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By David May

Making a "Housse" (Bike Bag) for French TGV Trains, Italian Trains, or for airlines


Directions revised in July 2006

<Link to General Information on trains and bicycles, including the use of housses.>Sewing a Housse

Thanks for the original drawing, which I have altered, to Gerald Cowham.

Not shown: Small stuff-sack.

Author's Bike Bag Finished result:


43 x 55 x 0 inches exterior (102 x140 x 0 cm), or slightly larger or smaller;
dimensions shorten when bike is inserted

Weight: about 14.8 ounces (380 grams)
Roll-up length: about 5.7 inches long (14.5 cm)
Roll-up diameter: about 3.5 inches (8.9cm)
Total cost (2002) under $40.

Making sure your bike will fit :

Measure the frame of your bicycle. Decide, according to the demensions of your bicycle, whether you should include the seat, the handlebars (turned), the rear rack, and/or the fenders, or whether these will have to be removed. In any event, do not include the front wheel. Remember that the width of the bike will pull the dimensions of the bag inward by a few inches on all sides, particularly if the pedals are left on.

Most frames will not fit within a bag of the required French railway size (90 x120 centimeters or 35 1/2x 47 1/4 inches, which is the size that fits on the shelf at the end of TGV cars). They will almost certainly not fit within a bag of the required Italian railway size (80 x 110 centimeters or 31 1/2 x 43 1/4 inches. However, given that the commercial housses are much larger; and also based upon personal experience gathered on many train trips, the author doubts that anybody will bother you if you make the cover bigger, provided you place it as much out of the way as possible, and move it at railway stations if it is in the way. You can probably go up to the size of the commercially sold housses: One sold in France is 98 x 134 x 20 centimeters (38.75 x 52.75 x 8 inches), another 105 x 140 x 20 centimeters (41 1/4 x 55 x 8 inches).

And since the sewing method below is for a housse without any depth, and thus the ends and top will surely pull in towards the middle, the finished and loaded house which is 110 x140 x 0 centimeters (43 x 55 x 0 inches) might well fit in the TGV luggage rack, particularly if your bike fits loosely inside.

Nonetheless, if you can get by with a smaller housse, you can make it slightly smaller, and save weight and pack space; and if need be, you can make it larger.



(See notes at bottom of page for a possible USA internet source for the materials needed. A few large fabric stores also carry these items.) In France, "tent bottom fabric", slightly lighter than "oxford cloth", available at Le Vieux Campeur in Paris, is the best alternative the author has found.

Housse Body:

Material Size: 2.5 yards (7 1/2 feet or 2.25 meters) long by at least 55 inches (about 5 1/2 feet or130 centimeters wide)

Author's Material:.The author's housses were made with nylon "oxford cloth" - 200 denier, urethane coated "oxford cloth", about $8:00 per yard in 2002, and durable enough for 10 - 20 uses (with a few small holes after 4 uses). Weight 14.8 ounces (300 grams), folded size about 1 1/2 x 4 x 6 inches..

Other Material Choices:

A coated nylon tarp 7 x 9 foot (220 x 280 cm) costs less than $35 from REI and weighs 19 ounces, suggesting that the finished housse would weigh about 15 ounces. It bulk is slightly less than oxford cloth, about 1 1/2" x 4" x 6". Rather than starting with a tarp, one can buy coated rip-stop nylon yardage.

Also, thanks to a comment from a reader of the site, it would seem possible to use heavy weight, inexpensive polyethelene, such as for a high-end drop cloth or a tarp. REI sells a Chinese-made 6 foot by 8 foot woven laminated polyethelyene tarp (finished 5' 8" x 7"8",about the right size) for under $4. For a large bicycle, it may be about the correct size. It can be sewn very easily, and weighs 19 ounces. It's bulk is 50% higher than that of Oxford cloth, about 2" x 5" x 9". While resistant to punctures, it is slightly less resistant than the Oxford cloth or coated nylon tarp. The author has no personal experience with the durability of woven polyethelene in this application. The author would not choose this material despite its low cost, because, rolled up, it is too bulky to carry in his paniers.

Silicon-nylon ripstop fabrics are available and very strong. A 5 x 8 foot sil-nylon tarp costs $70 at REI but raw fabric yardage is substantially cheaper. There are many qualities of silnylon. It is probably best to look at and trest samples of the fabric or tarp you choose. A housse of lightweight silnylon will weigh about 9 ounces and fold to 1" x 4" x 6". If you make a bike bag of silnylon, please write the author with your experience.

(Housses commercially purchased in France weigh almost 5 pounds (2.25 kilos) and are too bulky to carry in paniers.)

Thread: Nylon thread ( matching color) (not the "invisible" nylon thread) is strongest; the desired nylon thread is also called "upholstery thread" (weight V69) A heavier weight, used by upholsterers, is not suitable for home sewing machines.

