Lead Out Mini Handlebar and Frame Bags review
Low in capacity, low in cost.
Low in capacity, low in cost.
There aren’t too many accessory categories in cycling as suddenly saturated as the small handlebar and frame bag market. With the explosion of gravel and more adventure-style riding, these easy-to-strap-on bags have blossomed in number faster than dairy milk substitutes.
Lead Out Gear is a relatively young brand out of Los Angeles, California, offering bags made from ethically sourced materials. The company outsources its manufacturing to Asia and, as a result, can offer highly competitive pricing. As a quick note to Aussie readers, Lead Out Gear is unrelated to the pre-existing Australian cycling distributor Lead Out Sports.
I’ll be clear from the beginning, these bags don’t offer anything magical or wholly unique to make them stand above the myriad other options. They’re a good value option with expected trade-offs, which I will tell you about in this review of the Mini Handlebar Bag and Mini Frame Bag.
Priced at US$40, the Mini Handlebar bag is true to its name with just a 1.3 litre internal capacity and a 105-gram weight. It offers a simple cylindrical shape (20 x 10 cm), with the capacity limited to holding a thin packable jacket or some spares with a bit of cycling food. You likely won’t fit both – after all, this bag is mini. The upside of such a small bag is that it looks elegant on almost any style of bike, goes by unnoticed, and stays put.
The bag straps onto the handlebar with some generously long webbed straps stitched directly and permanently to the bag. The spacing of those straps is set relatively wide and should overlap with the taped ends of the bar tape on many bikes – and it easily clears out-front computer mounts.
The straps are a little different to usual, using plastic quick-release buckles to lock in the tension. It’s a system that retains a low profile, lets you easily tension the straps, has proven durable, holds firmly, and is super quick to install or remove. And keeping excess strap length tidy are some simple elastic loops. Just be careful not to lose them while the bag is off the bike. Rapha also uses fixed, plastic buckled straps for its Bar Bag, and I believe Lead Out’s execution is comparably superior as far as such straps go.
There’s also a removable and adjustable rear tether cord, but I – and Lincoln Smith, a long-time riding (and industry) friend – didn’t find it wasn’t ever needed with the size of the bag and the lighter contents you’ll likely carry. Additionally, the bag features a subtly padded material which does a good job of keeping things quieter.
The bag offers an internal mesh divider and a bright orange interior to assist with finding small items. Meanwhile, there’s a zippered side pocket of questionable value. That side pocket is big enough for a house key, some cash, or a left-over energy bar wrapper. And as Lincoln pointed out, it’s a pocket that adds an extra layer of material, a zipper, and a more complex construction without any obvious gain. Meanwhile, the bag is treated with a water-resistant DWR coating, offers a reflective detail, rubberised zipper pulls, and is available in various colours.
On the move, many handlebar bags on the market can be tough to access, but the Lead Out Mini is rather good. The zipper sits angled outward, which means you can access the contents, even with a cycling computer sitting out front. The only limiter is that small capacity which means even getting a jacket in and out will likely require you to stop.
As mentioned, there are countless comparable bags on the market. I’ve used the Orucase Smuggler extensively, which offers a similar capacity but with a different design approach. Orucase uses grippy Voile Nano Ski straps and has no rear bungee. It also keeps things simpler without the side pocket. I prefer the simpler approach and replaceable straps of the Orucase, but it costs about 50% more than the Lead Out.
The overall construction of the Lead Out Mini is high quality and the bag does what it needs to while keeping a simple aesthetic. However, the small capacity limits its appeal. I used this bag most to carry a rain jacket when the skies above looked uncertain. Meanwhile, Lincoln found himself using it instead of a small saddle bag and to keep his jersey pockets empty of snacks. It works perfectly in both of these scenarios.
In many ways, the Mini Frame Bag duplicates the purpose of the Mini Handlebar Bag, it just attaches to a different part of the bike. Designed to sit within the front of the front triangle, this US$73 (or US$96 with the Mini Handlebar Bag) frame bag also boasts a somewhat minimal 1.3 L internal capacity from its 5 cm wide, 23 cm tall, and 33 cm long shape. It weighs 148 grams.
The shape and compact size is one that I found to work well with various frames, even in a small 52 cm frame size. However, as is always the case with this style of frame bag, it’s best used on bikes with a more horizontal top tube and an open area behind the head tube. Similarly, you can expect it to block access to your down tube-mounted bottle on smaller frame sizes.
The bag shares the same choice of six colours as the Mini Handlebar Bag, and the water-resistant materials are matched, too. Likewise, the insulated construction helps to dampen noises of things rattling within the bag and ensures they don’t knock against your frame obnoxiously.
Lead Out uses non-abrasive and replaceable velcro straps to secure its Mini Frame bag. There are three straps for the top tube and one for the down tube, all long enough to fit around the latest oversized carbon rigs. And once again, a bungee cord is supplied to string around the front of the head tube, but like the Handlebar Bag, I didn’t feel like this was truly required. Not using it means one less thing to rub your paint.
Once attached, there are two pockets concealed by water-resistant zippers. The pocket on the left is slim and sized perfectly for a modern smartphone or a few slim snacks. Meanwhile, the pocket on the right uses the full available width and is easier to stuff things into than the comparable-volume Mini Handlebar bag. And once again, the bright orange interior makes it easier to find that missing chain quick link. Its shape resembles something like the Restrap Small frame bag, but the Lead Out takes a slimmer approach with less capacity.
One detail I really appreciate is the large zipper pulls that can be tucked away to ensure they never rub your knees. However, on that topic, and much like the larger Post Carry Co reviewed previously, I found that overloading this bag quickly bloats it to a point where I start to rub my knees against the widest points. It’s not an issue if you respect the minimal intended capacity, but is something to keep in mind if you plan on stuffing it like a piñata for a party of 40.
If I owned no bags and was choosing between the Mini Frame Bag or the Mini Handlebar Bag, I would pick the latter. It’s quicker to install and remove, and I find it’s sooner forgotten. Meanwhile, I see the Mini Frame Bag as an addition for when you need to carry that extra item of clothing, a full lunch, or some beverages.
As I said at the beginning of this review, these bags don’t offer anything substantially new or unique. Instead, they do the essential things right at a reasonable price.