Ortlieb Handlebar-Pack Review: Test & Release (1 of 2)
Today’s big news: Ortlieb has just unveiled their all-new collection of waterproof bikepacking bags. Having had the opportunity to thrash this kit in advance of the release, here’s a detailed review of the Handlebar-Pack and accompanying Accessory-Pack…
For most of the bike touring world, ‘Ortlieb’ is likely a familiar name. It’s a brand that pairs almost as synonymously with bicycle panniers, as Xerox does with copy machines. But this didn’t happen overnight. The German company was founded in 1982 on the premise of making the world’s first fully waterproof pannier. And that they did, and did well. It’s a reputation they’ve built on solidly over the years. Despite the worthy alternatives available today, Ortlieb remains an undisputed market leader in high quality, waterproof bicycle luggage.
In addition to panniers, the company now offers a massive catalog of products that go well beyond the scope of traditional bike touring. So it only seems natural they’d branch out into the realm of bikepacking. As of today, they’ve added a dirt touring department (so to speak) and released a small collection of bikepacking bags. The three new bags inherit Ortlieb’s rugged and waterproof engineering savvy, and fuse their signature charcoal gray honeycomb and matte black fabrics, sturdy coated materials, and unique hardware, to create a seat-pack and handlebar system that play well with both mountain bikes and gravel tourers alike.
A Waterproof Handlebar Roll
While weight, durability, and clean looks have been some of the criterion behind Ortlieb’s success, it’s the fact that their panniers are 100% waterproof that draws many cyclists to them. When it comes to multi-day cycling trips in inclement weather, there’s not much more important than keeping things dry. Ortlieb continued in this tradition by making their new Handlebar-Pack – and accompanying Accessory-Pack – fully waterproof, with zero points for water ingress.
To do this, Ortlieb constructs their bags using radio-frequency (RF) welding. This technology uses electromagnetic energy to join waterproof fabrics and eliminates the need for stitching, which compromises materials and provides points where water may enter. The bulk of material on the HP is a polyurethane (PU) coated ripstop nylon fabric (approximately 600 denier/42 grams per square meter). There are also thicker PU coated fabrics welded on as reinforcement panels on the main connection area as well as affixment points for straps, the stabilizing strut, and clips that hold the elastic shock-cord. But other than one horizontal RF welded seam, there are no actual through points in the tube-shaped bag body, except at the ends where the edges are reinforced with stitched narrow fabric and two HDPE stiffeners.
The Handlebar-Pack is a two sided dry-bag style roll that falls somewhere in between a medium and large in size, at 7.6 inches (19.304cm) in diameter. As a comparison, it’s falls almost exactly in between the medium and large sizes of the ever popular Revelate Sweetroll (7 and 8 inches correspondingly). This makes the Handlebar-Pack suitable for touring bikes, rigid mountain bikes, and bikes with shorter travel suspension forks (think 80-120mm). Like most handlebar roll systems, it works well nestled between drop bars on a CX/adventure rig, a characteristic augmented by the easy access head-tube strap, allowing the bag to be quickly disengaged at the head-tube and flipped up for loading or unloading.
On first inspection of the bag, the feature stood out most was the burly two-layer handlebar strap system, which is part of what makes this bag unique. The inner velcro strap is secured to the bag around an internally sealed 11” plastic strut that runs horizontally to stabilize the bag. The part of the velcro strap that contacts the handlebar has a rubberized coating that helps keep the bag from moving laterally. And the outer strap is comprised of a nexus side-release buckle, a ladder lock, and bright orange webbing, an accent that adds a nice aesthetic pop on both the Seat-Pack/Handlebar-Pack combination. The inner velcro strap is a great feature as the bag can be easily mounted before really clamping it down with the outer webbing straps. That said, both sets of straps are a bit long for mountain bike handlebars, but can be easily trimmed down.
Another visual element that Ortlieb carried over from their line of panniers is a pair of upside-down triangular octagonal shapes. These small reflective patches are printed on the front of the bag. Also, the Ortlieb logo itself is reflective, all of these are welcome additions and serve as a nice added safety bonus.
Trail Tested in Pisgah
This bag was shaken down, sometimes literally, over a couple multi-day trips on the rugged trails of Pisgah in the western North Carolina Appalachians, where roots, rocks, drops, and rain are bound to be a staple of any given ride. I tested the bags on a Salsa Pony Rustler 27.5+ full-suspension bike with a 130mm fork. Additionally, the bags were used on a Niner RLT Steel gravel/cx bike. Suffice to say, the Handlebar-Pack system performed very well in both applications. It’s worth mentioning that it took a few cracks to get the adjustments properly dialed. Nonetheless, the handlebar system is fairly stable once you get it properly set up. Mostly it was a matter of getting the proper compression using the two main straps. The hook-and-loop head tube strap was a little frustrating when bounding down rock-strewn trails though; there were several occasions where it came loose and the bag came flying up over the handlebars. But this is hardly a complaint worth niggling over, as the strap can easily be replaced with a more secure option; it secures via a 3-tier daisy chain and is removable.
