You may like the idea of a bikepacking bag setup but perhaps you have reservations about the limited volume and ease of access. Maybe you have some four-season gear that simply isn’t conducive to packing down small. Or perhaps you simply want to stuff odd-shaped vegetables (like broccoli) into your bags…?!
Not to worry, we are living in a time when bag options for bikes are seemingly endless!
Note: This article was originally published in Sept 2018 but has been updated in Feb 2020.
The Benefits of A High-Rider Bag Setup
Volume doesn’t need to be a priority.
It’s pretty easy to get more than 50 litres out of a front and rear bag. Add in a full-sized frame pack and you’ll be good for a multi-year trip! In addition, high-rider bags will fit cheaper camping gear, as well as products that use less-packable synthetic insulation.
These bags mostly employ roll-closures, small clips and zippers to make access to your gear very quick and easy. They also open up super wide so that you can dig around and re-organise gear without removing anything from the bag.
Narrower and more aerodynamic than panniers.
Panniers have a large surface area that slows you down more than a set of bikepacking bags (I’ve calculated 6-8% slower at my cycling speeds). While high-rider bags are a bit bigger than bikepacking bags, they should still work out a couple of percent faster than panniers.
Higher from the ground than panniers.
If you’re cycling on rocky trails, through ruts or past a whole bunch of tightly-packed shrubs you’ll know that ground clearance is key. A high-rider setup gives you all the ground clearance you’ll ever need.
The Physics of A High-Rider Setup
The weight distribution of gear on your bike has a pretty dramatic effect on the way your bike handles.
A low centre of gravity is the most ideal characteristic for maintaining stable bike handling with a load. This principle calls for any weight associated with your bike to be distributed low. That’s why panniers are so great for bike travel; they allow your gear to be distributed as low as practically possible.
High-rider bags, on the other hand, are arguably the worst place you can carry gear because the weight is distributed at the highest possible points.
That said, most bikes will still handle a high-rider setup perfectly fine, provided you pack light. I’d suggest around 10kg/22lbs front and rear as an ideal maximum. If you do have more weight, consider adding a frame pack, a set of cargo cages or some bikepacking panniers so that you don’t need to compromise your bikes handling any further.
At the front of the bike, high-rider bags have a greater impact on your steering than panniers or cargo cages. This is because the weight is distributed in front of the steering axis. When you turn your bars, a high-rider bag has to move around a larger steering arc, resulting in both heavier steering and exaggerated effects of ‘wheel flop’. This basically means that your handlebars will constantly want to pull to the side while you ride at low speeds, requiring some extra effort to keep the bike in a straight line.
Wide handlebars are key in managing the steering effects of high-rider front bags, especially if you’re lugging closer to 10kg/22lb. The additional steering leverage will not only make your steering lighter and more precise, but it will provide additional clearance for larger volume high-rider bags too. Pick some handlebars wider than 600mm if you can, which is almost all flat or riser handlebars. The Curve Walmer is a great option if you prefer drops.
The Quirks of Wide Rear Saddlebags
If you spend time riding steeper off-road routes, you will likely find that a wide saddlebag will get in the way of your thighs when you need to shift your body weight backwards. I’ve found that for anything steep, regular bikepacking seat packs or bikepacking panniers like the Revelate Nanos are the better options.
I’ve also found that rolltop saddlebags need to be used in combination with either a rear rack supports like the Carradice Expedition or a mini rack like the adjustable Nitto R14 Rivendell. These lightweight racks will both prevent thigh rub and give you the best rough road stability. Saddlebags are a borderline pass on smooth roads without a support, but you’ll likely have to put up with a bit of bag sway and thigh rub.
Rolltop Bags (>20-Litres)
CARRADICE CAMPER LONGFLAP // 23L and £94
The Camper Longflap has been around for longer than I’ve been alive. It was originally designed around Brooks saddles as they have two rear loops which fit the bag’s adjustable straps, but these days you can find saddle loop adapters from Velo Orange and Hobo Pieces to suit your preferred saddle. Most people prefer to use the Carradice bags with a support to reduce any bag wag. Check out the supports by Carradice, Yellow Bird Society or Ocean Air Cycles. If you head off-road, you will want to support this bag with a minimal rear rack. Check out suitable rack options from Tubus, Nitto, Surly, Thule, Tumbleweed and Velo Orange.
ROADRUNNER JUMBO JAMMER // 26L and US $215
The Jumbo Jammer is a positively massive bag at 26 litres. It’ll fit on your handlebars or behind your saddle. You may like to support this bag with a minimal front or rear rack, especially if you head off-road. Check out some suitable rack options from Tubus, Nitto, RatKing, Surly, Thule and Velo Orange. The Ratking and Thule seem to sit the tallest.
RON’S BIKES FABIO’S CHEST LARGE // 30-44L and US $279
Fabio’s Chest is the largest handlebar/seat pack made by Swift Industries – it expands all the way to 44 litres as seen in the picture above. This is one super-wide bag, so make sure you’ve got the drop bars to match if that’s your style (I like the Curve Walmer 55 or 60cm). The way the Fabio’s Chest mounts to the rear is via some 9″ Titan Straps which are threaded through your saddle loops. Don’t have any saddle loops on your seat? No problem. Hobo Pieces makes the Restuvus loop adapter and Velo Orange makes some more affordable aftermarket Saddle Loops. You will want to support this bag with a minimal rear rack, especially if you head off-road. Check out some suitable rack options from Tubus, Nitto, Surly, Thule, Tumbleweed and Velo Orange.
