Outer Shell Drawcord Handlebar Bag and Rolltop Saddle Bag Review


Outer Shell Drawcord Handlebar Bag and Rolltop Saddle Bag Review

With a myriad of bike luggage options, picking the right bag for your needs can be quite a conundrum. Nic Morales dives into some offerings from Outer Shell that may just strike a happy balance by drawing from storied design, including the recently updated Drawcord Handlebar Bag and Rolltop Saddle Bag…


I remember the first time I posted a picture of my “rando” bike. On a bikepacking/gravel subreddit, my Velo Orange Pass Hunter, equipped with a front rack supporting a top flap-style Goldback bag made by Bags by Bird, appeared to evoke elements of what I’d understood to fall within the realm of randonneuring. What followed was a slew of arguably pedantic comments correcting the legitimacy and specifics of what makes a rando bike.

From front dynamos to the absence of disc brakes, it seems at least some portion of the randonnuering community is fixated on a rigid aesthetic. But as much as one can gesticulate upon the specifics of tradition, there’s something about products that dare categorize themselves under the moniker of “rando”. Subject to both an unyielding sense of cycling tradition and a community intent on preserving it, most companies think twice before declaring their products suitable for such an enigmatic form of riding.

Enter the Outer Shell handlebar bag. While Outer Shell themselves haven’t exactly declared their drawcord handlebar bag a full-blooded rando offering, its functional use and design inspirations clearly stem from randonneuering tradition. When paired with the roll-top saddle bag, as I did on a 218.4-mile randonneuring-adjacent ride, the modern use of a rando-esque bag is fully realized. So, let’s talk about the front bag, the pairing, and their use.

Drawcord Handlebar Bag

The drawcord handlebar bag is stated as 5 inches tall, 8 inches long, and 4 inches wide, with the ability to pack out an additional ~3.5 inches within a sleeved, drawcord extension from the top of the bag. While the folks at Outer Shell recommended at least five inches of clearance from the wheel, one of the advantages of the bag is its minimal drop. We’ll dive into it more later, but, smaller headtube’d folks can look to this offering as a safe bet given both its size and the manner in which it sits on the bike. Currently, with a full pack, it occupies roughly 6.5 to 7 inches of vertical space from the top of the handlebars. The weight for the handlebar bag comes in at just over a pound (or 270 grams), claims a maximum volume of 4.9L, and retails at $90.00 USD.

Rolltop Saddlebag

For the Rolltop Saddlebag, things are a bit more amorphous. Given the roll-top design, it can stretch out to just short of a foot long at 11 inches when packed out. However, sizing will depend on how much you utilize the roll-top design. As I’ll speak about later on, this bag straddles the in-between space of flat kit saddlebags and full-gas bikepacking bags, but I’d struggle to imagine a bike where this wouldn’t fit. At capacity, the saddle rail to bag bottom measures out to 4.5 to 5 inches. The weight for the saddle bag comes in at just under a quarter of a pound (or 100 grams), claims a maximum volume of 2.1L, and retails at $50.00 USD.

What is Randonneuring?

Before we get into it, let’s talk about randonneuring. In strict, definitive terms, randonnuering is a specific discipline of cycling that endeavors long, at least 200km rides where participants pass through a series of ‘controls’ that keep track of time, distance, etc., The nature of randonneuring, while competitive, de-emphasizes typical race dynamics and opts for a celebration of completion. Timed completion might be the metric by which participants are measured, but the culture of randonneuring is a far more collaborative undertaking than pure racing. It’s the riders against the course, not necessarily each other. That said, randonnuerring has often been expanded to include routes that don’t fall within such a strict definition. Rando-style rides can often just be long, singular efforts intent on challenging the rider to complete what they deem to be a difficult distance. The point, dare I say, is to challenge oneself.

Official or not, the nature of any rando-ride demands a certain degree of efficacy. Although many cycling efforts demand a lot of the rider, striking a careful balance between being prepared and not weighing yourself down with more than the bare essentials is where randonnuers live. Within that, the style of equipment has been refined by purpose. Most notably in the “rando-style” closure found on classic and modern bags alike. With an elastic cord that typically sits just behind the stem bolts, the ‘rando closure’ offers easy access to the main compartment of the handlebar bag. Instead of fumbling around with clips or zippers, the nature of the closure offers ease of use and greater access at a moment’s notice.


Outer Shell’s drawcord handlebar bag delivers exactly that. Without the added complexity of a decaleur (a rack stabilizing system), the handlebar bag is both big enough to carry food and the bare necessities of any long, demanding day trip, but small enough to not ask the rider and rig for special exceptions. The advantage I see with this specific handlebar bag is that it offers similar capacity as other large, day-trip-centric handlebar bags, but is far more convenient given the closure system. It’s also aided in its versatility by a rigid body, which, in conjunction with the lift provided by the closure system, minimizes droop-age onto the front wheel. A benefit felt by everyone, but particularly those riders with smaller bikes and even shorter head tubes. Added organizational pockets on both the interior and exterior are the cherry on top of what is a great, simple bag.

