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Friday, June 09, 2017

Review: Ortlieb Compact Handlebar Bag

My 15 year old REI nylon handlebar bag finally gave up the ghost. My first instinct was to just buy another one, but REI in its infinite wisdom had stopped making it. Try as I might, I couldn't even find a reasonable replica on the internet. Fortunately, fellow cycle-tourist Pamela Blalock came to my rescue: she had previously upgraded her handlebar bag, and was now willing to give me her old Ortlieb bar bag for the price of postage.

The bag arrived, and I immediately mounted it onto the handlebars of the single and the tandem. It comes with a mounting kit that requires a pretty permanent screw on mount on every bike you use. The benefit is that it's an "easy on/easy off" system, not that the velcro on the old REI bag ever gave me trouble.

It's pretty waterproof, and much bigger than my old bag, with the issue that it no longer has a map case. The older REI bar bag's map case was pretty useless anyway, so I didn't miss it. I can stuff a cycling jacket, a pair of leg warmers, a cheap cable lock, alternate blades for my Oakley M-frames, and it would still all fit. I anticipate no problems stuffing other valuables like smart phones (the bag's waterproof, so even if your phone's not this would make the phone reasonably accessible), wallet or passports while touring, provided I moved items like the lock away. The idea is you can lock up your bike, remove the bar bag with your most valuable items, and eat lunch at a restaurant without worrying about the rest of your gear.

In practice, on particularly rough roads or off-road, the mount shifts a bit. Fortunately, it bottoms out against the head tube, so there's only so much it can descend. Even in this position, I can still get at it while riding. The velcro is kinda loose, but so far, I haven't lost anything from the bag yet, even when the flap flew open while the bike was on the rack of my car while going 65mph.

It came with a shoulder strap that Pamela said was useless, and indeed, it was pretty freaking useless. It's not even worth the weight of carrying it!

It's definitely lighter and higher quality than the other bags that I've seen. I'm not sure it's $50 better than the $20 bag I bought from REI 15 years ago, but to be honest those aren't made any more, so I'm not sure you could do better today.


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