Bike Bag Dude is an Australia-based custom bikepacking bag manufacturer – a two-person enterprise consisting of Kedan and Kath Griffin, who make custom-fitted frame bags, bar harnesses, bar roll-bags, top tube bags, and stem bags. I’ve been testing all except the latter, logging about 3000 dusty kilometers on the bags over the last few months.
When it comes to packing overnight gear onto your mountain bike and heading into the hills for more than a few days, especially on routes that may involve an equal share of cruising on jeep tracks as navigating technical singletrack, getting weight out of a backpack and onto the bike can be the difference between bliss and suffering. In the last couple of years, the bikepacking bag market has been flooded with options form pop-up cottage-industry manufacturers. Only one or two of these companies has approached anything close to mass production. In this contracted world of custom pack makers, Bike Bag Dude stands out as one of the more recognizable brands, mostly for its unique take on bag design - and that uniqueness comes in the form of protruding, weather-sealed seams.
• Options: Single-zip; Double-zip with false-floor; Double-zip with false-floor, plus zippered map pocket (tested)
• Weight: 524*.
• Volume: 10L*
• Price: Single zip - $250AUD, Double-zip - $300, Double-zip w/ zippered map pocket - $350
(*Note: weight and volume is the upper limit, as few frames out there have a larger front triangle than my size XL hardtail.
• Weight: 161g
• Volume: 2.1L
• Price: $120AUDHandlebar Roll with Sling
• Options: 17cm (tested), 22cm, 25cm, and 28cm diameters
• Weight: 213g for sling including added foam spacers, 192g for 17cm roll-bag
• Volume: 9-28L depending on roll diameter (12L for 17cm test bag)
• Price: 17cm - $200AUD, 22cm - $230, 25cm - $260, 28cm - $290, sling alone - $80AUD
• Contact: Bike Bag Dude
The BBD Garage Bag is the most spacious top-tube design I've used.
At first, I was skeptical of the merits this exposed seam idea. Personally, it lends the bags a sort of homemade and unpolished look that, when combined with the somewhat witless “Bike Bag Dude” name, had me regarding the bags with raised eyebrows. I discovered that the "BBD" acronym, placed on all sides of the kit, brings up a few ...uh... startling search engine results - which didn't help to improve my perceptions of the product. What matters most, though, is that the exposed seam design is key to the goal of seam-sealing - a feature that that has been woefully lacking from frame bags.
Sealed Seams: Borrowing from sail-making methods, Bike Bag Dude glues every exposed seam with a two-sided tape membrane before sewing with anti-wicking thread. Of course, anti-wicking thread could still let some water through, but since the seams are on the outside, the goopy membrane in the seam means the thread is never actually exposed to the inside of the bags.
Stable attachments: The reversed seams also benefit the stability of frame and top-tube bags, it turns out, since the seams hug the frame, and allows the bags’ volume to be adjusted to a greater degree than with other frame bags, by loosening or cinching down the hook-and-loop straps. So, despite my misgivings on the aesthetics of the “seams out” design, I’ve come to appreciate it and even applaud it.
Reinforced fabric: Unless you request something else, Bike Bag Dude uses X-Pac laminated nylon fabrics throughout, a stiff and extremely strong material that helps the bags maintain their shape when stuffed with food and gear. All zips are size-eight, weather-resistant YKK zippers, and all Velcro straps are of the two-sided variety, with the soft side in, presumably to help reduce wear on frame and handlebar.
Custom fit: All bags are made to order, with many color choices. Learn from my mistake - don't choose yellow. Frame bags and top-tube “Garage” bags are also lined with brightly-colored rip-stop nylon for ease of visibility.
Garage top tube bag.
Top Tube Bag
The Bike Bag Dude “Garage” bag is way bigger than most other top tube bags. I can fit all the things I want handy when out bikepacking: multi-tool, full-sized Leatherman, spork, tube of sunscreen, headlamp, fingerless gloves (since I avoid wearing these unless the sun is burning my hands), chap stick, and sunglasses.
While some people might not be a fan of the amount of top tube real estate the bag occupies, I reckon that if I’m going to bother adding a bag to my bike, it had better be able to carry more than could fit in the pockets of my shorts. It’s useful to think of the weight of a bag in weight per carrying space. Using fewer bags that have more volume is lighter than covering your bike in small accessory bags.
This is the best top tube bag I’ve laid my hands on, but it comes at a heavy price: $120AUD (about $90USD). While some water can still come in through the zipper, it offers the best water resistance I've found in a top-tube bag. All three straps that connect it to the bike loop through daisy chained webbing, so it can fit around frame bag straps. The frame-hugging seams-out design makes it the most stable I’ve used, despite its size.
The Garage bag's exposed seam design helps it conform to the top tube for a more secure fit.
The handlebar roll is a two-piece modular bag consisting of a padded sling, which straps onto the handlebar and headtube, and a sewn roll-bag that buckles into the harness. There is no option for an accessory pocket, as is often found on similar products. Coupled with the monstrous Garage Bag, I can't say I've missed having a pocket up front (the worst place to carry weight on a bike, anyway).
