Ultralight Handlebar Bag Pre-Order

How do you make an ultralight bag? That was the first question when the Concours de Machines announced that the weight of the bikes included the bag.

Peter Weigle worked very hard to get his fully equipped bike down to just 20.0 lb (9.07 kg), and we wanted to make sure the bag was also as light as possible.

Gilles Berthoud bags already are among the lightest bags available today. Even so, we knew savings were possible without compromising its size or performance. The result is on the left in the photo above, with the standard bag on the right for comparison.

Together with our friends at Gilles Berthoud, we decided to use the same canvas fabric and leather as on the standard bags: Thinner materials wouldn’t last as long.

The first step was to remove the outside pockets. We gave up a little capacity and convenience, but gained significant weight savings. Next, our friends at Gilles Berthoud reduced the leather reinforcements to an absolute minimum.

They examined every part of the bag to see where weight could be saved. Above are studies for the attachment to the rack backstop. In the end, they replaced the strap with a short sleeve that slips over the rack backstop and also anchors the hook for the closure. It’s by far the lightest and simplest solution.

We thought about eliminating the map pocket, but I felt that it was essential. The goal with this project wasn’t to create the lightest bike at all cost, but a no-compromise machine that will be ridden hard for many years. How about reverting to the older style of map pocket that is open on the side, rather than using a Velcro closure? That is a small compromise, and it saves valuable grams. There are a few other weight-saving details, but we also added a little piece of leather with the Gilles Bethoud logo to the front of the bag. It may weigh 3 grams, but those who created this amazing bag deserve credit.

The result? The entire bag weighs just 266 g. That is less than half the weight of the standard bag (which is already very light). And this is the GB28 – the largest size – which holds a whopping 13 liters. I can’t think of any other adventure-sized handlebar bag that comes close to being this light.

The bag has lived up to its promise. I’ve used it quite a bit in all kinds of weather – that is why it no longer looks brand-new in the studio photos. Since the fabric and leather are the same as the standard bags, it should last as long. (My very first Berthoud bag, which I bought in 2000, is still going strong.)

And it’s as waterproof as the standard bags – the cotton fabric swells when it gets wet, and even after hours in the rain, there is no water inside. (I place my notebook and other moisture-sensitive items in a Ziploc bag as a precaution.)

There is one other modification we made compared to the standard bags: Since there is so little leather, the ultralight bag is less stiff than the standard model. So we made a very lightweight aluminum stiffener that attaches to the decaleur and to the small inner flaps with Velcro. (The large flaps keep the contents in the bag on really rough terrain, so we kept them, too. The flaps also allow you to overstuff the bag, which is useful during long events. Plus they keep out the rain.)

Does a superlight handlebar bag make sense when its contents will weigh more than the bag? Like the trunk of my car, my handlebar bag rarely is filled to the brim. It just gives me options. I can start a ride before sunrise, dressed for chilly temperatures, and then shed layers as it warms up. I can bring a camera and take photos when the mood strikes. I can even swing by the farmers’ market on the way home and pick up some fresh vegetables for lunch. A superlight bag makes sense in the context of a fully equipped bike that offers the performance of a racing bike with the versatility of fenders and lights.

In addition, I want a bag like this for long-distance events like Paris-Brest-Paris or the Raid Pyreneen, where I count every gram before the start. I plan my stops carefully, and I carry enough supplies to limit my off-the-bike time to the absolute minimum. A superlight bag is among the easier ways to save weight on my bike. (For cyclotouring where a few minutes make no difference, I definitely recommend the standard bags.)

We are now offering the ultralight Concours de Machines bag in a limited, one-time production run. It will be available in three sizes, and it will incorporate a few small changes based on what we’ve learned from the prototype. It will include the stiffener that is designed to attach to a decaleur. The rear sleeve fits on a rack with a backstop no wider than 48 mm – perfect for our Compass/Rene Herse racks.

If you would like one of these bags, please pre-order by January 15. The bags will be delivered in March, so you can use it in this year’s 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris.

More information:

  • Pre-orders will close on January 15 at midnight, Pacific Time.
  • Bag includes aluminum stiffener.
  • Available in three sizes: GB22, GB25 and GB28, with gray fabric
  • Bags will be delivered in March.
  • Click here to pre-order ultra-light bag.
  • Peter Weigle’s ultralight bike for the Concours de Machines
  • Click here for more information about all Gilles Berthoud bags.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into the high-performance components we need for our adventures.
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17 Responses to Ultralight Handlebar Bag Pre-Order

  1. jon h says:

    super nice, congrats on producing this! if i could ask, do you have a photo of the underside of the bag? is there a leather panel? for the smaller bags would it be possible to mount without the need for a decaleur using these mounting clips from grand bois? https://cyclesgrandbois.com/SHOP/bag_eb.html

    • There is no leather panel at the bottom – the leather is the heavy part of the bag. (The canvas weighs next to nothing, which is why the large bags aren’t much heavier than the small ones.)

