Friday, January 25, 2013

Unsupported Handlebar-Mounted Bags

Redline Conquest
I get a lot of reader questions about front bags, and particularly about whether I've found a good way to carry a bag on the handlebars without using additional support. Short answer: In my experience, it depends on the bike, on how much weight is being carried, and on how the bag is attached to the bars. These factors interact with varied results.

On roadbikes, I have tried carrying unsupported loads on the handlebars using several methods. Bags attached with straps are appealing, because they do not require permanent hardware installation. However, on longer and/or faster rides I find it difficult to keep them from sliding along the handlebars, no matter how tight the straps and how light the load. If the bag slides when I lean on a turn at high speed, it feels distracting and disconcerting, even if it is too light to affect steering. 

A few manufacturers have come up with hardware to address this, including the Nitto Bar Sack Rack, the Brooks Cornwall system, and the Rixen & Kaul KlickFix adapter. The latter I've had a chance to investigate on Pamela Blalock's bikes - who uses it on most of her roadbikes.

The KlickFix adapter is mounted on the handlebars and remains there when the bag is detached. It is compatible with many bags from different manufacturers, the most popular being the waterproof Ortlieb bags, available in a variety of sizes. This is a very stable system for carrying unsupported weight on the handlebars, and it worked for me with light loads: I felt zero movement. However, when I added my DSLR camera (between 2 and 3lb with lens), I found that I had poor control of the steering. I reported this to the bag's owner, who confirmed that she does not carry that much weight in a handlebar bag on this or on any of her other roadbikes; she uses this system to store lightweight items only. 

Of course, it is not clear whether having the weight lower and supported by a rear rack would make any difference on the specific bike I rode. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it very well could. On the other hand, I have seen touring bikes with large, heavily laden bags attached to the bars using this same method, ridden successfully. So the bike does play a role, as, no doubt, does rider sensitivity to high/ unsupported loads.

Po Campo Loop Pannier as Handlebar Bag
With upright city bikes - especially heavily built ones - there is generally more tolerance. I have ridden such bikes with all manner of baskets and bags attached to the handlebars without lower support, and for short distances it's been fine if the weight is only a few pounds. I've even managed to attach my Po Campo pannier to the handebars of a Raleigh DL-1, and ride with this setup with 5lb+ of weight in the bag. The bag does slide side to side and affects steering a bit, but since I am not riding fast or cornering aggressively, it doesn't bother me. The heavier the load, the more likely it is to become problematic. And then again, there are those who simply hang heavy shopping bags off their handlebars and blithely pedal away.

The general consensus is that carrying weight high on the handlebars and without additional lower support is not ideal. A stable system such as the R&K KlickFix adaptor is probably your best bet, but still there are limits to how much weight will feel comfortable. If you have a success story, do share. Personally, in the absence of a front rack, I prefer to carry weight at the rear of the bike.

35 comments:

  1. Of course, it is not clear whether having the weight lower and supported by a rear rack would make any difference on the specific bike I rode. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it very well could. On the other hand, I have seen touring bikes with large, heavily laden bags attached to the bars using this same method, ridden successfully. So the bike does play a role, as, no doubt, does rider sensitivity to high/ unsupported loads.'

    Depends on hour much weight supported where in rear, riding style. All things being equal otherwise, way way easier to carry weight there, even on a race bike, than flopping around on a lever high and far away from the concentrated mass of rider/bike.

    Touring bikes have a different CoG, geo.

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  2. To keep a bag from sliding side to side simply wrap extra tape on the bar either side of the straps.

    Most people like a larger diameter grip than what you have with an ordinary bar and one or two layers of tape. The fatter the tape the better the bag straps will hold and the less obtrusive the extra overwrap will be.

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    1. This may keep the bag from sliding, but not from flopping around. Mine was so irritating I gave up. I now use a small Ortlieb that clicks in, like the one in the photos. It works great, although I do not carry a heavy camera.

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    2. Yes, the "flopping" too.

      Another issue I forgot to mention, is that the straps, and how closely they place the bag to the bars, can get in the way of keeping your hands on the "tops." This is not an issue for me, as I almost never keep my hands there, but something to be aware of for those who do.

