Dyed in the Wool XL Bar Bag Review
Dyed in the Wool’s XL Bar Bag caught our eye when it was launched earlier this spring, and Lucas has been testing one over the past six months to find out what separates this Warsaw, Poland-built handlebar bag from similar options on the market. Find specs, impressions, and lots of photos here…
Dyed in the Wool formally got its start back in 2017 when the couple behind the brand, Charles and Aleks, began designing, tinkering, and sewing one-off bags for friends and family. It remained a side project until this year, when the pair took the leap to making bags full-time from their studio near Warsaw, Poland (by way of London, Barcelona, and Munich). An architect and a fashion designer by trade, they both spent time working in the sportswear industry, a background that’s evident when looking at the bags coming out of their small shop. They aren’t afraid to play with color and even offer custom printed X-Pac for customers who want something extra bold. Behind the scenes, they’re also applying their experience in clothing design and 3D modeling to how they do business, from sourcing materials, to fitting custom bags, to expanding their range of products.
The XL Bar Bag is what they call their take on the classic randonneur bag, but with adjusted proportions and some updated features. By now, there are a number of similar options on the market from brands such as Wizard Works, Swift Industries, Bags by Bird, and others. So, while the XL Bar Bag is far from revolutionary, it brings in several clever touches that aren’t available elsewhere, and I think those add up to quite a unique bag.
Dyed in the Wool offers the XL Bar Bag in a Cordura, X-Pac, or Dyneema construction. Its outer shell is reinforced with HD foam and a HIPS liner to help the bag keep its shape. A roll-top closure provides access to a large single compartment with a bright pink lining, and a zipper on the upper back provides easy secondary access while on the go. Up top, the outer flap contains a zippered pocket for storing small items, as well as an interior loop for attaching your keys (as someone who has lost more than one set of keys, this is something I really appreciate). Two D-rings on the upper corners of the bag allow you to attach the included shoulder strap for use off the bike.
Although the bag’s stitched construction means it isn’t fully waterproof, I’ve ridden with mine in light rain on several occasions and haven’t had any issues with water ingress. There’s quite a bit of fabric on top with the bag rolled shut and the flap closed, and the waterproof Alpha zippers prevent water from sneaking in what otherwise might be a weak point. There’s MOLLE webbing on every face of the bag, providing lots of opportunities for creatively attaching accessories and add-ons.
The XL Bar Bag uses two Voile straps to attach to the handlebars (again via MOLLE webbing), as well as a cord to lash around your headtube to secure it into place. When I first installed my bag, I was somewhat surprised to realize that there wasn’t a lower strip of MOLLE for attaching the cord around my headtube, as the existing strip of MOLLE on the back is too high to effectively pull the bag against my headtube, at least without running an excessively long cord. That said, there’s an optional attachment system that resolved this issue, which I’ll get to shortly.
It’s worth noting that the XL Bar Bag is, as its name implies, a pretty big bag. It also sits rather high on the bars, at least when compared to similar bags, which means running a handlebar-mounted light is out of the question. I run a dynamo-powered front light on the fork crown of my main bikepacking rig, so the fact that the bag sits high is advantageous, but I had to get a bit creative when mounting the bag on other bikes without a dynamo. The XL Bar Bag’s published width is 27cm, which doesn’t take into account the excess material from the rolltop, which makes for an actual width of closer to about 34cm when snugged down. All this to say, you’ll have a hard time comfortably fitting this bag between narrow bars. The actual distance between the drops on my 48cm Salsa Cowchippers is only about 42cm once they’re covered in bar tape, which means the bag can sometimes rub on my hands unless the roll-top is super snug.
The XL Bar Bag’s burly construction means it’s on the heavier side, weighing in at around 720g (1.6lbs). Although there are lighter bags on the market, Dyed in the Wool’s feels substantial and built to last. After close to six months of occasional use, I don’t have any construction flaws to report back on.
