by Stan Purdum
In the world of bikepacking — off-road and back-country bicycle touring — the key to being able to carry enough gear for multi-day trips is to use a combination of packs. Typically, those include large seat bags and handlebar bags, smaller frame bags and even smaller peripheral bags and cages wherever they can be fitted on the bike.
Described here are some handlebar bags to show the range of what’s available for the front end of the bike. Most of these bags will work with straight handlebars and several will also work with drop bars. In one case, the manufacturer makes separate bags for the two kinds of bars. And in other cases, the manufacturers state some qualifiers and some minimum stem lengths, so be sure to look for details on the company websites to make sure any bag you like will work for your setup.
Most units have integrated internal stiffeners either in the bag or the harness to keep the pack from sagging, and they have mounting arrangements designed to limit or prevent bag bounce and sway when the bike is in motion.
Ortlieb Handlebar-Pack 15L
While you can put whatever you wish in Ortlieb’s waterproof Handlebar-Pack 15L, Ortlieb says it’s a great place to carry your sleeping bag and sleeping pad. The one-piece bag-harness combo provides 15-liters of space with roll closures on both ends of the bag, making access easy. Compression belts and drawstrings on the outside of the bag allow you to attach additional gear. There are also four hooks for attaching Ortlieb’s Accessory-Pack (sold separately for $80; see it here.) to the Handlebar-Pack.
The Handlebar-Pack 15L works with any handlebar configuration and attaches to the handlebars and the head tube via a mounting system consisting of spacers and straps. It has high-luminosity 3M Scotchlite reflectors on the front. Bag comes with a five-year warranty.
Revelate Designs Sweetroll Handlebar Bag
The Sweetroll is a one-piece, 100-percent-waterproof bag with roll closures on both ends. Adjustable stacking spacers offset the Sweetroll from the handlebar and prevent cable and lever interference and bag abrasion. While it’s made for straight handlebars, the pack will work with drop bars, though if you have STI-type shifters, you may have to pack the Sweetroll carefully to keep it from interfering with the side action of the shift levers.
The bag has a flap that enables you to store items between it and the main part of the bag. There are also two rows of daisy chain webbing for custom configurations. You can attach an accessory pocket (available here for $69) for added capacity. A provided cinch cord is useful for carrying maps or attaching items to dry in the sun.
The bag described here is the large version, which has an 8″ diameter and a 22″ maximum width, but the Sweetroll also comes in small and medium sizes with similar features. There’s no time limit on the bag’s warranty, but the company is very specific about what is and what isn’t covered by it.
Topeak Frontloader Handlebar Bag
$43 at Amazon
Topeak’s Frontloader is a two-piece unit: a harness plus a waterproof 8-liter drybag with roll closures on both ends and an air-release button that allows you to compress the contents. The harness attaches to your handlebars with straps and quick-release buckles. Supplied external straps hold additional gear for convenient access or a pocket bag for additional storage. Works with both straight and drop bars. It has a two-year limited warranty.
Arkel Rollpacker 25 Front Bikepacking Bag – Full Kit
The Rollpacker is a dry bag with roll closures at both ends, and is very roomy, since it has 25-liters of space. The “Full Kit” means that the accessory pocket that attaches to the front is included with the bag, rather than needing to be purchased separately.
The Rollpacker, which works with both straight and drop bars, is distinguished from the other bags on this list by two features: 1) It attaches to the handlebars by means of an aluminum hanger that slips into a sleeve on the bag and gives it excellent stability. The bag is then secured by straps, which can also embrace extra gear outside the bag. 2) With the purchase of a different aluminum hanger from Arkel (available here for $120), the exact same bag can be mounted behind the saddle. That means if you want the hardware to use the bag in both locations, another option is to purchase the Rollpacker 25 as a rear bag with the rear hanger for $280, and then purchase the front hanger separately for $80. Same cost either way.
The bag comes with a lifetime warranty.
Blackburn Outpost Elite Handlebar Roll and Dry Bag
Blackburn’s Outpost Elite is a two-part system: a harness and a removable 14-liter waterproof bag with an air-bleed valve to allow compression of the load. The dry bag features straps and elastic cordage to affix external cargo. The harness can be used without the dry bag to carry other bags and stuff sacks. Works with any handlebar configuration but not recommended for carbon bars. The bag has a two-year limited warranty.
Bedrock Entrada Handlebar Bag
One of the first things that sets the 13-liter Entrada bag apart from others in this roundup is that it is available in colors other than black — turquoise, purple, red, blue, gray, green, brown and camo. And bags in each color are made in two versions: one for straight handlebars and one for drops. All the bags are three-piecers: the harness, the bag and the accessory pocket.
Bedrock, which is based in Colorado, makes a point of saying their bags are not 100 percent waterproof, arguing that sewn seams are more durable than those that are radio-frequency-welded, a process needed to make bags fully waterproof. Read their full argument here.
For bikes with short stems, long top tubes, and wide bars, typical of some mountain bikes, see Bedrock’s Moab line of handlebar bags.
There’s no mention of a warranty on Bedrock’s website, but in correspondence with Bedrock co-owner Joey Ernst, he told me, “We don’t have a warranty policy, per se — we have extremely few warranty-type issues and we simply deal with them on a case-by-case basis. But, essentially, if something is wrong and it is our fault, we take care of it. This is very rare. Occasionally we see bags destroyed through abuse or poor use; this doesn’t fall under ‘warranty.’ We do repair worn gear — of course textile goods will wear as they are used.”
Rapha Waterproof Bar Pack Handlebar Bag
This bag is a one-piece unit with roll closures on both ends. There are no cords or straps for external storage of gear, but with 20 liters of capacity, you can fit a lot inside. Fits both straight and drop bars. Rapha Classics products come with a 30 day no-quibble riding guarantee.
Specialized Handlebar Stabilizer Harness, $77
Specialized Burra Burra Dry Bag 23, $41
You can pair these two items that Specialized sells separately to assemble a two-piece handlebar pack, which gives you most of the features other packs in this roundup have. The bag, which is waterproof and has the usual roll closures ends, is not recommended for use with drop handlebars because of its size. It has a built-in zippered pocket for small items.
The harness, however, is compatible with both straight and drop bars and will work with any bag that is not overly long or even with a stack of small circumference items.
Both the bag and harness come with a two-year warranty.
Apidura Expedition Handlebar Pack
This is a one-piece unit with roll-top closures at each of the horizonal ends of the waterproof bag, providing 14-liters of space. A hands-free air release vent makes compressing the bag easy, and a bungee cord on the top allows external attachment of other gear. Works with straight and drop bars. A 4.5-liter add-on pocket is available for $67 here.
Apidura’s warranty covers defects in material and craftsmanship for the reasonable lifetime and intended usage of its products.
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Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, and Methodist minister, lives in New Jersey. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.