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  3. You make no mention of the Canadian company, Arkel. Not only are their bags of exceptional quality, their method of attachment for the handlebar bag is unsurpassed. Once on, there is no movement of any kind regardless of load yet "on-off" is quick and easy. With the shoulder strap you now have a perfect shoulder bag.

    I am also the very lucky owner of an handmade Acorn bag (Boxy Rando) which acts like a handlebar bag but is attached on top of the front rack so it's easily accessible while riding but with no effect on steering. It doesn't come off and on as easily as the Arkel but as I said there is NOTHING like an Arkel in terms of attachment.

    I have noticed no difference in terms of steering or control between the two bags but the Arkel is on my heavy expedition touring bike and the Acorn is on my "light" road tourer.

    Anyone looking for a super high quality handlebar bag with rock solid attachment yet easy on-off, Arkel is the only choice!

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    1. Thanks for bringing that to my attention. I have only seen Arkel panniers, not their handlebar bags. I will try to find one and have a look.

      Re the Acorn rando bag (and other similar) - One reason people want to avoid using a front rack is not because it places the bag too low, but because it involves installing a rack which is then always on the bike. Some consider front racks unnecessarily heavy and do not want such a setup on their go-fast bike. With a bag that attaches to the handlebars only, you can still have a super lightweight, unencumbered bike for those times you do not need the bag.

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    2. PS: Oh and I have tried to order an Acorn multiple times over the past 3 years. No luck!

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    3. Oh man! I recently gave away a great condition Acorn Rando bag. Should have sent it your way.

      Laplander bags (not positive they are still in biz as their Etsy page has not been updated for a while) makes a nice handle bar that attaches rather securely with velcro.

      Too your point about handling, on the Spectrum with an Abus Bordo Habdlung was squirrelly. Fortunately I was able to adapt as a perfect ride neutral saddle bag.

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    4. I'm a big fan of using a handlebar bag support rack, such as the Nitto M12 or M18, as it places the top of the bag generally at or below the top of the bars, allowing for a clip-on light, cycle computer, etc, without resorting to one of the T-shaped gadgets that stick up in your face, for mounting these things. Resting the bag on the rack also lowers the front center of gravity, making the bike more stable.
      Several years, ago, in dead of winter, I scored an Acorn Boxy Rando Bag and love it! Very stable, holds generally enough, and looks very retro. Have tried to order other stuff from them, but demand has gotten so great that when a batch of bags becomes available (you are notified by email several days before) they are generally sold-out in about 10 seconds. Extremely frustrating. Best "standard" handlebar bag: definitely the ARKEL. Very solid bar attachment with easy on/off.

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  4. While I do have the KlickFix mount on several of my other bikes, the one pictured here is actually an older Ortlieb mount - made prior to the current models with the goofy useless lock. (Go ahead ask me how I feel about that stupid lock!)

    The KlickFix is nice because lots of other bags are designed to work with it, making it fairly versatile. The design of the Ortlieb mount means it ONLY works with the Orlieb bag, but the Orlieb bag will go onto the KlickFix mount.

    Newer models of both mounts seem to be designed to work on either old smaller diameter or new OS handlebars, along with a variety of stem designs, using a wire and set screw. The mount pictured does not work on OS bars, or fat or bulky stems, but unlike the wire/set screw mount, it is not a pain to re-use repeatedly - a consideration for a travel bike.

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  5. Aren't there some simple light weight bags with easily removable mounts and tension straps out there? No racks required, no sliding around, can carry essentials and simply slide on and off the mount in order to be carried?

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  6. What about the front racks that you strap the bottom of the bag to? I am considering moving my carradice barley bag to the front handlebars of my upright bike as the saddle is so low the bag does not sit properly and is rubbing on the fenders. Also it is kind of a pain to get off the bike all the time to grab something or take off mittens. It seems like it should be easy to just strap something onto the handlebars, but probably more complicated then that. What about the VO decailleur that can be easily put on or removed?

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  7. I haven't had too much experience with unsupported handlebar bags, but, when I have used them in the past they were attached through straps to the handlebars. I never put excessive weight in the bag either, maybe just my U-lock, a note book, cell phone, other small and light weight items. U-lock being the heaviest. A bit of sliding here and there, but no other issues as long as the weight was low.

    Otherwise, when it comes to heavier items I do really prefer using my rear rack, with a basket or panniers. I like to ride with the weight in the back as long as I don't need quick access to it during my ride.

