Introduction: DIY Bike Bag From Recycled Materials
The main reason for this bag is that I'm too lazy to buy panniers. They're expensive, you have to install them, then you have to buy the bags to go with them, yada yada yada.
OK, that's not entirely true. There were many other reasons for this project, including wanting to find ways to use up my surplus plastic bags and getting to experiment with a heat press. I also thought it would be a cool challenge to make something out of (almost) entirely recycled materials. The only materials I used for this project that were not recycled was the zips, thread, and EL wire. If you wanted to push it the whole way, the wire is not intrinsic to the bag, and I've seen a couple of places online that sell thread made from recycled plastic. For the zips it's a bit more tricky, but you could always re-use zips from broken bags/clothing.
This bag was only supposed to be a prototype, but overall I'm pretty pleased with how it worked out. The material is made from recycled plastic bags (which is great for ones that have ripped and so no longer serve their original purpose), and is pretty hard wearing, as well as waterproof. The hooks are made from aluminium, and although they haven't broken yet, they are not very sturdy, and I would recommend using something else e.g. hooks and eyes or carabiners.
That's the recycle and reuse side of things, but it does actually function as a proper bike bag too, including lights to keep you safe! It goes over the main frame of the bike, meaning there is no need for panniers, and you can also use it as a normal shoulder bag when your bike is locked up. The best of both worlds!
In terms of supplies, there's lots of mixing and matching you could do if you wanted. If you don't have enough carrier bags, just ask your friends and family. I guarantee you at least one person will have a cupboard overflowing with the things! This is a list of the materials and equipment that I used.
- thread, other sewing bits and bobs
- a lot of plastic bags (I got a range of different colours/ thicknesses so I could experiment)
- fizzy drinks cans (e.g. diet coke), and the little tabs that come on the top of them
- EL wire (optional) for visibility in the dark
- sewing stuff
- cutting stuff
- heat press (or an iron)
- glue gun
Step 1: Prepare the Plastic Bags:
Not all plastic bags are created equal, some are thicker than others, some are larger than others, and some react differently to the application of heat. There is also a wide variety of colours and patterns to choose from. I found that if you are layering many together and heat pressing, bags like the ones you get from off licences and supermarkets are the best. For interfacing, bags for life work the best as they are slightly thicker so you only need one layer. I had fun choosing the bags with the most interesting patterns, and assembling them in different ways – for example lettering can still be visible through a thin layer of a different colour carrier bag on top.
- Chose my bags.
- Cut the handles off the plastic bags.
- Cut them along the seams and lay flat.
Step 2: Making the Fabric - Intro
I used a heat press for a short amount of time, you can always repeat if it doesn’t adhere properly but if it’s too hot for too long, the plastic bubbles or even burns. You could also use an iron, but the strength of the bond isn’t as strong. Remember to do the melting in a well-ventilated room as the process releases fumes into the air. I used two different methods, both work equally as well, the main difference is the appearance.
Step 3: Making the Fabric - Method 1
- Set up the heat press, using vinyl sheets to protect the plates
- Layered 2 or 3 sheets together and press for 7 seconds.
- Waited for it to cool before peeling off.
- Repeated the process with more sets of 2/3 sheets.
- Heat pressed the thinner sheets together to make a thicker sheet. I chose the most interest looking pattern for the top of the sheet.
Step 4: Making the Fabric - Method 1.5
I used pritt stick to form string into a letter or pattern.
- Heat press a very thin plastic bag over it to preserve the shape.
Step 5: Making the Fabric - Method 2
- Cut long strips about 5cm wide.
- I wove the strips together, using pritt stick initially to stop them moving around too much.
- Laid them on top of interfacing.
- Used an iron or heat press to fuse the interfacing to the plastic.
Step 6: Cut the Fabric
Cut out the various pieces in both an outside fabric and a lining fabric. The following are the main pieces, although I also kept some fabric spare to cut small extras such as the wire holders for the EL wire. This is essentially a fabric box shape, with a zip at the top, and a flap going over the zip, attaching to the front of the bag. I cut separate pieces for the bottom, sides and front, but you could equally make boxed corners.
