Category: Back Packs

With the recent rains that Southern California had experienced, I wanted to see how well the Banjo Brothers Commuter Back Pack‘s ability to keep things dry over a long period of wetness exposure.

So I set up the bag in my back patio where it gets pretty wet during the rains. Rather than standing in the rain all night long. I recruited the use of my old ladder and a bungee cord to hold the bag in place.

This is the bag the following morning. I apologize for the fuzzy picture, my camera sucks.

As I opened it up this morning, I expected that the bag would have been flooded inside.

But to my surprise, the items in the bag stayed dry!

Our friends at Ergon Bike Ergonomics recently sent us a backpack to check out. This model is called the BD-1M “Team Edition” backpack, and it is sleek and packed with features.

Ergon BD-1

Originally, RL was slated to test this backpack…but with his husky, macho physique, the harness system was a bit too snug. We needed someone willowy and narrow to test this bag, so the duty fell to me. As it turns out, the system is just a hair too BIG for me, but I got the bag’s straps and buckles adjusted to the point that everything worked out in the end. Phew!

Let’s get something straight right here at the beginning — Ergon does NOT market this bag as a commuter-specific backpack. In fact, it’s intended for the MTB crowd…a bag that can carry a hydration bladder, some tools, snacks and a jacket. At only 12 liters (730 cubic inches or so), it is not designed to carry a huge load. That being said, it does what it is intended to do splendidly!

Anyhow, on to the bag itself: It’s made of black and pea-green woven nylon, with a very visible hard plastic “exoskeleton” that gives it shape and forms the suspension components of the bag. All of the harness parts (shoulder straps, back pad, hip belt and sternum straps) are attached to the exoskeleton. The back panel adjusts using a simple hex screw and nut to fit a range of backs…I have it set to the “small” setting.

Here’s a shot of the harness and adjustable back panel:
Harness and back panel

Not visible is Ergon’s flexible link or “Flink” — a plastic sphere right behind the adjusting screw of the back panel that separates the bag itself from the harness system. This “Flink” allows the bag to pivot both up and down and side-to-side with the rider, staying balanced between the shoulder blades no matter what the load.

From the side, the “Flink” is a bit more visible. It’s that green object right between my shoulder blades:
side view

The bag hugs the rider’s back, yet lets a surprising amount of air to flow between bag and rider. The padded portions of the hip belt and shoulder straps are lined with mesh to let additional airflow in.

Did I mention that this bag is packed with features? It’s got a pocket for a hydration bladder inside, slots and hook-and-loop straps to control the bladder’s hose, a zippered outside pocket, a zippered inside pocket and another small open pocket on the inside of the bag. The folks at Ergon went the extra mile and included an ingenious raincover, too! At the inner base of the bag is a little “garage” for the raincover:

garage

Tear open the hook-and-loop strip and deploy the raincover — it stretches right over the body of the bag:

raincover

Ergon even included a built-in emergency whistle, which is molded into the buckle of the sternum strap. Amazing!

emergency whistle

Well, how does this thing ride? I took it on one commuting trip to work — loaded down with two 500ml bottles of soda, a bulky hardcover book (Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War by 3-time Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Atkinson), a work shirt and assorted tools, tubes and small items. It was a tight squeeze…and God forbid if you had to get something at the very bottom of the bag. The narrowness of the interior compartment and the overall small volume means that you must unpack everything to get at goodies in the bottom of the bag.

Even with this load (maybe 15 lbs.?), the bag felt weightless once I got the straps snugged up. The padded hipbelt soaks up the most of the weight, and the shoulder and sternum straps serve to stabilize things. I felt FAST wearing this bag, and I never once worried about the bag shifting while I cornered or got out of the saddle to do some sprinting. Pretty cool so far!

In the coming weeks, I will test the waterproofness of the raincover, check the durability of this bag and offer further thoughts about the performance and balance of this system. Stay tuned for all of that.

Product Tested: Banjo Brothers Commuter Back Pack

As described on the site.

