BluesCat is a resident of Phoenix, Arizona, who originally returned to bicycling in 2002 in order to help his son get the Boy Scout Cycling merit badge. His bikes sat idle until the summer of 2008 when gas prices spiked at over $4.00 per gallon. Since then, he has become active cycling, day-touring, commuting by bike, blogging (azbluescat.blogspot.com) and giving grief to the forum editors in the on-line cycling community.
I’ve experimented with a number of handlebar bags since returning to riding; with mixed success. Part of the issue with me is the unique geometry of frame and handlebars I use: my main commuter bike is a recumbent, with ape-hanger bars, and the two mountain bikes I ride have been outfitted with Trekking handlebars. (See: “Trekking Handlebars and Other Comforts.”)
Most handlebar bags are made to sit on top of the stem, with two Velcro ® or cam-buckle strap attachments to the bar — on either side of the stem — and a third one on the stem neck itself. These connections don’t work very well with my handlebars. On both the ape-hangers and the Trekking bars, the real estate on the top of the stem, and on the bars close to the stem, is already occupied by lights and bike computers.
I’ve resorted to jury-rigging a couple of Jandd bags on these bars, but this solution is far from optimal. Rather than sitting on top of the stem (so that you can unzip the bag pockets and access the contents as you’re riding) the bags sit on the front of the handlebars, out of your reach when you’re in the saddle. Also, the bags on the Trekking bars are canted forward, so if even if I were able to unzip the bag as I’m bouncing down the roadway, my cell phone and wallet would probably tumble out, bounce off of my front wheel and be road trash.
The Cruiser Handlebar Bag, from the Green Guru out of Boulder, Colorado, is designed to hang off the front of a set of cruiser handlebars, so I jumped at the chance to evaluate it to see if it would work for me.
The bag exterior is made of of recycled bike inner tubes and the interior is PETE fabric. This particular PETE fabric looks similar to Astrolar, that slivery stuff used to make Space Blankets and beanies to ward off mind control by Aliens.
From a distance, the bike tube exterior looks like leather. The bag has a single pocket which is kept closed with Velcro all along the edge of an asymmetrical front flap. The three strap attachments to the handlebars are Velcro. The size of the bag is a copious 6 x 7.5 x 9 inches (15 x 19 x 23 cm).
I tried the bag on the recumbent first, attaching it to the front of the handlebars, on the top crossbar. It was a tight squeeze underneath the brake and shifter cables, so tight that the pocket flap was difficult to open.
Since the stem neck was way too far away to use the stem strap of the bag, the bag simply rested against the front of the handlebars. This meant the bag would bounce up against the cables whenever I would hit bumps in the road. I discovered that as the bag banged up against the cables, changing the cable from a smooth curve to a wave, it would change the tension in the cables so that I could hear chattering coming from the derailleurs. If I hit a hard enough bump, it would change gears automatically! This is the same experience I have had whenever I’ve tried to mount a handlebar bag on top of the cables.
I moved the bag around to the back of the recumbent handlebars, but this was no better for a different set of reasons. My knees would brush the bottom of the swinging bag as I pedaled, the bag blocked my view of the bike computer down on the bottom of the handlebars, and it made the bottle cage attached to the right handlebar upright unusable.
The Cruiser Bag was a bust for the ‘bent, but when I tried it on the Trekking bars of my mountain bikes it proved to be a real winner. The two bar straps operate as they should, whether the bars are in the "riser up" or "riser down" position.
Most manufacturers sew the stem strap to the bottom of their handlebar bag, but Green Guru has made this bag much more versatile by sewing three separate nylon loops up the back of the Cruiser. You slip a Velcro strap through one of the loops and wrap it around the stem. On the Trekking bars, I put the strap through the very top loop and up around the stem neck. The bag leans slightly backward, as it should.
In the ad accompanying the information for the Cruiser bag, you see a guy reaching across the front of his Xtracycle to pull a can of soda out of the bag. With Trekking bars, you don’t even have to reach very much: you put your forearms on the loops, down in the "drop position," and you can open the flap and root around in the bag contents very easily.
Speaking of cold soda, I tried putting a can of soda in the Cruiser bag to see if it really kept it cold. I didn’t test it with a thermometer, but it seemed to keep it pretty cool. If you kept the other stuff for your Cruiser bag in the freezer, and packed it around your cold can of beer when you head out for your ride, I’ll bet at lunch time you’d STILL have a cold beer.
And you can pack a LOT of stuff in the Green Guru Cruiser bag. I put my spare tube, tire levers, multi-tool, patch kit, cell phone, wallet, compact Day-Timer organizer, ankle strap, cycling gloves and digital camera all in the bag and had room to spare. The Cruiser bag eliminated the need for the saddle bag on one of my bikes.
As good as the bag works for me, I’ve thought of a few improvements which could be made. In my experience, if your stuff is all in one big jiggling pocket, there seems to be a cosmic law which says all of the sharp stuff will find its way to the scratchable stuff. Your key ring will find a way to rub up against your cell phone screen; your multi-tool will travel over to cuddle your digital camera viewfinder display. Green Guru could glue a couple of Velcro hook strips up the middle of the inside of the left and right sides of the bag, and then add a nylon wall the height and width of the bag, with Velcro felt covered tabs on each end so when the wall is inserted the bag would be divided into two pockets; one for scratchables and the other for scratchers.
The bag has a nice little nylon carrying handle on the top, and they could make it better by adding a couple of shoulder strap hooks to each end of the top of the bag. It would then function as a pretty good little messenger bag. When you park and lock your bike, you could toss your lights and bike computer into the bag and take them with you; leaving very little for would-be thieves to pilfer.
To facilitate the quick release of the bag, my preference would be for cam-buckles on the attachment straps rather than Velcro. For me, wrapping Velcro around a handlebar tube in close quarters has always been as frustrating as I imagine it would be to wrap Scotch tape neatly around a struggling earth worm.
At $44.95, the price of the Green Guru Cruiser Handlebar Bag doesn’t seem to me to be terribly out of line with the cost of other bags of this size. And the Eco-friendly, reclaimed source material they used may help to assuage the pain of parting with your own "green."