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How to pack your cycling jersey pockets and saddle bag like a pro

Cyclist magazine
27 Jul 2021

There's only so much room in your typical jersey pocket, but with some clever planning you can make a little go a very long way

If you’re on a sportive or a long Sunday ride, there are certain essentials you’ll need to carry to keep both yourself and your bike moving. And as the weather improves and you're free to spend the whole day out on your bike, this list can grow, putting pressure on your precious pocket space.

At the same time, once the weather turns, your rides may be shorter, but warmers and waterproofs will also annex your storage. 

There’s an art to making sure everything you need is neatly packed and easily accessible. Meaning you may be surprised at just what you can cram into the pockets of your jersey, let us show you how to do it...

Items to take on a typical ride

• Pump • CO2 • Inner tubes x 2 • Tyre levers • Multi-tool in a pouch/old sock • Emergency patches and glue • Credit card/ ID/money • Details of an emergency contact person • Gilet • Rain jacket • Energy bars/gels • Medication (eg asthma inhaler) • Mobile phone • Arm/knee warmers • Keys • Wet wipes

What to put in your jersey, and where

Most cycling tops most many come with three rear pockets plus, increasingly, a zipped ‘security’ pocket.

We have seen four, five and even six pockets on a jersey in our time but we’ll keep things simple and stick with the four-pocket jersey you’re most likely to be wearing.

With space at a premium, packing them correctly in preparation for a long ride or a sportive will help you access any essential items with the minimum amount of fuss.

Right hip pocket

How you now arrange your pockets very much depends upon which hand you feel most comfortable steering with.

So if the answer to that is your left hand, you need to pack your right-hand pocket with the things you’re going to need regular access to.

On a long ride or a sportive, that’s most likely to mean nutrition, so this is the pocket that you need to put your gels, bars and other ride foods into.

You might also want to snip the tops off of any bars, too, so you’re not left trying to wrestle them out of their packets when it comes to topping up your energy levels. But don’t do this with gels as you could end up with a sticky bottom!

Buy now from Science In Sport for £35 for a pack of 30 

If you’re on any medication and need access to, say, an asthma inhaler, this is also the pocket to pack that into. The same goes for sun cream, which you might need to reapply regularly on a long ride.

We use a plastic contact lens case to transport this, squeezing some into the left-hand compartment and a smear of lip balm in the right-hand one. They cost about a quid and can be found at most high-street chemists.

Middle pocket

Moving onto the middle pocket, this is where you’ll need to stash either your rain jacket or gilet, depending on whether it’s likely to chuck it down later or just turn a bit nippy.

With both items, it’s an idea to pack them unzipped so that when you do pull them out of your pocket you can put them on easily while you’re still riding if you don’t want to stop.

If folded correctly, there should also be enough room in this pocket for your CO2 cartridge or mini pump – should you not have a pump already attached to the bike.

Simply fold the jacket in half three times, then wrap it tightly around the pump. It should, with a bit of teasing, fit neatly into that pocket.

Left hip pocket

Use the third pocket for items that you won’t be reaching for regularly. These include your phone, your credit card, and your ICE (In Case of Emergencies) card.

These days you can set this info up on your smartphone so it appears on the screen without needing to unlock it, or you can get cards made up for a few quid from firms such as icecard.co.uk.

Alternatively, see iceid.co.uk for a range of ICE bracelets, dog tags and helmet tags. Pack some money in this pocket, too – we recommend at least one plastic five-pound note, as this can also double up as a boot should your tyres have a bad day.

As most of the stuff that sits in this pocket can be potentially damaged by the rain or sweat, it makes sense to put the whole lot into a zipped plastic freezer bag. Make sure that you put it into your pocket with the phone’s screen facing your back, which will help protect the screen if you have an accident. 

If you're feeling posh, alternatively you could buy a padded and rainproof pouch like the one below from Rapha. 


Buy now from Rapha for £25

You can further protect it if you’re going to be taking arm warmers by squeezing these – very tightly rolled up together – between the phone and the pocket wall.

That just leaves your zipped pocket. This is where you should put your house or car keys if you’re not able to give them to anyone else for safekeeping.

What to pack in your saddlebag

OK, so now you know how best to pack your pockets with the stuff that you’ll need, but what if something happens to your bike?

That’s where the humble saddle pack comes in handy. In here you should, with a bit of squashing, squeezing and low-level swearing, be able to fit a tyre lever and a couple of inner tubes.

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Will you really use two inner tubes? Probably not. Couldn’t you get away with just one? Possibly you could, yes, especially if you’re going on a group ride and can blag one off a mate, but you know that old phrase it’s better to be safe than sorry? Well, there’s a reason why that’s been around a while.

So we say take two and spare yourself potential grief. And just to be super-sensible, why not stick some self-adhesive patches in there, too? They take up little room and may get you out of a fix.

Buy now from Chain Reaction for £4.99

It’s also an idea to stick some zip ties in your saddle pack too. They weigh next to nothing, cost very little (ask at your local DIY store) and can be used for a variety of improvised emergency repairs.

Buy now from Wiggle for £24.99

You’ll also need to pack your multitool in here, which will ideally have not just a selection of Allen keys but also a chain tool. If yours didn’t come with a case – or you’ve lost it – use an old cycling sock as an improvised alternative.

Leave it unsheathed, jostling about and rubbing up against your inner tubes and it could damage the rubber. You might also want to include some wet wipes or similar.

Your hands are going to get mucky changing a tyre or dealing with a mangled chain and if you’re the type of chap who likes to rock light-coloured bar tape it’s going to end up looking pretty mucky if your hands are covered in gunk or grease.

Ready-made solution

Alternatively, you could just buy a pre-packed saddlebag. Lezyne’s S-Caddy Loaded won a Best in Test award for being titchy, hardwearing and ‘loaded’ with many of the essential tools mentioned above including a multitool, tyre levers and a patch kit.

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