Friday, August 12, 2016

Apidura handlebar bags - mini review

Disclaimer - Because we currently "enjoy" 4 days of  95F (35C) weather with 80% humidity all pictures are taken in my basement because there is no bloody way I'm going outside.

Some time ago I've been searching for a perfect handlebar bag for those little longer rides when you need to take more stuff with you than usual. I'm not a fan of those boxy rando bags such as Ortlieb Ultimate or Berthoud. They excel in ease of packing and accessing your items but they are also heavy and bulky.

For this reason, I was looking more into the bikepacking world of bags and decided to give Apidura a try. I ordered their Handlebar Pack in compact (smaller) size together with the Accessory Pocket and had a chance to try this combo for the first time during my Mount Kearsarge ride.
Both bags strapped to my bike. The Pocket wears now a "patch of shame" because of tire rub.

Both bags are made out of Dimension Polyant VX21 fabric (whatever it means) and seem to be very well constructed. I can't speak of their long-term durability yet but I wouldn't expect any problems there. Fortunately, tough fabrics don't have to be heavy as I weighed these bags at 223 and 125 grams for the Handlebar Pack and the Accessory Pocket respectively. That put together is certainly lighter than a bulky box bag (that often requires a mini rack for support as well) and still lets you pack quite a bit. In fact, I was positively surprised that I can easily fit my ultralight sleeping bag and a rain jacket inside the small Handlebar Pack with some space to spare. This means the bags should work pretty well for bike touring as well, but keep in mind that they are not 100% waterproof. For those requiring maximum protection from water, Apidura makes the same bags in "dry" option, using heavier but less permeable materials.
The mounting straps are pretty typical. Two to secure the Pack to bars and one across to strap it to the headtube. Pocket has very short straps and has to be clipped into the Pack.

The Pack & Pocket combo is clearly a unified system. There are many similar bags on market but unlike those (e.g. from Revelate Designs), the smaller Pocket can't be used as a standalone bag. It must be clipped into the Pack, as it doesn't have any other mounting provisions that would work on their own. That led to my initial confusion. I packed my bags, clipped them in together, then attached to the bars on my bike. As a result, the heavy-loaded pocket started sagging quickly and rubbing on the front tire. I tried readjusting it with no success at all.

This annoyed me so much that after the first few miles on unpaved roads around Mount Kearsarge I announced the bags to be unworkable and decided to not use the Pocket at all. I simply loaded everything into the Pack instead, including the Pocket bag.
This is how not to do it. Here the straps from Pocket run under the bars resulting in a heavy sag over the front wheel.
 Correct installation: Pocket is strapped to the Pack over the bars.

Just a moment later I had this eureka moment and nearly slapped myself in the forehead. "You bloody idiot" - I thought, "This is not how it's supposed be installed!". I realized that I should've put the larger Pack on the bars first, then clip the Pocket onto it, placing it OVER the bars. This way there is no chance the small bag would sag, even under heavy load. By binding the bags together before putting them on the bike I messed it up big time.

Glad to had this figured out I continued my ride and both bags performed flawlessly, even on some very rough roads.

Having said that, after a few rides I was missing one more thing. I like taking pictures, but I don't like using my phone for it. This means, I ride with a dedicated camera - currently, a Panasonic GX1 with 1-3 small lenses. This made me want a solution to keep my camera ready at all times, ideally in a small side pocket, where I can pull it out from and take pictures quickly. The Pocket bag sort of works for this purpose but every time I want to use the camera I need to unzip/zip the bag. This is why I decided to try the Apidura Food Pouch - a tiny bag that attaches to the handlebars and allows me to slide in the camera vertically, having it always ready to shoot. Because there are no zippers on the Pouch, just a draw string I can leave open, it works great as a quick access bag. In fact, I can even use the camera one-handed this way.
Food Pouch - or a camera pouch in my case. Instead of the bars, I decided to attach it to frame.

The Pouch is so small and lightweight (65g) that it almost disappears on the bike. The only complain I would have is that I would actually prefer it to be just an inch wider. This way my camera with a telephoto lens attached would fit as well.

Overall, I'm very happy with those bags. It's a nice system that seems well thought-out, designed and made.

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