From the first Revelate Designs bags I used over 15 years ago, the brand has been gradually improving their designs and functionality. I’ve always been a holster style seat pack affectionado for the ease and speed of removal of the bag from the bike, especially in bad weather. Opting for their award winning Spinelock in the larger 16L of the two options, felt a little counter intuitive personally, but its locking design drew me in. Designed to eliminate sideways sway without resorting to a rack system. Which was the only option back when I first started adventure riding over 30 years ago. I have been happily using the Revelate Designs 14L Terrapin which was acceptably solid when cinched down tight, but the Spinelock proposed an even more rigid set up.
One of the main reservations against a non-holster design is that it is a single unit, less easy to repair to maintain its waterproofness or cost effective to replace in case of bad damage. Also, a holster style unit is ideal for when it's pouring down, being able to remove and unpack/repack it under cover. Maximising reduced faff when bikepacking is a key factor for personal product choice.
The Spinelock required some minor pre-fit setting up with installing the saddle rail mount. It took a few attempts to centre the rail mount so that the bag sat central at the seatpost, Being a little OCD was both a help and a hindrance to making sure that it did sit centrally. A small, but well considered addition is the pre-installed loctite compound on the bolts for the added confidence that they won’t rattle loose during a trip. This was another concern about the Spinelock, having any kind of bolts within the system over the simplicity of straps, especially for rear bags where you can't continuously keep an eye on it.
Once the rail mounts were in-situ, fitting the bag was easy and swift. Perhaps a few seconds more than with the Terrapin bag if I was being pedantic. That extra time being from lining up the holes of the plastic attachment on the bag and the rail mount to push the pin through, especially when the bag is fully laden. Then it’s a matter of attaching the side cinch straps to the rail mount and the seatpost strap. There's even a plastic hook by the side buckles to tidy away the trailing end of the side straps once tightened down.
It’s a thoughtful design to see two fore and aft options for the pin, depending on where you’d prefer the bag to sit. For my riding position and saddle type, I used the forward pin so that I could maximise the use of the shock cord for items that I wanted quick access to, such as waterproof, gilet or my camera tripod.
Removal too was super quick and convenient for bringing the bag into the tent or shelter, dispelling my initial reservations. Tags on the side buckles make it quick and easy to loosen the side straps. If I had to mention a 'negative' it was having a more solid bag (due to plastic reinforcement sections) inside the tent. Unless I simply left it in the doorway of course. As opposed to the soft bag of the Terrapin that folded away easily.
Out on the trail, the bag did what it was designed to do. Not move. It was quite an odd sensation to have no sway at all, the bike handling slightly differently, not having to account for any offset in the rear weight distribution (even though that was a bare minimum with the Terrapin set up), but that quickly became the norm. Even with the bag maximally loaded (three rolls to maintain waterproof tightness) it was still solid.
Revelate Designs' much copied air valve is such a neat and useful feature, making packing the contents tight super easy. With the roll top closure and the vertical strap over the top of the roll top closure securing everything, the bag and its contents sat solidly behind the saddle.
The Spinelock 16L is slightly heavier than the Terrapin 14L set up due to its plastic attachment points and the seatpost mount, but a minor trade-off for its anti-sway feature. I soon forgot about my initial reservations of using a non-holster style bag, its speedy fitting and removal becoming second nature. Its size in the cramped quarters of a minimalist tent was the only real difference, so it just became overnight storage for food outside under the doorway outer. As for the bolts on the saddle mount, they have never come loose over a few thousand kilometres of bikepacking trips.
The material has proven to be tough too, with no holes despite all the abrasions passing through tight forest trails and placing the bike on the bike whilst I set up for photographs. Even when negotiating through terrain covered in the thorny Matagouri shrub in the Otago region of Aotearoa New Zealand, the Spinelock remained hole free.
If you’ve more than one bike for adventuring with, it’s easier to purchase a second saddle rail clamp than to swap it over each time, as it does take a few attempts to make sure that it is centred. Plus you’ll have to re-loctite the bolts each time. Obviously this leaves the mount in-situ for all non-bikepacking riding. It just depends if having it in-situ permanently is troublesome aesthetically.
The Spinelock has lived up to its design promises and debunked my reservations about a non-holster set up. It might take a few seconds more to fit and is marginally heavier, but it solves the age old challenge of seatpacks, the sideways sway. For its negatives, I was simply nit-picking to find any. It’s always been Revelate Designs' small and well thought out details that make the difference and the Spinelock exudes that philosophy. Highly recommended.