Musguard Handlebar Harness Review: Chasing a Unicorn
Light, cheap, durable. When in the market for bikepacking gear, you will find it's as hard to satisfy all three of these criteria as it is to track down a vintage Paul Components Rasta derailleur. Technically possible, but actually difficult enough to be nearly impossible. Up for review today we have the new Handlebar Harness from Musguard. At first glance it may seem like just yet another bar harness, and while it does serve the same functional purpose as the alternatives, Musguard have made a few innovations here which help distinguish it from the rest. We'll take a look at those details and more to find out if it has what it takes to keep your gear from tumbling down the mountainside on its own adventure. Will it satisfy the ambitious trio of light, cheap and durable? Let's check it out.
Like the rest of Musguard's products, the Handlebar Harness is born and raised in the little unsung Central European country of Slovenia. Comprising just a few simple parts, the harness is pleasantly uncomplicated. The primary element here is the recycled polypropylene (that's fancy for plastic) sheet, rife with niceties like a guideline for centering, and additional cutouts to further secure the harness to your frames headtube. Alongside the sheet we have an aluminum G-hook with a cam lock, two siliconized velcro straps, four foam spacer blocks, and a single long length of nylon webbing.
When these basic elements are combined, they yield an elegant and functional synergy. First, the harness is attached to the handlebars with the silicone-backed velcro straps. The foam spacer blocks are fairly standard amongst other handlebar bag systems, allowing space between the harness and bars for you to detangle that spaghetti of brake and shift cables into a tidy harmony of unimpeded, swooping arcs. Now the big nylon strap comes into play, beginning where it's anchored into the base of the sheet. From there it is woven under the bars, up and over the stem, back through the cradle, around your bag on one side, back through the cradle, behind the bars and under the stem, and finally back over the other side of your bag where the G-hook latches into another little loop of nylon webbing. A good tug on the strap cinches everything down, and lastly the cam lock is clipped shut to keep everything tightly in place. This all sounds a bit complicated in writing, if it even makes any sense at all, but the process actually takes no more than a minute. It is much more effectively demonstrated by this 45 second video from Musguard. Once you have done it the first time, it's a total breeze to do it again.
So, why? What does this offer over other designs? Essentially, the single strap is woven around the bag and handlebars + stem in a neat little figure-eight bow, resulting in opposing tension being applied to the straps on either side of the bar, and above and below the stem. As you tension the strap to secure your gear in the harness, you are simultaneously tightening the hold between the harness and bars. We'll see how well this works in practice in the next section.
Design wise, the harness is a really simple and elegant package. The neutral unassuming looks can be paired with any colour dry bag to fulfill all your wildest colour matching fantasies. Toss all the bits on a scale and it weighs in at a meager 148g (5.2oz), which is about the weight of a single peach, and significantly lighter than the majority of other options available today. The Harness certainly earns a nice squeaky checkmark for the lightweight checkbox ✔.
At The Rodeo
So it all sounds great on paper, but how does it fare at the rodeo? Oh wait, it's not that kind of harness. How about in the backcountry after a long day of gruelling climbs and unforgiving sun?
The Harness works best paired with anything roughly cylindrical in form. Typically this would be a roll top dry bag, but a tent or anything that can roll up will work wonders too. It is versatile in that it can be effortlessly adapted to fit various sizes of gear. Are you braving the cold and packing a voluminous -20°C bag for a winter fat biking trip? It'll fit! Or if you're just headed down to the beach and need a place to carry a baguette and a towel, the cradle can cinch down tight enough too. This versatility extends to bike size. For those on smaller bikes with minimal space above the front tire, a tall and narrow dry bag can be used to maximize volume capacity horizontally with a flat or swept handlebar. Or if you are on a larger bike with narrower drop bars, a short and plump dry bag will be a suitable way to increase capacity. Of course you also have the option of strapping multiple items in at once, though I found it to be somewhat cumbersome to properly secure three or more items in the harness at once, where it's just a bit fiddly to get everything balanced and in a secure spot while cinching the strap down.
With the Harness happily attached to the bike, getting your bag in and out is remarkably easy. You unlock the cam, loosen the strap a touch, unhook the hook, and your bag is free as a bird. No fuss or colourful language required, and it can even be done with just one hand.
Although the attachment system is far more secure and stable than a couple straps and a dry bag alone, it's not going to match a basket bag or a flip-top saddlebag on a front rack. However, if you add in a third point of connection with a strap between the harness and headtube (not included), the stability is practically on par with those other options while being far lighter, economical, and much more minimal than either.
The silicone coating on the velcro straps is a brilliant and extremely effective way to keep the harness in place on the bars. Even on a 22.2mm bar where there is minimal overlap for the velcro, the straps hold well enough. Sure they may not be as bomb proof as a 9" Voilé strap, but they are still leagues better than standard non-silicone coated velcro.
One potentially serious issue I faced with the Musguard Harness is that I once had my dry bag fully slip out while riding some rooty singletrack. Did I have the strap cinched tight enough? Maybe not. The bag I was testing with is also a more slippery material than most dry bags. In any case, it would be a welcome addition if Musguard added some grip to the inside surface of the plastic sheet. Some dots or lines of the same silicon coating found on the velcro straps would be an excellent solution to drastically reduce the possibility of your cargo shifting around. And even without any anti-slip coating, just make sure you've snugged the strap right up and it's unlikely to be a problem.
Aside from a head-on collision with a rogue tree, it's hard to imagine a scenario where the Harness would fail. Typical failure points of other bags I have used are zippers or plastic buckles. There are neither of those here. Assuming your dry bag isn't full of holes from that time you used it as a shield against a grizzly, you'll have no concerns at all if the skies open up. Impervious to all of the elements other than fire (probably - yet to be tested), we can confidently award the Harness another checkmark on the durability front ✔.
Cost & Closing Remarks
One checkbox still remains, and that's price. At a humble cost of €49 ($53 USD, $73 CAD) this is one of the cheapest options for securely attaching gear to your bars, with alternatives looting your bank account for two, three, or even five or more times as much in some cases. That being said, it is of course still cheaper to strap a dry bag directly to your bars, but the added value in functionality and stability offered by the Musguard Harness is well worth the relatively minimal cost and weight. Let's go right ahead and check that last box off, we have found a unicorn! Light ✔ Durable ✔ Cheap ✔.
No matter what type of bicycle adventuring you are into, there is some appeal to the Musguard Handlebar Harness. From someone gearing up on a budget for their first trip, to someone on a 10 year world tour, this harness is certainly a worthy contender for securing your finest cylindrical cargo.
Get it here for €49,00.
|Simple, durable parts|
|Highly adaptable to various sizes of cargo|
|Can be slippery with certain types of bag|
|Won't really work with arbitrarily shaped items|