BXB Goldback Saddlebag Review
The BXB Goldback is a modern take on the classic saddlebag. With a simple, well-conceived design, and sturdy waxed canvas construction, it’s built for the long haul. We tested the Goldback in Ethiopia and used it on a couple trips around Pisgah National Forest. Here’s the full review…
Bags by Bird, aka BXB, is a project started by filmmaker Jay Ritchey. Some of you might know him as JayBird Films, or might be familiar with his beautifully shot bikepacking videos such as Bikepacking the Mongolian Steppe, El Silencio, and the Guide to the Trans Ecuador. During the latter two bikepacking trips, Jay happened to be testing a prototype bag he made to meet his own needs. In short, he wanted a classic waxed canvas saddlebag with modern trimmings, so he started tinkering in his 100 square foot workspace. Eventually, others expressed interest in his bags, and BXB was born.
BXB’s flagship saddlebag is named after Pentagramma triangularis, a fern commonly referred to as the goldback for its bright fall color. Like Jay himself, the goldback is native to California. But the name isn’t all about the origin story; according to Jay, the Goldback moniker gave him an excuse to use his favorite dark yellow/saffron color in the logo.
The Goldback is available in four sizes: Niño (10L), Regular (17L), XL (22L), and Mega (24L). Each version is a one-ply, single-layer design made from an Martexin Original Wax, a wax-treated canvas fabric that’s highly durable and virtually waterproof. They are also available in X-Pac, which lighter, but not as water resistant or as durable, at least in my opinion. There are several colors available, including navy, deep forest, and charcoal. I tested the regular sized Goldback in a limited edition Coyote color scheme. Each Goldback, no matter the size or color, is sewn in the USA from fabric, straps, and buckles that are also US-made. Here are the specs common on each bag:
- An inner nylon liner/lid with a paracord cinch
- Expandable long-flap lid
- 1″ Webbing/daisy chain runs down the bottom center with several lashing points to attach to a rack or the headtube
- Rigid HDPE plastic sheet liner and two dowels for structure
- Hypalon panel on the underside and back at all attachment points to protect from abrasion
- Two side pockets
- Lid has coated nylon liner to protect against direct rain, good for running on handlebars
- External lower dowel sleeve helps prevent the bag from folding over the head tube, which reduces sway and increases rigidity and tire clearance
Goldback Saddlebag Construction
We tested the regular 17L Goldback, which seems to be similarly sized to the Carradice longflap and my own DIY model. Essentially, it’s just about the perfect size for medium to long tours—or shorter trips when you wish to rely heavily on the front bag.It has a little bit more volume than a typical handlebar roll. Here are the specs for the 17L Goldback:
- Dimensions: Overall 18″ wide X 7″ deep X 9.5″ high
- Main compartment: 14″ wide
- Volume: 17 liters (including side pockets)
- Additional 5-10L drybag storage with expandable long-flap lid
- Two side pockets: 1L each
- Total weight of bag, plastic stiffener, and two dowels: 2lbs 4oz
Similar to my goals with the longflap saddlebag I built back in 2014, Jay conceived the Goldback around a classic top-opening scheme with some modern details to make it highly useable for off-road rambling. The bag features a one-ply, single-layer design made from durable and weather resistant Martexin Original Wax, a natural wax treated cotton duck fabric that’s nearly waterproof. That, along with its long flap, gives the Goldback a classic look. The modern touches include quick release plastic buckles, a rigid HDPE plastic liner, cinchable coated nylon liner/lid, and a fresh approach to the contours and form of the bag.
On the Trail
In use, I found the regular size Goldback’s volume to be spot on. My packlist for our Ethiopia trip included a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3 tent (without the poles), a 32°F down quilt (in its own stuffsack), a Sea To Summit UL sleeping mat, and a compressed down jacket, all in the main compartment. In the side pockets, I stashed snacks, a pair of binoculars, and a few other odds and ends.
