Efficiency Without Compromise: The Racing Aerobar Pack
Imagine working for a bikepacking brand and actively avoiding using handlebar bags. Coming from a time trialling background, Chris isn’t a fan of putting large bags on his handlebars during races – and he’s not alone amongst ultra-distance racers. This is the story of how we won him around with the Racing Aerobar Pack.
The Racing Series unites minimal weight and optimal performance in an uncompromising package, designed for ultra-distance competition and audax. The packs aren’t just as lightweight as possible, they’re functional, with a focus on ease of access through some of the largest and easiest to use closures on any bikepacking bags. This is because, for racing, efficiency and ‘time in the saddle’ is often more important than outright riding speed.
There is one place on the bike, however, where convenience and efficiency aren’t so neatly balanced – aero bars. Bikepacking bags attached to handlebars and aero bars are the first thing to hit the wind and so have the greatest impact on cycling speed. On most bikepacking trips, this isn’t a problem and having easily accessible storage is more important than the small amount of lost speed. However, when racing, air resistance has the greatest overall impact on a rider’s average speed (particularly over longer races) and many ultra-distance racing cyclists have spent years trying to make their handlebar bags more streamlined.
It won’t surprise you to learn that we’ve been working on this problem for nearly as long.
The biggest challenge is that, despite agreeing that a more streamlined handlebar bag is needed, few ultra-distance racers seem to agree on what that should look like. Some favour a totally stripped-back approach, while others value convenience enough to sacrifice some speed. Trying to appeal to both ends of the spectrum through a single bag proved impossible, so rather than try to create a single pack that tries to please everyone but ends up compromised, we decided to create specialised packs that cater to the needs of different types of racing cyclist.
Racing Series handlebar packs now include the Racing Handlebar Mini Pack, which suits riders that prefer to ride without aero bars and value quick and easy access while riding, and the Racing Aerobar Pack for riders who use aero bars and value efficiency above all else.
The Racing Aerobar pack is designed for riders who optimise their setup for speed and efficiency. The time-conscious riders willing to sacrifice some comfort in the name of speed. As one of the riders called upon to help refine the design, luckily, this is a mindset Chris has a bit of an insight into, having time trialled for many years before discovering bikepacking and ultra-distance racing. He may not be as fast as he used to be when he time trialled, but he’s spent years finding creative ways to avoid putting any bags on the front of his bike in the pursuit of speed and efficiency.
Early versions of the Aerobar Pack had our usual Racing Series roll top closure – a familiar, fast and easy to use approach… but one that creates a large and uneven surface exposed to the wind. Chris found himself mounting early versions of the pack backward to have the smoother rear end face into the wind, so we knew we had to start by redesigning the closure.
There were also questions around whether the pack should have any of the ‘quick access’ elements of other Racing Series packs – for example, side compartments for food or bidons. However, doing so would make the pack wider for everyone and the goal was to have the pack sit entirely underneath aero bars, disappearing into the space and leaving the handlebars free. As our colleague, Jonathan (who’s a little less speed-obsessed), pointed out, riders needing a bit more space could always put food pouches on the available handlebar space and create their own, hybrid bar bag for the best of both worlds.
With the form factor decided – long, narrow and oriented along the aerobars, the team set to work redesigning the roll top closure to be smoother and lower profile. The resulting roll down closure is similar to that found on our Expedition and Backcountry Saddle packs and has the added benefit of providing a great deal of compression so you can make the most of the storage space available. The Front of the pack can be pulled taut and smooth and the closure buckles on the sides have an extremely minimal profile.
Chris tells us that “as soon as I saw the revised design, I knew my time avoiding handlebar packs was over. Fitted to my race bike, the pack simply disappears under the aero bars until I need it and my average speeds during test rides and long audaxes appear completely unchanged”.
The Aerobar Pack looks simple, but a surprising amount of creative design and problem-solving has gone into making the pack work well with as many different aero bar set ups as possible. Between aero bar designs (straight, bent), stack heights and widths, there’s a staggering variety of possible setups and the Aerobar Pack has to work well with them all. The velcro attachment straps can be moved along a daisy chain on the top of the pack and the bungee is similarly adjustable (the daisy chain is even big enough to accommodate Voile straps, should riders wish to further customise their setup).
Despite being relatively small by design, the 2.5L capacity of the pack and the compression of the closure system combine to create a space that is capable of carrying a surprising amount. During testing, Chris has used it to carry his full sleep system, freeing up valuable space in his other packs for items he’s done without in past races (such as a warmer base layer, which would have really helped while freezing on top of the Timmelsjoch during TCRNo7).
Chris’ Racing Aerobar Kit List
- Yeti Fever Zero Down Sleeping Bag
- Klymit Inertia X Lite Caming Mat
- Sea2Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow
- SOL Escape Bivvy
- Waterproof Jacket (attached to bungees)