    The Klickfix adapters do look like a great way to fix issues with sliding, and carrying bags securely on your handlebars. I'll have to check those out!

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  8. FYI...

    Over twitter a woman wanted to know whether the Po Campo pannier will work as a handlebar bag with her MTB/hybrid.

    My reply: possibly not, because her bars are quite a bit lower than on an upright city bike (this is her bike); the bag may rub the front fender. Also, if your bike has a long stem, the bag will be positioned more forward, which could be problematic. The DL-1 has practically zero stem and a tall head tube, so the pannier fits and sits back.

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  9. I did not want a front rack on my road bike, or to spend the money on a randonneuring bag to go with one. I used the handlebar bag I had, hung off of a steerer-mounted accessory bar.

    http://www.sjscycles.co.uk/thorn-accessory-bar-t-shaped-55-mm-extension-0-deg-prod11041/?geoc=jp

    Picture here (sorry, not the clearest): http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-g01x9-i_f_Y/UM2UIdZGTrI/AAAAAAAAAM0/uuTNCDOemFQ/s640/20121216182209.jpg

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    1. What kind of rack bag is that on your LeMond?

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  10. When I was a kid I needed two cinder blocks for a stand that I was building for my aquarium. So I rode my ten speed down to the garden store and bought the two blocks, carrying them home by hanging each one on the ends of my drops. As I was getting ready to push off, a man walked by and said "Good luck!".

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    1. Hah! Good one...

      Spindizzy

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  11. Some of these bags really sound useful and I'm tempted to try another one but it sounds to me like picking a front bag is still more of a crapshoot than it could be. I've used a couple over the years(nothing as good as some of these granted) and the same things still seem to be problems(instability on rough roads, shifting loads, flapping when not full, etc.) even now. Are rear bags (Carradice, Dill Pickle etc.) less problematic if you don't mind the lack of access on the fly?

    I use a med/biggish wedge bag under the saddle and a tiny seat bag(actually meant for a tube and tirelevers) strapped to the bars with my phone, money/ID, and a PayDay or two stuffed inside. But I want to start doing some much longer rides and need to go bigger(some clothes, more food, that sort of thing).

    I can't get my hands on this stuff around here so have to just order what seems good and hope for the best. Any thoughts from those(Fixie Pixie?) who've done long miles with both types?

    Spindizzy

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    1. I really like the small ortlieb. One of the things I like about it is that because it is small, it encourages efficiency! No DSLR and spare lenses in that bag! I keep it light and just carry valuables (wallet, passport) and things I want quick access to, like on the bike food. I use a lightweight point and shoot camera. Most of the time, The camera is actually in a back pocket, but if it starts to rain, it goes into the nice waterproof bar bag, along with my phone. The nice thing about this type of bar bag is that it is super easy to pop on and off. So if I stop to go in a cafe, I pop off the bag and have my valuables with me. Since I keep it light, it's also not a big deal to carry it along.

      The bar bag may also end up temporarily containing arm warmers or light gloves, or even a vest in conditions where I am taking stuff off, putting it back on frequently or on the move.

      I'm not so good at doing legwarmers and jackets on the move, so they go in the waterproof bag on the back, along with tools and tire and tubes - again things I would have to stop to use.

      I prefer the completely waterproof bags - if it's worth carrying, it is likely worth keeping dry. I also look for secure, but easy to get the bag on and off mounts.

      The ortlieb bar mount with a lock just baffles me. So I can lock my bag onto the bike, but the thief can just open the bag and take my wallet and camera. Ortlieb reps say take that stuff with you, but that's what the bag is for - and it's locked to the bike. Oh and if I lock it, where do I keep the key?

      We do have the larger bags and John has used the larger bag for touring with a big camera and spare lenses, but I think he found it less than ideal

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  12. Velouria,

    Have you thought of using one of those old temporary handlebar supports? Velo-Orange, I believe, was calling them rackaleurs. I've had one since the 1980's and like it quite a bit. I'm using it now with a Rivendell Little Joe (which is the equivalent of a Caradice Barley, save for the side pockets). I've been very happy with the combination.

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    1. I meant to try the VO rackaleur, but it's been discontinued I believe.

