On my 2011 France and Spain Touring trip I had plenty of time to consider how the bike luggage I was using could be improved upon and added to. Over those 1500 miles I created an image in my mind of the perfect kit set-up for Lite Touring; I wrote this up as my Comprehensive Lite Touring Kit List.
When I got back from the trip I spent a long time researching the best kit that I could find to take on my next big tour (which was planned for this September, but has been postponed to next year). I came across the Arkel brand; a Canadian company that makes incredibly high quality, lifetime guaranteed touring kit. I was impressed!
To test out the range I reviewed the Arkel Touring Saddlebag; it has a highly innovative design and quite frankly is the coolest and best made large saddle bag I have seen.
Spurred on by the saddle bag’s quality and the fact that Arkel has just set up a UK distribution depot (so the products no longer have to come air mail from Canada), I went in for a full Arkel set to fit my “image of the perfect Lite Touring set up”. This comprised of (in addition to the saddle bag) the Small Handlebar Bag, Dolphin 48 Waterproof Rear Panniers and Tailrider Trunk Bag. In this post I am reviewing the first of those products...
Handlebar bags are a piece of cycling luggage that is often scoffed at; some claim that they ruin the look of a bike and stop you from seeing the front wheel. However, from my touring experience, I found that they are an almost essential piece of equipment. They make your life far easier when you are on the move, by keeping your valuables close to hand and constantly in sight. I spent most of my France and Spain Touring trip wishing I had taken one.
Handlebar bags also don’t have to be cumbersome. This “small” handlebar bag from Arkel is the perfect size to fit on 42-44cm road handlebars, leaving you with plenty of space still on the bars, but enough room in the bag for everything you need to hand.
Firstly, build quality. Arkel kit all has a lifetime guarantee; that means if the stitching comes undone, the bracket breaks, or the waterproofing turns out not to be waterproof, then Arkel will replace it. That is probably the best indication of how good quality this stuff is. How many brands are that sure that their kit will keep going strong year after year? I can vouch that the Arkel quality is indeed outstanding; no stitch has been left unfinished, no detail overlooked. This really is kit capable of everything that back-and-beyond touring can throw at it.
The second superb feature of the Arkel bag is the clear map case on the lid of the bag. The case is made of a high quality clear plastic, which looks like it certainly shouldn't discolour with UV exposure. You can either have the case folded back on itself to minimise the size, or you can fold it out for maximum coverage of the territory that you are exploring.
The third great feature that is worth shouting about with the Arkel handlebar bag design is the bracket that fixes the bag to the handlebar. The handlebar part of the bracket consists of two neat aluminium mounts, which affix to the handlebars with allen key bolt clamps. The bag then has two slider fixings with metal clips; this means the bag simply slides on and off the bracket. These brackets on the bag can be covered by a velcro flap when the bag is off the bike, to prevent them catching on clothing whilst you are carrying it. The whole mounting system is simple, yet highly robust and secure; I would quite happily take the bag off-road and be sure that it would stay put.
This really is a great bit of kit, and I won't be going on another bike tour without it. The build quality is fantastic, and the features plentiful and well thought out.
I will be reviewing more of the products from the Arkel range over the coming months, but it is well worth checking them out yourself. They can all be ordered directly from Arkel online: www.panniers.com.