Tailfin Top Tube Packs Review
In this review, Cass Gilbert and Neil Beltchenko check out Tailfin’s latest release, a range of five top tube packs available in three sizes and with two closure systems. As we’ve come to expect from this innovative brand, they find there’s far more to these bags than initially meets the eye…
It’s probably fair to say that those of us here who have tried Tailfin’s distinctive bikepacking products, such as the easy-to-fit AeroPack or the noiseless Mini Panniers, have come to appreciate that when there’s a new launch, it’s unlikely to come in half measures. Tailfin gear is invariably different from anything else on the market, designed with a level of detail and imbued with an engineering confidence that we don’t often see in the bikepacking world. Their products also tend to be available in a somewhat bewildering range of options that can take a moment or two to wrap your head around.
As petite as they may be, Tailfin’s new top tube packs are no different. At first glance, a line-up of five models, ranging from 0.8L to 1.5L in capacity and sporting a choice of two different openings, might indeed seem a little excessive. However, it’s the 1.1L versions of their brand new top tube packs – be it with a zip closure or in flip-lid flavour – that will likely be the Goldilocks size for many bikepackers. This is the model that Tailfin positions towards both gravel riding and mountain biking, thanks to a slim, tapered profile that should suit a variety of Q-factors and a capacity that’s generous without being excessive.
First things first. What makes this new range of top tube packs different from the many others we’ve seen so far? For the most part, it’s Tailfin’s proprietary attachment system that they all share. These V-Mounts, as they’re dubbed by Tailfin, are a revised version of the system used in their downtube bags, using a similar mount in a rubberised boot, in conjunction with the brand’s own grippy, Voile-style TPU straps.
Teamed together, this results in a top tube pack that stays stubbornly in place over the very roughest of terrain, without ever leaning to one side or scuffing your frame’s finish. The straps can also wrap around all manner of frame sizes and shapes – like a narrow steel tubeset or my more complex Jones titanium Spaceframe, as seen below. Very impressive!
What’s more, these V-Mounts, combined with the top tube pack’s HDPE plastic base, offer enough inherent structure that there’s no need the steerer tube stabilising strap that we’re used to seeing, at least without devices like DrJ0n’s DeWidget or Rockgeist’s Spacelink. This is actually very useful. Not only will this please those with minimal spacers between their stem and headset, it also allows the pack to be positioned a centimetre or two down the toptube, ensuring that your top tube bag and stem bags are no longer perpetually wrestling for space—a match that, in my experience, stem bags generally win. Plus, they’re that bit quicker and easier to install.
Each bag even comes with three straps – two are a standard short length and will suit most traditional steel, titanium, and aluminium frames, while a third, at 36cm, can reach all the way around thick, hydroformed headtube junctions or similarly bulbous carbon designs, where there’s no room to thread a strap through. The 36cm strap isn’t picured as my samples didn’t ship with them, but the final versions will.
Those of you with frames that sport direct mount top tube eyelets aren’t left out either. The rubberised boots are pre-cut with a small slot, allowing the included bolts to secure the bag directly to your frame for an especially neat finish – you can see this in action in Neil’s video below. There’s even two bolt positions, offering a degree of adjustment.
Materials-wise, all the packs use a lighweight version of the Hyperlon/Diamond Ripstop Nylon we’ve seen on other Tailfin gear, which is 3D welded and has proved robust over the couple of months we’ve been running them – uses have included commuting around town, burly mountain bike rides, and a number of local bikepacking trips.
As for the two styles of closures, one design features a waterproof zip that’s provoved easy to access one-handed and completely snag-free, while the other includes Tailfin’s own take on a magnetic Fidlock – the Mag-Lock, that incorporates both an elasticated cord and a magnet for an especially secure, positive closure that hasn’t popped free despite a number of rough-stuff trail rides.