I was equally happy with its design and construction. It was easy to pack and unpack and kept all the contents nicely compressed when the two main straps were cinched down. The side pockets are also nicely sized and can fit a small camera lens, compact Nikon binos, and more. They are also cut and designed to be fairly svelte when compared to saggy pockets sometimes found on other saddlebags of this type.
The beauty of a longflap saddlebag is the ability to expand or contract the flap to toss in a couple layers when the weather is spotty, or add food and other small items to the load. I used the bag in this capacity several times and it worked remarkably well. That said, I never used the Goldback’s second level flap. It features a longer flap that’s folded under and snapped. In my opinion, this is almost too much, and I’d have preferred this left out. However, I tend to pack minimally, so other folks might find value in this extra capacity. That leads to one of my only small complaints: the bag’s sizing is limited in terms of how small you can pack it. Then again, Jay makes the Niño model as well if you are interested in a smaller option. It’s also worth noting that the Regular Goldback can comfortably fit a small laptop, such as the MacBook Air.
As recommended, I cut down two Voile straps to attach the Goldback to the handlebars. I also used a couple inches worth of foam block spacers to move it away from the bars and free up room for cables and the brake levers. This attachment system worked very well. The rubber straps and tapered bars kept it from sliding side to side. On the lower daisy chain, I used a webbing strap to secure it to the headtube. This connected almost exactly where the lower dowel rod is positioned on the bag, which made for an extremely stable placement. With its two dowels and Volié strap connection, the Goldback is arguably more stable than many handlebar rolls out there, although it’s heavier. One option to save weight is to swap the main internal dowel with your mini-pump. Also, I am currently experimenting with replacing the rather heavy HDPE insert with a thin closed cell foam pad cut to the same dimensions. This can double as a seating pad, too. I used this on a recent trip and it seemed to work really well. I’ll report back down the road.
As expected, the Martexin canvas is tough, and highly rainproof. We had one day early on in our trip where it rained considerably. None of the contents were at all wet. The flap is designed to overlap the edges of the cinch lid, so runoff has no means of entering the bag when closed properly. The biggest point of ingress is at the strap holes, but this was a non issue for me.
I used the Goldback without a rack. For this application, Jay recommends at least 11.5″ of clearance from the mid-handlebar/saddle-loops attachment point down to the top of the tire (with rigid liner installed). And it’s recommended to give yourself at least an extra inch to account for bouncing in rougher terrain and heavier gear. If you are working with less clearance than 12.5″ and want to use a rack, there is a strip of molle (1″ webbing, bartacked every 1.5″) running down the center of the bag to offer several lashing points. With the added spacers, mine used a little more than the allotted 11.5”, but it was close. You can also find more info on sizing from the BXB site’s infographic here. Conversely, if you use a rack, you can prevent any rub that may ensue from rough terrain or heavier loads. Recommended racks include Nitto Mark’s or the Simworks Obento.
Goldback Version 2.0
Since I get the Goldback shown here, Jay’s already made a few changes and updates based on rider feedback. One of my other gripes is that the center/front of the bag pooches out when it’s heavily loaded, inevitably causing it to sag down toward the front tire. Jay has since rectified this by adding an additional strap to the center of the bag which not only can help cinch down the contents, it keeps it from sagging. In addition, he’s added two more daisy-chain rows on the bottom/back of the bag and switched to hypalon for the reinforced bottom panel.
- Well conceived design makes it a joy to use and the perfect size for a variety of trips, including long-term touring
- Solid construction that seems very durable and almost waterproof
- Made in the USA by a small company
- Heavier than a typical X-Pac handlebar roll or harness (but it’s available in X-pac too)
- Might not work for those with less clearance (it was pretty close to the front tire without a rack on the 29+ Tumbleweed, even with 4cm worth of spacers on the steerer)
- Limited to a larger load (can’t be cinched down to a super small size)
Some Thoughts from Cass
As much as I like the ultralight aspect of simple hardnesses and rollbags (they’re lighter and quicker to remove) the practicality of a top loading bags wins over for me almost every time, unless it’s a trip where every gram counts – think big hike-a-bikes or super techy trails.
