- Buyer's Guide
Drive By :: Apidura Saddle Pack and Handlebar Pack
It’s a Saturday morning in November and slightly below zero temperatures guarantee I’ll be one of the few guests on the mountain bike trail I’m headed towards. The woods in the province of Groningen, The Netherlands, are fantastic this time of year. It’s a feast of red, yellow and brown. There’s an old monastery that seems to elevate off the ground in the early morning sun, and the constant trickle of falling leaves and my wheels on the unpaved road are the only sounds I hear.
I’ve been on various cycling vacations, and I love the experience: cursing every gram you packed while pedaling up a hill, cycling in the rain for hours, waking up in the snow, having to unpack and repack everything daily and move on. But also: taking in the environment at a slower pace, having everything you need with you, enjoying the sun and the breeze while cycling, reaching the highest point of a passage, enjoying magnificent views and rushing down at 50 km per hour.
My carry gear on cycling vacations is mostly panniers front and back and a trailer. But today my test drive is aimed at exploring a whole new perspective on cycling vacations: lightweight bike packing. Who knew it was possible to tour the world on a race bike or mountain bike, without even a rack and just some bags attached to the bike itself?
And bike packing as a sport is gaining traction with ever more endurance races being organized.
I’ve brought several companions from Apidura with me on my trip: a saddle pack (14L), a handlebar pack (9L) and an extra accessory pocket (5L). My goal is to find out how much they influence riding behavior, how much/what you can stuff inside them and what the general experience is versus panniers.
Design and Materials
To begin with, Apidura sports some pretty cool-looking bags and they all come with yellow visibility stripes. The recently released (seam welded) Dry Series (which we are testing) uses a proprietary fabric that Apidura developed directly with the mill. Other than a darn good balance between abrasion resistance, waterproofness and weight, the fabric happens to be “greener”, as it has no DWR coating (which is on the widely used Dimension Polyant VX21 fabrics – and effectively all conventional nylon-based waterproofs). Ultra-durable Hypalon is used in high abrasion, high stress areas to provide additional protection against friction and puncture. Woojin buckles are used in the fastening system for enhanced reliability.
“Other than a darn good balance between abrasion resistance, waterproofness and weight, the fabric happens to be “greener”, as it has no DWR coating.”
Handlebar Pack: The handlebar pack is essentially a cylinder that can be closed with a roll closure system on both sides and can be attached to the handlebar with two straps and a stabilization strap. It only weighs a cool 250 grams.
The saddle pack is attached to the seat post and saddle. It has some structure on the bottom to keep its form and closes as well with a roll closure. It has a pig nose to attach a rear light to. It has a weight of 350 grams.
“The handlebar pack is essentially a cylinder that can be closed with a roll closure system on both sides and can be attached to the handlebar with two straps and a stabilization strap.”
The accessory pocket is mounted to the handlebar pack with three buckles. It has a waterproof zipper and a pig nose to attach a front light to. It weighs a tender 115 grams.
“The saddle pack is attached to the seat post and saddle. It has some structure on the bottom to keep its form and closes as well with a roll closure.”
I know from my cycling vacations that every gram matters. Not only in having to pedal harder, but also in being able to find stuff quickly and pack/unpack faster. Apidura’s bags are some of the lightest on the market. Still everything feels robust. The material is a little stiff at first but that gets better as the bags are used more often.
“Apidura’s bags are some of the lightest on the market. Still everything feels robust.”
Apidura’s packs are – very – water resistant but not technically waterproof because of ventilation holes. Technically waterproof means the bag can be submerged completely under water. Just to be sure: you usually use this stuff on a bike, not on a diving adventure.
“Apidura’s packs are – very – water resistant but not technically waterproof because of ventilation holes.”
So the big thing about bike packing is the riding experience: you can roam the roads, mountains and valleys of this world, freed from panniers and trailers, with just the essentials. But there’s still weight on your bike: how does that feel?
Let’s start off with the saddle pack: I didn’t even notice it was there while riding. As you can see in the picture above, it sits high above the rear wheel. As for non-bikepackers: It’s perfect for a day trip on a mountain bike or road bike and it’s infinitely more comfortable than carrying a backpack on a bike.
“[The saddle pack] is perfect for a day trip on a mountain bike or road bike and it’s infinitely more comfortable than carrying a backpack on a bike.”
Then the handlebar pack: you’re going to notice the weight on your handlebar as it influences steering. The weight on front panniers is lower than on a handlebar pack. The pack itself is lighter than comparable stuff from competitors but most of the weight will depend on what you put inside. For rougher trails, you’re going to want to spend some time on balancing the weight between front and back. I had to fiddle a bit to keep the bag from getting in the way of my brake handles but it wasn’t a big deal. The handlebar pack is great for bringing a (small) tripod by the way.
“Then the handlebar pack: you’re going to notice the weight on your handlebar as it influences steering.”
The accessory shouldn’t, by its size and weight, really influence riding behavior.
Who It Suits
These bikepacking bags should suit the most avid bikepacker, but especially the saddle pack should suit any road cyclist or mountain biker going out for the day.
Who It Doesn’t
The amount of stuff you can bring on the road will be limited, even when bringing an additional frame bag. Rear panniers are usually around 20 liters in volume and front panniers around 12.5, a dry bag on a rear rack can easily add another 20 liters. Bringing a trailer can add another 100 liters of volume (or a couple of children).
Whereas, a full kit from Apidura including a saddle pack, handlebar pack, accessory pack and frame pack will add up to 47 liters. But hey, that’s the whole point isn’t it?
“These bikepacking bags should suit the most avid bikepacker, but especially the saddle pack should suit any road cyclist or mountain biker going out for the day.”
The whole Apidura kit feels robust and looks good. Also, Apidura teamed up with high-end bicycle clothing superstars Rapha for stuff that looks even better.
The Not So Good
The only thing I can think of is that the handlebar pack can get in the way of the brakes. A bit of fiddling will solve this. You can argue that the accessibility of panniers is better than handlebar or seat packs, but that’s like comparing apples to oranges.
“The only thing I can think of is that the handlebar pack can get in the way of the brakes. A bit of fiddling will solve this.”
Apidura’s main competition is from Revelate Designs and Ortlieb. Ortlieb is the king of waterproof panniers and seems to have jumped into the market when bikepacking grew in popularity, while Revelate Designs is also one of the pioneers in the industry. Internet-only brand Alpkit also has a decent offering. Choosing will be a matter of taste, but the expert eye will see significant differences. For one, Apidura really follows the “every gram matters” philosophy and it will put product quality before manufacturing convenience. It works closely with some leading bikepackers, who double as brand ambassadors, to get additional feedback.
“Apidura really follows the “every gram matters” philosophy and it will put product quality before manufacturing convenience.”
The Apidura kit at first seems specialist gear for lightweight freaks who roam the world on road and mountain bikes. And Apidura is pretty awesome for that. However, I found myself using the seat pack for day trips as well. And the individual packs, I found, can complete a more traditional bike touring setup, no sweat. So their versatility is super impressive, on the whole. A worthy investment.