- Pockets (phone, key, battery, fastener)
Step 7: Make the Metal Fastenings
If I did this again, I would keep the metal tabs because they are quite strong and look cool, but the hooks are much weaker, so I would recommend using a non-recycled fastening for this like a small carabiner.
- Cut the tops and bottoms off aluminium cans.
- Flattened the sheet using a hammer.
- Cut long thin strips and folded the sides inwards, being careful not to cut my fingers.
- Hammered down the edges so they would stay in place.
- Checked that they were the right thickness to fit through the tabs.
- Bent the ends over and gently hammered them, making sure not to rip the metal.
- Make 3 pieces this way; 2 of the same length, and one smaller one
I also ended up making little loops of metal that slip over the end of the hook to keep it in place when hooked on to the tab, I just cut a small strip and looped it around a few times, then glued it with a glue gun. It ended up working pretty well - the hook stayed put and didn't pop off.
Step 8: Make the Phone Pocket
This was a padded pocket to put your phone in, that is attached to the lining of the bag. For the padding I used the packaging that my EL wire came in; it was a strange material that was bubble wrap in the middle, and thick plastic on both sides, a bit like a padded envelope. As a replacement, you could use batting, or even some thin pieces of plastic bag scrunched up and stuffed in.
- Cut 2 pieces of plastic bag material, and one piece that was slightly smaller out of the padding.
- Sandwiched the pieces together and sewed around all four edges.
- Sew this sandwich to one side of a short zip.
- Hand sewed the ends of the zip and cut it.
Step 9: Make the Strap
- Used scrap pieces of plastic bag left over from other cuttings and layered them together.
- Cut this piece in half and repeated.
- Continued this to form a long strap, lightly wider than needed.
- Stopped this process when it was quite thick, in hindsight I should have made it even thicker.
- Cut one short piece and one long piece from the strip, checked the long piece was the right length to go over my shoulder.
- Sewed these pieces to the buckle, in a square shape to make it secure.
Step 10: Attach the Loops and Lights:
I ordered EL wire from amazon, its brightly coloured and flexible enough for what I needed. When you're cycling in the winter you can never have too many lights!
- Folded loop pieces in half.
- Pinned them to the front piece.
- Sewed them down and checked that the wire fit snugly through them.
Step 11: Sew the Bag Together:
- Sewed top outside and lining pieces to the top zip. Sew the outside back piece to the outside top piece.
- Placed the lining and outside flap pieces right sides together. Pinned in the metal hooks Sewed around the edge, including through the metal, leaving a gap to turn it right sides out. Pinned this piece to the outside back piece and sewed.
- Sewed the lining together including the phone pocket and battery holder pocket. Left a gap at the bottom so it could be turned right sides in later.
- Sewed the outside front piece on. Tested how far down this piece the hooks would reach, and hand sewed on the metal tabs.
- Sewed the rest of the outside pieces on including the fastener and hook, and fastener pocket, as well as the ends of the strap.
- Turned the bag the right way out and hand sewed the gap.
- Threaded the EL wire through the loops, knotted it at one end, and cut. Put the batteries in, and put the battery holder in the pocket on the inside.
Step 12: Using the Bag:
To attach the bag to a bike, open up the flap, slide the bag under the cross bar and attach the flap over the crossbar to the tabs. Tuck the strap inside the bag so it doesn't flap around, and strap the fastener around the stem to stop the bag sliding down the frame.
To wear the bag, take the strap out, and just wear it like any other satchel bag.
If I were to make the bag again, I would focus on making it stronger - especially the hooks and the strap. I've used it for a while now and it hasn't fallen apart, mostly to hold smaller items. I was worried that it would be uncomfortable or interfere with my knees as I rode, but because of the width of the bag that didn't happen, and the attachment to the stem of the bike wasn't totally necessary because it didn't actually move around that much.
I really enjoyed this project, especially the chance to experiment with recycled materials - just remember to always have the windows open when doing anything with heated plastics, otherwise you will start to feel quite lightheaded.
Participated in the
Trash to Treasure Contest