Admittedly, I’m a late adopter of the saddlebag-style bar bag. We’ve reviewed several of them on this site, but I hadn’t owned one until this past year. For bikepacking purposes, I’ve mostly always used the same Porcelain Rocket handlebar roll since around 2013. It’s been on countless trips with me and is still going strong. However, the move away from handlebar bags that require you to carefully stuff everything inside a dry bag before rolling it closed and strapping it onto your makes a lot of sense for the way I typically ride. After using the XL Bar Bag and a couple of others like it, I’m a convert. Their practicality and versatility are nearly impossible to match.
Whether going out for a day ride, a multi-day trip, or just pedaling down to the shop, the XL Bar Bag’s adaptable 8-24L size has lent itself well to all of the packing scenarios I’ve thrown at it to date. It’s surprising just how much gear can fit inside if packed carefully, though at a certain point the top flap becomes impossible to close. And the fact that it’s covered in MOLLE webbing and has webbing around the outside opens up possibilities for expanding its hauling capacity. However, I’ve often felt like I’m missing some kind of outer pocket for a multitool or other small items that might get lost inside the bag.
Although some competing bags are designed to work equally well as a saddle or handlebar bag, the XL Bar Bag is purpose-built for the front of the bike. Surely it could be made to work as a rear bag, perhaps in tandem with a Carradice Bagman support, but when I asked Dyed in the Wool for their thoughts on running it in the rear they were clear to point out that it’s not intended to be used as such (though they’re currently working a dedicated saddle bag). I never did try mounting on my Brooks as I typically run a Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion or similar seatpack back there, but I imagine its size could result in some interference when running it, depending on your setup.
Hesson Labs x Dyed In The Wool Rack
Tom Robinson, the framebuilder behind UK-based Hesson Labs (@hessonlabs), collaborated with Charles and Aleks to create a minimal support rack that’s specifically designed to work with the XL Bar Bag. In essence, it serves the purpose of a decaleur on a more traditional handlebar bag setup, though without the use of a lower platform.
Taking the place of a 20mm spacer under the stem, the Hesson Labs T Bar Rack allows for a more upright positioning of the bag and adds a ton of stability. It also has the added benefits of keeping the bag from rubbing against your headtube and giving your brake/shifter cables some breathing room. For now, the rack comes in just one size. It’s designed around a 100mm stem with a -8°angle, but allows for a 20mm variance in length, and the angle offset can be compensated for with spacers.
I ran my XL Bar Bag without the rack for a few months and I find that using it in tandem with the Hesson Labs rack is far preferable, at least considering the way the bag fits my tall frame with high bars. Looping the lower part of the T Bar Rack through the appropriate set of MOLLE webbing on the back of the bag keeps it from bouncing around and makes the connection between bike and bag feel substantially more secure. Using the rack also creates some empty space between the back of the bag and the headtube, which could be used to stash a spare tube, repair kit, or something to that effect.
At £45 ($60), the T Bar Rack isn’t a hugely significant investment, but it does add up when considering the initial purchase price of the bag. For me, it’s a worthwhile upgrade that noticeably changed how well the XL Bar Bag worked on my bike. Tom makes all of the T Bar Racks to order in his workshop, and they include a two-year warranty. Note that the rack is also compatible with Dyed in the Wool’s new Camera Bag (more on that soon). Find additional details or purchase a T Rack at HessonLabs.com.
Updates and Improvement
In the time since I received my XL Bar Bag, Charles and Aleks have been busy refining and updating it, and there are several changes worth pointing out here. I recently had a long phone chat with Charles and was happy to hear that they’ve already addressed several things that I considered areas for improvement.
They’ve switched over to a complete zipper assembly from Alpha Technology, a Polish company, instead of YKK. In part, this change was made to address their ongoing goal of producing all of their bags using materials made closer to home, both to support their local economies and to reduce their carbon footprint.
Inside the bag, they’re now using HIPS instead of HDPE to help give the bag its structure, and they’ve added 50mm elastic straps on the inner left and right corners to help with securing things like an AeroPress or a bottle of beer to one side. The D-loops used to attach the shoulder strap are now removable instead of sewn in.
