The Wildcat Lion Handlebar Harness is a lightweight system that can fit various styles of bike, hold drybags of different sizes, or anything else that fits. Initial setup is not simple and protecting the bike and handlebar from rub is very important but the end result is a very stable system.
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The Wildcat Lion Handlebar Harness does not actually hold anything, instead, it is simply the harness to which you add a drybag of your choice such as the Wildcat 13 litre double-ended drybag that I used to test the Lion harness.
The Lion's harness is made of lightweight LS21 fabric with a small amount of padding and ballistic nylon where it might contact the handlebar or frame for extra durability. It weighs in at 196g, without a drybag, As tested with a Wildcat 13 litre double-ended drybag (162g) the total system weighed 358g. Although there are much lighter drybags available for those who wish to drop the weight even lower.
Fitting the Lion is essentially simple, although for the first attempt you may find yourself reading over the instructions, which are very clear with excellent pictures to help you loop and connect the straps in the right places. Wildcat recommends adding protection tape to areas where the straps touch the bike, such as the fork, handlebar, and potentially parts of the frame too and this would be a wise move as there will be some movement in the straps even when correctly tightened.
The straps have enough movement and adjustment in place to fit a wide range of bikes and I have tested the harness on both a cross-country mountain bike and also a gravel bike. On any drop bar bike, the width of the handlebar will be the biggest limiter with the harness itself being 29cm at the widest point, leaving little room for a bag unless you run a wider handlebar setup.
Fitting to a cross-country bike, if like me you run a low cockpit setup, you'll be pleased to know that there was no interference with the bag and tyre while riding, although it is extremely close. On the XC bike I used to test the Lion, the clearance from the handlebar to the top of the fork crown is 25.5cm.
The design uses 2 straps, the first is looped under the fork crown and through the tri-bar adjuster, the positioning of which is dependant on the bar to fork crown drop on your bike, then upwards through the tension strap. Once you are familiar with the system it can be fitted and adjusted within a few minutes.
I found on the bikes I used it with, the main strap was excessive in length which meant a long trail of loose strap. While the top strap that holds the drybag in place has a built-in velcro tie to secure, the main fitting strap does not, which is a shame, but It's simple enough to fit a hairband to secure it, or an elastic band work just as well.
With the harness fitted, you can now fit any bag between the recommended 8 to 13 litres; the overall width being the most crucial factor. There is some adjustment within the harness, with the lower section that folds around the drybag being removable and attached with velcro, allowing you to increase or decrease the volume to suit.
One simple but neat feature is a small elastic strap that will sit right on top of the harness when fitted and once in place this could be used for various things, but most useful is some form of paper or map holder as it gives instant access that would be easy to reach while riding.
This attachment method creates a very stable system with no movement or loosening of the straps at all while riding, which is something other handlebar bags can suffer from due to the bouncing and movement that goes through them. What type of bag you use and how you pack it will still have an impact on its movement within the harness, but the harness itself is rock solid.
Using the Lion for long trips is ideal as the harness stays in place on the handlebar and the drybag is simply removed for quick access and can be unpacked/repacked off the bike and re-fitted in a simple and quick process.
My tip would be to carry a larger volume but lighter goods within the bag, such as a sleeping bag or some clothing as this will minimise the amount of bounce on the handlebar when riding off-road especially.
One small issue on my XC mountain bike was the positioning of the brake and gear cable being less than ideal, creating a slightly tighter bend than I would have preferred. This is something that I have had issues with on every bag I’ve tested, possibly due to running a 710mm handlebar. If you are using a front harness or handlebar bag often, re-routing the cables, or running the brakes at a slightly different angle might help reduce the problem. Running a wider handlebar would probably help as well.
Competitors and Value
The Lion is not the cheapest of setups at £72 for the harness when compared with other handlebar bag systems such as the recently tested Altura Vortex 2 £60 and the Lifeline Adventure bag £30, although both are heavier and not without issues, especially bounce on rougher tracks. Plus it’s another £40 if you get the double-ended dry bag as well although you save 10% purchasing them together.
Prior to using the Lion harness my favoured option was the Alpkit Kanga, £60 which is another harness-based system that uses fibreglass struts to improve stability and while it works, the Lion harness is the most stable I have currently used. Pat tested the BBB Front Fellow system a few years ago, which is still a standout handlebar bag for longer trips and another that is based around a harness system. It is much cheaper at £53 including the dry bag.
With all that said, if you are riding down a rough track while bikepacking only to have your handlebar bag bounce all around, that extra money might then seem well spent.
The Lion Handlebar Harness system’s adaptability to fit different bike and bar types and neat touches such as a small elastic strap on the top help to create an excellent very solid base to attach a drybag to. The initial setup might take you a little longer but once on a trip it stays put, requiring no adjustment. It is more expensive than other harness systems, but it is well very made and helps create a very stable overall setup. Highly recommended.