Outer Shell Handlebar Harness and Drawcord Handlebar Bag Review
Fresh off a week-long singletrack bikepacking trip in the desert, Miles shares his thoughts on the redesigned Outer Shell Handlebar Harness and Drawcord Handlebar Bag. Find specs, photos, and a report on what’s new here…
Action shots by Patrick Farnsworth (@bikesordeath)
In 2018, I had a chance to test out the original iteration of Outer Shell’s Handlebar Harness and Drawcord Handlebar Bag. When used together, it was a solid contender for an all-in-one handlebar bag system for day rides, commuting, and bikepacking. While both the Handlebar Bag and Harness lived up to Outer Shell’s quality construction and attention to detail, there was some room for improvement. This brings us to the latest versions, which have been tweaked over the years without sacrificing the system’s modular, bounce-free design.
Outer Shell Handlebar Harness
The Outer Shell Handlebar Harness is now in its second iteration and is based around an entirely new system. The original version relied on webbing straps to hold your favourite dry bag in place and separate straps with locking cam buckles to secure the harness to the bars. The harness itself is made from a durable semi-rigid plastic sheet, similar to a thin plastic cutting board, with various slots that allow for simple adjustment depending on your setup.
While the overall design remains the same, Outer Shell replaced the simple webbing straps with two beefy 32″ XL Voile Straps that wrap around both the dry bag and over the handlebar—a combination that provides much more holding power than the previous version—one of my complaints when I originally tested it out. There are still locking cam buckles, which ensure the harness stays in place when removing the dry bag, and foam spacers are integrated on the bar and head tube attachment points to prevent interference with brakes, brake levers, and cables. There are two plastic loops that the Voile Straps run through before cinching down over the bar, and the fit is snug enough that they hold the straps in place while loading and unloading the harness. It’s a small change but made packing up in the morning that much easier and nearly eliminates the chance of accidentally losing a strap around camp. For even more stability, they also include two lengths of velcro that can be used to secure the lower part of the harness to each side of the fork crown. At the time of these updates, Outer Shell also moved away from sewn-in straps to make field repairs and warranty fixes even easier.
The harness showed up just in time for my recent trip to Arizona on a mostly singletrack route east of Phoenix. The terrain was chunky, technical at times, required some hike-a-bike, and incorporated the Picketpost to Kelvin section on the Arizona Trail. The introduction of XL Voile Straps into such a simple harness system was a good move. The resulting setup is rock solid on even the roughest of trails, with next to no movement or bounce to speak of. The adjustable head tube attachment/spacers should make it compatible with most bikes, and the semi-rigid plastic panel is lightweight and durable. I’d say the only drawback of the plastic harness is that my front brake hose had a hard time finding smooth routing compared to more flexible, fabric harnesses. If I was using the harness long-term, I’d be sure to set up a fresh front brake hose, likely with some extra length, to work around this.
Compared to some other lightweight harness systems I’ve used, Outer Shell’s take is actually on the heavier end. Check out a quick comparison of several popular options below. While each one uses a slightly different mounting system and design, they all fall into the same harness category. Note that the material listed refers to the harness itself and the weight refers to that of just the harness and included hardware. Revelate Designs is the only option below that includes a dry bag with their harness, helps explain the higher price tag.
Handlebar Harnesses Compared
At just $60, Outer Shell’s redesigned Handlebar Harness is a home run price-wise, and it’s no surprise that Neil included it in his 2021 Gear Picks video that we published earlier this month.
- Capacity: 4″ to 9″ Diameter Dry Bags
- Material: Plastic Harness, Nylon Straps, Voile Straps
- Weight: 295 grams (with all foam spacers and straps)
- Place of Manufacture: California, USA
- Price: $60 USD
- Manufacturer’s Details: OuterShell.com
Outer Shell Drawcord Handlebar Bag
Now in its third iteration, the Drawcord Handlebar Bag is based around an easy-access lid that secures via a shock cord loop around the stem. It can be used alongside the harness for a complete system or on its own for day rides and commuting. There are three small exterior pockets, a zippered interior pocket for small items, and a one-handed drawcord that cinches down to keep the weather out and contents secure. Along the back of the bag are two lengths of daisy chain webbing for attaching the included locking cam buckles to your bars/head tube. The biggest change is the wider lid, which provides better coverage from rain and the elements. Although the construction and design of the bag aren’t necessarily waterproof, the bag is certainly weatherproof and does a great job at keeping its contents safe and dry.
