Brae Cycling's Carin handlebar bag is an excellent small-capacity waterproof bag for a compact sleeping kit or your post-ride clothing that can be easily stuffed into the open-ended design. It has an air-release valve to help you push your kit in at one end, foam spacers for frame and handlebar clearance and a light clip. It's well thought out and great value a £50 but is it a worthy contender in the best handlebar bag space?
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Brae Cycling Cairn Handlebar bag - Technical details
The Cairn main body is made from black Ripstop TPU fabric which is heat bonded together rather than stitched and has a 7-litre capacity. Brae Cycling says the bag is 100% waterproof so is ideal for storing a very compact sleeping setup or a set of campsite clothes for the end of the day, such as an insulated jacket, trousers, socks, gloves and a beanie – each of which will fit.
The bag has two Velcro loop attachment straps with a soft internal section where they wrap around your bars for anti-scratch protection (useful if they are carbon). They are bonded to an outer hardwearing protective panel – in fact, all features of the bag are actually bonded to the Ripstop TPU rather than stitched which makes a very clean and neat-looking bag and offers no stitching holes for water to leak through.
The Cairn is also supplied with four spacer blocks for you to use as you wish, between the bag and bar straps for finger space or in front of the headtube for clearance. A very long Velcro headtube to reach all sizes of frames.
There are a few extras past the air release valve but there is a ‘light’ loop slot cut into the hard-wearing material on the front which could be used for a safety light. The bag material is claimed to be 100% waterproof as long as you have rolled the ends over three times as is the way with all roll-top bags
Like a lot of this style of double-ended bags, it's best to do up one end to the approx size you wish to use and then pack the bag off the bike by ramming your kit in from the top. This is essential if you are fitting it to a drop bar bike.
Brae Cycling Cairn Handlebar Bag - Performance
Stuffing my lightest and smallest sleeping bag and liner into the Cairn handlebar bag was a bit of a challenge and one that would definitely warm you up in your tent in the morning; you could, of course, pack your non-riding kit such as the insulated jacket, trousers, beanie or gloves which would be easier. That said, without the air release valve, it would have been very much harder to pack. With it, Cairn offers enough space to make it a very useful handlebar bag for your lightweight kit.
Fitting the Cairn to my drop handlebar bike was easy to fit and provided a very secure fit with the long Velcro strap holding tightly on the front of the bag. One of the reasons for wider gravel bars is for more control off-road and while that is the most useful benefit of the extra width, another is storage space for handlebar bags. You need enough space to be able to hold the bars and actually use the shifters. If the bag is huge and holds loads of your kit, but doesn’t fit between the drops it’s of little use
My sleeping kit stuffed inside the Cairn pushed the stuffed length to 34cm including the rolled-over ends and buckles. This length is changeable depending on how much you stuff inside the bag. The diameter of 19cm and circumference of 61cm are not. There are no compression straps provided by Brae, but a pair of rubber straps would work nicely here.
So as long as you have space inside the drops of your bars for comfortable hands and shifter movement then you should be okay. For reference, a Deda Gravel 100 and Lauf Smoothie both 44cm have 40cm of total space between their bars so there is a good amount of hand space available with this bag.
The second concern is that of the bag scrubbing the top of the tyre as you ride. It might not be noticeable on the smooth roads but as soon as you use it on a rutted track then the extra bounce could become an issue. Brae recommends that you need at least 24mm between your tyre and the bottom of the bag which in my case was no problem on the mountain bike but was closer on the gravel bike as you can see from the pictures.
Whether you use the spacer blocks is purely up to you but I found an excellent setup with two between the bag and the head tube and none under the flat bars on my mountain bike. On my gravel bike, there is less real estate for your hands on the tops if you mount a bar bag there so spacers can really help here. Doing this however lowers the bag towards the tyre, so be careful.
Using the bag on my mountain bike needed the head strap and two spacers to set it up fairly tightly against the head tube. Yes, I could feel a little resistance when I was turning the bars in the air to check but, once riding, it wasn't really detectable. Plus using this setup meant absolutely no detectable bounce from the bag. All the straps remained tight and the bag was waterproof throughout the regular showers and heavily saturated trail conditions.
The bag with all its foam spacers and uncut headtube straps weighs in at 294g which is pretty light for the asking price. You can buy more spacers (£2.60 for four) if that helps you with hand positions or if you lose the ones that are supplied.
Brae Cycling Cairn Handlebar bag - Verdict
Competition in this segment is wide and varied but Altura’s Vortex 2 waterproof front roll bag – a double-ended bag with foam spacers – is pretty close for £65 at 5-litres. Restrap’s Race bar bag is the same size and nearly the same weight but offers a dry bag and a holster fitting system for £109. Ortlieb offers a 9-litre Handlebar Pack for £120 with aluminium compression buckles, spacers, an air release valve, a double-ended opening and high-quality construction. At the other end of the spectrum, Oxford has the Aqua Evo handlebar bag which has a 9-litre capacity and headtube strap and an accessory pocket
For £50 the Cairn offers a very easy-to-fit, stable, bounce-free, waterproof handlebar bag with an air release valve which is essential if you want to get the max out of the 7-litre capacity. The foam spacers help with finger space and that long head strap will fit pretty much all frames. As long as you have space for it on your bike then the Cairn is well worth checking out.
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