Choosing A Bike Bag Setup

Handlebar Setup

When deciding on how you will setup the cockpit of your bike, it’s important to choose the right bag for the job. Depending on the type of riding you are doing, the handlebar bag setup can differ greatly.

Handlebar bag

The benefit of using a handlebar bag is that you have quick access to many of your most important possessions, such as camera, wallet, powerbanks, etc. When touring it’s important to make sure that the handlebar bag you purchase is safe and secure when attached to the bike, making it difficult for someone to snatch the bag from you, yet should also be easy enough to quickly remove for occasions when you will be locking up the bike and leaving it along.

Handlebar bags generally attach directly to your handlebar, and are compatible with both drop bars and flat handlebars. Some bikes such as Brompton, have their own system of bag mount which allows the user mount the bag lower down towards the front wheel, thereby keeping the centre of gravity lower and the steering more nimble. 

I personally use an older style Ortlieb handlebar bag, which has some pros and cons in itself. It doesn’t close as easily, but seems to be much more durable than the newer ones.

Click here to see my suggested bags (coming soon)

Handlebar Rolls

Handlebar rolls have their own important place within the confines of a bike cockpit. While in traditional bike touring, a handlebar bag will be sufficient, mainly because you have lots of place in your panniers to back your sleeping system, in a bikepacking setup, a handlebar roll plays a crucial roll (no pun intended) in carrying your lightest but bulkiest things, namely your sleeping setup.

There are a variety of different handlebar roll setups available with some including a bar mount system, which helps to keep everything stabilized, while others just attach a harness to the handlebar via straps, which results in more movement and play within the setup. Depending on your budget, you can build your system to suite. Some people opt to save money and make a DIY handlebar roll, by purchasing a drybag and some Voile Straps and just strapping the bag to the handlebars after stuffing it full. 

Click here to see my suggested bags. (coming soon)

Frame Bags

Once upon a time, people made their own DIY bikepacking setup and attached all their gear to their bikes to race the Tour de France. Now they are supported. With the advent and growth of the bikepacking industry, people are looking for ways to carry gear on their adventures and framebags seem to be just the way to get some extra storage space, generally at the expense of places to carry your waterbottles.

There are two main types of frame bags: full frame bags and partial frame bags. 

Full Frame Bags

As one can imagine, full frame bags take up the entire front triangle of the bike, generally mounting with velcro closures around the top tube, seat post and down tube. Depending on the size of the front triangle of your bike you can fit a bag of between 4-9 litres. Bear in mind that if the frame bag is too big and bulges too much from overpacking, it may rub on your legs and cause discomfort. By using a full frame bag, you can carry more stuff, but one of the disadvantages is the affect on the bike in cross-wind, which can push you quite hard as the bag acts like a sail and doesn’t let the wind flow.

Click here to see my suggested bags. (coming soon)

Partial Frame Bags

As you can well imagine, partial frame bags take up only part of the front triangle of the bike, generally leaving room for a water bottle to be carried. Most often, partial frame bags run along under the top tube of the bike and are great places to carry longer items such as tent poles, but are most useful to carry items that you may need access to throughout the day, such as rain gear, wallet, quick access tools, etc. I have seen some people use a smaller size full frame bag which then can be setup to either allow for a water bottle to be mounted on the seat tube or on the down tube.

Click here to see my suggested bags. (coming soon)

Seatpost Bags

Traditionally, seatpost bags were these small little bags where one kept the spare tube, tire levers, and/or a patching kit. Nowadays people are using this valuable space to carry more gear on their adventures.

Seatpost bags allow the cyclist to carry up to an additional 16’ish litres of gear in a streamlined position behind the rider. Coming in a variety of sizes and mounting options, the price of seatpost bags varied greatly. This is also dependant upon the material it is constructed from and whether or not it uses a mounting harness, the type of bracket/clamp system it uses to mount to the seat, etc.

When packing a seatpost bag, it is very important that the user packs the heaviest gear towards the bottom of the bag and puts the lightest things towards the top. After attaching the bag to the seatpost, it’s also important to cinch down all the straps so as to minimize bag movement, as it can result in a lot of bike sway when there is lateral movement in the bike, such as when climbing hills.

