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Rapha Bar Bag review

14 Jul 2020
Verdict:

Still present on most rides, Rapha Bar Bag seemed a couple of tweaks away from perfection in dry weather but is quickly saturated by rain

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Good capacity • Good compartmentalisation • Welcome features such as light loops and shoulder strap
Against 
Barely water resistant, quickly saturated by rain • Self-loosening strap • Access is difficult on bikes with external cabling or out-front computer mounts • Some seams showing signs of stress/wear

A friend and former colleague, who these days can be found doing Jeremy Clarkson impressions on a popular cycling YouTube channel, used to mock me for my penchant for larger saddle bags.

Well, it looks like I was just ahead of the trend for putting bags all over your bike in what's called 'bikepacking' but might more accurately be seen as 'less convenient cycle-touring'.

Regardless, my inclination for luggage on a dropbar bike has continued with my use of the Rapha Bar Bag.

 

Buy the Rapha Bar Bag here

Self-sufficient solo riding

Early into the coronavirus lockdown I whiled away the kilometres on my rides wondering if I was the only person not riding in a group or, on more generous days, wondering where all these houseshares for 40-plus-year-old white men with expensive bikes were located within easy reach of Southwest London and Surrey.

Determined to stay solo and not wanting to have to come into close contact with anyone I didn't live with, I set out to ensure I was as self-sufficient as possible on rides – and this is where the Rapha Bar Bag came into its own.

Hand sanitiser, tools, extra tubes, old bits of tyre to bump larger gashes, cable ties, a power bank with cables for lights, Wahoo and iPhone, spare cleats, a cereal bar squashed in for emergency munchies, even a notebook and pen. The pen's also got duct tape wrapped around it's non-writing end. Capacity-efficient.

This is all in addition to a standard saddle bag, with a tube and levers, and jersey pockets stuffed with snacks, a rain jacket and a mini-pump.

After I'd ridden once with the Rapha Bar Bag – and it's not insignicant haul of 'might-needs' – that was it, it was now a necessity.

How silly would I feel if I hadn't charged my Wahoo at home, it ran out of battery during my ride and I didn't have a bag with power bank to hand? My Strava stats wouldn't know how far I'd gone. What about if I had a lightbulb moment for how to impress Deborah Meaden on Dragons' Den and didn't have a duct tape-covered pen to write it down?

Such 'what ifs?' have made the Rapha Bar Bag's presence on my bike almost as essential as tyres for all subsequent rides. Importantly, the bag does its job efficiently and reasonably well – barring one strap-based gripe, but more on that later.

A full-width zipped compartment across the front is the right length for cable ties and a good place to store door keys. On the front of that are loops to attach a light, which might be the only place to put one once the bag's straps take their position on the handlebar.

Inside the main compartment are a pair of mesh sub-compartments which are good for holding tools, meaning they're easily grabbed when needed and not hidden by a picnic's worth of snacks.

It might shrug off light rain but a proper downpour will saturate

Long term review update, 27th November 2020

The bag is title as rainproof rather than waterproof, and this is an important distinction (although the latter does crop up in the product distinction). Light rain showers or a bit of water flicked up from your front tyre on a wet road will be kept out, just about, but proper rain – of the kind we get regularly here in the UK – will make light work of the outer material's DWR treatment and anything in the bag can quickly become sodden.

Likely as a result of this line in the product description – 'made with a waterproof fabric, this conveniently sized pack shrugs off the worst of the weather while remaining firmly fixed to your bike thanks to its durable straps' – I'd initially thought the Rapha Bar Bag was waterproof and even said so in the original version of this review, but I have since found that to be comprehensively not the case.

The first time I found the bag taking on water was during Britain's wettest ever day as I took on King Alfred's Way. However, rainfall of a less record-setting volume has also resulted in the bag and its contents getting soaked through.

Rapha's larger luggage option, the Rapha Waterpoof Bar Pack, is said to be 100% waterproof so likely to be better suited to UK weather and longer cycling adventures.

The self-loosening head tube strap

Self-loosening strap

The first iteration of the Rapha Bar Bag I received came with three key attachment straps: two on the top to attach to a bike's handlebar and a third to wrap around the head tube. A fourth is there for when you might want to use the bar bag as a frame bag.

