- Buyer's Guide
Ortlieb Handlebar-Pack Review
Hitting the bikepacking trail with the Ortlieb Handlebar-Pack…
The bikepacking world has been rising in popularity in recent years. Along with it, the modular and customizable world of bike bags and accessories. Ortlieb is one of the pioneers when it comes to such accessories. Founded in 1982, the company started as a solo operation with a sewn rear pannier design. Soon after, family and friends joined to keep up with the demand. Built in Germany with premium coated waterproof materials, high-frequency welding, and competitive pricing, it is one of the brands you can never go wrong with.
They manufacture their bags in their own facility in Germany and pour a lot of resources into sustainability. Ortlieb employs chemical substances allowed by the European Chemical Regulation REACH. They omit the use of damaging materials such as PVC, PFOA, and BPA. They have many world tourers, bikepackers, and long-distance riders sporting their gear and their social media and community are highly active with a wide variety of riders.
The Ortlieb Handlebar-Pack is an essential piece of gear when it comes to EDC and adventure cycling. Maybe a small burrito-sized pack for your snacks, spare tools, and in some cases camera. Or in this case, a cavernous, waterproof, and overengineered 15-liter bag that will hold your tent (one-person), sleeping bag, and more. I tested the bag on some off-road fire roads and on a one-night camp-out, 60-mile mixed surface round trip.
Who It Suits
This handlebar bag is for those who are looking for an adventure-oriented, bomb-proof, waterproof bag. One that is reliable in its construction, with premium technical materials, and gives the user freedom to be creative with organization. Both ends can roll/unroll and fully open, like a tunnel. Ortlieb reinforced the roll edge with a thin plastic sheet (feels like PE), making rolling easier and more organized. Ortlieb suggests at least three rolls to make it fully waterproof (non-submersible).
There is no interior organization whatsoever. This gives the user the option to use multiple stuff sacks for organization. Alternatively, you can simply jam all the gear together and compress with the rolltop mechanism. My loadout consisted of a Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL1 (tent poles separately) and a Nemo 32F sleeping bag without its compression sack. Uncompressed items tend to fill the bag better without giving it an irregular silhouette. I also managed to fit a long-sleeve lightweight poly shirt with room to spare.
If you are running drop bars, depending on width, you will most likely not be able to use the bag’s full capacity. Plus the roll edges will get in the way of your integrated shifters. This is with 42cm “mud drops”. But this is to be expected of any handlebar bag of this size. Anything narrower will be an issue if you are planning on fitting a tent and sleeping bag. Thankfully, it is easy to adjust the volume of the bag and it all depends on the user’s needs.
Fully unrolled the bag measures 58cm (22.8in) wide and 20cm (7.9in) in diameter. It is recommended you pack lightweight soft goods in the bag since a lot of weight placed up front and up high will negatively affect handling.
When fitted onto the bike properly the bag performs flawlessly. There are no noticeable rattling sounds and no overly dramatic bouncing thanks to the mounting hardware and interior stiffener.
Who It Doesn’t
The lack of compartmentalization, large size, and slow accessibility would make this handlebar bag less than ideal for people looking for an EDC handlebar bag. Unless of course you are hauling soft goods from point A to point B without needing access on the go. If you are planning to use it for commuting, I highly suggest running a frame bag in conjunction for quick-grab items like your phone if you do not have a mount, wallet, keys, tools, and spares.
You can see the amount of R&D that went into this bag, as I would expect from a German brand. From the lightweight PU laminate ripstop (PS21R) with a hexagonal weave to the numerous compression straps and RF welded panels. All the welds and pattern cuts look flawless. They double bar-tacked every compression strap onto a separate layered 1000D (my guess, not specified) coated nylon panel. Ortlieb has a strong brand identity and cohesion with the bikepacking line. All their products feature the same waterproof materials, construction methods, and colorway. Charcoal greys, matte black, and a splash of bright orange make this line an attractive option for “matchy matchy” technical bike gear. Let’s face it, the bag looks like something you’d see in the Ghost in the Shell anime or Halo. Sci-Fi and concept art makes my heart very happy.
