    I don’t know about that comfortable to wear part, but I wore out three Domke bags over the years. It was obvious that the guy who designed it had been a real photographer. It put stuff where you needed it and it was well-made.

    Even my shredded ones were too good to throw away, if only for the memories they held.

    I normally used an old fishing vest for a shooting vest, but my gear was stored in a Domke bag.

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home says:

    […] in a small LowePro camera bag and placed the camera bag inside my Arkel pannier (I wrote about it here). This was an OK system if I was traveling light and I didn’t need my pannier storage space […]

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