Berthoud Handlebar Bags without Side Pockets

Berthoud Handlebar Bags without Side Pockets

On my own bikes, I use Gilles Berthoud handlebar bags without side pockets. The side pockets tend to get in the way of my hands when I ride bikes with narrow handlebars. Furthermore, the pockets probably increase the wind resistance of the bike (although the bag alone acts as a fairing and may make the bike more aerodynamic, especially when riding in the aero tuck.) And finally, removing them saves about 150 g in weight.
On one bag, I removed the pockets, but this left traces where the stitching had been. For my new René Herse, I asked Gilles Berthoud to make a bag without side pockets. In the photo below, you can see how leaving off the side pockets frees up the space around the handlebars.
You also see the rear pockets, which are perfectly located for small things I want to access, like chapstick and electrolyte tablets, without having to dig through the bag. The front pocket is less accessible, so I use it to store small things that I rarely use, like tools, toilet paper and a tooth brush. The map pocket on top is sized to fit the French Michelin maps, but also handles my cue sheet, brevet card and ziploc bag with money and credit card. I have found that I really don’t need any more small pockets. Before I removed the side pockets on my first bag, they usually were empty anyhow.
Several customers asked about getting bags without side pockets, too, so we ordered a few more. They are available in the gray-blue color (we call them “blue,” but Berthoud calls them “gray”) in three sizes. Supplies are limited.
I love Berthoud bags for their durability, practicality and beauty. I also appreciate the conditions under which they are made in France. Years ago, I asked Gilles Berthoud for two sets of panniers with old-fashioned straps instead of the current plastic attachments. Gilles Berthoud replied that they could make them, but I’d have to wait for five months, because the employee making the bags was on maternity leave. I was happy to wait while she took care of her baby. When the bags arrived, they were wonderful, and every time I use them, I am reminded that there is so much more to our shopping decisions than price alone.
Click here for more information about Gilles Berthoud bags.
Click here for more information on how handlebar bags work and are sized.

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Comments (39)

  • JPI

    Another solution is to have “flat pockets” : that’s what I have on my Grand Bois bike :
    I use to put a foil blanket on one side and some small tools in a plastic bag on the other. I prefer to have this two flat pockets than none of them or normal pockets.

    April 12, 2013 at 2:06 am
    • Rod Bruckdorfer

      Sweet 650B

      April 12, 2013 at 10:15 am
  • jonathan

    I feel the same way about my Acorn Rando Bag. Small company (2 people) who make a fantastic product. Hard to get your hands on, but worth the wait to support good folks.
    My bag has small side pockets that are more like envelopes than pouches. I find these work great for slipping in items that are small or flat like a card or allen wrench.

    April 12, 2013 at 4:46 am
    • somervillebikes

      I have both an Acorn boxy bag and a Ruth Works bag that was built to my specs. I spec’d that bag with side sleeves. I agree with the above comments, it’s really nice to have two flat sleeves on either side. They take up no extra width, but are nice for flat things that you may want to access easily without having to fuss with a closure, like energy bars, or even just the wrappers from them. Even though the sleeves don’t have flaps to enclose them, they fit flush with the bag and never seem to get water inside.

      April 12, 2013 at 4:59 pm
  • marc

    Thank you for the information on this nice bags. Why do people call them “Sologne” bags sometimes?

    April 12, 2013 at 5:39 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      These bags used to be made by a company called Sologne. They started in the 1950s, and since their bags were nicer made and better designed than most others, they quickly became the bag of choice. When the Sologne company closed – I believe it was in the 1980s – Gilles Berthoud bought the designs for these bags and has been making them ever since.

      April 12, 2013 at 5:53 am
  • Rod Bruckdorfer

    I have suspected a handlebar bag improves the aerodynamics of a cyclist when riding. After I have my new Boulder Brevet bike, I will develop and conduct a simple experiment to determine if a handlebar bag improves or decreases the aerodynamics of a cyclist/bike and report my findings to BQ.

    April 12, 2013 at 6:06 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I look forward to the test. We examined this in the wind tunnel (Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 6, No. 1). The results showed that it depends on the rider position and wind direction, but overall, the bag was neutral. However, much of this depends on the bag (we tested a medium size Berthoud GB-25) and rider position. From the on-the-road experience with my Herse, the larger bag seems to be more aero.
      We also tested a Carradice saddlebag and were surprised that it resulted in a significant increase in aerodynamic drag.

      April 12, 2013 at 6:37 am
      • Brian

        Jan, I’ll be soon adding a 7 or 10L handlebar bag to my bike. To complement it for commuting (and other weight/handling considerations aside), do you think a Carradice saddlebag (11L Pendle) be better than a rear pannier or two, aerodynamically speaking?