The bag is very much tech-inspired with the hexagonal honeycomb ripstop weave, coated materials, welded seams, futuristically shaped 3M reflectors, and matte black with bright orange highlights. There is however a lack of colorways and not everyone will be on board with the “Halloween special” color scheme. The bag feels slightly crinkly, but dulled out by the polymer coating. After some use, I noticed the material gets dirty quite easily. Then again, it is a bikepacking bag, it should be dirty!
There are three sets of compression straps. One set has adjustable/locking side release buckles provided by Duraflex; they act as load lifters, so the bag is more stable and taught once mounted. Identify them by the bright orange webbing. The next set has adjustable/locking aluminum G-hooks (loop and hook) provided by Woojin (WJ) Plastic. These straps allow you to mount the smaller Ortlieb accessory pack amongst anything else you want to compress in there. These straps also help compress the bag in a tubular shape when packing irregular items inside. Finally, the front of the bag features an elastic cord array. This will hold last-minute items such as a lightweight shell jacket or a baguette if you are glamping.
The bag has a plastic stiffener on the back, giving it a solid feel while I shredded some singletrack without any annoying sounds, vibrations, or bouncing.
Organization is a tricky subject with this bag style. Ortlieb purposefully designed it with a completely sleek interior to fit bulky items and it is excellent in that regard. The only organization available is on the outside where you can attach a separate pouch that Ortlieb makes and that bungee array to compress quick-grab items. On one hand, this is good since it makes the bag very sleek, more water-resistant, and bombproof. On the other hand, I can see some people wanting the ability to compartmentalize, which can still be done with the use of packing cubes.
For the intended use, carrying bulky soft gear, the dual-sided rolltop works perfectly and reliably. It is decently quick and easy to roll/unroll the sides to access the gear inside once you have reached your destination and before leaving. 15L is generous for lightweight tents and sleeping bags. The bungee cords help with any loose, quick-access items such as shell jackets and the compression straps enable exterior organization with add-on pouches.
Since the fabric is nonporous on the inside it will trap a lot of air when rolled shut. So Ortlieb installed a simple pull release one-way valve and it works flawlessly.
Not So Good
The only downside I encountered was the lack of compartmentalization included in the bag, along with ease of access. Then again, I am obsessed over minimalism, so this is not necessarily a bad thing. The lack of zippers and Velcro flaps gives the bag fewer features to break, especially since zipper seams usually fail first. More openings also mean seam taping and more places for water to leak in to. Minimal organization forces you to be more conscious of what you bring for the trip and what is essential. Remember, grams equal pounds, and the heavier your bike is the more unpleasant the ride will be.
Ortlieb offers a 5-year limited warranty and repair service. While this isn’t bad, it’s worth noting that other smaller companies offer a lifetime warranty and repair service.
Alternatives to Consider
I came upon a few large, open-sided handlebar bags from large manufacturers similar to the Ortlieb Handlebar-Pack. The Apidura Expedition handlebar pack (14L), the Revelate Designs Sweetroll pack (14L and 18L), and the Blackburn Outpost Elite bag (14L). All these options will do the job for a similar price but not all of them have the same features and obviously, they all have different aesthetics.
All in all, considering the point of use, $160 price tag, and all the material choices and R&D, the Ortlieb Handlebar-Pack is a solid choice for adventure cyclists who want a long-lasting bag to securely carry their larger soft gear items and smaller pieces of gear if the accessory pack is installed.
The bag is not exactly cheap, but it is competitively priced, and you get exactly what you pay for. A top-tier bikepacking bag with high-end materials, reputable hardware, and designed by a company with a huge amount of experience in the field. It has exactly what it needs to perform its purpose as a bikepacking handlebar bag while being streamlined, lightweight, and rugged.
This article was written by new contributor, Gino Romano, industrial designer, cyclist, minimalist and master of carry memes. Follow his adventures on Instagram.