As for versatility, I will also add to an aspect touched on earlier… the bag might be too big for long travel bikes. For a 27.5 x 3.0 tire (with the equivalent diameter of a standard 29er), the 130mm fork was pushing the bounds of space between the tire and bag. As you can see from the dirty smears in a couple of the photos, it did get a little rub as a result of some bigger off-camber drops, of which there were a few. So I left the Float in the middle ‘trailmode’ setting to limit the travel at 110mm, at which point it was fine.
While I was quite pleased with the Handlebar-Pack, the Accessory-Pack is the most impressive part of the system – the bag’s nifty attachment and closure system specifically. Ortlieb devised an elegant aluminum slide buckle that easily disengages allowing quick access to the bag. These buckles are also appointed to attach the pouch to the Handlebar-Pack at each of the four corners, via webbing loops, which made for easy and quick removal and remounting. The same straps are used to cinch down the load and stabilize the pack as a whole.
The Accessory-Pack also has two straps in the rear to be deployed for use sans Handlebar-Pack. The hook-and-loop straps fold out and attach directly to the handlebars. For added anchor, there are several ‘daisy-chain’ options to redirect the velcro head-tube strap for use at the bottom of the pouch. This is a great alternate use for the pouch, an especially nice option for commuting or when pedaling about town. Despite the utility, the rear straps do get a bit annoying when the pouch is paired with the Handlebar-Pack and they’re not in use; it might be nice to see these reengineered as removable straps. Adding one more accessory use, Ortlieb also includes a shoulder strap to easily convert the pouch to a handy attaché. And, with all of the loops at the back of the pouch, there’s no reason it couldn’t be converted to a hip-pack too.
The Ortlieb Accessory-Pack is amongst the first fully waterproof handlebar pouches to market. This is undeniably refreshing when stowing need-to-access maps, electronics, or other doo-dads that require protection from the elements. I even ended up throwing in my full-frame DSLR with pancake lens on some stretches; while it was admittedly a little heavy for that position, the pouch held it OK. It’s also easy to appreciate the size and simplicity of the Accessory-Pack. While it can expand to hold bulky items, it also has two front buckle placements that allow the roll-top bag to be cinched as small and tight as you’d like. The overall shape of the bag is evidence of their proprietary ‘3D’ welding construction method. This is what gives it the soft rounded and beveled edges at the bottom. Ortlieb has been using this secret variation of RF welding for three decades, but the extent of public knowledge is that it’s done using a mold, similar to casting. Otherwise, they keep the technology hidden away within the four walls of their factory in Heilsbronn, Germany.
- The buckle system is truly genius; it works flawlessly and makes for the easiest release of an accessory pack that I’ve seen to date.
- The size of the handlebar roll is near perfect for general use; not too fat and not too slim. Plus it is equally at home on drop bars as it is on a mountain bike.
- The handlebar strap system is significantly more rugged than any I’ve seen.
- The charcoal and orange color combo is pretty slick.
- I wish that the rear straps on the Accessory-Pack were removable; they add a little extra bulk when not in use.
- The head tube strap should be a buckle instead of velcro.
- It’s a bit heavier (426g) that other handlebar bags on the market (the Revelate Sweet Roll weighs about 360g). And it’s also priced a little higher.
- The bag is slightly too big for use with long travel suspension forks, especially with larger tires.
- Weight (as tested): 426g (15oz)
- Volume: 15L (915 cu.in.)
- Price: $135
- Place of Manufacture: Germany
- Contact: Ortlieb USA
- Weight: 206g (7.3oz)
- Volume: 3.5L (214 cu.in.)
- Price: $75
- Place of Manufacture: Germany
- Contact: Ortlieb USA
Check your local bike shop or buy at REI
Although it took a little time to get the adjustments right and figure out how best to keep it secure, the Handlebar-Pack with Accessory-Pocket performed at a high level, especially considering this is Ortlieb’s first foray into the world of soft bikepacking bags. Standout points include it being one of the best designs I’ve tried for ease of mounting and disengaging, and the fact that it’s completely waterproof… to the extent that it could probably withstand being submerged for prolonged periods of time (although we didn’t test that aspect). If you are into pack-rafting, it’s no doubt your huckleberry. The Accessory-Pack is brilliant – largely down to the nifty aluminum buckle system and again, because it’s 100 per cent waterproof.
If I had a couple grouches they might be as follows. Firstly, the hook-and-loop head-tube strap should be replaced if you plan on negotiating any bumpy trails. And secondly, the overall girth of the bag is a little big for use with a long-travel suspension fork — at an inch less in diameter it would perfect, in my opinion.
Notwithstanding these nits, the bag sports an ideal volume for use on a short travel/rigid bike, or a drop-bar bike where the extra circumference makes up the size for the shorter length allowed between the drops. Of course, it’s generous size also makes it a great contender for bigger trips or winter outings where extra space is needed.
Disclosure: The Ortlieb Handlebar-Pack and Accessory-Pack was provided for this review about a month prior to launch.