When used with the Handlebar Harness, the Voile Straps thread through the back of the Handlebar Bag before looping through the plastic loops/metal buckles. Between the friction of the straps and the shock cord closure, the bag stays put and provides some useful space for small items you might need on the go such as snacks, sunscreen, small extra layers, or even a camera. Speaking of cameras, Outer Shell offers an optional Camera Padding Insert ($8 USD) made from high-density foam to line the inside of the bag. Working alongside the internal HDPE stiffeners in the front, back, and bottom of the bag, it makes for a safe and mostly-rattle-free option for storing a small point and shoot, mirrorless camera, or extra lenses.
I agree with Outer Shell’s recommendation for an oval-shaped dry bag, as it provides a flat surface for the Handlebar Bag to hug up against and keeps it closer to your bars. I found the medium Revelate Designs Pronghorn Drybag, at 11 litres and 7″ in diameter, to pair perfectly with both the harness and bag. Outer Shell offers some USA-made dry bags from SeaLine on their website in a variety of sizes, but they’re made from a thicker material than most folks are used to.
I usually used the main opening to store my wallet, face mask, a few extra snacks, and my trowel/toilet paper on top for quick access. I tossed some extra batteries in the side pockets and used the front sleeve for garbage or for my light rain gloves when things warmed up. With the shock cord tight, I sometimes found items liked to work their way up out of the front sleeve, so I wouldn’t recommend storing anything too important in those spots. Otherwise, the construction and attention to detail are right in line with what we’ve come to expect from Outer Shell. Currently, the Drawcord Handlebar Bag is made from a PU-coated Cordura main fabric in a variety of colours but can be purchased in X-Pac or LiteSkin for an additional $10. Small details like the small brass shoulder strap loops, tan grosgrain finishing, and one-handed design don’t go unnoticed.
One unexpected advantage of the larger top flap is having the ability to stow trailside finds or overflow gear underneath on the fly. This area quickly became my go-to spot for stashing my 7Mesh Northwoods Windshell and also served as a temporary holding area for littered Michelob Ultra cans. At one point during my ride, I found a full water bottle and tucked it under the lid until I could reunite it with its owner.
- Capacity: 2.6L to 4.9L
- Material (as tested): Marigold X-Pac
- Weight: 260 grams
- Place of Manufacture: California, USA
- Price: $90 USD
- Manufacturer’s Details: OuterShell.com
- Handlebar harness is simple and effective
- Competitively priced
- Made in USA
- Impressively stable on rough trails
- Updates are thoughtful and well executed
- Plastic harness can get in the way of some hoses and cables
- On the heavier side compared to other minimal harnesses
- Drawcord Handlebar Bag isn’t 100% waterproof
After a few conversations with Outer Shell’s Founder, Kyle Ng, it’s clear that he’s not interested in updating products just for the sake of offering something new. When complaints are made, he takes the time to investigate them and work on a fix. New prototypes are tested and updates are implemented into the next production run. If the changes make the product better, then it’s worth it. Not all changes receive an announcement, though. They’ve made little tweaks like updated cord locks, better weight/composition of plastic inserts, and more over the years. According to Kyle, it’s these smaller details that make the products functional and unique.
After spending time with two versions of the Handlebar Harness and Drawcord Handlebar Bag, I believe Kyle’s approach holds a lot of truth. I appreciate that they’ve been able to tweak certain details without straying from the minimalist design they started out with. The end result is a functional handlebar system that has proven to be exceptionally stable on rough trails, looks great, and is easy to use. The latest iteration is by far the best yet, and it’s hard to imagine how it could be improved upon moving forward, but I look forward to finding out.
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