TRIBULUS LIMITED ENDOVER // 22L+ and US $195
The Endover is a 22-litre+ handlebar pack that’s only 445 grams! For comparison, that’s about 30-50% of the weight of comparable bags. It mounts to the bike via six straps, two of which are clips that allow you to access the goods in your bag. Keep in mind that this bag requires a bit more handlebar-to-tyre clearance than most handlebar packs, given its sheer size. Many people like to support this bag with a minimal front rack – check out some rando rack options from Nitto, Surly and Velo Orange.
WIZARD WORKS SHAZAM! // 20L+ and £179
The Shazam! rolltop uses a hard shell 1000d Cordura outer with bright yellow waterproof nylon inner. A lightweight aluminium length is used in place of the traditional wooden dowel to keep the bag in shape, meaning it will go on even the gnarliest trails. The Shazam! can fit directly onto your handlebars, or if you prefer it as a saddlebag, is has been designed specifically around the Carradice Expedition support.
Oversized Bikepacking Bags (>20-Litres)
ARKEL ROLLPACKER FRONT & REAR // 25L and US $200-225
In a class of their own are these super neat 25-litre handlebar (or seat) packs and matching racks to keep everything stable. The racks themselves require no tools to add/remove them from your bike. If you have lots of exposed seatpost, you can hang the rear Rollpacker upside down to lower its centre of gravity. The front bag and rack weighs in at just 748 grams while the rear version is 930 grams.
Basket Bags (>20-Litres)
DARK REALM WALD BASKET BAG // 20L+ and US $100
The Dark Realm bags are also designed around the Wald 137 & 139 baskets but can mount to a front porteur rack using some adjustable straps. Dark Realm uses some pretty funky material patterns to give your bike a bit of character – check out the hand-dyed xpac option!
PORCELAIN ROCKET MEANWHILE // 20L+ and US $60
PR has recently introduced a seam-welded bag designed specifically to fit the Wald 137 & 139 baskets. Two simple clips on either side of the bag loop into the basket to keep it in place. As these bags are quick and easy to make, PR only charges you US $60 for one.
WIZARD WORKS ALAKAZAM! // 20L+ and £170
The Alakazam! is available in two sizes and designed to fit the Wald 137 and 139 baskets. It will unroll and expand out vertically to ~40 litres, closing with some pop buttons and staying in the one place thanks to two straps that loop over the top.
RESTRAP BASKET BAG LARGE // 30L+ and £65
Restrap makes three different basket bags with zipper closures. The size large is designed to fit snugly in the Wald 157 basket, and the size medium pairs with the Wald 139 (but it’s a bit less than 20 litres). It’s worth noting the Wald 157 basket alone weighs a whopping 3.5kg/7.8lbs, so perhaps keep this setup away from any hills!
Porteur Rack Bags (>20-Litres)
OUTER SHELL ADVENTURE RACK BAG // 20L+ and US $220
The Adventure Rack Bag is custom-made to suit different porteur rack models by Pass and Stow, Velo Orange, Soma, Surly, Origin8, Specialized and Rawland. You can add the decaleur kit if you’re planning some off-road use.
LAPLANDER PORTEUR BAG // 30L+ and US $245
These positively gigantic porteur bags are designed specifically to fit the Velo Orange Porteur rack. The retro styling is a bit of a favourite for those with older steel bikes and wool jerseys.
ORIGIN8 RUSH MESSENGER PORTEUR BAG // 20-38L and US $54
The best value item on this list is the Rush Messenger flat rack pack! It’s designed specifically around the Origin8 front porteur racks, and when empty, will fold fully flat. This roll-top bag ain’t waterproof, so you might want to throw the important stuff into dry bags if you’re heading out into wet conditions.
SURLY PORTEUR HOUSE BAG // 20L+ and US $125
The Porteur House bag is ideally designed to fit the Surly 24-Pack Rack but will fit other similar sized racks too. While the outer material isn’t waterproof, there’s a waterproof liner inside the bag to keep all of your gear dry. The 24-Pack rack isn’t particularly light at 860 grams, and only really fits Surly forks, but it’s strong enough to handle up to 13.6kg (30lbs).
SWIFT INDUSTRIES POLARIS PORTEUR BAG // 20L and US $237
Designed around the Velo Orange Porteur front rack, the custom Polaris has been seen on bikes for about a decade. Over this time it has been refined to be durable, functional and stylish. The 20-litre bag comes in at 910 grams.
INSIDE LINE EQUIPMENT PORTEUR RACK BAG // 20-42L and US $180-200
The waterproof Porteur Rackbag has an insanely big max volume of 42L with the included tie down straps! It can be fitted to a Pass & Stow, Velo Orange, Soma or Cetma rack via two underneath straps. It’s available in a waxed cotton canvas or Cordura nylon exterior.
Rear Rolltop Aero Bags (>20-Litres)
TAILFIN AEROPACK // 20L + 5L (dry bag) and £169 (inc alloy rack)
While most trunk style bags offer around 10L of storage, the Tailfin AeroPack has longer dimensions which help it offer double the volume – but keep in mind you need to have a relatively high seat to achieve the maximum volume. Two long cinching straps allow you to expand your volume even further by adding a drybag to the top. These all-in-one bag and racks are designed to fit almost any bike. The AeroPack Aluminium rack/bag combo weighs in at 910 grams and the Carbon model at 800 grams.