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Choosing the best handlebar bag to team up with your drop bars can be critical.
Get it right and you’ll have the ideal storage compartment for those bikepacking or commuting essentials that you need to keep a close eye on as you pedal along: your wallet, phone, maps and more. Keeping them safe, not only from opportunistic thieves, but also (with a fully waterproof bag) from the rain.
With straight handlebars you’ve got room to strap on a really wide bag – the kind that will swallow up a ton of gear. With drop bars though your options are more limited as the width available between the drops is normally in the region of 15.5-16.5in or 40-42cm. This cuts out many of the bags that mountain bikers can use but still leaves a vast array of bags which look as if they might be good for road bike drop bars.
How do you choose between them? Well, I’ve got a guide below to the key factors to be aware of. With this you’ll be able to confidently make an informed choice on the best handlebar bag for you and your bike. Before this I’ve got my top recommendations for the best handlebar bags for drop bars.
Let’s dive in and take a look.
What to consider when choosing a handlebar bag
There’s been a real shift in bike bag trends over the last ten years (driven by the growth in bikepacking) that has seen a move away from rigid metal pannier frames and bags and towards more flexible carrying systems, often using hook ‘n’ loop straps to secure bags directly to the bike without the need for a pannier rack ‘middleman’. I’ve always been a big fan of Velcro (from the earliest childhood days when I was totally unable to tie shoelaces) and I believe it’s a great system for securing bags to bikes.
The latest innovation in bike bags is quick-release mounting brackets. These are exciting because they give a fixed securing point for the bag but allow easy fitting and removal. Useful when you’re popping into a store and don’t want to leave your belongings out in the street.
There’s plenty to think about when choosing a handlebar bag and it can get real confusing real quick. So, let’s have a look and see what the key areas are that you need to consider when picking the right system for your bike.
Unlike with straight handlebars, drop bars have more limited space between the ends in order to fit a bag. Some of the very large bikepacking packs can be too wide to fit and will end up interfering with brakes and gear shifters – not a safe situation. Make sure you choose a bag that has a compact width. Top-to-bottom and front-to-back dimensions are less critical, so you can buy a bag that maxes out this area in order to stash more gear.
This is obviously linked to the outside dimensions, but you need to check that the inner capacity (normally measured in Liters) gives you sufficient room for everything you want to carry in your handlebar bag.
If a bag has a number of different compartments or pockets then these will be included in the total capacity, but large items (such as a tent) may then not fit unless the bag has a big main space. Check dimensions of each of the compartments to make sure that these will fit any particularly bulky items you need to transport.
Number of compartments
Handlebar bags vary greatly in terms of the quantity of spaces that they have. Some only have one main compartment – these are great if you want to put for example a tent or sleep system inside. Others have a multitude of pockets – these are excellent when you want a place for everything and everything in its place. They’re also good when you want to keep say clean gear away from dirty.
When you’re looking at the material that a bag is made from you’re wanting to know two things: how sturdy is the fabric? (Will it survive the challenging conditions of bikepacking adventures? Will it cope with being repeatedly taken off and on the bike?).
You also want to know whether it is waterproof. Many bags claim “water-repellency”, but the best ones (such as those made by Ortlieb) are fully waterproof.
There are two main options for handlebar bag mounting systems: Velcro straps and quick-release brackets. Both are excellent and give a very secure hold.
If you’ll need to transfer your bag between bikes, then it’s worth either going for a Velcro-strapped bag or investing in a duplicate quick-release bracket. The brackets aren’t expensive and some also come with a handy key lock to keep your gear safe.
Ease of Access
The extent to which this is important depends on what you’re likely to store in the bag.
If you’ve got a tent, sleep system, or smelly and dirty cycling gear in there, then you’ll only need to get into the bag once a day (less if it’s cycling gear!) If that’s the case then any access method is fine, be it zipper, buckle or rolled-end.
If you’ve got gear in there that you need ready access to (such as wallet, phone, or snacks) then ease of access becomes much more important. Top or front zippers are your friend in that situation.
A good handlebar bag for your drop bars needs to be waterproof, fit neatly, fit everything inside you need it to (and give you easy access to it). It also needs to be durable and simple to mount and dismount on your bike.
There are some great options available although the choice can be quite overwhelming. Check out the bags that I’ve listed above (my favorite is #1) and I’m sure you’ll find the perfect bar pack for you.
Enjoy your next adventure!
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