Getting Ready for Summer: Handlebars, Racks and Bags

I’ve been working on refining the packing accessories on my bike and getting ready for summer bike camping.

I like racks and panniers versus the newer forms of bikepacking using handlebar rolls and large seat bags. I don’t have suspension on either end of my bike and I don’t ride single track, so using racks and panniers gives me a stable load and all the carrying capacity I need. I use the same bike at home for shopping and errands and the racks come in handy there. For bike camping, I use the same techniques and much of the same gear I use for ultra light hiking. The racks add some weight, but I was able to find bags that are very light and waterproof.

My first search was for lightweight waterproof panniers and the Arkel Dry-Lites panniers are perfect for my needs. They use Velcro and shock cords for mounting and have typical roll-top dry bag style construction. The advertised weight is 540g and my set weighs 506g/17.8oz and they have a total volume of 28 litres /1708 That is a good size for long day trips, but I needed more capacity for overnight camping and multi-day tours (I use a 45-65 liter backpack for hiking).

arkel mounts

arkel dry lites


So some rack top bags were the next item to look for. I have a good JANDD rack trunk bag, the Rear Pack II. It is an expanding model that holds 11-18 liters and weighs more than the Arkel panniers. What I wanted was a simple dry bag with Velcro straps on the sides like most rack trunk bags. I emailed a number of bikepacking luggage manufacturers and none were interested in making bags like that.

I finally found Alpkit in the UK. They design a wide range of outdoor gear and make dry bags as well as bikepacking bags and they offer bags with four lash tabs on the sides. I ordered a 20 liter dry bag and a 13 liter bag with dry-bag style roll closures on both ends. Service and shipping was flawless and the bags are perfect for my needs. They are made of 320D TPU Taslan Nylon fabric, which is tough enough for my use without being too heavy. The Airlok Dual 13 liter weighs 164g/5.8oz with the straps and the Airlok XTra 20 liter bag is about the same at 158g/5.6oz. These are very practical weights: I tried another tarpaulin fabric 20 liter bag that was over 500g/17oz. Durability is about like the Arkel Dry-Lites and I have confidence that they will work well with reasonable care. Durability is an issue in the ultralight hiking world too and I’m used to dealing with it.

Alpkit Airlok Dual 13 liter bag on the left and Airlok XTra 20 liter on the right
Alpkit Airlok Dual 13 liter bag on the left and Airlok XTra 20 liter on the right
Alpkit Airlok Dual 13 liter strapped to rack
Alpkit Airlok Dual 13 liter strapped to rack
Alpkit Airlok XTra 20 liter lashed to the rear rack using generic 3/4" webbing straps. Arkel Dry Lites panniers below
Alpkit Airlok XTra 20 liter lashed to the rear rack using generic 3/4″ webbing straps. Arkel Dry Lites panniers below

Using the dry bags plus the panniers gives me 61 liters of carrying capacity, which is about equal to my backpacking multi-day pack. I could add a small backpack like a Deuter Speed 20 to the mix if needed. I could see it being handy for water, snacks and essentials and for side trips on foot. I prefer to not use a backpack and have the ventilation instead. The bag arrangement is stable and I can access the contents of any bag without removing it from the rack. The panniers are small and aren’t too much in the way when pushing the bike, hike-a-bike style and not smacking my calves. Heel clearance is good too.

I am using a Blackburn TRX-2 Ultimate Commuter rack on the rear and got a Blackburn Local Deluxe to fit on the front. This bike has some challenging frame geometry and the rear rack is the first I found that works with disc brakes and allows good heel clearance with panniers. The front rack took some imagination to mount, but I like the results. I was using a Sunlite Gold Tec rack on the front and it was too short for a rack trunk bag and far too small for pannier mounts. The 13 liter Alpkit bag fits like it was a custom job.

Spring 2016 Novara Bonita

I have wanted to try the Jones loop style handlebars, but the price kept me away. I discovered the Ergotec Humpert line of handlebars and ordered the Boomerang aluminum bar from Practical Cycles in the UK via their eBay store. They have an 18° sweep with a flattened oval loop welded between the horns. It was about $37US with shipping. They also make the Space Bugle handlebars  that are very close to the Jones loop design and with 25.4mm mounting available.

I got the Boomerang bars mounted using an adjustable stem to aid experimenting and added some Ergon GP-1 grips while I was at it. The bars bring me farther forward than the Origin8 Citi bars I was using and my back feels straight. I’ve had a chance to go on a few short rides and so far so good. The loop gives me room for mounting the Evo bottle cages, computer, bell, and headlamp and I was able to keep the mirror. The grips are great.

Spring 2016 cockpit

Update: after a 20 mile loop, I found the Boomerang bars were too far forward and didn’t keep my head up enough. I have returned to the “North Road” style Origin8 Citi Classic bars, but the accessory and grip layout is similar, except that I had to move the headlamp to the right side.

One thing that did not work was the Ortlieb Ultimate Compact 6 handlebar bag. It was okay, but I had a Novara Bartop handlebar bag (discontinued REI number 825301) in the gear locker and that suits my needs with less weight and fuss. It has a clear top, allowing me to see my phone and/or a map while underway and has enough room for camera, glasses, gloves and keys in the main compartment.

And now to ride!



One thought on “Getting Ready for Summer: Handlebars, Racks and Bags

  1. DouchePacker April 11, 2017 / 9:19 am

    Great site and articles. I’m getting started bikepacking and your set ups are much more my style. I haven’t really understood the necessity of seat packs and frame bags. Now I’m eager to get a front rack 🙂

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