Handlebar bags don’t get much respect here in the U.S., presumably because most people want to look like racers, but I like using them. For general non-utility riding, they are the most convenient place to put food and extra water, extra clothes (leg warmers; jacket), tools, and other miscellaneous stuff you are likely to need during your ride. You can put all your gear in them on short rides or day rides, or the stuff you need easy access to on a multi-day tour. And as a bonus, most bags have a map window mounted on top to make navigation easier.
Of course, your jersey pockets can hold some of this kind of stuff, but the capacity is limited, things get sweaty, your pockets get stretched and torn, and you squish your banana when you get off the bike and sit in a chair or car seat. If you are limited to jersey pockets, you will probably leave some potentially important things at home, or skip riding altogether, if the weather is changeable. If you depend on your jersey for for carrying stuff, you have to wear a jersey in order to ride anywhere, which limits your riding options. If you want to look like a pro racer, remember that they have follow cars and domestiques to carry the gear that keeps them from the bonk and hypothermia.
A Cannondale handlebar bag served my needs, off and on, for close to three decades. It is close to total failure with a main seam pulling apart, the color faded, and the leather trim dry and cracked. The map case is long gone.
Three years or so ago, I bought an Arkel to replace the Cannondale. This is a great bag, and the only problem I had with it was that it was a little difficult to remove if you wanted to take it with you when you got off the bike.
Even before I bought the Arkel, the traditional French-style front bag has that sits on a front rack has intrigued me. This was partly because I found the old-school style and materials (canvas and leather) appealing, and partly because a front rack is the best place I have found to put a headlight if you have a handlebar bag, so I already had a support for the canvas bag on my touring bike. There as a technical reason, too: sitting on a rack, the French bag sits lower and closer to the steering axis than a bag mounted on the handlebars. This should provide a benefit in handling.
The main option for this style of bags are the ones made by Gilles Berthoud in France. Due to the cost and the mounting complexities I could never pull the trigger on the purchase of one of these. A second option became available in the Japanese-made Ostrich bag from Velo Orange. The price was a little more reasonable (approximately half the price of the French bags), but I could not get past the front-opening flap on the top, which seemed much less easy to use and likely to blow open when the bike is in motion if not properly sealed up. A third possibility was the Acorn, but supplies were limited and they were not even keeping a waiting list. One other option I did not consider very seriously was one of the various trunkbags sold by Rivendell. These bags have most of the function of the French-style bags and are reasonably priced, but are not designed for ease of access and do not have map cases.
This spring, Velo Orange started selling a Berthoud-copy bag for less than $100, called the Campagne bag. Soon after the bag came out, they introduced their own stainless steel decaleurs for mounting the bags. This bag looked like the best possibility yet.
VO wholesales the items made for them, so I got my local bike shop (Tennessee Valley Bikes) to order the bag for me. It arrived quickly, and the initial impression of quality was good. There may be some karmic penalty for buying the cheaper imitation, but I am not sure that the Chinese people who probably made it deserve the work any less than the French.
I initially attempted to mount it without the decaleur, and found the stability of the bag unsatisfactory. In addition, the chords that went to the handlebars were interfered with my hands.
So I ordered decaleurs for two bikes. After some fussing, I got everything mounted on the touring bike (the green bike had to wait for another rack, rack braze-ons, and a paint job [see previous post]).
The result was worth the trouble. The load was carried in a way that interferes noticeably less with handling (not that the previous bag was problem, but it was noticeable). The handlebars feel more spacious because there are no mounting hardware on the bars, nor is the bag itself close to my knuckles. The contents of the Campagne are reasonably accessible while rolling and even more accessible when stopped, even while still straddling the bike.
I do have some quibbles. For one thing, the bag could be a little narrower and an little longer. That would allow it to fit between handlebars and between bar-end shifter cables a little better and make the aspect ratio of the map window a little more useful, while maintaining the same volume and still allowing a good fit on a Nitto rack (I don’t know about VO racks).
VO supplies nice stainless decaleur hardware that will last forever. They failed to give the same attention to the steel hardware (buckles and loops) on the bag. The bag has been in a light rain once, and is stored in my unheated garage. The hardware is already rusting.
The bag is a little floppy laterally. This would be fixed easily by connecting the side stiffeners to the decaleur mount.
And speaking of the decaleur mount: it is well made and well aligned, and the bag is very easy to remove. But there is no resistance to bouncing out of the mount. On my first ride with the bag, it bounced free on minor bumps at least 4 times in about 45 miles. An anchoring mechanism would be nice. I added a small bungee as a work-around solution.
The decaleur has no vertical adjustment to compensate for different frame sizes/head tube lengths. The Berthoud bags come in different sizes, with taller bags for taller frames. I don’t like that solution much, because I bought the bag partially because it was a good size. I ended up bending the part of the decaleur mount that is connected to the bike; in the case of my touring bike, the bend is rather severe.
Mounting the decaleur to the bag required drilling or punching holes for the screws. It seems to me that the bag should come with grommeted holes for this purpose.
The closure for the top flap is an elastic cord on the flap and a hook on the body of the bag, similar to the Berthoud. This works badly, at least on my setup, because it is difficult to work the cord around the vertical part of the rack. In pictures of the Berthoud, it looks like the rack fits tightly up against the bag and perhaps the tubing diameter is smaller on their rack, and maybe this is the case if you use a VO rack. I can’t think of an easy way for an easy universal fix for this, but it works adequately to just wrap the cord around the decaleur mount.
Criticisms aside, I love the bag and would recommend it to others, but a few modifications would make it perfect.