Choosing between the flip lid or zip closure will largely be down to personal preference, though each has its subtle advantages and disadvantages. For instance, the zip version can be easily accessed one-handed and on the move, which is a real boon, whilst the flip lid tends to close in on itself, which sometimes makes it a little trickier to dip into while riding. However, as the zip runs the length of the bag, we did feel the need to take care that smaller objects, like a tube of chapstick, didn’t accidentally work their way out when the pack was open, especially on frames with more steeply angled top tubes. In contrast, the more boxy, high-sided proportions of the flip lid pack does a better job at keeping everything trapped within.
Whilst both have prooved waterproof during the showers we’ve had recently, the flip lid pack should be more resistant to longer, heavier deluges or being left out in the rain overnight – though it can sometimes take additional adjustment to make sure its skirt is in place. Then again, if you’re aurally sensitive to your environment, the zip does jangle a bit, and I noticed the black finish chipped a little too.
Whichever you prefer, both feature the same ‘taco-shell’ side panels – also made from HDPE – that help these packs hold their shape. I’d note, though, that these side panels aren’t as stiff as most top tube bags I’ve tried in the past. On the one hand, this means that awkwardly shaped items can dictate the shape of the bag to some degree, but on the other, the packs are more likely to deform if top tube clearance is tight, so there’s less chance of inflicting harm to sensitive parts of the body. I found the zip version tends to hold its shape better, just because the zip corsets everything together. In fact, after my production samples were initially sent to me, Tailfin added two carbon struts to its flip lid model to improve its internal structure. These are held in place using the existing velcro and two retainers, and you can choose to run them or not. I found they made a worthwhile difference.
Both packs include an elasticated mesh pouch to one side, which is ideal for keeping a phone, a powerbank, or a set of keys in place. And both feature replaceable hardware, though the flip lid may well be more durable in the long run, given that it’s zipper-free. In fact, you can even replace the elasticated cord if and when it does eventually wear out.
Differences between the Zip and Flip Lid closures:
Hold its shape well
More easily accessed one handed, on the move
Slightly slimmer profile in equivalent sizes
Flip Lid pack:
More water resistant
Less likely to have small objects fall out
No zip to fail and it features a replaceable elasticated cord
Backtracking a bit, let’s talk briefly about the supersized 1.5L versions. Both are rather boxy, and visually, they do look very big. Unless you can only run a small framebag and you’re looking at making up some extra volume (which these bags can certainly do), they’re probably overkill for shorter bikepacking trips and day rides, and are perhaps better suited to long distance bikepackers, expeditionists, and fat bikers. Because of their inherent width and height, the ensuing weight that will likely result if they’re packed full, and the lack of stiff side panels, there can be a very small amount of oscillation on really bumpy roads – even if the V-Mounts ensure they stay completely rooted in place on your top tube, and never end up leaning to one side. And, because they’re that bit wider (see below for diagrams with exact proportions of all models), I did find my knees occasionally brushed against them when cycling zestfully out of the saddle.
The smallest top tube bag – at a diminutive 0.8L – will suit anyone who values an especially low Q-factor, riders whose pedalling style tends to incure knee rub, anyone with a beady eye on the scales, and those who only need to pack the basics. It’s certainly lighter, slimmer, and has a more discreet profile. Surprisingly, however, it’s still capacious enough to fit my iPhone 7 Plus along with a few snacks. I liked it more than I expected and found it a great day-to-day top tube bag that I barely noticed was there, however I was throwing the bike around beneath me. In order to retain the slimmest profile, it’s only available with a zip closure.
What else? All models have ports that allow a battery to be routed to a light or a powerbank to be charged from a dynamo light like the Sinewave Beacon I recently reviewed. All bags are also tall enough that my ageing iPhone 7 Plus could slot inside without issues, sitting on a removable, shoe insole-like pad that provides protection from vibrations and dampens noise. Although all models have mesh pouches to one side, I do think the largest model would benefit from additional dividers, or a secondary mesh pouch – especially to help contents from jostling around when the pack isn’t full.
I’ve come to expect an excellent level of finish from Tailfin products, and whilst overall quality was very good, I should note that the 3D welding on the Flip Lid version wasn’t as neat as I’ve seen on their panniers. I’m being fussy here, admittedly – and when I mentioned it to Tailfin, they promised the next batch will be improved. Speaking personally, I’m not a fan of excessive branding, and whilst these packs are better than some in this regard, I think they could be toned back some more. At least the branding and logos are reflective, though.
