The Salsa EXP Anything Cradle is a handlebar rack the keeps your gear away from your bars and cables so you don’t have to worry about crowding or kinking. It’s also compatible with drop bars and Shimano STI levers as long as you limit the length of the dry bag you strap to the cradle so it doesn’t block the shifters’ sideways range-of-motion. In the picture above, I’ve got a 18L Granite Gear ultralight waterproof stuff sack attached to the Salsa Cradle as an example of the amount of gear you can carry up front with the rack.
If you’re considering the EXP Anything Cradle, chances are that you’ve already experimented with strapping a dry bag to your handlebars. It’s doable, but awkward to strap on by yourself. It’s also hard to avoid interfering with your brake and shifting cables if not using a rack or foam blocks to provide more cable clearance. I’ve found 22″ or 32″ Voile Ski Straps handy for configuring this kind of system, but like I said, it’s awkward without some kind of frame to lash your gear to.
A second option is to try using different handle bar bags like Revelate Design’s Sweetroll or the Ortleib Handle-Bar Pack until you find one that’s short enough to fit between your drop bars. This can be frustrating because most of these bags are designed for mountain bikes with flat bars, where the length of the bag isn’t a limiting factor.
This is, in fact, the path that led me to the Salsa EXP Anything Cradle, but it’s also fairly typical of what bikepackers go through when trying to add a handlerbar bag to a gravel bike with drop bars.
Let’s take a closer look at how the Anything Rack is installed.
First off. The EXP Anything cradle is compatible with 31.8mm drop or flat handle bars. To install the unit, you’ll need a torque wrench with a 4mm hex head. The first step involves wrapping a pair of the cradle clamps around your handlebars and centering them on either side of your stem. Next, you have to decide whether you want to run your cable housings above, below, or inside the cradle clamp cutouts.
Next, attach the plastic cradle to the end of the cradle clamps with the supplied screws and then loop the supplied webbing straps through them. This involves removing the plastic clips on the webbing, looping it through the slots on the frame, and then reattaching the clips. It’s also the most time consuming part of the installation process. I really wish that Salsa would package the clips so that they’re unattached from the webbing because getting them off and back on again can be a real chore.
Once installed, attach a packed bag to the cradle before the final configuration step. Once it’s strapped in, rotate the cradle down slightly, and make sure there is at least 6-10mm of clearance over your front tire. The further the cradle is rotated downward, the less it is cantilevered over your front axle which improves handling. Check to be sure that there aren’t any dangling straps that can interfere with your wheels or brakes and you’re good to go.
When attaching a stuff sack to the frame, you want to make sure it’s not going to slip out of webbing. The ideal would be to get a dry bag that has a daisy chain sewn on the side to slip the straps through, but I don’t know of anyone in the backpacking and camping world who makes anything like that. Salsa sells a waterproof dry bag (the Salsa EXP Series Dry Bag) that has compatible attachment points, but paying $60 for a dry bag that weighs 7.76 ounces just isn’t worth it. In practice, I’ve found that most backpacking dry bags will stay put if you pack them a bit loose, so that the surface of the bag has some give and the webbing can get purchase on them when tightened.
But, the Salsa rack and the stuff sack on my bike, a Diamondback Haanjo Trail gravel bike, blocks the front strobe light that I have attached to my handlebars. The solution is to find a front strobe that you can attach to the Salsa Rack straps holding your dry bag in place. I’m currently testing out a Blackburn Central 100 Headlight that you can clip to a strap for this purpose. It has a burn time of 21 hours in strobe mode and looks like a promising solution. I always recommend riding with a flashing front and rear light, especially on gravel roads where pickup and logging truck drivers don’t expect to see cyclists. Front and larger seat bike bags have a habit of blocking such lights, so some fiddling is often required to make then visible.
With the exception of that one issue, I’ve very pleased with the Salsa EXP Anything Rack because it solves the handlebar bag/drop bar dilemma that I’ve been struggling with for some time. While a bit on the pricey side for a plastic rack, it’s far less expensive than the combined handlebar bag system that lock you into a rack and bag from one manufacturer. I already own a lot of stuff sacks and backpacking gear that I’d rather use instead of buying the overbuilt and heavy waterproof dry bags that bikepacking manufacturers tend to sell. Who knows, maybe we can coax one of the cottage ultralight backpacking gear makers to make us some cuben fiber bike and frame bags that are purpose-built for bikepackers needs (hint.)
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