A handlebar bag is be a great way to carry gear for an overnight bike trip, and the SKS Explorer EXP is designed to do just that. I picked one up for a recent bikepacking trip and after 340 miles of abuse, here’s what I learned.
SKS says the Explorer EXP Barbag ($99.99, available online at Amazon and Trek) offers 9L of storage space. Unlike with liquids, I have a hard time getting my mind around how volume measurements translate to gear storage, so I’ll put this in more concrete terms. In the photos here I’ve stuffed a 15° sleeping bag, an air mattress, and a bulky camp pillow inside. That seems to be about the limit as far as carrying capacity goes, and I found it to be more than enough. On the back there’s an air-release valve to help you tightly compress any especially fluffy or bulky items.
The other side of the capacity equation is weight. On this front, SKS says the bag can carry up to 3kg. I tested the bag with about 2kg of gear inside and another 1.5kg on the outside with no signs of stress or strain on the included nylon straps or the bag itself.
SKS says the bag weighs 390g, though on my scale (with straps and spacers) the whole shebang weighs 480g.
The SKS Explorer EXP Barbag utilizes a dual-sided, dry bag design to keep water out and to make packing and unpacking as simple as possible. I like the fact that if I only need gear from one side — say that camp pillow for a quick afternoon nap — I don’t have to take everything out of the bag to get it. The ends of the bag are stiffly reinforced for a nice clean roll, and while the plastic buckles do a good job holding everything in place they feel a tad flimsy.
All of the seams inside the bag appear to be well taped and sealed to keep moisture at bay. Much of my testing occurred in the rain and in wet conditions, and my sleeping gear stayed 100% dry the entire time.
Using the included nylon straps it’s easy to connect the SKS Explorer EXP Barbag to a set of mountain bike handlebars. Two straps loop over the bars, and there’s a third stabilizing strap for the head tube. All of the straps have a silicon coating on the bike side to minimize slippage, and also frame rubbing which can be a real problem with any bag or strap. The bag felt stable and required zero adjustment to stay in place during my testing.
Some competing handlebar bags are held in place with a receiver that’s fixed to the handlebars, allowing the bag to be removed without undoing all of the straps. Because the SKS handlebar bag is strapped directly to the bars it is slightly more awkward to pack and unpack during the ride than bags that use a receiver.
SKS includes eight lightweight padded spacers for moving the bag off the bars a bit to accommodate brake hoses and derailleur cables, and anything else the cockpit may hold. It should be possible to fit the bag on a drop bar bike as well, though that likely requires folding the ends more and losing a bit of internal capacity.
One of the reasons I chose the SKS Explorer EXP is because it offers a good selection of loops for attaching items on the outside of the bag. I picked up a roll of nylon webbing and some buckles so I could lash my tent on top of the bag, keeping my entire sleep kit in one place. Another set of loops at the front of the bag is available for mounting a head light, though I opted to keep my light mounted a bit higher on the handlebars. It’s clear the loops received some wear and tear from the weight of the tent; fortunately it appears to be cosmetic. The bag also features reflective details for increased visibility at night.
The finish line
Overall I found the SKS Explorer EXP Barbag to be an easy-to-use and durable choice for bikepacking. It fits a good amount of gear, attaches to the bike easily, and keeps its contents clean and dry. A receiver attachment system could make the bag even more versatile, though that would likely add more weight and expense.
- Good amount of storage and carrying capacity
- Waterproof and protective
- Easy to attach and fit to most bikes
- Double-ended access
Pros and cons of the SKS Explorer EXP bag.
- Removing the bag from the bars for packing/unpacking is a hassle
- Some visible wear on the accessory loops after a few hundred miles