All three straps can be unattached from the bag, instead staying in place by passing through the loops on the bag, going around the allocated part of the bike and then clipping together.

The lock-fastening system present on the handlebar straps, that is absent from the head tube strap

The upper two straps include a lock-fastening system that you must undo in order to make the straps longer or shorter to suit the handebar they'll be wrapped around.

This lock-fastening is absent from the head tube strap and that was the cause of one of the few complaints I can level at the Rapha Bar Bag, but it's also the most significant.

As the strap is not locked in place, road buzz causes the bag to vibrate and rattle, slowly but surely working the strap loose and causing it to start to swing against the head tube. The looser the strap gets, the more the bag swings, wrenching on the strap even harder, loosening it further, causing a feedback loop that sometimes requires a halt to a ride to re-tighten the strap.

The newer version of the Rapha Bar Bag with the handlebar straps held in place

An updated version of the bag has addressed the potential problem of the handlebar straps going missing when they're undone by permanently attaching them to the loop on the top of the bag. However, the head tube strap has remained the same: unattached so potentially could go missing but more importantly still lacking the locking system that would keep it at the desired length and snug to the head tube.

The permanance of the handlebar straps on the more recent version means that the clips are held in place to the front of the bag over the main storage comparment's zip. However, for every use of the original bar bag – and done so on at least three different bikes – the clips have been above the handlebar and furthest away from the bag.

The older version of the Rapha Bar Bag in situ on a bike, with the clips above the handlebar and furthest away from the bag

This is because that's the easiest way to attach the bag; least fiddly as my fingers have had more space to get the clip done up nice and tight, rather than having to manoeuvre the clip shut in the tight space between handlebar and bag.

The clips from the second bag I received can't be removed without hacking at the straps, which I'm not willing to do, so I can't even capitalise on the privileged position of having two of them to make one near-perfect one.

In short, a lockable clip on the head tube strap of the Rapha Bag Bag's primary version would solve an irritation and move this product from good to excellent.

 

Longevity

As listed earlier, I've packed a number of items into the Rapha Bar Bag for every ride. However, it's never been too full and nor have I had trouble getting it opened or closed. Even so, the weight of the cargo does seem to have stressed the seam nearest the attachment loop for the handlebar clip.

This is ever so slightly coming apart in a way that could lead to a larger hole, and a very big problem, down the line. Here I would recommend caution when loading the bar bag: the inscription inside does implore riders to 'pack light, travel far', advice to be heeded when loading it up for a weekend ride or longer adventure.

Perhaps I should add a miniature sewing kit to the bag; little additional weight but will allow running repairs should they be required.

Buy the Rapha Bar Bag here

Problems explained, bag still on bike

Despite this lengthy explanation of how I would have designed the straps better and my realisation not very long into the first ride as to how the whole bag could be vastly improved, I haven't been on a ride in four months without the Rapha Bar Bag attached to my bike.

That is to say, it still does what it's meant to and does it generally pretty well. The self-loosening strap can even be slightly countered by where you rest the clip once it's done up (behind the head tube works well) and external cables can help keep it in place even if attaching the bag in the first place was more difficult with exposed cables getting in the way.

Can the strap problem be annoying? Yes. Does it overshadow the bag's positive features and render it unusable? Hardly. I wouldn't have had nearly as much to say in this review without the inexplicable absence of a locking system on the strap that needs it most and I won't now ride without the bag in situ where I can see it below my bike computer.

In short, I won't be going on any rides without the Rapha Bar Bag attached to my bike again – so that probably sums up my overall opinion on it.

The Rapha Bar Bag can also be used as a frame bag, although it's only been attached to my bikes ahead of their front ends so I've got little to say on that element of its application. Versatility is always good, of course.

I'll test this positioning of it by attaching the more recent iteration to the underside of my top tube on a touring trip later this year, coronavirus allowing, while the other one stays put on the handlebar.

The Rapha Bar bag is in and out of stock, but can be bought here when it's available again

All reviews are fully independent and no payments have been made by companies featured in reviews

Price: 
£45