Of Protein Bars and Steak Dinners: Comparing Revelate Designs, Ortlieb, Acorn, and Osprey Bike Bag Systems

There are many bike bags in my current biking arsenal – Ortlieb, Acorn, Osprey, and Revelate Designs, to name a few. What has received the most use lately are my bags from Revelate Designs, which prove to be the best option if looking for a sturdy and lightweight bike bag system. Having used both the seat bag and frame bag over a half-dozen times now on overnight trips of various sorts, I can personally attest to their performance, durability, and weather-resistance. I have had zero product malfunctions, they still look new despite being exposed to sub 20’ F weather, minor falls, and general wear and tear associated with mountain biking, and have kept everything dry despite our lovely pacific northwest climate’s attempts to penetrate their thick polyant 200 denier and laminate coated skin. Instead of talking about Revelate Designs’ superiority over other bags, however, I’d like to focus on when they should be used over other types of touring bags. All the bags I listed are bags I use regularly for various multiday trips, and I can vouch for each one. Thus, to explain the use of all these bags, I will attempt to explain them by using increasingly abstract food comparisons; not sure why exactly, other than the fact that it’s almost dinner time.


My two Revelate Designs bags. Lightweight and ‘rackless.’


Holds a decent amount of stuff for a bag that fits within the triangle of your bike’s frame.

Revelate Designs (Mountain Bike Touring) vs. Ortlieb (Road Touring)

Comparing Revelate Designs to Ortlieb bags is like comparing a protein bar to a steak dinner. Protein bar: Revelate Designs is made for pack-conscious minimalists who plan on riding tight and narrow singletrack and want to be able to pick their loaded bikes up and over various blockages on a secluded trail without giving themselves a hernia. Steak dinner: Ortlieb, on the other hand, is for people who prefer the open road and would like to bring all the luxuries of home with them on the trip, stored away on their mechanical steed in the near limitless space of the Ortlieb. Ortliebs will never work on true singletrack, however, because they simply stick out too far and would be constantly scraping against trees and other foliage along the trail; plus, Ortlieb bags require heavy-duty front and rear racks, whereas Revelate designs’ bags are ‘rackless,’ meaning your bike will not require the added weight of racks to hold these bags.

Bottom line: For multiday, narrow-trail minimalists, go for the protein bar; for multiday, everything but the kitchen sink road riders, go for the steak dinner.


As already stated, Ortlieb bags allow you to bring it all, possibly excluding (but not necessarily) the kitchen sink.


However, they have a bit too much junk in the trunk to be used on narrow singletrack trails.


Fully loaded pack mules, more or less.

Revelate Designs vs. Acorn (Road Touring)

Comparing Revelate Designs to Acorn bags is like comparing a broccoli to a beta-carotene/calcium/folic acid supplement. Broccoli: Acorn is a tiny custom-built handlebar bag company. They use traditional canvas material instead of the more contemporary laminate material found on most bike bags, but the Acorn has proven to be highly water-resistant despite this difference. Their bags are relatively lightweight, extremely durable, and built by a bike rider for bike riders. Nice and simple. Beta-carotene/calcium/folic acid supplement: Revelate Designs makes a harness and sweetroll handlebar bag that allows people to strap their sleeping bag and tent to the handlebar, making a rackless setup that much more attainable. Not to mention the fancy-factor. I personally have chosen to stick with my Acorn handlebar bag for sundry weighty reasons, and use an extremely lightweight front rack to carry these items instead. Call it sentimental, call it illogical, call it what you want. I like my broccoli.

Bottom line: For those who want a hint of ages past strapped to the front of their bike, and some good old-fashioned nutrition, eat your vegetable and go for the Acorn bag; for those who want the newest and most innovative design for their front carrier, skip the veggies and take the Revelate Design supplement instead.


Back side of the framebag; very thoughtful little granola bar, sunglasses or digital camera pouches in the back.


And the front of the bag.

Sidenote – I already wrote a specific review for this particular handlebar bag, so check it out: https://pedalspacksandpinots.com/2014/09/08/acorn-bags-handlebar-bag-review/

Revelate Designs vs. Osprey Backpacks (Mountain Bike Touring)

Comparing Revelate Designs to an Osprey Backpack, or any backpack for that reason, is like comparing sipping a dram of Ardbeg 21-year-old to shotgunning a PBR. Sipping a dram of Ardbeg 21-year-old: Revelate Designs takes biker comfort into consideration through its lightweight and bike supported design. A framebag helps to put weight in the center of the bike, not overloading the back or front wheel with excessive weight. Likewise, a small seatbag and handlebar bag help to equalize the weight without hindering the bike or the rider’s performance. Shotgunning a PBR: In contrast, a backpack, no matter what the brand, immediately takes its toll on the rider, and even with a nice waist strap, will unnecessarily tire out the shoulders and core more quickly than bike supported bags. Plus, it just isn’t an enjoyable experience, especially if the backpack is laden with heavy or awkwardly shaped items. When I’m doing a multiday mountain bike ride, I bring a backpack under the sole condition that only a water bladder and my clothing layers for the day will fill the bag, in order to minimize weight. I’ve tried carrying other things in the past and have found it takes away from the joy of riding, just as shotgunning a beer takes away from the joy of a ‘experiencing’ a good drink.

Bottom line: If you enjoy sipping fine whisky because the taste appeals to you rather than simply ‘getting the job done’ with a grimace and a belch, use bike supported bags and appreciate the entire experience; if you enjoy feeling pain and discomfort, and are more concerned with accomplishing your goal than appreciating the time it took to get you there, than wear a backpack and never look back… real bottom line: only wear a backpack for long-distance touring if you can keep the weight down.


Categories: Bikes and Gear

3 replies »

    • Cheap mountain bikes; hmmm… I guess it depends on what kind of riding you’d like to do Leon. If cheap is around the $500 range, finding a hardtail (no rear shock) with front suspension will help save you some money. The question is, would you like to use the bike for day rides only, or would you like to do some multiday riding as well? If day riding is your thing, find a good lightweight aluminum bike; Kona makes the Mahuna and Lava Dome, both very affordable while also uncompromised quality builds, and there are other companies that have great mountain bikes as well. Try to avoid supporting the major biking companies like Trek, Cannondale, or Specialized if possible, but you really can’t go wrong with a solid aluminum hardtail, and should be able to find one within the $500-700 range, if you’re looking to buy new.

      However, if willing to drop a bit more moolah, and multiday riding is in your future, Surly, Jamis, and Salsa are the way to go. They are smaller bike companies that make some really good steel frame options, both rigid (no suspension) and hardtails (front suspension). Surly has the Ogre and Krampus, both of which are great rigid options, and they have the Instigator, an excellent steel frame hardtail. Jamis has the Dragon line which is said to be excellent, although I’ve never seen one myself. Finally, Salsa has the El Mariachi line, which offers three separate levels of hardtail, a great bike if willing to spend a bit more money. All these bikes have a wide variety of price ranges, but are generally in the $1,200-2,000 range.

      Overall, I’d say that whatever your decision, buy up if you’re pretty sure you’re going to get into the sport. Better to have higher quality gear than a chincy bike that breaks down ten miles into a ride. Happy hunting!

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