Archival Review: Cycling Musettes

From my Rivendell musette collection

I’ve been using cycling musettes on and off the bike for over decade. Musettes were originally designed as feed bags for cyclists during road races. If you search for musettes online, you’ll also find references to WWII canvas, military fieldbags (“musette bags”) and other types of pocket-sized canvas shoulder bags.

Foremost, I love the cycling style musette’s low-volume, low profile carrying capacity (a friend refers to them as the essence of purse). A well designed musette should be large enough to carry daily items–cameras, sandwiches, notepads, pencils–but small enough to be rolled up and stowed away inside another bag. I prefer versions made out of lightweight cotton or waxed cotton with minimal hardware or embellishing details. A musette should always be rectangular in shape. I’m on the fence about whether a musette should have a formal clasp or button closure. I’m pretty sure a modern musette should have a fold-over flap.
Rapha offers a modern musette. It’s a little too “updated” for me.

Here’s a classic, vintage style cycling musette by Velo-Retro. Nice, but needs a flap to improve use value.

Gilles Berthoud sells a musette made of the same canvas as his famous Berthoud handlebar bags. However, the Berthoud musette is a bit boxy and I’m not fond of all the contrasting leather trim. I prefer the first generation Berthoud musette (picutred below).

Everybody’s favorite musette seems to be the one sold by Rivendell Bicycle Works during the early days of the company (and in the late days of Bridgestone through the B.O.B. Gazette). The Riv version came in both waxed cotton and untreated cotton canvas (some were made out of Filson fabrics, I believe). The Riv musette had a large main cargo pocket and two front divided pockets. Since the bag was designed for cycling, it came with a secondary sway or waist strap to prevent the bag from shifting during rides (I always removed this strap). I’ll post some catalogue images of the Riv musette tomorrow.

Here are a few more examples of traditional musettes (promo text ads to their appeal):

Traditional string-style shoulder strap (out-of-business bike shop)

Gift addition to my collection (note: simple button closures)

Nice cotton Pinarello with broad strap

I’m working on a design for an Archival Clothing musette. At the moment, I’m investigating successful historical examples and contemplating design decisions: size, hardware (any?), fabric (waxed cotton!), shoulder strap options (string strap or cotton web), button/strap/toggle closure, etc. If you see interesting (vintage!) examples of musettes that please you, forward them along.

For now, here’s a quick visual inventory of bags w/musette-like profiles that interest me:

Original Gilles Berthoud Musette (nice canvas color)
Army Surplus (love the vent holes)

Chapman field bag (single strap closure; game net)

Brady bag (mere most minimal)

Brooks Messenger Bag (steroidal musette)

Hunting World Sling (adjustable web shoulder strap)


Interesting blog post on vintage musettes from Hilary Stone.

UPDATE: We’ll be offering our musette for sale in December 2009. See this post for more information.

UPDATE (2012): Archival Plain Musette featured in Bicycling MagazineLink

16 thoughts on “Archival Review: Cycling Musettes”

  1. Excellent post. Really regretting not picking up the Rivendell musette offered on E-bay a few months back. Flap, yes. Simple closure, maybe a toggle? Looking forward to seeing the finished product.

  2. I enjoyed this post.
    I think of a musette as being a just-in-case bag, and so I like them minimal; no hardware, maybe a flap, and (most importantly) able to fold up and stow in a pocket.

    The tin cloth musette would be a dream.

  3. Lynne–

    I may need to commission a prototype from you… Trying to figure out the box v. envelope issue. And how a wider shoulder strap might attach to a Riv-musette type body… Without being clunky.


  4. box vs envelope – depends what you want to carry in it, really. Envelope is easier to make, but the box would be more versatile.

  5. Is there a technical term for a bag–like the original Riv musette–that is sort of boxy at the bottom and than narrows into more of an envelope at the top. That’s the type of structure I’d like to recreate with my musette.

    Web strap is another matter.

    String strap or adjustable web strap?

    Not so fond of the sway strap but wondering if cyclists would prefer that feature..

  6. dunno if there is a technical term, but my Stanley Traveler leather briefcase (I can hear you drooling from here) is like that.

    Adjustable strap in any case; we aren’t all the same size.

    Sway strap – keeps the thing from swinging around to the front.

    This is a very stripped-down messenger bag, when you get right down to it 🙂

    Email me; we can talk details.

  7. This is strange karma, indeed. I was just looking at a couple of very simple musettes on ebay and saying to myself that I must go internet scrounging for said bags. I came here on a whim and voil’a!

    Excellent post–I will stay closely tuned-in for developments.

  8. Coming in 2009. Hope to create something that’s close to a traditional musette but has a bit more of the function/structure of a field bag. Spec’ing out all the hardware, fittings, fabric, webbing, etc, is the current challenge.

    Send along any requests you’d like to see in a future musette.

  9. skviday–

    good work. your bags looks quite nice. i’ve been trying to decide about whether my musette needs a lining, more complicated pocketing, etc. I like the solutions you worked out.

    what did you use for your material?

    I just went to visit a local canvas shop that’s going to sew up a sample for me. i got distracted by all the amazing “stock” tote, duffle and small bag examples in the backroom (nevermind all the fabric samples). thinking a rucksack will have to be sewn up next…


  10. Lesli,
    I used two different colors of the same weight (8 or 10oz, I think) cotton duck from the local fabric store. It ran about $7/yard so total fabric cost for the bag was maybe $10?

    I want to order a few yards of the waxed canvas and see how that feels to work with.

    I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of your experiments.

    As far as pocketing – take a look at the pockets and the layout of things in the tombihn large cafe bag.

    It’s an excellent bag.

  11. Lesli,
    Do you prefer using shoulder bags over using bike-mounted bags? When you use a musette, does the bag ever slide around because it doesn’t have a cross strap? I plan on getting a plain AC musette sometime in the near future- would you recommend that for cycling? Or is it better for use as a field bag?

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