      However, the clips from Grand Bois aren’t intended to mount a bag without a decaleur, they just prevent the bag from coming off on rough roads with decaleurs that don’t hold the bag securely. The bag always needs to be supported from the top.

      An exception is the very small Alex Singer bag, with a sleeve that fits closely over the rack backstop. That works well for light loads like a jacket, a tube and a wallet. You wouldn’t want to carry food for a 300 km brevet in a bag like that.

      For our Compass decaleurs, we’ve licensed H. Hirose’s ingenious locking mechanism that prevents the bag from coming off without clips or straps that make it inconvenient to remove the bag. Especially when touring in the rain, I don’t want to kneel down in the mud to open locks or straps underneath the bag. I just want to push the button on the decaleur, pull the bag upward, and head into a cafe where it’s warm and dry! 😉

  2. Cynic says:

    Would someone remind me why spending thousands on shaving grams in a sport that isn’t even being timed is “a thing”?

    • Perhaps I misunderstand your question, but the sports for which this bag is designed are timed. Whether it’s Paris-Brest-Paris, the Raid Pyreneen, or the Transcontinental Race – not only does each finisher get a time, but there also is a hard cut-off, above which you aren’t considered a finisher at all. Long-distance cycling generally puts less emphasis on the winner than traditional racing, but that doesn’t mean that your speed doesn’t matter. It’s like marathon running – only a few are in contention to win, but many care about their time.

      Beyond that, there is beauty in a lightweight bike. It has less inertia, and that makes it more joyful to ride. This is especially noticeable when riding out of the saddle, where a lightweight bike feels and react differently as you rock it from side to side. That is also why, on a bike that does carry a load, we place the weight as low as possible. Water bottles are mounted low in the frame, low-rider racks serve the same purpose…

      And just as an aside, with these bags, you’d spend $ 75 to shave half a pound, not “thousands on shaving grams.” 😉

  3. Andy Stow says:

    How is the map pocket plastic holding up on your 19 year old bag? I love my Acorn bag, but after three years and over 11,000 miles, the plastic has several cracks in it. I wish it were [easily] replaceable. I’ve repaired it with tape, which is not ideal.

    I don’t know if the UV or bending it in very cold weather (below 0 °F on occasion) is what cracked it, but most clear plastics are not fond of outdoor life. Do you know what material Berthoud uses?

    • The map pocket is holding up fine. It has a slight crease in one place from transporting it in a suitcase, but that is it. The biggest issue is that the leather isn’t so pretty any longer. Too many rainy rides, and not quite enough treating with a leather preservative… But compared to any other bag that has been in daily use for over a decade, it’s looking and working great.

    • marmotte27 says:

      I have a couple of small cracks on the front of my Berthoud map pocket after several winters. There the plastic undulates a bit due to the seam, maybe that has favoed cracking there. I’ve sellotaped the cracks. For the time being everything is fine.

      A question for Jan: you always state that the bag is completely waterproof. In heavier rain mine does leak somewhat at the front, underneath the horizontal leather panel. Is there a way of fixing this?

  4. Scott Arenz says:

    The bag looks great! I was surprised to see that the price is higher than the standard bags, considering the lightweight bag requires less sewing due to the omission of pockets and some of the leather pieces, and also provides somewhat less utility. However now that I think about it further, I assume the price increase is necessary to recoup R&D costs and to cover the extra setup costs/inefficiencies of any new production run.

    • Indeed, the higher cost is entirely due to the smaller production run. Basically, it’s like making a run of custom bags versus a production bag for which all parts are made with established patterns. Cutting leather by hand rather than with a stencil takes way more time…

  5. Martin says:

    This is a very beautiful bag, indeed! And I am tempted to order one.
    However, it won‘t fit to my Alex Singer front rack which has a backstop of 65 mm width.
    Since the bags are hand made, is there a possibility to get it with a customized rear sleeve that fits to a 65 mm wide backstop?

  6. Bryce says:

    Is it possible to setup this bag (the one pictured) using your front rack (I’m assuming I would need to add the rack eyes to my forks – brazed on) over a mudguard, with the SON28 dynohub and their “orginal” front light? I’m intending to get a front wheel made around this hub for use with the https://nabendynamo.de/en/products/headlights/ My concern is that there would be enough space or the mounting system used by the light might not fit with the Compass rack and the bag sitting on top. What do you think?

    • The Compass racks are all designed for the Schmidt Edelux headlight that you show. There is just enough space underneath the bag for the light (even accounting for some sagging), and the light position is optimized so the front tire doesn’t cast a shadow in your field of vision. In fact, all our bikes are set up that way.

      Of course, you can also use other headlights, but we recommend the Edelux for its quality and even illumination of the road.

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