Assuming some waste, at least a 100 yard (meter) spool. If you are not experienced, why not purchase a second spool. About $2.50 - $3.00 per spool.

Sewing machine needles: #18 for canvas or jeans (buy a set to allow for breakage). This large size is needed to handle the the thread. About $ 4.00 in 2002.

Zipper and/or hook-and-loop. Strong zipper of matching color: A length of 54 inches (140 cm) if the zipper fully detaches and you don't mind a small hole, otherwise one of 60 inches (150 cm); or if you want to zip around one or both sides as well as te top, a so-called sleepingbag zipper (10 feet). Sewing will be easier if the zipper can be unzipped completely into two halves. About $8.00 -$11.00. One reader, who had a friend fabricate 6 home-made houses for a family trip, writes that hook-and-loop fastner, such as Velcro®,works well and is much cheaper. However, for fear that the hook-and-loop fastner would come open, this reader carried pedals separately from the housses. Another cyclist from England (who supplied the initial version of the drawing above) also went with hook-and-look fastner—on the top and one side. Because he carried the bag by a strap (see next paragraph), he found that the Velcro separated, so he held it together in the middle with a clip.

He also used webbing (strap material) to reinforce the body of the housse; it completely encircled the sides and bottom of the bag, about 1/3 of the way in on each side; at the top of the bag the straps from one side looped over to the other side, thus forming long handles, so that the bag could be carryied suspended from his shoulder.

Stuff Sack. Buy a small stuff-sack from a sporting goods store (or make one) to carry in your bike bag. Use it to stores screws and small parts such as pedals. If small holes form in the bike bag material, your parts will not be lost.


Cutting the fabric and hemming: Square one end of the fabric ( possibly by folding it diagonally from a corner). Measure and cut the fabric to 88 x 57 inches (209 x 145 centimeters). That is, twice the height + 2 inches (5 cm) and the length + 2 inches (5 cm).

Fold each long side (with any coating on the inside) over by 1 inch (2.5 cm.), pin periodically, and sew, removing the pins as you go. The seam should be roughly 1/4 inch (6 mm) in from the raw edge. About 10 - 12 stitches per inch is said to be strongest. Reinforce the two ends by sewing backwards at a slight angle for an inch (2.5 cm) and then forward again.

Now make one inch (2.5 cm) hems, as above, each short side.

To visualize what the bag will look like, momentarily fold the fabric in half, with the seams on the inside. The area where the two pieces come together, is the top of the bag. The fold is on the bottom.

Adding the Zipper: (Note: Hook-and-loop fastner is much easier to sew—as the sides do not have to be matched , and less expensive. It does not hold closed as well as a strong zipper, however.) Place one half of the zipper (or hook-and-loop fastner) on the inside of one short side (along the top), so that the teeth of the zipper stick out just beyond the fabric, and the zipper "handle" is out. Position the "unzipped" end of the zipper so it clears the side of the housse; that is position the zipper so that when you unzip it, it doesn't block the entry of the bag, i.e., it should hang out a bit. (If your zipper is slightly short, but fully detaches, determine where you want the "hole" at the end of the zipper to be; if it doesn't detach, then you'll have to make sure that the bottom end comes past the edge of the bag, leaving a bigger hole at the top; the top end of the zipper (the end that closes last) can be in a bit from the edge of the bag.) Pin the zipper in place on the end from which you will start sewing.

Sew on the side of the zipper. When sewing, the fabric will be on top, the zipper underneath, with just the teeth sticking out. The edge of the fabric should be held even with the edge of the sewing machine foot. If the zipper teeth go under the foot, it will cause trouble. You might want to use a zigzag stitch so as to get more stitches into the zipper in the same length; or put in two rows of stitches.

Now zip up the zipper. Carefully, align the unsewn half of the zipper under the unsewn side of the fabric, making sure the two sides of the housse are even. Pin the beginning (from where you will be sewing) of the zipper. Unzip the zipper (if you can completely separate the two halves, it all the better.) Sew on the zipper. Test.

(If you are adding webbing strap reinforcement - handles, sew them on now.)

Sewing the sides: Now with the bag in the proper folded position, pin the sides next to the fold, to hold the fold in the proper position. From the bottom, sew up each side with two lines of stitches, except don't sew up the last inch (2.5 cm) at the top, so that the zipper can close. Sew backwards and forwards for an inch near the top to strengthen.

Voila! You're finished.


(The author ordered his "oxford cloth" and some thread on the net, from Florida ( Service was rapid and as promised. However prices are high.

A recent internet search turned up and as possible sources.

(The author found "pack cloth"—fifty percent heavier and bulkier—but not "oxford cloth" at a large metropolitan fabric store.)

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