Tailfin Cage Pack Review
From the minds at Tailfin in Bristol, UK, comes yet another option in the brand’s growing, modular and waterproof bikepacking range. The Tailfin Cage Pack is available in three sizes, from 1.7L to 5L, and features nifty Speed Hooks that take much of the fiddliness out of similar bag and cage style setups. Cass got the chance to check them out before their launch for this review…
I have to be honest: I’ve never been the biggest fan of attaching roll bags to cargo cages. Although a few integrated models stand out – like Andrew the Maker’s Many Thing Sack – I’ve often felt they’re a bit fiddly, both to pack and to load onto the bike, especially on a day in and day out basis. Sure, it’s not so hard to run some Voile straps through a bag’s daisy chains, and they do a very good job at keeping everything in place and avoiding jettisoned cargo. But when it comes to removing them from the bike come evening – and then fitting them once more in the morning – they’re on the slow and awkward side, especially with cold hands.
Tailfin’s Cage Packs aim to take some of this fiddliness out of the process by teaming their excellent cargo cage with a three-strong range of cargo bags that all feature a set of nifty, rubbery ‘Speed Hooks’, serving to support the bag, hold straps in place, and tidy their ends away. These Speed Hooks also act as loading guides, allowing you simply loosen off the straps into ‘lassos’, leaving them in place until you’re ready to load in the bags once more. Tailfin says their cargo bags work with other cages too but points out that they were intended mostly for their own cages, as they’re designed to line up perfectly with them.
The net result is a system that streamlines both the packing and unpacking process. It’s a quick and easy job to loosen off the buckle and slide out the straps a touch, allowing enough space around to slide the bag out and stash it in your tent. Come morning, it’s equally straightforward to load them back in once packed, cinching the Voile-style straps tight again without fear that the bags will wiggle their way out, thanks to the way they hang on the Speed Hooks.
Tailfin is offering three sizes of cargo bags, but it’s the 3L and the 5L that will be of most interest to bikepackers. Whilst the 1.7L verson could be of use to narrow Q-factor gravel bikes (when mounted within or below the downtube), or handy for tools, or snacks and a windstopper on day rides, it feels like you can make better use of the eyelets on your frame for bikepacking. From the diagrams above, you can see exactly which bags Tailfin envisions might go where.
Indeed, it was really the larger two bags that we found ourselves using, be it the 3Ls on a set of Tailfin’s SFMs (Suspension Fork Mounts), or the 5Ls at the back of the bike, though of course there’s nothing to stop you from running the combination that suits you best. Just be aware while a 3L bag works below a downtube, both it and the 5L version are likely to be a bit too wide and result in knee rub within the frame, depending on your bike, q-factor, and body.
Over the course of a number of trips, we tried bags in different places. On rowdy routes, a set of 3L packs found a welcome home on Emma’s Hayduke suspension fork, where the extra capacity was welcome given her lack of a framebag. On other dirt road trips where more capacity was needed, we ran the 5Ls both with Tailfin’s own AeroPack, and on a Ratking T-Rack. At one point, I doubled down with the set of 3Ls at the front of my Jones and the 5Ls at the back, though given their discreet looks, I found it useful to add some colored paracord to help identify them – say, the ones you intend to run on the driveside – as it’s easy to get confused and know which is which and what’s in where.
As with the rest of Tailfin’s gear, the bags are all completely waterproof – we made use of a few downpours to be sure – and typical to the brand, they’re really well made. Materials include a mixture of welded, heavy-duty 420D Hypalon laminate in high wear areas and ripstop nylon where it needs to be more flexible, like the roll. All in all, they’re reassuringly beefy and burly, and I’d have little hesitation trusting them on a long trip.
The 5L versions feature additional slots for a set of T-Hook compression straps – as seen on their Mini Panniers – but we found rolling them down a few times and clipping them upwards worked perfectly well. Note this size also includes a valve to expunge air, which can be very handy. We even managed to squeeze in a -5°C quilt, though it did take some determination, and the triangulated shape at the bottom could be hard to fill. Otherwise, you’re best off packing them with around-camp clothing, or perhaps an air mattress, or gear that you’re unlikely to need access to during the day. Like other cargo bags, their shape is created from their contents, which means you’re not going to want to reduce it drastically during the day, beyond perhaps grabbing a layer or some gloves. For this reason, I don’t think they’re well suited to storing food.