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    2. I've used the VO Rackaleur and it worked better on a highish-trail bike (custom Rivendell) than I had anticipated with about 5 lb in the bag. I could feel the effect on the steering but it was quite tolerable -- after all, one advantage of the Rackaleur and other such devices is that you can remove it when you don't need it.

      However, it carries the load further forward and higher than a bag that is simply strapped to the bar. I've come to prefer simple tube-shaped bags that I can simply strap on at need. (Poor spatial imagination makes installation of the Rackaleur rather like a difficult 3-dimensional puzze every time I install it.)

      What is that Ortlieb bag in the top photo?

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  13. I have two bikes with handlebar bags (supported by the bars alone) and the setups couldn't be more different.

    The Pashley has a Brooks smaller saddlebag that hangs perfectly supported by two straps on each side of the threaded stem where the North Roads have a low point. The third loop goes around the stem itself (quite high on this bike) and stabilises the bag. Everything seems to be shaped just right for this and there should be lots of pictures of this setup on this blog. I carry a set of rain gear in that bag (waterproof jacket/trousers, gloves, hat, rain/snow goggles). The stuff is light enough but bulky, so the bag is always packed full. It's very stable. This setup lasted 3 years so far.

    The Surly has a Carradice zipped roll saddlebag that attaches with two straps to drop bars right where bar tape ends on each side of the stem. I pulled the straps tight and they don't move (held by friction against grippy Fizik tape). The third strap is a bit of a hack at the moment. I can't pull it tight against the threadless stem (not enough steerer), nor obviously around the head tube. So I just rolled the strap onto itself and it forms a leather donut bumper that keeps the bag away from the canti brake exposed inner cable and pushes against the head tube--the inner cable goes through the donut. This may sound worse than it looks, and the system seems to work fine. The bag itself is very stable due to the wooden dowel inside and how tight the two loops hold it against the bars, but obviously the tops of the bars are less accessible now. I don't carry anything heavy in the roll bag and the zippered opening is quite small. I've had maybe 2 lbs of stuff in there without issues. Caveat: this setup is relatively new and I am still figuring it out.

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  14. Lone Peak, out of Utah, makes a couple unsupported handlebar bags that use a system similar to the KlickFix. They aren't traditional-style bags like Carradice, Rivendell, Acorn, etc., but they are nice and simple and look fine on older and newer bikes alike. The Lone Peak bags aren't waterproof, but if there's a chance of rain, I just bring a small lightweight dry-bag and stuff my things in there.

    I have the Alta model, their biggest one, which is pretty roomy (660 cubic inches, plus outside mesh pockets for phones, cameras, whatever) and which I have stuffed to capacity many times. It sits higher than many rack-supported handlebar bags, and I know this is supposed to be bad for weighty loads up front, but I've never had a problem with it. This is on a commuter/touring bike set up with drop bars, and while I there is no aggressive cornering on my commute, there is a fairly large bridge I go down that I get to 35-40mph on (I know, probably not too fast for people with real hills, but for flattish southern New Jersey, this bridge is a nice treat!), and even then, shifting with downtube shifters and the bag loaded, the bag doesn't cause control issues. Sometimes I feel like my bike handles better on this downhill with the bag loaded.

    The only complaint I had with the Lone Peak bags I had at first was the unsightly bracket that you leave on the bike. I was going to make a water-bottle-holder attachment to fit in the bracket, but now I just keep the bag on all the time, so the bracket-unsightliness is no longer an issue.

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  15. I am going to install a KlickFix mount on this Peugeot PX-50 I am just about finished building. I have a cool Velo Orange bag that looks traditional but it would sit on the headlight that sits kind of far back. It's an old Lefol on hammered fenders. The smaller Berthoud bag came with the adapter already screwed in place (glad I didn't poke the screw holes in it!) and it should be free of the cabling and stuff but the black plastic is very, well, plasticky. It's got a little key for a lock and will be the best route. The little bag is pretty rigid and should support itself without collapsing or mis-shaping. I might fugure a way to rig these tiny front panniers on the fender struts somehow.
    vsk

