Beginning Bikepacking: Handlebar Bags
If your bikepacking needs exceed the carrying capacity of the venerable seatbag and
the smaller bags (feedbags, gastanks, etc.) comprising your cockpit, then you might
consider adding a handlebar roll to your rig. Most systems for affixing a bag of gear
to the handle bar of a bike consist of
A) a harness or cradle: the backing or rigid structure of the system,
B) stuff sack or dry bag that will keep contents dry in inclement weather,
C) the strapping to attach part B to part A.
Strictly speaking, not every bikepacking adventure demands a handlebar roll
including all three elements. For an overnighter that doesn’t take you too far from
home, forgoing the harness or cradle and strapping a dry bag or stuff sack directly to
your handlebar can do just fine.
But for multiday bikepacking adventures that traverse uneven terrain or
singletrack, a harness or cradle has the virtue of better stabilizing your load,
reducing its effect on the handling of your bike, and improving your overall safety.
Most handlebar harnesses and cradles have an integrated strap system designed to
tightly secure your roll to the bike.
The Revelate Designs Harness – pictured below living very happily on the front end
of a front suspension mountain bike – features two heavy-duty foam blocks for
mounting it to the handlebar and three cinching straps for securing the bag to the
backing. There is one additional strap that secures the harness to your bike, which
the manufacturer specifies should be wrapped around the crown race or fork and
not the steerer tube as it will interfere with the bike’s turning radius.
The Salsa EXP Series Anything Cradle secures to the handlebar with two aluminum
arms that create distance between handlebar and cradle, leaving room for cables to
hang unobstructed and be serviced without removing the cradle if necessary. The
same design features that provide more clearance for cables – and also for feedbags
and other cockpit accessories – also extends the load away from the frame to an
extent that the slightly weightier EXP Cradle is a more noticeable presence when
attached to the bike than the Revelate Designs Harness (at least when the systems
are unloaded with a bag).
The dry bag that Salsa designed to be compatible with the EXP Cradle system
includes openings on both ends and lashing points to strap another smaller roll to
the main, larger roll.
Both the Revelate Designs Harness and the Salsa EXP Cradle System have
compatible “pocket” bags that attach to the front of the roll, effectively sandwiching
it between the pocket bag and harness/cradle backing.
With the addition of a pocket bag – which is best suited for carrying smaller items,
(electronics, gloves, etc.) and/or items that you might to access quickly while the
bike is still in motion or after a brief stop (rain gear, sunscreen, etc.) – the handlebar
roll setup becomes something of a contradiction. Usually, if you are considering
adding a handlebar roll setup to your rig, then you are in need of more storage
capacity than a seatbag provides, in which case you should consider storing items in
your handlebar roll that you’ll only want to remove from the bike when you have
decided to stop somewhere for an extended period of time or an overnight stay.
Since handlebar rolls can be labor intensive to remove, it is a popular location for
experienced bikepackers to transport sleep systems, cooking supplies, reserve
clothing, etc. With the addition of a pocket bag, however, the handlebar roll setup
becomes the site where some of the least accessible gear on your bikepacking rig
lives side by side with some of the most accessible gear.