A handlebar bag was once a rarely seen accessory, reserved for touring bikes and shoppers on hybrids.
But the emergence of gravel bikes and bikepacking has made handlebar bags cool, and better designs and materials have made them more useful.
We’ll run through why they’re useful, what’s available and what to look for when choosing the best bar bag for your needs.
What is a bike handlebar bag?
A bike handlebar bag is simply a bag that can be attached to your handlebar, usually via straps that go around the tops of the bar, near the centre.
Access may be via zips or a roll-top end closure, in both cases usually designed to help keep moisture away from the bag’s contents.
The proliferation of sizes and designs means there’s a handlebar bag, also known as a bar bag, for practically every use.
Who uses handlebar bags?
In the past, almost no one used handlebar bags, except for the hardcore touring cyclist. But in recent years, handlebar bags have come into vogue, mainly thanks to the rise of gravel bikes.
Bar bags are a handy alternative to saddle bags. They make it easier to access your possessions and offer a little more protection from wheel spray and dirt.
A bar bag is also a good place to keep a mid-ride snack, freeing up pocket space or enabling you to ride in a pocketless cycling jersey.
There’s usually a little more capacity than in a saddle bag, so you can add a cycling gilet or waterproof jacket in case of rain, or use the bar bag to stash accessories such as arm warmers or a cap if it warms up during your ride.
A bar bag paired with a larger seat pack or other bikepacking bags provides the main carrying capacity for adventure riding. The supplemental capacity is easily accessible if you’re using panniers on a touring bike.
Handlebar bags are also a good way to carry extra kit and work materials or a laptop if you’re commuting on a hybrid bike or folding bike.
The different types of handlebar bag
Handlebar bags come in a range of designs, often dictated by their size.
Small handlebar bags tend to be cylindrical in shape with one zip across the top or front. They’re good for tools and snacks, but may limit what else you can carry, although they may include webbing straps for outside carrying.
There’s a gradation of sizes as you scale up. Some bags are available in multiple sizes with essentially the same design, but different capacities.
One common design has a top opening to access the contents, often supplemented by a sleeve on the lid and maybe side pockets. Bags of this type tend to be quite rigid.
The other popular design for larger bags is a waterproof dry bag, which sits in a sleeve attached to the bike.
This is advantageous for bikepacking because the sleeve can be left on the bike, while you can take the dry bag elsewhere. It’s a good system for carrying a sleeping bag or down jacket, keeping the contents dry but still easy to access when you stop.
Having said this, the sausage shape may interfere with a bike’s drop handlebar or brakes. Large handlebar bags may have multiple compartments. The largest Restrap bag incorporates both a rigid compartment and loops below it for a dry bag.
Finally, some bags are designed for city riders. They are often shaped like a satchel and feature a shoulder strap or handle for off-bike carrying.
Handlebar bags tend to be sold as universal designs for any bike, but some are intended for a specific bike and sold as an accessory by the bike brand.
Brompton, for example, sells handlebar bags designed specifically for its folding bikes and which attach to the bag mount that’s a feature of the front end of most Bromptons. Sizes for Brompton’s bags are surprisingly generous and offer as much as 23 litres of capacity.
What to look for in a bike handlebar bag
The key consideration when choosing a bar bag is its size. On the one hand, you want enough capacity for your needs. On the other, you don’t want to be riding around with a bag that’s half full – not least because it’s likely to sag and bounce around, and the contents may rattle.
Fortunately, many bar bags enable you to adjust their volume to match your load, often via compression straps. Many also include adjustable bungee cords, so you can lash a jacket to the outside, which has the added benefit of being easy to access when it’s needed.
If you are mostly going for day rides but make the occasional bikepacking trip, you may want two bags to meet your different capacity needs.
Compatibility with your bike
The main issue with bar bags is their width relative to your handlebar. If you have a road handlebar, a wider bag may not fit between your drops on a road bike or may interfere with your grips if you have a flat mountain bike handlebar. It may make using your controls awkward as well.
Gravel bikes are easier in this regard. Gravel bike handlebars are usually wider than road bike bars and flared, so they offer more space and enable you to use the drops more easily, even with a wide bag.
The other issue, particularly with smaller frame sizes, is that a deeper bag can rub on your front wheel, so you need to ensure there’s adequate clearance, particularly since bags tend to droop once loaded.
Many bicycle handlebar bags mount to a handlebar with two straps, usually with a strap further down the bag that passes around the head tube, to help keep the bag stable.
It’s a system that works well, although it can lead to rubbing on either the bar or the frame, so it’s worth adding some protective tape to your handlebar and around the head tube.
Straps may be nylon with standard pull-through buckles, clip-together clips or Velcro to keep them in place. In some cases, rubber is used, which has the advantage of being stretchy and grippy, so your bag is less likely to move around as you ride.
Any strap system can interfere with brake and gear cables, so it’s common for brands to include spacers, usually made of closed-cell foam, to hold them away from the bar slightly and enable the cables to function.
Other brands use a separate mount that fits to the bar and to which the bag is attached.
In some cases, the mount may lift your bag up above the level of your bar, which can help with rigidity, help avoid contact with the front wheel and add extra capacity.
Larger bags, in particular, tend to be made of heavier-weight fabric, which improves their durability. Often the underside is made of heavy-duty material to make it more durable and weatherproof. A smaller bag can be made of lighter-weight fabric because there’s less weight to carry.
Some bags have internal reinforcement, with stiffer materials used in some areas, particularly the sections likely to come into contact with the head tube, to help keep them rigid. Others may have further reinforced areas or be semi-rigid.
Rubbing against the bike can cause wear and some bags have patches of more abrasion-resistant fabric where they come into contact with the frame. Straps are less of a problem if they start to fray because they can usually be replaced.
Keep an eye out for wear though and replace them before they are too damaged; you don’t want to contend with a broken strap on a long-planned excursion.
Waterproofing is important, even if you’re mainly riding in the dry. Wheel spray can wet out the contents if the road is damp and mud or unavoidable puddles could make a mess of your bar bag’s contents. Left in a damp bag, tools can corrode quickly and you may find your multi-tool is unusable when you need it.
Fortunately, most bar bags are made with waterproof fabrics. If a bag has zips, these are usually waterproof to stop water ingress. Some include a separate dry bag, usually with a wrap-end closure to stop water from getting in through the opening.
To be sure your contents will stay dry, you can use separate dry bags inside your bar bag, which will have the additional advantage of making organising your stuff more manageable.
Pockets and accessibility
You may want to be able to access the contents of your handlebar bag while en route, in which case extra side pockets can be useful.
A dry-bag style bar bag can make it difficult to access the contents quickly because you will have to unwrap the end and there’s usually no internal compartmentation.
Many bags include bungee straps to lash items to the outside, which can help with access to larger gear such as jackets and camping kit.
Some bags enable you to add extra bags or pockets in a modular design to increase your carrying capacity or include ladders on the outside to add straps.
Many bar bags feature a transparent sleeve on the top to stash a bike computer, map or route plan.
It may also be useful to look for a handlebar bag with fixing points for lights if you’re an audax rider.
The handlebar bag may limit fixing points on your handlebar for a front bike light or impede the light’s ability to illuminate the road ahead.
Reflective elements are also handy to increase your safety when cycling at night and in poor weather.