Ortlieb Handlebar-Pack QR Review
Just released, the Ortlieb Handlebar-Pack QR is a rather fresh and modern take on the traditional top-loading handlebar bag. We got to put a couple hundred miles on one for this shakedown review. Find everything you need to know about this unique, waterproof roll-top bag here…
Top-loading handlebar bags are all the rage right now, particularly on drop bar bikes. But it wasn’t that long ago when this was something of a retrofit; traditional long-flap saddlebags such as the Carradice Camper were flip-flopped to use on the handlebars. The idea being that this type of bag could provide a little more room than a handlebar roll because it has a single deep pocket and expandable vertical packing space.. Plus, a lot of folks are drawn to their user-friendly top-opening interface.
Back in 2013, I made my own based on the fact that the only other option out there that fit my needs—the Camper—had leather straps and metal buckles. I wanted a more modern version with quicker plastic buckles and nylon webbing straps. Nowadays, there are quite a few options on the market, including several made specifically for the handlebars, such as the Bags x Bird Teardrop and the Tribulis Endover. Not surprisingly, Ortlieb just tossed their hat in the ring with the all-new Handlebar-Pack QR, taking cues from more traditional saddlebags and marrying them with modern materials, waterproof construction, and a new attachment mechanism inspired by their classic handlebar accessory bags. We got a hold of one to test a few months ago and have taken it on a couple of bikepacking trips to give it a proper shakedown. Read on for the full review.
Bar-Lock Attachment System
At the heart of the Ortlieb Handlebar-Pack QR (Quick Release) is the new Bar-Lock fastening system. This enables the bag to be attached to the handlebars with nothing more than two cords (which Ortlieb refers to as ropes) and an impact-resistant plastic mount. Ortlieb’s pitch is that this makes it quick and easy to take off the bag at any time, and just as easily reattach it. I would argue that it’s not any easier than straps, and at first, it’s actually a bit more complicated and cumbersome, but I’ll get to that in a bit. The more interesting thing about this attachment system is that it connects to the handlebars and positions the bag away from the bike’s head tube and cables (and frees up handlebar real estate). And it’s surprisingly secure and stable, even on rough trails.
This system is unlike anything I’ve ever used, the closest being Ortlieb’s own KlickFix cable mechanism that attaches the plastic mount to handlebars for their line of touring-focused handlebar bags. Similar to the KlickFix, the Bar-Lock system has a large, molded plastic mount integrated into the structural plate that supports the bag and secures the three outer compression straps. The two concave, half-moon-shaped brackets fit directly onto the bars. Instead of a cable, the Bar-Lock system uses two heavy-duty ropes to tighten the mount to the handlebars. Each rope passes through a lever-activated cord-lock apparatus that’s built into the mount, hooks onto the other side, and gets tensioned to secure it. One loops under the stem and the other loops over to stop rotation. I won’t go into too much detail in explaining how this works. You can watch the video below to get the full idea. In short, the the gray and white patterned rope passes over the bars from the left, under the stem, and loops over a hook on the right side. This is what holds up the weight. The black rope passes from right to left, over the stem, and then is tensioned via a flip lever; this one stops the bag from rotating upward. I will say that I had to pause and rewind the video a couple of times before I was able to figure out how each cord threads and overlaps the stem and bars. It took me a couple of practice runs before I was able to do it without looking at the instructions. Ultimately, it’s not that difficult, but takes some getting used to.
As mentioned, when secured properly, which takes a little finagling at first, it’s surprisingly tight and stable given there’s no lower support or strap that secures it to the headtube, like most other top-openers. To provide the best center of gravity, I angled the bag down a little bit so that the weight was tucked back toward the triangle instead of being out front. This worked really well and still kept it from rubbing the head tube, which in my opinion is the biggest benefit to systems such as this one. As you may have guessed, this bag and system is not for use with carbon handlebars due to the potential abrasion from the rope and plastic mounting points. I used it with a pair of Salsa Cowchipper bars and after I used it on a lot of rugged roads, I was happy to see that there was barely any sign of wear, aside from a small rub mark.
Size and Construction
One thing that will please a lot of people, particularly smaller riders, is that the Handlebar-Pack QR doesn’t need that much tire clearance with the Bar-Lock system installed at a level, 90° position. Based on my measurements, the bottom of the bag is vertically about 16cm (6.3″) from the center of the stem clamp in that position, but I would guess that with some movement, riders would likely need 18-20cm (7-8″) of vertical space between the top of the front tire to the center of the stem clamp in order to run this bag. That’s significantly less than most top-opening bags and on par with many handlebar roll bags. And, you could likely get away with less by angling it up, if you needed to. It’s also worth adding that there’s an internal HDPE stiffener that runs from the back of the bag to the lower-front; this helps keep it from drooping too much.
The Handlebar-Pack QR offers 11 liters of storage, weighs 551 grams, and like Ortlieb’s other bike bags, is seam welded using their proprietary molded PVC-free, PU-coated fabric. It comes in just one size that’s optimized to fit drop handlebars around 40cm and larger, depending on the bar’s exact measurements. As shown in all of these photos, I tested it on a pair of 44cm Salsa Woodchipper bars, which are less wide than I typically like. The bag measures 32 centimeters (12.6”) wide, which is narrow compared to many other top-openers. However, its cavernous 11-liter pocket fits a bit more than one might expect. On one particular trip, I carried a 20° down quilt, a Nemo Insulated sleeping pad, my hip pack full of fishing gear, a down jacket, and a few other odds and ends. It has two internal straps that help compress everything down and keep it secure, which is a nice touch. Once these were cinched down over the items mentioned above, I was able to toss a hat and a handful of other small things inside, too.
