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Picture of Add Detachable Wheels to a Duffel Bag
I love traveling with duffel bags because they're easy to pack (you can just shove stuff in the corners) and the one I have always fits into the overhead bins on airplanes way easier than those bulky boxy type of rolling suitcases. But, now I'm getting old and creaky so it's harder to schlep my favorite Timbuk2 duffel around on my shoulder nowadays. Here's my simple and easy solution. 
 
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Step 1: Ingredients

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Supplies:
Thick velcro (about 3 inches wide) - I had some lying around 
2 Wheels - $3.49 each at the hardware store
Metal rod that will fit through the wheels - I got a hollow aluminum tube because it's light and I knew I could cut it with a hack saw - $6.99
4 Shaft collars - for holding the wheels in place on the metal rod. make sure they fit around the metal rod snugly - $3.23 each 
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A willing duffel bag - one that is big enough that you won't have to bend over awkwardly to drag it around on its new wheels. Also, it should have a handle on one end (or you can sew one on)
Total cost: ~$28

Tools:
Sewing machine 
Allen wrench
Hack saw
Scissors
Sharpie for marking the rod


Step 2: Sew on the velcro

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One end of my bag has a bigger pocket (for shoes) and the other side is smaller (where I choose to put toiletries). I chose to put the wheels on the shoe side because I figured it would usually be the sturdier and more densely packed pocket. 

Turn your bag over. Cut two velcro strips about 6 inches long. Peel the velcro apart and pin the soft side to the bottom of the bag. (see second photo)

Maneuver the bag onto your sewing machine and sew away zig zagging forwards and backwards down the strip of velcro (see third photo). Oh also, you should use a needle made for jeans or leather. I forgot to change mine out at first and it broke. Sew down both strips.

Now attach the other side of the velcro (the rough side) by sewing it down at the outer edge only. Make sure to go back and forth a couple of times to make it secure. Do this for both strips. (fourth photo)

Now add a little fold to the other edge of the rough velcro strip to make it easier to pull up. Just fold under about a quarter inch and sew it down. (fifth photo)

Okay now you're ready to assemble your wheels!


Step 3: Assemble the wheels

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Lay the metal rod over the bottom of the bag and mark the rod where you want the second wheel to end (the first wheel will just be positioned at the end of the rod). I found that it works best if the wheels extend out to the sides of the bag, rather than underneath it. Otherwise, the duffel will just drag on the wheels. 

Put the shaft collars and wheels on the rod in this order: collar, wheel, collar...collar, wheel, collar. You may have to loosen the little screw on the side of the shaft  collar to fit it on the rod. 

Eyeball the placement of the second wheel and then tighten the little screws on the shaft collars to hold everything in place (but don't tighten too tight or you'll bend the rod and it will be harder to adjust later. You'll want to leave a little wiggle room between the collars for the wheels (about 1/16 inch) so that they roll smoothly. 


Step 4: Attach the wheels to the bag

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Attach the wheels to the bag by opening up the velcro, sliding the rod against the sewn down end, and then pressing down the velcro again.

Unless you happened to get a perfectly sized metal rod, there should be some extra rod extending past one of the wheels. Now you should take your bag for a test run to make sure the wheels are in the right place. If not, adjust, test again.

When you think you've got them positioned well, use your hack saw to cut off the extra part of the rod. 

To hold the rod in place I put two of those thick rubber bands that hold bunches of asparagus together on the rod. (third photo)

Step 5: Now you've got a rolling duffel bag!

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Flip your bag over and take her for a spin. I stuffed mine with sheets and towels to proximate the travel experience. I found that rolling the bag was easier if I positioned it to the side of my body, rather than drag it behind me. 

The best part is that you can quickly and easily detach the wheels and stuff them in the bag when you don't need them! 

In all this little project took me about an hour and a half. If you like it, please vote for me in the Wheels Challenge!

Update:
I rolled this baby all around SFO and JFK last weekend and came up with a couple tips: 1) stuff the pocket on the wheel side with something solid, like shoes. My converse seemed to do the trick. 2) extend the handle by rolling up a bandana, tying it into a loop, and then looping it through the duffel bag handle. It worked great! 
AmyTan127 days ago

I have been wondering about a solution like this. I am going on safari in South Africa and wheeled luggage with a rigid frame is not allowed on the small planes. In addition, soft bags must not be greater than 10' x 12" x 24". We also want to do carryon for our flight to South Africa, and Air Emirates restricts carryon to 26 lbs --and that is in business class. We can get down to 26 pounds, but I did not want to lug that through airports. So your solution is perfect! Wheels detach when It's time to hop into the small planes! Thanks.

polyxene242 months ago

This is great but I live in the UK and I'm not sure if I can find some of the key things, like the right wheels and tube that would fit them. Plus everytime I type 'shaft collars' nothing comes up! Is it possible to give more details about the exact items used and their measurements? I'm looking to add these to my massage chair bag as I'm a mobile therapist. Thanks!

LynL12 months ago
need something like this ( small n removable) to my backpack because cheap airlines only allow height of carry on to be 16" ( something like that) and many roller backpacks are taller than that ( not counting the toddler backpacks) because of the handle and wheels underneath. Will check out your idea and wesyoung's too. I like to incorporate a handle..which I have..from the legs of my broken camera tripod..

Thanks.

Excellent idea... also been thinking and dreaming of this for soooo long... God i love the internet soooo much sometimes.... haha.. Thanks a lot once again!

HillaryHarris10 months ago

Hi, wondering about spinner wheels and a pull handle for duffels or totes that have a sleeve that I could fit them over and sit on a base of some kind - keeping it light of course! Any ideas? I have the luggage - two great pieces in fact - but it is just lacking the wheels!

wesyoung1 year ago

Good idea, Ronny K! I made a couple of modifications that worked for my duffel bag (which is 36 x 15 x14 and soft): I decided to attach the axle, not with velcro, but rather using two grommets which I placed in the corners (on the bottom, rather than the side). The velcro looked tricky to me: I don't have much confidence in my sewing ability and the material looked too think for my machine. I first tried roller-blade wheels, which I found were too small; the duffel dragged. I replaced them with 6" lawn mower wheels. They were perfect. Held the wheels and the axle in place with hose clamps and washers. Wheels -- $5 each, 5/16" rod -- $4, hose clamps -- 70 cents each, washers -- dime. Easy to assemble. Thanks again, for the idea!

RonnyK (author)  wesyoung1 year ago

That's awesome! Nice job. I'll have to try out grommets on my next bag.

jhicho2 years ago
thanks for the tips !
sarawelder3 years ago
great ible... I have been pondering for years how to get a lightweight system to add wheels to bags. I can't wait to try this!
tabi3 years ago
THANKYOUUUUUU I had been thinking HOW to make something like this!
Thought about getting some skate rollers... too.
Excellent Ible...Fast, clever and useful...Good job!
RayKenn3 years ago
Great idea! I plan to put this to use soon. Thanks for sharing it.
mazelady3 years ago
Great idea!
RonnyK (author)  mazelady3 years ago
Thanks! Been meaning to do it forever.