Ultralight handlebar bag
Bikepacking is getting increasingly popular. Instead of mounting heavy bags on carriers on the sides of your bike, you use special bags on the handlebar, in and on the frame and under the saddle. Especcially handlebar bags are a good way for distributing the weight on your bike more evenly. These are available in all sizes and shapes, from bags with a zipper to a harnesses with a separate drybag. The specialised British brand Apidura takes its own path and designed a handlebar bag from ultralight material with roll-top closures on both sides.
This has two main advantages. First, the lack of zippers means your stuff is better protected from rain than in a bag with a zipper. Second, the width of the bag is adaptable. When you go out with less stuff, you just roll up the ends a bit more.
The black material on top of the bag is for reinforcement and stability. Two straps for mounting the bag on your handlebar are attached to this material. That’s it! No need for tools, adapters or what else. On the frontside is an elastic cord for stowing your jacket for example.
Apidura’s Handlebar Pack comes in two sizes: Regular and Compact. This review is about the Compact version. The bag measures 14 centimetres across and has a variable width of 35 to 50 centimetres.
The Accessory Pocket is a separate bag that can be attached to the Handlebar Pack with three click buckles (two on top and one at the bottom). This also means that the Accessory Pocket can only be used in combination with the Handlebar Pack. The Accessory Pocket has a zipper on top for easy access to important items, such as money, food and a camera. On the inside there is a mesh pocket for small items.
Apidura has cyclist safety in mind: the graphics on the bags are reflective and the Accessory Pocket and the Saddle Pack are equipped with light holders.
First test ride
I filled the Handlebar Pack Compact and mounted it on my road bike for a first test ride. Because of the handlebar drops you are forced to roll up both sides of the bag completely. You end up with a much smaller bag, but keep in mind that this is a versatile bag. If you want to go bikepacking on a mountain bike the next time, you can use the full width of the bag.
Attaching the bag with the two straps is easy. The buckles are of high quality, so tightening the straps firmly is not a problem. During the test ride the bag was firmly attached and it hardly moved while cycling. This is a key feature, since loose bags increase lateral movement, which is undesirable, especially on the handlebar.
After a while I hardly noticed the Handlebar Pack.
Handlebar Pack in full width on a straight handlebar.
After the successful test ride I took the Handlebar Pack with me on my road bike for a four day ultralight tour from the Netherlands to Basel (see ViaVelo 2, in Dutch). With my Nordisk tent, sleeping mat and sleeping bag in the Saddle Pack, the Handlebar Pack offered enough room for my regular clothing and rainwear.
The Accessory Pocket came along as well. After filling the Handlebar Pack, you click in the Accessory Pocket fairly easy with the three buckles. The volume of the bag is 5 litres and it offers a lot of room. Next to my compact bike pump, some tools and spare parts, I filled the bag with a Gorillapod-tripod, a compact camera, a clip-on headlight, some energy bars, a small wallet and some small stuff. The zippers have pullers for easy opening and closing.
The Accessory Pocket zippers have large pullers for easy opening and closing.
With both bags attached to the handlebar there is a change in handling the bike, as suspected. But even with more weight the bags are steady, even when I came out of the saddle while climbing. The Handlebar Pack fitted again between my handlebar. With both hands in the drops my thumbs touched the bags. That is something I had to get used to, but in the end it didn’t cause any trouble at all during the tour.
The Accessory Pocket is a relatively tall bag and it curves around the front of the cylindrical Handlebar Pack. Because of this, the items in the bottom of the bag are a bit harder to reach, so make sure the most important stuff is on top or in the useful mesh inner pocket. I suspect this is less of an issue with the Handlebar Pack Regular since the bag is larger in diameter.
In the rain
No adventurous bike tour without a rain shower. During our ride to Switzerland the rain hit us as we cycled toward the Vosges in France. When we stopped to camp in the evening I noticed some items in the bottom of the Saddle Pack were a bit damp. (Apidura mentions on its website that “while the body fabric is waterproof, due to the stitching process used to assemble the product, there is the possibility for water to enter the packs through the seams when exposed to a sustained rain”) Since the Saddle Pack also served as a mud guard for most of the day, this exceeded my expectations. A bit of water entered the Accessory Pocket as well, probably through the zipper on top. I keep my electronic devices in small zip-lock bags, so the damage was limited to some paper receipts. I expected somewhat the same with the Handlebar Pack, but to my surprise my clothes were completely dry!
The Handlebar Pack Compact is a practical, lightweight bag that keeps your stuff dry even during a heavy rain shower. Attatching the bag is easy. While riding the bag is steady.
The Accessory Pocket is surprisingly spacious and indispensable if you want to keep important things at hand. It is fairly large for the Handlebar Pack Compact. Probably it fits better with the Regular version.
The waterproof material is of good quality. The buckles are small and sturdy. The finishing is perfect. The light holder (Accessory Pocket) and the bungee cord (Handlebar Pack) are clever features.
You can order the bags on www.apidura.com. The Handlebar Pack Compact is £ 65,00 (Regular: £ 75,00) and the Accessory Pocket is £ 40,00. Shipping to the Netherlands is £ 10,00 (prices June 2015).
Text and images: Stephan van Raay