Handlebar packs come in a few different flavors: cute, waterproof, functional, quick-release, roll-top, etc. When I was planning a bike trip around the Olympic Peninsula along Highway 101 and the Olympic Discovery Trail, I needed something that would sit on my touring bike’s bars and keep the rain shut out tight. I’ve been really happy with my choice of the Ortlieb Handlebar Pack QR, which is a recent addition to the Ortlieb line.
Ortlieib Handlebar Pack QR Features:
- Lightweight, robust PU-coated nylon fabric
- 2 mesh outer pockets for food or quick access items
- 2 compression straps with CamLock hooks
- 2 additional inner compression straps
- Reflective ORTLIEB logo and diamond-shaped 3M Scotchlite reflector
- Dimensions: 8.7×10.2/12.6×9.4 inches
- Volume: 11L
- MSRP: $160
Roll up with all your gear dry
Ortlieb is pretty well synonymous with quality bicycle packs, so my expectations were high for this product. It’s real claim to fame is an innovative new mounting system which promises a lightweight solution to quickly mounting and dismounting the pack. It’s built out of a burly foundation of polyurethane-coated nylon and the rolltop closure is a durable, old-fashioned solution.
Let’s start with the mounting hardware. Basically, Ortlieb is taking a trick out of the climber’s handbook and is using a clever friction system of two cords mounted in the pack’s frame. They wrap around your stem and handlebars in such a way as to support a load purely on the weight of the cord, with a quick-release to ease tension and get the pack off. On the right bicycle, it’s a dream: an effortless way to quickly mount a bag, without bulky or unattractive mounting hardware.
There are some catches, though: for one thing, it can’t be used on carbon bars. The two brackets that touch the bars could exert a lot of pressure in a small area, as could the cords. So it’s to be used on alloy bars and stems only. The other catch is that you can’t have your shifting cables running along the bar close to the stem clamp.
The reason is that they will interfere with the two U-shaped brackets that cradle your bar. On my Diamondback Haanjo, whose wide-set bars offer plenty of room between where the cables emerge from the bar tape and the midline. When we tried to mount this pack on the narrow women’s-specific bars of my girlfriend’s Cannondale Topstone, we had to bend the cables at a really uncomfortable angle to get the pack’s brackets nestled on the bar, which is necessary for a tight fit.
So the upshot is, you should do your best to test this pack on your bike before you buy it. Alternatively, be sure that there is plenty of room from where the cables emerges from the bar tape and the midline of your bike so that the cables can flex out of the way of the pack.
Another thing to consider is load and stability. You can put up to 11lbs worth of gear in there, and I was really pleased to note that it stayed stable on bumpy roads. If correctly tensioned, the attachment system doesn’t really loosen throughout the day. It will sag a little on initial loading, and so I recommend angling the pack perhaps 20-30 degrees above where you want it to sit loaded.
Once that’s sorted out, the pack is really versatile and capable of carrying plenty of weight on the quick-release cord mounting system, although you probably don’t want too much weight on there to throw off your bike’s handling. The pack features a really well-designed exterior with two compression straps with locking hooks, helping ensure that your gear doesn’t pop out and get run over. There are two low-profile mesh pockets which mostly stay out of the way, but stretch impressively when you need to shove energy bars, keys, phones or headphones into them. For safety, Ortlieb threw their signature 3M Scotchlite reflector front and center.
The other part of the pack worth discussing is definitely the roll-top closure. This one features a single compression strap with a locking adjustment. Ortlieb rates this bag as IP64 waterproof, which means that it’s dustproof and splash proof from all directions. However, in order to actually perform like that, the rolltop has to be rolled 3-4 times. I found that difficult to do with the sleeping bag that I was storing up front (a standard bike packing setup since it’s a light but bulkier piece of gear). Your mileage may vary, but recall that you need 3-4 rolls to actually trust this thing in the rain.
In practice, I thoroughly enjoyed using the pack. On the tour of the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park, it felt great knowing that I was covered from precipitation. I especially appreciated the roll-top closure; it’s such a durable design which, unlike waterproof zippers, isn’t really susceptible to breakage in a substantial way. I always shoved my sleeping bag and my book in this pack because I was so confident it would stay dry. The pockets were always bulging with snacks, which did sometimes interfere with shifting. But otherwise, it worked like a charm.
- Simple but brilliant quick-release system is easy to attach and remove
- Excellent design and construction, with a very durable feel
- IP64 rating is much appreciated
- Sleek side pockets are small but deceptively stretchy
- Mounting system works better on wider bars
- Careful packing is needed to get the 3-4 rolls needed for real water resistance
The Bottom Line: Ortlieb Handlebar Pack QR
This is a very easy product to recommend for people who are looking to either tour or commute and need a reliably waterproof bag. It is helpful that it’s pretty sleek and looks good, a feature that we can all appreciate. The technical chops, namely its attachment hardware and IP64 rating, are excellent and confidence-inspiring. If this is the right fit for your bike, you will likely use it for years to come.
Buy Now: Available from REI.com