COMMUTER BACKPACK (waterproof) – Messenger bags are great, but with two straps to distribute the load, a backpack is often a more comfortable option for longer rides or heavier loads. Unfortunately your options have either been student backpacks that leak like a sieve, sit up too high, or cost a fortune. We designed our backpack with a full welded waterproof liner that is removable and replaceable if it is punctured.

* Medium – 1500 Cubic inches / 17″Tall x 12″ Wide x 8″ deep
* Waterproof 2-layer design: outer ballistic nylon layer wears like iron; replaceable waterproof liner keeps contents dry in a downpour (will not keep water out if submerged, in case underwater-riding is your hobby).
* Wide padded straps distribute load more evenly than messenger bags
* Sits lower on the back than standard backpacks to reduce blind spots while riding
* Chest strap and removable waist strap for stability
* Large reflective stripes and tab for safety light
* Quick-access side pocket fits mini-U lock
* In-Stock
* MSRP: $79.99

The Banjo Brothers Commuter Back Pack is a pretty strong and reliable bag. I’ve been using this baby for a many months and it hasn’t failed me yet.

The bag has a few highlights that I really like such as the side pocket in which is big enough to carry a u-lock. Though they said it was more designed for a small u-lock, my normal sized piece fit just fine. I also like the zippered storage and of course the little blinkie hanger on the lower section of the bag.

The back pack is a bit more comfy than a traditional student bag. The padded shoulders and padded back helped ease the strain of carrying a bag full clothes and gear to work.

Ok now here’s my MOST favorite part of the bag….the reflective “racing stripes? on the back. I mean talk about killing two birds with one stone! Not only did they make this back pack more safe, but its even cool looking with the reflective stripes. Don’t worry, those stripes do work at night. They’re kinda like the reflective arm/ankle bands you can get at the bike shop.

I talked about how comfy this thing is right, well when you have way too much things to bring with you, the back pack doesn’t disappoint. Just check out the things I had to carry on a recent liquor run. All that was pretty darn heavy, almost felt like I was carrying a ruck sack for an army of drinkers…Banjo says that the back has something like 1500 cubic inches of storage….1500 sounds allot! It’s actually way more than I really had to use. Even after our little trip to the liquor store, the bag still felt fine. I didn’t feel it cutting into my massive body builder like shoulders, not did it tear or rip at the seams. In fact, the bag is so well made that not even a thread came undone in the months that I’ve had this. Now that’s quality if you ask me. I’ve had other bags…one even a hand made customized hydration pack that started fraying on me after a few months of use. But the Banjo factory seems to know what they are doing.

The bag has a white water proof liner that protects all your goods from getting wet. I like how it’s white, makes it easier to find things that are in the bottom of the bag. You can actually remove the lining from the bag. But I never did, I like the fact that it was there constantly protecting my skivvies and work clothes due to wetness from my sweaty back.

One of the claims that Banjo Brothers says this bag is capable of or has the ability to be is…?WATER PROOF?. Since it hardly rains in sunny Southern California, and it is September right now, I enlisted the help of my kids to see how “WATER PROOF? this bag really is. So if you check out the video you’ll see that the bag pass our test. Now I’d imagine if you’re someplace that rains allot, this might be a significant factor in your choice of buying a bag. Now I’m not so sure if our water test will impress you folks up in Seattle or Portland, but as you will see, it did really well.

Bottom line, I really dig this bag. For the folks that don’t like to ride with a messenger bag or panniers, I’d tell them to get a Banjo Brothers Commuter Back Pack. It’s a great deal, waaaay cheaper than any other messenger bag out there, more comfortable…and I know what I’m about to say next will get some smack, but it LOOKS WAAAAAY COOLER THAN A PANNIER COULD BE. So if you’ve got a strong back and Ginormous shoulders like I do, and you think you can huck around your stuff in a back pack, then get this bag. Like I said, its cool, not just cool, its UBER cool!