Updated: Sep 8, 2018
MAYBE NOT A REVIEW! To be honest and fair calling this a review might be wrong as I developed and tested the bags over the last year myself. Let's just call it a "point of view".
"GOOD VALUE FOR MONEY" - Probably means different things to different people. For me it means a good quality product for less. Something that I truly feel has been accomplished with the range of XC Owl products.
For today we will be talking about the XC Owl handlebar, frame and saddle bags for bikepacking. Also called soft bags, simply because the bags do not make use of any pannier system but rather ties to your mountain bike using straps.
Through a process of trial and error five different variations of the bags were tested, improved upon until after one year I was satisfied that quality and affordability married.
First let's start with the Handlebar Bag:
As the name suggests this bag ties to your bike's handlebars. Two quick fit velcro straps with non slip rubber provide the initial fastening points when mounting the bag.
Two additional straps secure the bag firmly to the bars through the fork/shock with strong buckles. The non slip velcro system ensures that the straps will never loosen during a ride. Keeping the bag secure throughout your adventure.
Some initial adjustment will be required but once set up the bag will be quick to remove and re-fit in a minute.
The bags are made from a durable canvas with a ripstop protective strip to guard against wheel rub, mud and dirt. Durable zippers and luxurious water resistant oxford material protects against the elements.
The bag can easily hold a 2 kg two sleeper tent with various smaller items or a one man tent with larger items. Estimated capacity is around 15-18 L.
There are two valuable storage compartments in the front of the bag capable of storing snacks, action cameras, tools, tyre bombs and other items you might need without removing the bag.
Also, on the top of the bag you will find a handy strap in section capable of carrying flops, rolls or larger items best kept ouside the bag.
One size fits all, with best results for handlebars 74 cm and more in length.
Frame Bag solution:
As the name indicates the frame bag secures into the triangle of your mountain bike frame. The frame bag is easy to attach and secure to the bike frame with 6 wide non slip straps.
The frame bag shares the same materials as the handlebar and saddle bags and has a belly ripstop protective strip to guard against mud and rocks launching from tyres.
Best used for soft items such as clothing and other items that can be compactly rolled for space saving.
Sizing is available in medium, large and extra large. Custom bags can be made to fit full suspension bikes or unusual sizes, please contact us for an estimate.
Saddle Bag stories:
Without a doubt the bag that caused me the most grey hair and headaches. We snapped many buckles and straps during testing, and had many different designs. The first unit that actually worked was bulky and difficult to fit in preventing sway. It was a more old school bag.
Back to the drawing board and the result was a more modern saddle bag focused on carrying a compact sleeping bag () and ground protection () as a minimum. Expandable between an estimated 12 - 18 L.
Moving away from the one piece unit to a more flexible holster with bag solution. The saddle bag is now secured to the mountain bike's saddle post with two non slip velcro straps, two bracket straps for under seat anchors and one tie down strap. During our time testing bag sway was only barely noticeable under high speed over rough terrain, something not associated with bikepacking.
Materials are the same as with the handlebar and frame bags. The removable storage bag was specially designed to give compact features to larger storage. Although water resistant, under heavy rain it is advisable to use a dry bag inside the Oxford bag.
To the rear of the saddle bag are ample anchor points to secure lights, cups...
Do and do not's:
Over the testing period I have tied the handlebar bags under heavy load to my carbon Specialized S-Works handlebars. I had no problems at all. That said I would not recommend using bikepacking handlebar or saddle bags with carbon components, especially with carbon components that specify a weight limit.
XC Owl bags are made for mountain bikes, roads and nature and not for washing machines. Hand wash your bags and they wil last you a long time. I wash my bike and bags with the garden hose and a cloth and they are as good as new when dry.
Thank you and I hope to meet you while bikepacking soon.