Price-wise, the 1.1L Flip Lid sits above a classic like the Revalate Mag-Tank ($59) and a UK competitor like Apidura’s Bolt on Top Tube Pack (£45). But remember that the Tailfin version does offer the advantage that it can either used with the supplied TPU straps (which are a step above standard Velcro) or with direct mount bolts, quite apart from any differences in stability.
Lastly, these top tube bags are warrantied for a reassuring five years, and spares and rebuild kits are available. As mentioned, the elasticated cords on Tailfin’s Mag-Lock can be easily replaced. The zip version also ships with additional zipper pull for those who prefer the complete black stealth look. Personally, I’d go the other way – I’d like to see some Tailfin bags with a splash of colour!
- Extremely stable, even over the very roughest terrain, with no akward leaning to one side
- Won’t scuff your frame
- As there’s no need for a steerer tube strap, the packs can be positioned exactly where you want them
- Quick to install
- Meticulous attention to detail – these packs feel remarkably well-engineered
- Two different designs and a number of sizes to suit a variety of riders, Q-factors, and personal preferences
- Waterproof, especially in Flip Lid flavour if it’s a longer downpour
- Zip version is especially easy to access one-handed
- The high sides on the Flip version keep small objects very safe within
- Port for routing electronics
- There’s enough height for a ‘plus’ size smartphone throughout the models
- Three high-quality TPU straps in two lengths are provided, which means these packs should work with almost every frame
- Can also be direct-mounted to a bike with top tube eyelets – and hardware for this is included
- Minimal side structure means the packs can bulge more than some, depending on how you pack them
- Flip lid version can be a little more awkward to access one-handed (but doable)
- Only one colour – and branding could be more low-key (in my opinion)
- Supersized 1.5L versions could benefit from additional internal organisers
- 3D welding isn’t quite as neat as Tailfin’s other gear (this should be improved in the next batch)
0.8 Litre Zip-150g/138g
1.1 Litre Zip-165g/154g
1.5 Litre Zip-190g/178g
1.1 Litre Flip-179g/167g
1.5 Litre Flip-199g/187g
0.8 Litre Zip-£52/$65/€60
1.1 Litre Zip-£55/$70/€65
1.5 Litre Zip-£60/$75/€70
1.1 Litre Flip-£60/$75/€70
1.5 Litre Flip-£65/$80/€70
Here are the full proportions of each bag, so you can check heights and widths, depending on your top tube clearances, your riding style, and the Q-factor of your cranks:
Tailfin Top Tube Packs Review Video
By Neil Beltchenko
- Model: Tailfin Top Tube Packs
- Actual Weight: 138-199g
- Place of Manufacture: China
- Price: $65-80
- Manufacturer’s Details: Tailfin
I really think Tailfin are onto a winner here. Over the years, I’ve used a number of top tube bags, and I have to admit that many have lacked stability – either initially or after time – leaning drunkenly to one side or the other, especially when bouncing along challenging terrain. In contrast, Tailfin’s top tube packs have proved incredibly stable over the roughest trails that I’ve trown at them, effectively quashing any desire I might have had for direct mounts on my top tube (neat looks aside).
And, as they don’t require a front stabilising strap, I especially appreciate both the clean cockpit and the way these packs can be micro-positioned along a top tube to clear any movement from turning handlebars and stem bags. The fact that they work just as well with frames that do feature direct mount eyelets, as well as those with complicated headtube junctions or setups with minimal spacers, is another very valid benefit to Tailfin’s ultra-grippy and versatile V-Mount system. Whilst I’d say the structure of the bags is perfectly adequate, bear in mind that the minimal side panels do require more thoughtful packing than some tube bags, and note that the zip closure version is easier to access on the move than its flip lid sibling.
All in all, another very well executed – and cleverly engineered – addition to the Tailfin range.
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