Handlebar Bags vs. Saddlebags (Straightforward Comparison)

This post compares the advantages and disadvantages of bicycle handlebar and saddlebags in relation to one another.

The Advantages of Handlebar Bags

1. Visible Cargo

One of the essential qualities of handlebar bags is the ability to see the condition of the bag/cargo at all times. This feature greatly reduces the possibility of losing the bag and the items that it’s transporting.

2. Easy Access

Roll-top handlebar bag

Roll-top handlebar bags provide easy access to their contents because the closing mechanism is simple and at an arm’s reach.

If the bag has a “basket mode”, you may be able to get stuff in and out of it even while riding.

In different, saddlebags require you to stop and get off the bike if you want to take or put something in. Hence why most touring cyclists fill their saddlebags with items that aren’t needed multiple times throughout a ride.

3. Non-interference With Seat post Accessories

Unlike saddlebags, handlebar bags do not take any seat post real estate and allow you to use all kinds of seat post accessories.

4. Shape

Handlebar bags have a more “natural” shape resembling a suitcase.

Conversely, many saddlebags are triangular and become narrower closer to the seat post – a shape that greatly limits the type of luggage that you can drop in.

The Disadvantages of Handlebar Bags

1. Steering

A loaded handlebar bag harms the bike’s steering to the point where no hands riding becomes impossible.

In different, saddlebags are not nearly as detrimental to the bike’s handling thanks to their position.

2. Drag

Handlebar bags are positioned in front of the rider and act as a sail increasing drag. The effect is more noticeable with larger and wider bags.

3. Limited Capacity

Apart from a handful of models, most handlebar bags do not have a very large capacity.

Conversely, there’s a great number of large saddlebags that could fit many accessories.

4. Cluttered Handlebars

Handlebar bags take a lot of space and clutter the handlebar area. Subsequently, doing repairs such as replacing a brake or gear cable becomes a lot more difficult. In most cases, it’s better to remove the bag.

Note: If the bag is loaded and improperly positioned, it may interfere with your shifting experience.

5. Interference With Cantilever Brakes

Front cantilever brakes have a piece of “naked” cable (no housing) going from the stem to the brake. A handlebar bag will interfere with it. The cable may also tear the bag.

6. Non-Protected During a Head-on Collision

If you hit a high object with the front of the bike, the handlebar bag will “take the punch”. This could be positive because the bag will act as an airbag. However, if you have fragile items in it (e.g., phone, tablet…etc.), they will get damaged.

7. Limited by The Handlebars

The width of the handlebars limits the dimensions of the handlebar bag that one can fit. For example, the drops on road handlebars are only 43-45cm apart. Thus, if you want to maximize the size of the bag that you can install, flat handlebars offer more opportunities.

7. Lifting The Front Tires Becomes More Difficult

A loaded handlebar bag affects one’s ability to lift the front wheel. It’s still possible to do it, but the action is more difficult and somewhat unstable.

This is a severe downside for MTB riders used to lift the front wheel to get over bumps.

Having said that, you won’t experience this problem when running a small handlebar bag or a big one that isn’t filled to the maximum.

The Advantages of Saddle Bags

1. Lots of Capacity

Saddlebags tend to be of larger capacity on average.

2. Minimal Effect On The Bike’s Steering

A saddlebag is positioned on the seat tube and is very close to the rider a.k.a. the heaviest component of the bicycle. Consequently, the bag doesn’t have a major impact on the bike’s steering.

I have а Carradice SQR slim saddlebag and can ride with no hands even when it’s decently loaded.

Carradice Saddle Bag

3. More Discrete and Protected Position

The position of a saddlebag protects it during a crash, especially a head-on collision.

4. No Drag

A saddlebag creates close to no drag because it’s placed behind the rider.

Thus, if you want to remain as aero as possible, a saddlebag is a good solution.

The Disadvantages of Saddle Bags

1. Swinging

The large banana-shaped saddlebags which attach to the seat tube solely via Velcro loops tend to swing around when pedaling out of the saddle. This problem is a lot less prominent when the saddlebag has an attachment rail giving the bag stability.

2. Non-visible Cargo

A saddlebag is always out of sight. Subsequently, it’s more likely for the bag to fail unexpectedly or to lose something in it.

3. Difficult Access

Saddlebags do not offer the greatest convenience and cannot be used in “basket mode”. They’re good mainly for luggage that you don’t need throughout a ride.

To load or unload the bag, the cyclist has to get off the bike.

4. Interference with Seat Post Accessories

A saddlebag wants the entire seat post for itself. Thus, if you have a rear light or a clip-on fender there, you will have to remove them and look for alternatives.

The logical choice would be to mount the light to the bag and to install a full fender that attaches to the bike via struts. On some race bikes, however, mounting such a fender requires a lot of tinkering that not everyone is comfortable with.

5. Triangular and Narrow Shape

Many modern saddlebags are shaped like a banana and get narrower closer to the seat tube. This shape limits the width of the items that you can fit.

Hence why many people look for a classic saddlebag such as Carradice’s models.

When to Choose a Handlebar Bag?

A handlebar bag is a good choice in the following scenarios:

  • You want to see your cargo at all times.
  • You don’t like the look and shape of “banana” saddlebags.
  • You want to use the bag as a basket too.
  • You don’t mind the effect on the steering when the bag is loaded.
  • You want to use seat post accessories.

When to Choose a Saddle Bag?

A saddlebag makes sense in the following scenarios:

  • You want the bag to affect the steering as little as possible.
  • You don’t want a cluttered handlebar area.
  • You have narrow drop bars, and the capacity of the handlebar bags that fit in between the drops isn’t satisfactory.
  • You want to be able to lift the front wheel of the bike as easy as possible.

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