Touring by mountain bike. Wildcat handlebar bag mount review.

Well now, what have we here then?

Well AD and I are off on a small tour over the weekend; Reigate to Guildford, then on to Shoreham for the night. Next day Eastbourne along the South Downs Way. So some form of kit needs to be taken - not much; bit of food and some spare clothing. All in less than 9 litres by volume. Now I could fit this into my normal day sack but quite frankly I don't want to - hate carrying things now. Must be my age, but I've gone off packs. Thus some form of bag carrying by bike needs to be done. Bought this handlebar mounted solution, a Wildcat thing. Looks like some kind of sex toy when you get it out of the packaging, and is a right faff to fit. I really wanted an Alpkit item, but they didn't have any in stock that particular day. The Wildcat sells for £48, so is not cheap by any means.

The idea of these systems being versatility. You strap a dry-bag on the front, and away you go. They are lighter than traditional racks, and there is no worry over bolts coming lose. Once this bad boy is on, it's on. As mentioned it is a faff to fit initially but once done you can pop it on and off at will. Just don't do as I did, and attach the anchor straps to the fork brace. That was stupid, please give me a slap.

Aesthetically it looks horrid; it's just a bag lashed to the handlebars.

Must say I don't like it. I've used it a few times to get the hang of it, and it is OK weight wise. You notice it, sure, but not much. It also acts as another mudguard, so fine there. So why no like? Because on one ride, even though I'd done the straps up tight, the bag fell out of the holster. It just slipped out and I didn't even notice it go. Five miles later I did as it had my life in it; house keys, sweets, KY. Luckily it was still there when I went back, but it was a ten mile ride I didn't want to do that day. You have to be so careful loading this thing up, as any weight shift on the ride means it slips through the straps. On the Alpkit version the bag clips in, so is totally secure. I'd be hard pressed to recommend the Wildcat unless you only used it to carry something uniform, like a sleeping mat. Any variation in the load and a secondary strap system needs to be used. I think I'll see how it fares over 120 miles before selling it on. After all, this very product was recommended in Singletrack a whilst back - normally they sit on the fence in product reviews, so for them to be positive about something should mean goodness. Perhaps if I used it to carry a sleeping mat instead of pants, a t-shirt and bags of sweets?

One positive. Having a bag on your bike is way better than any bell. Normal ride, bell or call out, people ignore you. Put a bag on, bimble up to people and they magically smile and get out of the way. Those fit female runners you see? The ones that generally look at you as though they've just trodden in a dog egg. Put a bag on your bike and you can, well, the lot of them, there and then, no messing. Honest. Old people smile, and other bikers say hello. These are not things that happen normally. I'm guessing the bag takes away all the threatening postures that mountain bikers naturally adopt. Put a bag on and you look like one of those Andrex puppies; friendly and huggable. It's bizarre. I'm not exactly fending friendly faces away, but the difference between no bag and bag is like night and day.

Seriously. If you want to meet other people, perhaps sleep with nubile females [or men], then put a big dopey bag on your bike. I'm not kidding at all - people really do smile and say "hello" all the time. Of course I could be reading this all wrong. They may smile at me the same way I smile at the London drunks who ask for 50p for a cup of tea. Like: "I'm intimidated by you as you look like a nutter who doesn't understand societal norms, please go away and don't kill me." It may just explain why I get home with pockets full of 50p's.

I'll let you know how we got on next week. AD has never done a long bike ride of this nature, although I do keep telling him it'll be fine, as it will. A few years ago I managed to do 300 miles in three days - it didn't kill me, but at the time I wasn't keen to repeat it. They were all on the road you see. This time we're totally off road. We're both up for it - and I'm especially keen now that I have 33.33% of a bike packing kit. All I need now is a mahoosive frame bag and a seat pack. Can hear the call of the wild bivvy..... As if. Bugger that. 50 years old and sleeping rough in a bag? Even Bear Grylls sleeps in hotels these days.

My only worry being that AD has insisted on a double room, that we wear matching kit, and that we share shampoo.

15/9/2013: Update.

Well I've now done 100 miles off-road this last weekend using the Wildcat, and now really like this mode of carrying stuff when on tour. It saves your back from weight, and on a hot day it is wonderful to have a sweat reducing breeze. The only real negative being how to access stuff when it is in the bag, as you have to undo a load of straps whilst finding a way of holding your now heavy bike upright. Again the Alpkit item seems better in this respect, as not only is the bag clipped on, it has a double opening system. The bag also seems better with a rigid fork as with my suspension it did at times rub. Here is the last possible worry; you rely on the integrity of one £7 dry bag to hold your stuff. If you rip the bag or burst a seam, boy are you in trouble. I guess you could carry a spare as they don't weigh much.

OK my arms ache as there is a bit more mass to steer, but that's just me being a wuss. The bike at times has some odd handling, and can get blown about in heavy winds. But when you take the bag off and go for a local spin, your bike feels so light and nimble. You also get covered in mud when dismantling the system as the bag acts as another mudguard, but that is also a bonus isn't it - the free mudguard bit.

You don't need to get one if you are only taking what will fit in a normal backpack anyway. You can make do. On the South Downs this weekend I was the only one with an handlebar bag, so clearly people can cope easily. However we rode 8 hours one day, and 6 the next. We suffered. In my mind if you can reduce the suffering a little, then why not?