The SKS Explorer top tube bag and smartphone holder is smarter than it looks [Review]


There are top tube bags and then there is the SKS Explorer top tube bag. It features not just one but two waterproof zippered compartments, a clear plastic top for use with a smartphone, and a port for charging your phone or plugging in headphones on the go. I tested one over three days and 340 miles of bikepacking and found it to be quite functional.

Height and weight

I decided to load the SKS Explorer with my phone, camera, face mask, extra battery, and snacks for easy access during the day. The top tube bag is in the perfect position to be accessible and to keep the phone clearly visible while riding.

The SKS Explorer has two compartments; the top one is about 40 mm high (1.5 in) and is meant to hold a smartphone. My iPhone X fits easily, leaving plenty of room for a portable 10,000mAh battery for extra top-ups while travelling.

The lower compartment is much deeper; it ranges from 75 to 90 mm (3 to 3.5 inches) deep and is about 75 mm wide by 180 mm long (3×7 inches). I used this space to carry a compact digital camera, a face mask, and about 500 calories of snack bar. With a fairly stiff and rigid base, the bag holds its shape well and has a bit of padding to protect electronics.

In total, the SKS Explorer top tube bag I tested weighs 213g.

Bike fit

I had no problem fitting this bag with the included straps. The two lower straps are long enough to cope with most top tube or front triangle setups, and there is a third stem strap to provide lateral stability. I was a bit worried that the bag would collapse due to its height and the fact that I had so many heavy electronics inside, but it stayed sturdy and didn’t require any adjustment during my tests.

Like the SKS handlebar bag I reviewed, the Explorer straps have a nice grippy coating on the underside that’s both slip-resistant and scratch-resistant.

Fancy Features

One of the features that drew me to the SKS Explorer top tube bag is the clear plastic smartphone pocket on top. I knew I would be spending more than 12 hours a day on the bike, and who can go that long without looking at their phone? I was surprised that the plastic cover was clear enough to use Face ID to unlock a phone, and it’s also touch sensitive. Curiously, SKS opted to add a somewhat raised – but sealed – circle on the cover where one might find a home button on their phone. It seems that the latest versions of the bag ignore this “feature”.

Inside the top compartment there is a piece of mesh and two velcro straps to hold the phone securely. It’s a nice touch and no doubt prevents the phone from flying off when you unzip the compartment, but it does make removing the phone a bit of a hassle whenever you need to use it in handheld mode.

There is a port at the bottom of the smartphone compartment to pass a power cable or wired headset. Using this seems to compromise waterproofing a bit, and I found the position of the port to be less than ideal for charging my bar-mounted GPS from the battery inside the top tube bag. Instead, I ran the cable through the top and used the handy double-ended zippers to get the space where I needed it.

I tested the SKS Explorer in wet conditions and it kept all my electronics and my goggle dry to the touch. However, visible moisture appeared under the plastic cover after about a day of riding, and I was never able to completely remove it despite regular wiping with a dry cloth. I don’t know if it was moisture or water vapor that somehow got into the bag. Either way, it sometimes made it harder to read the phone.

Freshness factor

Quantifying an item’s cool factor can be difficult, although in this case it is not, and it’s not, if you understand my drift. I would describe the look as geeky biker, but that doesn’t mean the thing isn’t functional as hell. I will totally take the SKS Explorer on my next bike trip, and even on my next local hike for the convenience factor alone. At $51.99, it’s a little pricey for such a small bag, although most riders will probably benefit a lot from it.

party towers

  • Easy to install on most bikes
  • Two waterproof compartments with a good amount of storage
  • Transparent top cover for use with a smartphone

Advantages and disadvantages of the SKS Explorer top tube bag.

dirty naps

  • Geek-chic
  • Expensive
  • Fogs up in damp or wet conditions

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