Additionally, there are two outer stretchy mesh pockets—one on each side—that are clearly made for snacks and quick-access items. I was a little hesitant to put anything of value in them at first, but soon learned that there’s not much that’s going to escape them. Ultimately, I used the drive-side pocket for a small Surly stainless steel “Flasky”—which is of value—and stuffed some random items and snacks into the other. They work pretty well for stuff like this. Unfortunately, they both developed a couple abrasion holes from the MicroShift cables rubbing up against them. As we all know, cable housing can do some serious damage to anything, and this is probably a unique situation considering the odd cable exit on those Advent X levers, but it’s worth noting.
Aside from easy access, one thing to love about top-opening handlebar bags is the ability to adjust the height and how much you carry. The Handlebar-Pack QR isn’t as variable as a traditional long-flap, which can often be overfilled to your heart’s content, but it still allows some wiggle room. With a plastic-reinforced roll-top design, that essentially equates to two, three, or four rolls of the roll-top. It is a substantial difference, though, and the main orange compression strap can hook into one of two daisy-chain loops, depending on how many rolls you do.
There are two additional straps with aluminum hooks on the front of the bag that allow further compression and tightening. All three hooks feature a no-slip CamLock lock to avoid the straps loosening over bumpy roads, which is a nice touch. Additionally, you could likely lash something to the bottom/front of the bag—such as a rainfly, tarp, or fishing rod—with the extra-long straps.
The maximum load for the Handlebar-Pack QR is five kilograms (11 pounds), which I didn’t even come close to when filling up the bag. I think my load in the bag was closer to 2.25 kilograms (5 pounds). With that amount of weight in it, it was surprisingly stable. This is made even more impressive when you consider that there’s not much to the attachment system. The most significant ride I took it on was our Wilson’s Ramble mission, which as the route guide implies is a mix of all kinds of stuff. Even on the rugged bits, the pack never bounced around too much or sagged in any way. It’s quite remarkable in that regard.
Even so, given its size and structure, it’s pretty clear that the Handlebar-Pack QR was made for gravel-oriented riding, with the Tour Divide being a likely candidate. As you can see in many of the photos here, it wasn’t quite big enough for my typical handlebar bag inventory, and I had to put the tent and poles on a front rack underneath. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but for those who pack a lot, combining this with a mini front rack or Anything-style fork bags might be necessary to round out the space.
- Model/Size Tested: Ortlieb Handlebar-Pack QR
- Tested with: 44cm Salsa Woodchippers
- Actual Weight: 551 grams
- Place of Manufacture: Germany
- Price: $160
- Manufacturer’s Details: Ortlieb.com
- Roll-top, waterproof construction sets this bag apart from other top-openers
- Bar-Lock Attachment System is secure and stable
- Fairly voluminous and should fit a lot of handlebars
- Doesn’t require much vertical clearance making it a good option for smaller riders
- One of only a few rackless solutions that avoids rubbing the head tube and cable interference
- Mesh pockets are prone to wear
- Slightly difficult to install at first
- Can’t use with carbon handlebars
- Not as spacious as other options; a “wide” version would be nice
I love seeing bag makers and companies develop rackless solutions that keep bags away from cables, tubes, and other bike parts. Those of us who’ve skipped adding protective tape to a bike’s head tube before setting out on a bikepacking trip know things can get pretty chewed up from strap and bag abrasion, particularly on rough and dusty tracks. It was only a matter of time before one of the more established bag companies tackled this challenge. And given the popularity of top-opening bags and traditional saddlebag-style luggage with the drop-bar and gravel crowd, it was easy to predict that those same companies might go in this direction.
Ortlieb is no stranger to this style of bag, either. Their touring-focused handlebar accessory bags share a lot of similarities. And despite the fact that Ortlieb may have taken inspiration from more traditional saddlebags, the Handlebar-Pack QR is very modern. Aside from the fact that it opens at the top, has two side pockets, and a large interior, it’s kind of its own thing. I think that Ortlieb clearly did their research and made a pretty worthy first attempt at both a strapless attachment system and a top-opening handlebar bag. It’s not as big as other top-openers, and it’s not without drawbacks, but the Handlebar-Pack QR is a solid solution for drop-bar bikes and gravel adventures—more specifically, for riders with narrow-medium width bars and tire clearance issues. It does everything it’s intended to do quite well. It’s surprisingly spacious, especially compared to a roll-bag between the drops, keeps the bag away from cables and tubes, remains secure and stable on the bumpy stuff, and it’s the only full-size top-opener out there that’s fully waterproof. And once you get used to the Bar-Lock system, it’s fairly easy to use.
If I had it my way, I would have preferred an option that clamped the bars with maybe some sort of button-actuated quick-release attachment system, kind of like KlickFix, but I’m guessing there’s a reason Ortlieb didn’t go that direction. And that’s probably because it would be more prone to breakage on rough terrain. While was initially skeptical about a rope-lock mechanism carrying the load, I can say that I probably tested the Handlebar-Pack QR on much rougher terrain than its typical gravel sweet spot and it didn’t budge or break, which is saying something.
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