        April 12, 2013 at 7:48 am
      • Bill Gobie

        The aero result is one of those things that should not happen, yet does. A cube has a terrible drag coefficient. But perhaps the bag creates a large “attached” bubble of air that somewhat streamlines the rider. The bag shields the rider’s hip area, which as a V-shape with the open end facing the air flow is an even worse aero shape than a box. If you ever go back to the wind tunnel I hope you can do some smoke-stream studies to visualize the flow.
        Was the saddlebag large enough to extend beyond the rider’s hips?
        PDF downloads for subscribers would be a nice perq. (I can’t find my v6 #1.)

        April 12, 2013 at 4:22 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          We talked about the smoke with the people from the University of Washington Aeronautics Department, who run the wind tunnel. They said that at the low speeds we are concerned about, the smoke doesn’t work well.
          The saddlebag extended about 1″ on either side beyond the rider’s thighs. That, and the fact that the ideal streamlined shape tapers at the back (think teardrop) apparently explains why the saddlebar is less aero than a handlebar bag.

          April 12, 2013 at 4:54 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          PDF downloads for subscribers would be a nice perq. (I can’t find my v6 #1.)

          Administering a secure way of downloading magazines is no easy task. For example, Apple takes 30% of the subscription fees for ipad magazines…

          April 12, 2013 at 4:56 pm
      • David

        Jan, that was one of my favorite articles in Bicycle Quarterly, and the results of the handlebar bag you tested did not appear to be “neutral” at all. Your results actually showed that a Berthoud GB25 handle bar bag increased the aerodynamic drag by 2 to 5% compared to a rider on the same bike without the bag (when using the most common riding position of hands on the hoods or in the drops). This effect was even larger if there was a mild (5 km/hr) crosswind, in which case the presence of the bag increased aerodynamic drag by 12% to 14%, again compared to the same bike and rider without the bag (Charts 6 and 9). People may want to buy a handlebar bag because of its capacity and convenience. However your own rigorous wind tunnel tests concluded that: “Our handlebar bag, with its numerous pockets and boxy shape, is not very aerodynamic and appears to cause a slight increase in wind resistance” (p. 21)
        “Clearly the disadvantage of a handlebar bag compared to a bike without luggage is significantly larger in crosswinds than in still air.” (p. 22)
        “Any luggage increases the bike’s drag” (p. 22)

        April 15, 2013 at 9:40 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Thanks for looking up the results. Those tests were done with a bag with side pockets. Afterward, we removed the pockets on our own bags. Based on roll-down experiences, it appears that our current bikes are more aerodynamic than racing bikes (see Winter 2012 Bicycle Quarterly).
          Even the bags with side pockets were vastly more aerodynamic than saddlebags. While I agree that every bit counts, one has to put it into perspective. Raising your stem by just 1/2″ had a similar effect as the handlebar bag…

          April 16, 2013 at 7:16 am
  • Erin Laine

    I believe that seamstress employee of Gilles’ is Veronique. She does really good work!

    April 12, 2013 at 7:13 am
  • Johan Larsson

    When you said you wanted “panniers with old-fashioned straps instead of the current plastic attachments” it reminded me that I would really like to see how old french panniers and cyclo-touring bags and equipment was fastened to the racks. I have searched a lot (a /lot/…) for images and information on that, but found very little, and nothing really informative. It’s quite simple, I’m sure, but still I’m only guessing on how it’s done, and how it works in practice.

    April 12, 2013 at 9:12 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It is quite simple. Two straps attach the bag to the top rail of the rack. At the bottom is a spring with a hook that holds the bag down and keeps it from swaying.
      It works quite well, and I like that the bags are difficult to remove. This means I can leave them on the bike when I go places. Nobody will unhook the bag and run off with it! (My valuables are in the handlebar bag, which is attached with a quick release decaleur, so I can take it along when I leave the bike.)

      April 12, 2013 at 10:03 am
      • Johan Larsson

        Thanks! I always assumed you, despite the lack of space, strapped the bag down at the bottom too, or tied it with strings. I’ve never seen any springs on bags, but searching for “sologne panniers” (getting the hint from an above comment) changed that. It was a few years ago I really was on the hunt for pictures and information of cyclotourist racks and bags, and I have several hundreds of pictures of such stuff, but it was just now I saw that metal spring, on several images found at google. It should be kind of floppy with only that spring at the bottom though, but not so much it matters I guess…

        April 12, 2013 at 11:19 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          On a bike, you don’t have significant sideloads, so there is no floppiness. The spring mostly serves to keep the bag from bouncing when you go over bumps.