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  16. I've gone back and forth with strap- or bracket-mounted bags depending on the situation. On my road bike I sometimes hang a Banjo Bros. roll bag just for my wallet, phone and snack, but find the stap-and-bungee setup is too floppy for much weight beyond that.
    I also use a Topeak bag mounted to a rigid plastic bracket (shown on this bikehttp://brokebicyclist.blogspot.com/2013/01/choosing-bike-singlespeedfixed-gear.html), which, even though cantilevered farther from the frame, seems less disruptive of steering.
    The "heavy stuff in back, light stuff up front" system seems hard to argue with on most bike that aren't specifically designed for front loads.
    The real advantage I've found with handlebar bags other than keeping a few things close at hand on the bike is that many of them have a quick-release and a shoulder strap. I can keep small, valuable, easily stolen stuff in there (wallet, phone, camera, Kindle) there and bring it with me while the bike is locked up.

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  17. I guess to each their own...In general I've found keeping things low and stable works best for my riding experience. When I used handlebar bags the main issue was the way things bounce around. A bag tapered towards the bottom worked better as objects eventually packed themselves tightly together and this worked best on the back and side -- out of sight and out of mind :) That said, I love the way fixie pixie sets up her bikes!

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  18. We've used a klik-fix mounted bag for ages on the tandem and more recently on my solo. We have an Agu Sport Quorum 525 camera bag. This has straps and sleeves to take metal horns that click into the Klik-fix adaptor. We've loaded it up quite heavily with netbook, cameras, binoculars, chocolate etc. Its quite bouncy but doesn't affect steering too much. We got an Ortlieb bag for Christmas which we've only tried once, but it seems much more stable than the Agu.

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  19. Velouria, have you ever come across the Take-out basket from Portland Design Works? i've got them one both my city/tourning bike and on my Audax bike....the ability to attach a front light to them is a real bonus over a normal bar mounted bag. The basket and bag is slightly lighter than my old Ortlieb bar bag too. Berghaus have just made me a couple of new custom bags, one black rip stop sail cloth, the other in nice purple Cordura, both with Gore-tex drop liners.

    Michael

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  20. Have used the Ortlieb bags-both the small one pictured and the next larger size-for several years. I have the mounts with the "goofy useless lock". Indeed.
    One thing about that mount, is that the bag is dead stable. The design is such that there is no movement at all, rotational or side-to-side, even if you pull on it. It is true that you can only uninstall/re-install the wire a few times. A brake cable with a washer works just as well though.

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  21. When I rebuilt my ride following a run-in with a truck, I got a Velo Orange Rando, which of course supports a front rack for a handlebar bag, which I like a lot.

    But before all that--I had a Trek 560 that I loved, and I like carrying stuff in a bar bag, so I did a little engineering. I bought some 1/4" or so aluminum rod and bent up my own "rackeleur." It worked very well and, since it survived the crash, has now been moved over to my Kogswell Model D (I did have to widen it a little, since the Trek had a quill stem, while the Model D uses a fatter, threadless stem.

    I have used many, MANY, quick-release mounted bags. My main issue with them is that they mount high, probably to accommodate small frames as well as large, but this makes them a bit unwieldy. One solution is to move the bag side of the QR mount, but the rackeleur gives better support, and can be customized.

    In any event, a bag in front is a useful bag to have, no matter how you do it.

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  22. Law School: would you post a photo of your rackaleur? I have the VO one that holds the bag high and forward; I'd like a design that tucks it closer and lower. Thanks.

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  23. I carry most of my stuff in a saddlebag, either a Carrdice with my Berthoud/Brooks saddle or a Jandd Mountain Wedge III with a plastic saddle. I use my handlebar bag mainly as a feed-bag, so that I can buy something like a sandwich or some cookies and eat while riding. Right now, I'm using a Lone Peak Pfeifferhorn handlebar bag, but I don't like the way it attaches (the straps are always slipping in the buckles), so I'm looking for a new bag.

    The Ortlieb isn't an option, because I mount my LED light next to the stem and the bag would block it. Also, I like to be able to swap the bag from bike to bike without unscrewing and re-attaching a bracket.

    I've narrowed my search down to two bags, either the Rivendell Brand V Bar Tube or the Frost River Sawbill Trail. Both of these can sit below handlebar level (so as not to block a light) and they have d-rings on the sides, which allows you to tie shoelaces to the brake hoods or bar drops to keep the bag from swinging or shifting to-and-fro.

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  24. brooks uses the arkel system...

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