Like Logan, I’m a big fan of the Goldback. I’ve been running mine for a number of months and I’ve been really impressed by the overall quality and attention to detail. I’ve had a chance to try it behind the saddle, with a WTB Pure V and a Hobo Pieces Restavus, and on the handlebars, as reviewed here. I found the ‘longflap’ addition particularly useful at the back, where I unfurled it to add bulky gear for winter camping. It’s less useful at the front, though given that I commute on my bikepacking bike too, a little extra capacity has proved handy for last-minute grocery hauls.
My version of the Goldback uses X-Pac throughout, so it shaves off some weight; it’s about 800g all in. Officially, I believe mine is a prototype of the Goldback Version 2.0. It comes with a set of foam spacers and features an additional central strapping point, which helps ‘stop the drop’, as referenced by Logan. I’m a fan of minimal front supports like Surly’s 8 Pack or Rivendell’s Mark’s Rack. But when the bag is used with this strap (it’s removable), more space is created between the bag and tire, which has meant I’ve not needed to use one (saving some weight).
As well as hoisting the bag up, the mid strap helps to create a ‘basket’ style shape that offers quick access. I only use the rain skirt during especially bad weather, as the lid does a good enough job at keeping water out. I was surprised that the lower dowel – which stops the bag from folding around the headtube – never once slipped out of place. If I was travelling, I’d be tempted to replace it with a piece of hollow PVC and add in some spokes! Similarly, I might replace the plastic stiffener with a foam pad of the same size, doubling it up for camping duties. I’ve also taken to using the two lower tabs, designed for a bungee net, as additional stabilising points on the fork blades when things get really rough. Set up with way with toe straps, the bag is rock stable.
I’ve tried the Goldback on a Jones Loop H-bar, which worked very well, and an Oddity Razorbar, which provides an almost perfect union, in terms of keeping the bar clear for lights, a GPS, and other electronic sundries. In the interests of disclosure, I should add that I’m a friend of Jay’s, so I’ve offered a little input since seeing his very first version. Being able to quickly implement changes is a definite advantage that small manufacturers have over their bigger counterparts; though as it is, this bag feels really dialled.
- Weight (as tested) 1103 grams
- Weight (without HDPE and dowels) 862 grams
- Weight (per dowel) 42 grams
- Weight (HDPE sheet) 157 grams
- Volume 17 Liters
- Place of Manufacture Georgia, USA
- Price $230*
- Manufacturer’s Details bagsxbird.com
*Latest version includes two Birch Dowels, two 15″ BXB Voile straps, aluminum buckle, two ¾” nylon straps with cam buckles, and extra rack molle for strapping bag to rack platforms
After making my own saddlebag back in 2014 and using it on a couple tours through Africa (during the second of which I used it on the handlebars), I knew the value of such a bag used at the front of the bike. Longflap saddlebags are comparatively easy to use, and they simplify accessing gear when compared to a stuffsack-based roll bag. They also offer the ability to expand the load to cinch down layers and carry extra food when needed. And, waxed canvas is surprisingly rainproof.
However, the added weight and instability I found with my own bag, among others, bothered me for my style of packing and riding. Fast forward a few years and I decided to give it another go when I saw what Jay Ritchey concocted. Consider me reconverted on the idea. I’m not saying that I’ll be using a long-flap from here on out; I ride a lot of singletrack with a suspension fork and generally prefer a small, minimal, and lightweight handlebar roll for such exploits. However, the saddlebag has come a long way since 2013 and the BXB Goldback, especially the latest iterations in X-pac, offer a lightweight and extremely stable solution that bridges the gap between usability and stability, and form and function. When it comes to bigger expeditions where space and fluctuating volume are a concern, the Goldback raises the bar. It’s highly stable, easy to use, and BXB nailed the design and size to make a user-friendly saddlebag that’s great for long trips.
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