It has taken me almost 30 years to try a bar bag. Handlebar bags (I don’t mean shopping baskets) are not a new idea; they were apparently listed in the 1890 Brooks catalogue, but I’d hesitated buying one in case it would interfere with the front cables, and also my GPS, front light and bell. Plus I’d got used to using a rucksack. My touring panniers are Altura Orkney, one step up from Altura Dryline, but I decided against the Orkney bar bag as it’s slightly heavier, more expensive, and I didn’t need internal pockets or a detachable one on the front (Altura Orkney bar bag review on this website). So ours are Dryline for £44.
‘Boxy’ – Altura Dryline handlebar bag on my bicycle
Both the Altura bags have seven litres capacity and ‘waterproof Dryline construction’. The top, front and back of the Orkney is covered with Duratec fabric, presumably a little bit better than ‘mini rip’ used on the Dryline. The difference between Duratec and ‘mini rip’ is visible in the criss-cross stitching over the fabric: double versus single stitching. It’s probably neither here nor there on a bar bag. The interior lining material and the sides and bottom seem identical on the Orkney and Dryline; both are sold as waterproof anyway.
There are lots of bar bag brands of course. As well as Altura and Brooks: Ortlieb, Carradice, Topeak, Vaude, Pashley, Gilles Berthoud, Naborsa and others, with prices up to £235 for an upmarket Brooks. The Pashley Bottle bar bag for £195 seems especially useless, aimed at people purely looking for Cycle Chic™ (nothing against Cycle Chic™ but I wanted something that actually worked). Some of those products include Rixen & Kaul’s ubiquitous KLICKfix adapter system to mount the bag on the handlebars and others use their own brackets. The mounting system is an important part of the product, and price, so it’s probably a good idea to stick to KLICKfix as an industry standard. KLICKfix products can also be bought separately.
Altura Dryline bar bag with map case fitted
Typically, bar bags come with a transparent map case. The Altura Dryline has one. I doubt whether it will last very long but at least Altura have tried to deal with the problem of the map case blowing off in the wind; a small strip of Velcro attaches the case to the top of the bag. The inside of the map case measures 260mm high by 225mm wide – too small for an Ordnance Survey Explorer map (folded) unless it’s cut into pieces. Not much use. Judging by the complaints about flimsy map cases they are still a desirable item in these days of GPS but what do people expect from a thin plastic envelope. A decent sized transparent map case for walkers can be bought separately for £1.99 and fixed to a bar bag with strips of Velcro tape; that would be my solution if I really wanted one, and when it comes apart just buy another.
Fitting the bar bag to the handlebars
Rixen & Kaul adapter bracket and clamps with security cable
The bar bag is mounted on the handlebars at the stem. First, the Rixen & Kaul adapter (the bracket) is clamped in position. Two pairs of clamps are supplied: some standard clamps for 22-26mm diameter bars and oversize clamps for 31.8mm. They are screwed into the back of the adapter from the front, using the screws to tighten it up against the bars. A short wire cable is then looped under the stem, over the bars, and fed in via some holes into locking nipples you push into the adapter. The cable does not feed in very easily and might need something pushing into the screw holes in the nipples to ease it through. The nipple screws are finally tightened to make the bracket secure. The weight of the bag is actually supported by the cable, not the tightness of the brackets, so trial and error is needed to fix everything at a suitable angle. The instructions advise that the screws to tighten the clamps against the handlebars must not be too tight. Mine, however, are pretty tight to prevent the bracket and bag being accidentally rotated upwards, thereby loosening the security cable.
Second, the bar bag is simply snapped in place on the front of the adapter. Total time spent to fit the bar bag: about half-an-hour, or twenty minutes if you’ve done it before – after I’d fitted mine and tried it, I bought another for Sandra. The bag is easily clipped on and off the adapter bracket and is also supplied with a shoulder strap.
For info: the distance between the insides of the clamps on the handlebars is 55mm, and between the outsides, 77mm. Sandra’s bike has oversize bars that begin to taper down away from the stem; even so, the oversize clamps are just fine.
Seven litres of space inside the bag
Both our bags are fitted to hybrid bikes with flat handlebars so there is no interference with brake, gear, or suspension fork on-off switch cables. That is good. However, I had to buy a KlickFix Multi Clip Plus accessory (£9) to mount my Garmin GPS and, in winter, a front light (both previously mounted on the handlebars next to the stem). The Multi Clip Plus snaps in between the arms of the adapter to provide an extra bar behind the bag.
KLICKfix Multi Clip Plus
Depending on the angle of the bag, it may obstruct the light and prevent it shining on the road. Never mind. At least the GPS is okay. I will have to think of a solution for the front light as winter approaches but that is some time away. In the meantime I’ve moved the bell.
The final ensemble
The mess underneath
Overall, there isn’t much to criticise. The Altura Dryline bar bag is essentially a box on the front of your bike. It does look boxy but that’s what it is, and 7 litres is easily big enough for waterproof top, spare jumper, camera, phone, sandwiches, cake, assorted biscuits, fruit, matches, can-opener, wet-wipes, Kindle, and a LifeVenture thermal mug stood vertically; whatever you might need for a pleasant day ride, right in front of your face (nasty bits like tools, spare tube, puncture repair set etc are better hidden out of the way in a wedge pack IMO). The bag seems quite rainproof, is easy to clip on and off, and… what else? Well, it doesn’t bounce up and down too much over bumps and pot holes. It isn’t plastered with garish colours and gawdy graphics. It’s just grey, like our bikes. Subdued and functional this item is (I am not bothered about the flimsy map case). That’s about it – it’s just a bar bag and I like it. I suppose when you look at a similarly priced rucksack, the Dryline bag seems a bit expensive for what it is, even with a KLICKfix *adapter, but I’d buy another (and I did):
The bags: hers ‘n mine
ease of use
value for money
‘Performance’ would have been full marks but there’s a slight booming noise when you pedal hard uphill. It’s probably vibration from the front tyre rolling on the road, amplified by the bag somehow – like a drum. This unexpected (but interesting) phenomenon means I have knocked half a point off, and a further half-point because I reckon the four screws that tighten the adapter against the handlebars – the ones that are not supposed to be ‘too tight’ – will eventually strip the plastic they are screwed into, especially if they are unscrewed and screwed up again a few times (I had to do this when fitting the Multi Clip Plus).
*I think adapter should be spelled adaptor.
Top-mount brake levers on drop handlebars
Our Ridgeback touring bikes have drop handlebars on which a bar bag will not fit so easily, partly because of the so-called ‘washing line’ cables that come sideways out of the shifters and also because the bikes have top-mount brake levers fitted each side of the stem. Rixen & Kaul makes a Klickfix Distance Adapter that extends the position of the bar bag further forward by 43mm – I’ve seen how this might work with space for the levers but I don’t really fancy it. A solution would be Shimano Ultegra shifters with gear cables routed under the bar tape, but they are over £200 and would mean converting the bikes from 9-speed to 10-speed and I’m not doing that for a while, if ever.