Without belaboring the point, the functionality of the closure system can’t be understated. On a particularly long day ride recently, I forewent the rando bag for a few reasons. The only real critique I can aim at the bag is with its look– a point ever-weakened by my growing love for it. Nevertheless, I’m partial to the aesthetic of a spacious burrito bag, using my tried and true Swift Bandito for a large jaunt out to the foothills of central Florida (yes, they exist). Having packed quite a bit of food, what I noticed is that I was much less likely to eat it because of the closure system. Fumbling around blindly on a single closure bag in a 20+ mph crosswind on an already twitchy road bike was a recipe for disaster. So, my Trader Joe’s haul was reserved for picture and water stops. Not once in my time with the Outer Shell bag have I amended my caloric consumption for fear of getting my hand stuck while riding. Accessing the Swift Bandito while moving isn’t impossible, but it’s far easier on the drawcord, rando-style bag. Safe and better accessibility allows for a better ride experience overall, and it’s that kind of design consideration that appears evident in most, if not all, Outer Shell offerings.

Drawcord Handlebar Bag In Use

While the brilliance of the drawcord handlebar bag is immediately discernable, the Rolltop’s best feature might require a more conditioned eye. One of the most important lessons taken from my time bikepacking is to always leave some room. Most people’s first outing induces a sense of anxiety that often results in filling every crevice, worried you’ll be without some crucial tool.

Invariably, the best advice one can take is that you should always leave some space for extras, food, sloppy packing– what have you. Outer Shell’s roll-top saddle bag nails that point home, albeit on a smaller level. With enough room to fit about double what anyone’s most extravagant flat kit might look like, the Rolltop allows spacious volume for both extended adventure or curious happenstance.

Packing and Capacity

On the aforementioned cross-Florida ride, the Rolltop’s capacity allowed me to have fresh clothes to change into once I’d completed my 218-mile ride – a luxury for both my sense of self and my taint. That said, the logistics of a point-to-point ride are headache enough. The fact that I was able to cram my abused kit into the Rolltop as I stumbled out of bed the next morning to make the train later that day eased what seemed like a minor inconvenience.

That very same space came in handy on the way home when I wanted to grab a few items from a local food store or keep my Fabio’s Performance Purse handy for fruit foraging. One might retort with the ubiquitous, bikepacking-style seat pack by saying it offers all the same benefits without the limitations. But, given the focused nature of the Rolltop, I’d say it’s an apples-to-much-larger-apples comparison. The Rolltop Saddlebag fills a niche I didn’t think existed, but is nonetheless entirely valid. For long, single-day rides that always endeavor more than you bargained for, the Rolltop is an exceptional option that focuses your intention through its capable limitation. If that doesn’t represent the spirit of randonneuring, I’m not sure what does.

Pros (Handlebar Bag)

  • Suitable for any size bike
  • Rando closure allows easy operation while riding
  • Internal structure keeps shape and avoids ‘droopage’

Cons (Handlebar Bag)

  • Capacity can be somewhat limiting
  • The closure system interferes with the typical bell position

Pros (Saddlebag)

  • Larger than most, allowing you to stretch carrying capacity
  • Closure allows a rear light to be fitted on the buckle

Cons (Saddlebag)

  • Can be a tad awkward if not appropriately filled

Synergistic – Pros of the pair

Intended as something of a duo, this combo serves a modern niche. In the past, I’d been a big fan of using Outer Shell’s Half Frame Bag for large endeavors. It’s out of the way, spacious, and easily accessible. However, given the build of the bike feature downtube shifters, I wasn’t able to fit my favored system for the project. The capacity provided by both bags still served exceptionally well to ferry me across the state. While considering downtube shifters is a relatively uncommon problem, this tandem system allows generous capacity for really any bike with limitations to frame size, tire or handlebar clearance, and even wheel-to-saddle clearance.

Iterative design

Coinciding with this review, Kyle and the crew at Outer Shell are releasing an update to their best-selling bag that brings a few minor, but deeply impactful changes to the system. While most everything said in above is still valid, their newer, more-rando focused iteration adds a zippered, clear plastic pocket that allows you to store anything from a map to your phone (and it’s thin enough to operate the touch screen through), stretch side pockets, and a more robust skeletal system that adds a bit more rigidity. My experience with their older bar bag has me most excited for the stretch side pockets. While they’re functional, sometimes getting smaller items in and out of the current system was a bit of a, get ready, stretch. With the ‘elastication’ of these side pockets, they’ve become all the more useful.



All in all I’m glad to see that Kyle, Jim, and the rest of the folks at Outer Shell are always improving. My experience with most if not all of their products has been seamless, and that dedication to craft is evident in their most recent update.

See more at Outer Shell.