For me, the most important update is that they’ve moved to a 50mm strip of velcro on the underside of the top flap, instead of the thin 20mm strip found on mine. I was glad to hear this when Charles told me, as the fact that the top flap regularly catches the wind and blows open while I’m riding is probably my single biggest issue with the bag. I’m not fully convinced that the change to wider velcro will fully solve this issue, especially after lots of use, and my preference would be to have some kind of optional clasp or buckle to securely close the top flap.
For future improvements, I’d love to see some kind of inside pocket for valuables, preferably with a zipper. Having the pocket on the outer flap is super handy, but I’d like to have a more secure option for items like my passport or wallet. Given the bag’s large size, hand positions are limited, and it’d be nice to have a set of spacers included with the bag to make room for riding in a more upright position on the bars. And for anyone who isn’t running the XL Bar Bag with a Hesson Labs rack, adding a lower mounting position for the headtube strap is a small update that would really improve the user experience.
Note that the roll-top is designed to roll toward you when you’re standing on the bike, which can be quite cumbersome if you’re wanting to access the main compartment regularly while riding. Charles told me that the zippered pocket is intended for on-bike access, whereas the roll-top is meant to be used when you’re off the bike (e.g. while unpacking at camp). However, as someone who likes to ride with my DSLR camera in my handlebar bag, I find the backward rolling motion a little cumbersome when I’m standing over my bike.
- Capacity: 8-24L
- Dimensions (rolled down): 27cm x 21cm x 15cm (10.6 x 8.2 x 6″)
- Material (as tested): X-Pac + Cordura
- Weight (with straps): 820g (1.8lbs)
- Place of Manufacture: Warsaw, Poland
- Price: €225 ($270 USD)
- Manufacturer’s Details: DyedintheWool.eu
- Custom-focused makers offer this bag in your choice of colors and materials to make it your own
- Great size for everything from overnighters or odysseys
- MOLLE webbing allows lots mounting adjustability and opens up options for attaching accessories
- Handmade in Europe with locally sourced materials where available
- Expensive enough to put it out of reach for some buyers
- Large footprint means it may not comfortably fit between your drop bars and limits the use of handlebar lights
- Small design details such as top flap closure and headtube strap mounting position could use improvement for a better user experience
Pricing and Availability
As pictured, the Dyed in the Wool XL Bar Bag comes in at a cost of €225 ($270). With the Hesson Labs rack included, that total comes to €275 ($330). A less expensive Cordura version will set you back €185 ($220), and the pricier Dyneema model costs €300 ($360), bag only. All XL Bar Bags are made to order in your choice of colors and come with a 12-month warranty. Beyond that, Dyed in the Wool is committed to working with customers to get their bags back up and running in the event of damage. You can learn more or order a bag of your own at DyedintheWool.eu.
In addition to the standard XL Bar Bag reviewed here, there’s also a “City” version that’s constructed with a quick-release attachment system instead of Voile straps. It looks to be a good option for commuters, though the simpler and more reliable Voile straps are likely a better option for most bikepacking applications.
Note: Charles and Aleks have offered BIKEPACKING.com readers a 10% discount on the Cordura and X-Pac versions of the XL Bar Bag (use the code “bikepacking” at checkout).
Having recently relocated from the US to Europe, I’ve been trying to get a better sense of the cottage industry brands over here and what they’re up to. I’m very happy to have found a small company across the border that’s run by two passionate makers with a deep well of experience to draw on when designing and sewing bags. All the better that they’re committed to sourcing materials from as close to home as possible, something I’m striving to be better about in my own life.
Based on my experiences with it, the XL Bar Bag has earned its place as my go-to handlebar bag. Its ease of packing, quick access to contents, smart design touches, and versatile size that’s well suited well to nearly any trip means my old handlebar roll will likely be relegated to the gear bin indefinitely.
To be sure, its high price—especially when factoring in the cost of the optional Hesson Labs rack—makes it a significant investment, but I think the suite of features it provides justifies its cost, assuming it fits your unique hauling needs. I’d like to see Aleks and Charles implement a couple of small changes that I think would help inch it closer toward perfection, and I know based on our conversations that they’re exceptionally good about incorporating customer feedback and are nowhere near done innovating. Even if the XL Bar Bag doesn’t tick all the right boxes for you, Dyed in the Wool is definitely a brand to watch.
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