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Aug 24, 2023

For me, the handlebar bag is the new hip pack. If the point of a hip pack is to get gear off your back so you can ride more comfortably, then handlebar and frame bags are an even better solution. There’s no shortage of great options to choose from, and even REI now has a number of value-priced bike bags under their Co-op brand, plus bags for bikepacking too. I ordered a set to see if the bags are any good, and I’ve come away mostly impressed with both quality and design.

The Co-op Junction handlebar bag is the closest thing to an actual hip pack that I tested, and that’s because it doubles as one. This smallish handlebar bag features two zippered pockets, and the main one has a divider to keep smaller items from getting lost in the shuffle. Padding helps the bag keep its shape and the zippers are easy to open and close while riding thanks to corded pulls.

There are two sets of straps on the back of the Co-op Junction handlebar bag, one set for mounting it to a set of bars, and the other for wearing it as a hip pack. A dedicated pouch, held closed by hook-and-loop fasteners, tucks the straps inside when they’re not in use so the waist strap, for example, isn’t flapping around when the bag is on your bars.

As a hip pack the Co-op Junction handlebar bag is pretty basic, and the waist strap isn’t much to brag about. I wouldn’t ride with it on my waist, but might sling it around myself when I step into the convenience store to load up on supplies.

The Co-op Junction handlebar is small and narrow enough to fit most drop bars, and obviously it’ll fit flat bars too. Because it’s only secured to the bars from the top of the bag I nestled mine beneath the brake cables to prevent it from bouncing around on the trail, and this worked fine. I also considered wrapping the waist straps around my head tube for additional stability, but that proved to be too awkward.

For such a small pack, the Co-op Junction handlebar bag fits a lot of items. It’s not a stretch to cram a phone, wallet, keys, glasses, small tools, and flat repair items. The outer material is water resistant, and there are reflective accents for visibility.

Overall the Co-op Junction handlebar bag is designed well and seems to be durably constructed.

Stem bags — also known as snack or feed bags — are convenient when you need them, though to be honest I don’t ride with one all the time. The REI Co-op Junction stem bag offers most of the same features as more expensive options, and puts the gear you need the most in reach for long days in the saddle.

Looking at the Junction stem bag, I didn’t think it would fit a 32oz Nalgene bottle, but as you can see from the photo above, it does. It’s a tight fit though; normal, cage-size bottles are a better choice. The bag is constructed with rigid foam to keep its shape that doubles as insulation, and on a recent ride in 90° heat I still had ice in my bottle at the two hour mark. A grommeted hole at the bottom of the bag allows condensation to drain.

The Co-op Junction stem bag can be mounted on either side of the bars (or one on each side if you have two bags) using three included hook-and-loop straps. As with all stem bags, it helps to have a stem that’s at least 40mm long; mine is long enough, but it’s an odd shape so the included strap proved to be slightly too short. No biggie, I can just grab a longer piece of velcro from my parts bin.

Just because the Co-op Junction stem bag is round doesn’t mean it’s just for water bottles. Sometimes I like to put an open bag of M&Ms in my snack bag, and other times I use it to keep my hand clippers and a folding saw at the ready when riding shaggy trails. A mesh pocket on the outside offers a little additional storage space, though really it’s only big enough for a gel packet or two.

I really like the closure system on the Co-op Junction stem bag. It’s easy to open or close with just one hand, and while many bags offer systems with a similar intent, this one actually works well. The materials and construction are good, though not certainly not premium.

The REI Co-op Junction top tube bag puts gear directly in reach. Like the stem bag it’s constructed with rigid foam so it’s no floppy or saggy on the bike. I was pleasantly surprised by how stable it is on my hardtail.

With 1.3L of carrying capacity the Co-op Junction top tube bag is only slightly smaller than the Junction handlebar bag. Like the handlebar bag there’s a divided pocket inside the main zippered compartment with a zipper that can be pulled open or closed with one hand. An open side pouch promises a tiny bit of extra storage for flat items but I don’t trust it when riding bouncy singletrack.

The Co-op Junction top tube bag is large enough to fit a big phone, wallet, sunglasses, and a ton of snacks. I like using bags like this for my phone in particular so I can grab it quickly to take pics and check the radar for late afternoon summer thunderstorms.

Two wide, hook-and-loop straps attach the bag to the top tube while a stretchy cord goes around the bike’s head tube. The cord and associated hardware are particularly well designed, making it easy to get a secure fit.

As with any frame-mounted bag it’s important to add good frame protection to your bike anywhere the bag or straps might make contact. The straps, cords, and even the bag itself will quickly sand the finish off your frame, and eventually eat into the frame material itself. Even straps with a soft or rubbery coating aren’t safe, so always protect your bike.

The handlebar roll is a core component of any bikepacking setup, and REI delivers a solid system at a great price. The Co-op handlebar roll consists of two pieces: a bar-mounted cradle and a 13.5L dry bag.

The cradle attaches to a set of flat bars with two wide hook-and loop-straps, and there’s also an adjustable nylon strap that goes around the top tube for additional stability. Two long nylon straps with buckle adjusters wrap around the dry bag and when tightened around the bag and bars, make for a very stable load. When it’s time to camp for the night the dry bag can be removed from the cradle without having to futz with the bar and top tube straps.

The cradle system seems to work well enough, though it would be nice to have a few extra loops on the outside for lashing a jacket or tent poles, for example.

The dry bag could use some extra features and improvements as well. For starters, there’s no valve to release air trapped inside the bag as it’s rolled closed. I can get most of the air out when packing a sleeping bag, but I’m still left with unnecessarly bulk at the end.

Stuffing a sleeping bag inside is also a challenge due to the rubbery material that adds a lot of friction. Some other waterproof bags I’ve tried are lined with a thin, fabric-like material that makes packing and unpacking go more smoothly.

At 600g+ this isn’t a lightweight handlebar roll system. That’s largely due to the convenience of having a fixed cradle and separate dry bag, though for many riders it’s a weight tradeoff that’s worth making.

According to the REI website, the Co-op handlebar roll has been discontinued, though for now it’s available for purchase at a discount.