Bags, Gear

Review: Minnehaha handlebar bag

Late this past summer I finished building up a road bike.  I’d love to tell you about it, but I just don’t know what to say.  Like a cute little dog from the pound, I took it into my home, unsure of it’s history or how it was treated by it’s previous owner(s).  Though I was told it was purebred- I really can’t be certain.  What I can say is that I will treat it as best as I can while I have it and next time- I’ll be sure it comes with papers.

It started with me sitting on this vintage frame that I impulsively purchased off of ebay.  After receiving the frame- I got a crash course in what makes (or does not make) a Cinelli, and how little most people know about identifying frames of one of the most iconic Italian bike companies ever.  In my eagerness to buy a Cinelli road bike I didn’t do much research, my purchase was mainly based on price, and what the seller stated.  Though seemingly a nice frame, it’s unlikely that I have a Cinelli road bike in my possession- it had been repainted, and there are a couple of red flags that have caused me to reconsider it’s authenticity.  Anyhow, it had been in my basement for the past couple years, it’s history unresolved.  I came across a gently used 10 speed Ultegra group for a great price (with no questions as to it’s authenticity.)  I scrimped and sold, made the purchase, and within a few days had it built up.

But I digress.  This is about a handlebar bag, not about how gullible I was…

I don’t use a handlebar bag every day but they are are super handy when I’m on a longer ride and don’t want to carry a bag on my back.  Not having mounts for a rear rack (or fenders even) I have to get a little creative.  There are saddle bags available of course, but that requires you to get off the bike to get your goods.  Often used on touring and randonee bikes- handlebar bags can help distribute weight as well as allowing the rider access their gear: a camera, sunscreen, map, snacks… whatever they may need to get at on the fly.  A saddlebag is in the future as well, but to start I figured I might as well get something for up front.

I must admit that this was something of an impulse purchase- much like my “Cinelli.”  I wanted a handlebar bag for the weekend- anticipating good weather and wanting to go on a long ride on the new bike.  I’ve been a fan of the Pelican Porteur by Swift Industries– it just wasn’t suitable for a sporty bike, especially since there isn’t an easy way to attach the Cetma rack that it’s built around (I hope to test one of these soon.)  I wanted something that looked good- classic, but practical.  Not made of plastic or rubber.  I wasn’t going to go swimming with it- just bike riding.  I made a little inquiry on Twitter as to where I should pick up a bag like that in Seattle.  I first headed out to Aaron’s Bike Repair, but they were closed.  Back I went to the north end and I decided to check out Hub and Bespoke, a friendly little boutique in Fremont that is mainly focused on clothing, but often has other bicycle related sundries.  It was there that I came across the Minnehaha quick release handlebar bag.  Classic it is.  Black canvas (though it looks blue in the photos,) leather, a wooden dowel inside ensuring the bag doesn’t fold in on itself when carrying weight.  The front, back and bottom are rigid, the two sides being soft.  There are two small pockets on the front with flaps and two flap-less pockets on the side.  A removable clear vinyl map pocket sits on top and there are D-rings to attach the shoulder strap (included.)  The main compartment remains closed with a chrome buckle.  Selling for $80, it is fairly affordable when compared to it’s competitors.  That said- there is no coating on the leather, and the canvas is uncoated.  Waterproof it definitely isn’t.

Minnehaha bags are made under the umbrella company Banjo Brothers which is based in Minneapolis, MN.  Both Banjo Brothers bags and Minnehaha bags are made in Southern China.

The bag is smallish, the main compartment being 10″wide 5.5″ deep and 7″ tall.  That’s 385 cubic inches.  According to Minnehaha– its 400 cubic inches- close enough I guess…  It weighs almost 2 1/2 lbs with the mounting bracket- which seems a little heavy for the size, though I haven’t compared the weight with other bags.  I would prefer to have a larger bag- but “racier” bikes typically don’t make it easy to attach a front rack to support a larger bag, mine included.

They use a Flinger quick release mounting bracket which is both a blessing and a curse.  Though it’s rated to carry 22lbs- more than enough, I would feel a little uncomfortable riding with that much weight over rutted streets or offroad.  When riding around town, it’s pretty nice to have the quick release.  You can park your bike and with a press of a button- off comes the bag. The bag’s shoulder strap makes it easy to bring with you.  The downside to this is what you leave behind.  The bracket that you have attached with four screws and a piece of plastic coated cable is not attractive at all and if you ride much without your handlebar bag, it becomes downright ugly to look at.  Some decaleurs are also a pain in the butt to remove, but they are generally more attractive and I wouldn’t mind leaving them on the bike as much.

The Minnehaha handlebar bag sits fairly high- higher than most bags that use a decaleur and front rack, and making light mounting extremely difficult.  In fact it may be the biggest downfall to this bag.  Unless you have a low mount for your light, on your fork, say- you our out of luck. The bag stays out of the way of your hands on the bars which is crucial, but it would be nice if it mounted lower, possibly the top of the bag being level with the bars, lowering the center of gravity as well as allowing a space for your light.  Another drawback is the way that the bag opens.  It opens from the front of the bike towards the rider.  This may be more of a personal preference thing, but I think it would make more sense to have the flap open from the rider towards the front of the bike- allowing easier access while riding.  It also means that you really need to make sure that you clasp the bag with the buckle because the wind can pick up the flap while riding (hard to do while pedaling.)

All in all, I’m not totally pleased with this bag.  I appreciate that they are trying to fill a price point niche, but sometimes it’s just better to pay a little more.  The mounting of the bag isn’t all that awesome- bulky plastic with a piece of cable looped around your stem to give it the strength that it doesn’t have by itself.  The pockets on the front and sides are too small for anything but a cellphone or ipod and the one thin pocket on the inside is possibly large enough for a map.  Even though the bag has three rigid sides, the bag tends to fold in on itself since the small sides are soft.  The two bungie cord reflective straps attached to the side annoyed me by flapping in the wind, so I took them off the first time I used it.  I think reflective piping may be a better way to go if they want to be visible.  The bag isn’t waterproof enough for me to want to take it touring, and for a longer rando ride I would want something larger.  It seems best suited for a cute little town bike that you can ride to the coffee shop with your book inside- or maybe on an afternoon ride.  It IS large enough for a sixpack of beer…

Minnehaha handlebar bag

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