Click here to see my suggested bags. (coming soon)

Panniers

The first thing that comes to mind when picturing a bike tourer is the classic image of a person riding a well-built steel machine, loaded down with 4 panniers (2 front, 2 back), a handlebar bag on the cockpit and then all the leftover things strapped to the top of the rear rack, and possibly even the front rack. I’ve known bike tourers to travel with upwards of 175 lbs (80kg) of weight with bike and gear.

Panniers have played an important role in the evolution of bike touring and are by no means outdated or dead in the water. The majority of bike tourers I interview on the Bike Tour Adventures Podcast tour with a traditional setup and go on epic adventures all over the world. Allowing the user to carry from 25L per pannier for the smaller-sized ones you use on the front of the bike to between 40L and 70L per pannier for the rear, the traditional pannier setup allows for the tourer carry all their essentials and then some.

Panniers allow for the tourer to carry more gear and ride with just a bit more comfort. They can also be combined with bikepacking gear to create a hybrid setup, a mullet of sorts: part business, part party. 

Click here to see my suggested bags. (coming soon)

Rack Trunk Bags

The rack top provides an additional method of carrying gear. Once again there are a variety of ways to accomplish this, from using a trunk bag to just strapping down a backpack, duffel, or drybag.

Most bike tourers opt to use this extra space to just strap things down, but there are some that may be shopping for a trunk bag, which allows the tourer to carry between 8L-12L depending on the brand of bag, in a secure and compact way. 

Trunk bags are great for not just commuters going to and from work, but also for ultra-distance racers and randonneur cyclists that are looking to maximize stability and have quick access to gear and equipment without worrying about seatpost bag sway. 

Click here to see my suggested bags. (coming soon)

Accessory Bags

Everyone loves accessories. In this section I will explain some of the bags and cages that tourers can use to accessorize their bikes and make the touring experience as comfortable as possible.

Top Tube Bags

Top tube bags come in all shapes, designs and prices. Some bolt on and other’s use velcro straps to mount to the top tube, while other’s yet are waterproof and some have magnetic closure systems that make it easy to access personal items.

I’ve used a few different types of top tube bags in the past depending on my needs. During my triathlon days I used a profile design bag that allowed easy access to energy gels. I’ve used waterproof top tube bags that are not easy to open and even some with compartments for storage ad separation of things. Some bags have an integrated phone holder on the top so that you can see and control the touchscreen on the phone, while others are simpler in design.

Click here to see my suggested bags. (coming soon)

Feed Bags

These handy cockpit ouches are a great way to quick add some carrying space to the handlebars of your bike. With two to three mounting straps, they connect to your stem, handlebar and fork to minimize swag and keep them from banging into your knees. 

Feed bags are a great way to carry small things and keeping them close at hand, such as snacks, powerbanks, phones, and waterbottles. Whether out racing, doing a long-distance tour, or just out for a casual ride they are a great way to add a bit of storage space. 

Many of the bags have some type of closure system that allows you to keep things from falling out. Most of them aren’t waterproof, so you wouldn’t want to keep anything in them that should stay dry if it happens to be raining.

Click here to see my suggested bags. (coming soon)

Cargo Cages

Cargo cages are a great way to carry small amounts of kit on the bike. With the ability to carry up to about 4kg of gear (depending on brand) they are a great way to carry things like your cooking system or heavy food (rice, cans, etc) or bigger water bottles (1.5L bottles, Nalgene bottles, etc.).

With many bikes now being designed with extra mounting bosses on the front forks, there are a lot of options for where you can mount them. They can also be mounted in place of your standard water bottles, under your down tube, or even on your seat stays at the back of your bike with the use of hose clamps to keep it from going into your rear wheel (user beware).

Click here to see my suggested bags. (coming soon)

About the Author
Traveller. Cyclist. Expat. Over 15 years experience living abroad in six different countries. I've travelled to over 40+ countries and met countless travellers, cyclists, and other expats. As a passionate cyclist I've had opportunities to bike tour in some truly amazing places. While definitely not an expert at bike touring, I'm passionate about sharing bike touring stories and helping others learn hacks, tricks, and techniques to improve their touring experience. I look forward to you joining me on this journey of learning about and becoming a better bike tourist.