          April 12, 2013 at 11:37 am
      • lawschoolissoover

        I had a set of Cannondale panniers made in the ’70s that attached with hooks at the top and a long spring, which had a loop at the bottom. To put the pannier on the rack, you hooked the loop in the spring over a knob on the rack (C’Dale supplied the knobs) and pulled the whole thing up and set the hooks down onto the rack. They worked very well. I could see that using straps at the top rather than hooks might be a little cumbersome, but not too bad…

        April 13, 2013 at 8:38 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The original Ortlieb panniers used the same system, except they replaced the spring with a sturdy rubber strap. Worked great on the front low-riders, but on the rear, the panniers tended to jump up and get unhooked. Fortunately, Ortlieb provided straps that went over the top of the rack to connect the two panniers.

          April 13, 2013 at 9:03 am
      • Steve Palincsar

        There can be some serious downsides to the “long coil spring with attached hook” approach. I had those on a set of panniers once back in the 1980s. I’ve never forgotten the moment when I tried to unhook them to fix a flat and the spring jammed the hook into my finger.

        April 15, 2013 at 9:08 am
  • RosyRambler

    Jan, I’m curious about the ‘waterproofness’ of the bag. In your second photo, I can see the bag is really stuffed and the top doesn’t completely cover the inside contents. There is also a small gap in the left rear pocket cover. Not a problem in dry weather, as long as nothing is small enough to fall out, but what about when it’s raining? Even if the bag wasn’t filled to the brim it seems as if rain water would be able to seep inside with such a small overlap on the top cover. And the covers of the rear pockets have no side overlap. Considering the length and weather conditions of some of your rides, have you ever had a problem with water getting inside the bag?

    April 12, 2013 at 1:39 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It surprised me that the Berthoud bags are 100% waterproof. I used on in Paris-Brest-Paris 2007 – 50 hours of rain – and everything was totally dry at the end. It appears that when you ride, the aerodynamics of the bag keep it dry.
      Of course, the fabric itself is very waterproof. That said, the contents of the front pocket can get slightly damp after many hours of riding in the rain. So I put my toilet paper in a ziploc bag…

      April 12, 2013 at 1:55 pm
  • fridaycyclotouriste

    Which size Berthoud is pictured? The tall size I’m assuming based on your Herse’s frame size. But somehow it doesn’t look as tall and rectangular as ion the order page. Cheers, Nathan

    April 12, 2013 at 2:59 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      You are right, it’s the tallest size, GB 28.

      April 12, 2013 at 3:26 pm
    • John Ferguson

      I believe Jan also removes the stiffener (as do I).

      April 13, 2013 at 4:14 pm
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        Yes, I do remove the stiffener. It seems to make the bag rattle more than I’d like. Plus, the Berthoud stiffeners are incredibly heavy – almost half a pound.

        April 13, 2013 at 4:16 pm
  • Bengt Sandborgh

    In my opinion it would have been a better idea to sell the Grand Bois version of the Berthoud bags. Flat side pockets, all the feathures of the Berthoud delux bags and the pocket closure of the standard bag.

    April 14, 2013 at 12:53 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Our goal was to make the bags lighter and simpler, not to add features that most of us rarely use.

      April 14, 2013 at 6:12 am
      • somervillebikes

        How do you define “most of us”?

        April 14, 2013 at 6:22 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The people associated with Compass Bicycles Ltd. and Bicycle Quarterly.
          For the riders who like the side pockets, we continue to have them in the program. On my camping bike, I use a bag with side pockets. When camping, there are many small items that I like to have easily accessible.

          April 14, 2013 at 6:26 am
  • Clayton

    In your last picture, how do you keep the bag from curling/bending in where the decaleur stops? Longer inside piece?

    April 15, 2013 at 10:37 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Inside, there is a flat piece of aluminum that is bent to a U-shape and goes along the top perimeter of the bag on three sides. On my Singer, I don’t have that, and the bag works fine, too.

      April 15, 2013 at 11:22 am
  • Paul Richard

    Just a note to say my Berthoud GB25 is about 8 years old, and it seems like it will last forever. It gets better looking every year. It’s really wonderful that this product is available to us today.

    April 15, 2013 at 11:10 am
  • Benjamin Van Orsdol

    I know you don’t sell Guu Watanabe bags, but what are your thoughts on them? They are fully customizable (colors too) at a similar price. Same kind of fabric I believe.

    April 15, 2013 at 9:01 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I really like the Guu Watanabe bags, but I also have a lot of respect for those who came up with the original design. The Berthoud bags are the originals, and they have proven themselves over many decades. They are lighter, more durable and more waterproof than almost all other bags I have tried.

      April 15, 2013 at 9:08 pm
  • Rod Bruckdorfer

    There are two small American companies that make excellent handlebar bags – Ruth Works SF and Loyal Designs, Oakland, Ca. Other American Bag makers include Dill Pickle and Swift Industries.

    April 16, 2013 at 5:50 am

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