Cargo Packs vs Mini Panniers
If you’re finding yourself a little confused by all the options in Tailfin’s growing range, let me share a few insights. Those wanting to invest in Tailfin’s ecosystem and considering an AeroPack – and its various options – will likely be comparing them with the company’s own 5L Mini Pannier. Interestingly, the weight of a 5L bag, two straps, three bolts, and a small Tailfin cage is almost exactly the same as one of a Mini Pannier in the same size. In my experience, the pannier is definitely easier to fit and remove, thanks to Tailfin’s excellent cam lock system. Given that it includes a subframe, the mini panniers can also be loaded with awkwardly shaped items, like a pot set or food, and on top of that, the 5L Mini Panniers are easier to reach your hands into and pack. But on the flip side, you could certainly argue that a cage setup is more versatile. For instance, you can swap between the cargo packs and a set of Nalgene 1.5L bottles, fit the cage to other parts of your bike, and there’s less hardware to go wrong. The bags also sit less outboard. Personally, I’d still go with the Mini Pannier on an AeroPack or a T-Rack, but a cage and cage pack may suit you better, or even be your only option if you’re running a rackless setup.
As we’ve come to expect with Tailfin, an extremely high level of finish is reflected by a relatively lofty price tag. Still, there’s a five-year quibble-free guarantee. As for weight allowance, Tailfin recommends 1.5kg per rivnut but suggests checking with your frame or fork manufacturer if in doubt.
Here’s a full weight breakdown of the bags and straps:
- Tailfin Cage Pack 1.7L (without straps): 115 grams
- Tailfin Cage Pack 1.7L (with straps): 171 grams
- Tailfin Cage Pack 3L (without straps): 154 grams
- Tailfin Cage Pack 3L (with straps): 220 grams
- Tailfin Cage Pack 5L (without straps): 183 grams
- Tailfin Cage Pack 5L (with straps): 265 grams
If you need to ask what colour they’re available in… then yes, it’s Tailfin Black.
The cargo bags are sold with and without Tailfin’s new TPU straps (see below), so you can use what you already have, or choose the lengths to your needs. Prices for each strap are as follows: 40cm – £7.50, 50cm – £8.00, 65cm – £8.50. But if they’re bought with a cage, they’re discounted to £10 per pair.
Here’s the pricing breakdown:
- Tailfin Cage Pack 1.7L (without straps): £30 €40 $40
- Tailfin Cage Pack 1.7L (with straps): £40 €50 $50
- Tailfin Cage Pack 3L (without straps): £35 €45 $45
- Tailfin Cage Pack 3L (with straps): £45 €55 $55
- Tailfin Cage Pack 5L (without straps): £45 €60 $60
- Tailfin Cage Pack 5L (with straps): £55 €70 $70
As for Tailfin’s TPU straps, they’re available in three lengths – 40, 50, and 65cm – in a fairly universal width of 20mm, which means they should play well with other cages too. Compared to some other TPU strap offerings, the load buckle is designed to conform well to the material of bag, or even eliminate the chance of rubbing on a frame if used elsewhere, even if it means they don’t hook up quite as well as a set of trusty Voile straps.
In practice, we found the 50mm length worked really well with both the 3L and the 5L packs, tucking their tails neatly away under the rubbery Speed Hooks without too much wasted strap. However, if you’re expecting cold conditions and intend to be wearing gloves, the 65mm version is likely to work best with the 5L packs, as it provides more ‘lasso’ space to load the bags back in. The longer ends can then be slotted into the slits on the bag, even if it’s a little less tidy visually. We didn’t get the chance to try them in cold conditions, but Tailfin promise that the straps are suited to a “wide temperature operating range.”
- Completely waterproof
- Rugged and very well made
- Secure and stable to ride with, no matter the trail conditions
- Much less fiddly than many cargo bag and cage combos to load and unload
- Three sizes to suit different positions on the bike and q-factors
- Same weight, but still more time consuming than Tailfin’s own Mini Panniers (if you can run them)
- Costly, by the time you factor bag, rack, and straps into the bill
- Narrow profile means larger items, like a quilt, are a tight fit
- Model tested: Tailfin Cargo Cage Pack (1.7, 3, and 5L)
- Actual Weight: 1.7L – 115g, 3L – 154g, 5L – 183g (excluding straps)
- Place of Manufacture: China
- Price: £30/35/45 ($40/45/60) each (excluding straps)
- Manufacturer’s Details: Tailfin
Yet again, Tailfin has managed to bring an element of innovation and tech to a tried and tested method of packing gear on a bicycle. Their clever Speed Hooks make it considerably less fiddly to load and unload these cargo packs than the typical rollbag and daisy chain style setup that we often see. When it comes to choosing what to fit to a Tailfin AeroPack or other rack, I’m still more of a fan of the company’s Mini Panniers, should that be an option, as they end up costing less, weighing about the same, and are easier to pack.
But even if it is, there’s no doubt that roll bags and cargo cages do have distinct advantages. They roll up like burritos when they’re not in use. They make full advantage of the versatility of a cargo cage, be it to carry bags in some situations, or large water bottles in others. You can choose a smaller size bag if preferred, they sit more inboard of the bike, and there’s less hardware to potentially fail. With a range of three sizes and accompanying straps to suit varying weathers, Tailfin’s Cargo Pack and Cargo Cage combo is definitely a very well thought out and executed system for boosting the carrying capacity of your full susser, hardtail, or gravel bike.
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