Bike Bag Dude's take on the handlebar roll is pretty minimalist – a design philosophy I usually look for. It attaches to the handlebar with Velcro, which I could get much tighter than the more typical webbing options. But, without any sort of spacer to keep the sling away from the handlebar, it was a real challenge to mount on a standard riser bar, without forcing cables to uncomfortable angles. I cut some closed-cell foam blocks to use as spacers to keep the harness off the bar and control cables. The result worked, and thanks in part to the Velcro attachment, proved impressively stable with a five-pound load.
The yellow, external sling helps to waterproof the handlebar roll.
The sling/dry bag system was handy for quick packing.
Foam blocks added as spacers minimized interference with cables.
One-inch-wide webbing and large boxy looking buckles that are used on the harness and roll-bag look like they came off a backpack from the '80s, They are way bigger than is necessary, and while they hold the roll-bag very securely, oversized hardware has little merit for such simple closures. The roll-bag itself is reinforced against abrasion in the middle with a second layer of X-Pac, which is necessary because, if you're using wide bars, the sling is not wide enough to protect the roll bag against abrasion by the brake levers and cables.
Unfortunately, I discovered the reinforcement strip's flat seam lets water through – I'm not sure if it lacks the sealing membrane, or whether water can just wick through the threads much more easily on a flat seam. Either way, the result was damp sleeping gear after riding through hard rain. Given the sling is sold alone for $80AUD, most of the cost of Bike Bag Dude's handlebar roll is tied up in this less-than-waterproof roll bag. Mass-produced dry bags can easily be found for about $30, so Bike Bag Dude's $120AUD roll bag seems unreasonable. The price further jumps up by $30AUD for every additional three centimeters in diameter. That is less than ten centimeters of additional material, and no significant change to labour cost, which makes the larger bags even more out of line with affordable alternatives.
The hook side of the Velcro is a bit more abrasive than regular webbing, but generally this sort of wear is normal after 3000km, and isn't a problem.
Bike Bag Dude's answer to the frame bag is the only option I've seen that gives more than a symbolic nod to the effort of waterproofing. While they make no claims that the bag is actually waterproof (since water can pass through the teeth of water-resistant zippers), it has proven totally weatherproof against heavy rain. Much of this comes down to the sealed seams, but some of its water-resistance comes from the lack of a hydration-port, which often manifests as forward-facing funnel where the hydration hose exits the bag.
The only drawbacks I found with the frame-mount bag came from the use of size-eight YKK zippers, as opposed to size ten, which is common on other frame bags. I also had trouble with the double-sided Velcro retention straps. After about two months in dusty conditions, the main zipper's slider had worn enough that the teeth no longer remained closed behind it. My usual method of pinching the slider closed with pliers failed to completely solve the problem. Meanwhile, the double-sided Velcro, with its rough side out, would occasionally grab my shorts when I straddled my bike. And again, after two months of travel, a couple of these straps were tearing where they mounted to the bag body. Fortunately, the seams-out design made it incredibly easy to repair torn straps in the field.
Untested, was how the full-size bag, and its exposed seams mated with a front derailleur. I don't use one, but looking at amount of fabric near the bottom bracket, I'd assume that there would at least be some contact between the bag and a front derailleur. There are two tabs at the lowest vertex of the bag which can be pulled tight to create a taper in order to clear multiple chainrings, and the manufacturers assured me that they've had no problems with front derailleurs.
The frame bag I received for testing came fully loaded: two zippers into the main compartment, a false-floor at half-height that can be opened for stowing large items, and a zippered map pocket on the non-drive-side. While those features were great, for the extra $100AUD, I'd happily stick to a single-zipper. The basic option, with a single compartment and single zipper, coming in at $250AUD, or about $185USD, puts this weatherproof design at a similar price-point to popular, mass-produced alternatives.
The black false floor can be opened and stowed to the side.
The map pocket - useful for it intended purpose - and for zip ties.
Stitch-work throughout the kit was impeccable, but two months of exposure to fine Chilean dust, and the main zipper was acting up.
The bottom straps started to tear. Straps are sewn onto the exposed seams, however, so field repair was easy.
|Overall, Bike Bag Dude bikepacking bags feature great design and impeccable construction, but the designs are weakened, primarily by poor hardware. The Garage Bag completely escapes this critique, since size-eight zippers are well suited to a smaller size bag. Given the price, I'd find it hard to justify purchasing a Bike Bag Dude handlebar roll. The sling alone, coupled with a mass-produced dry bag and some small foam blocks would equal or better its performance and make for a more affordable handlebar system. With beefier zippers and straps, Bike Bag Dude's custom frame bags would offer its unparalleled water resistance at a cost similar to alternatives, and with better durability. As it stands, if you plan on bikepacking in a wet part of the world, Bike Bag Dude's Garage Bag and custom frame bags still deserve your consideration. - Skyler Des Roches|