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First look: Ergon BX4 Backpack

A few weeks back, the good folks at Ergon USA sent over their new BX4 backpack after I reminded them of a review we did a few years ago. The BX4 is designed for “bike weekends” and MTB expeditions, with a cavernous cargo capacity and a drool-worthy checklist of features. It also happens to make a pretty fantastic commuting backpack.

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Back when we looked at their BD1 pack in 2008, the only real complaint was the overall size/carrying capacity of the bag. With a rated cargo capacity of 30 Liters, the BX4 offers the commuter plenty of room to carry work items, and then some.

We’ve just started the review process…lots of weighted-down rides with it to see how it shakes out. Since there are so many features, however, we wanted to offer a “first look” to show you what makes the BX4 tick. First, the construction: Ergon borrows a page from the ultralight backpacking craze and specs light materials for the BX4. Lightweight ripstop nylon instead of heavier Cordura for the main bag, airmesh padding on the back panel and shoulder straps, mesh interior pockets and lighter strapping makes this bag, despite its complexity and size, weigh in at just a hair over 2 lbs. That is LIGHT!

The back of the bag is stiffened by a light plastic internal framesheet and supported by two moldable aluminum strips. Both offer great structure to the bag and protect the wearer’s back from pointy objects inside the bag. The aluminum strips further offer the user the ability to bend the bag to follow the contours of the back for a truly custom fit and decent air flow.

Coupled with the stiffening features, the shoulder straps are attached to the bag by means of a nylon-covered plastic sheet (Ergon calls this “Perfect Fit”). This one is adjustable for a user’s torso length by a hook-and-loop strap running up the centerline of the bag. Ergon calls this setup Perfect Fit:

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Ergon’s Adaptive Carrier System consists of the shoulder straps and load compression. The tops of the shoulder straps loop through a pair of green anodized sliders that act as sort of a “living hinge”…giving the shoulder harness and cargo load the ability to float and find its own perfect place on the user’s shoulders. It’s hard to envision, and sounds hokey, but it works like a charm.

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For organization freaks (such as myself), the BX4 offers plenty to soothe the soul. The bag is divided into four major compartments, each with additional pockets. At the back is the hydration bladder sleeve, which just so happens to fit a laptop inside. Ergon claims a 17″ laptop will go in there, but my old fattie wouldn’t. A 15″ model slid in there with room to spare.

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Next up is the full-depth main compartment, with plenty of room for books, lunch, spare clothing or shoes. The main compartment has a couple of mesh organizer pockets sewn into it.

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The third compartment is a sort of “half compartment”, with a depth of about half the bag. It has room for smaller items, tools, and the like. It also has several organizer pockets made from mesh and covered by a nylon flap.

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The last, outermost compartment is the helmet cradle. It is mostly open, with a nylon outer and generous mesh corners. The straps that secure it in place also serve to compress the load in the main bag. There’s even a small zippered stash pocket in there! You can see how the helmet fits up there in the first photo of this article.

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Alright, alright…that is a LOT of detail to sort through. So, in the review (to be published when we get back from Interbike), we’ll talk about how it fits, how it carries a load, and all the other juicy details. For now, the Ergon BX4 shows great promise as a very capable commuter backpack. Stay tuned for that review!

A Treat on the Ergon USA Commuter-Team Blog

Want some eye-candy? We know you do…as I’ve mentioned about a half-million times here, I was selected as one of the 12 riders on Ergon USA’s 2011 Commuter Team (I have to mention it; it’s in my contract!). Well, today they put up a brief profile of yours truly, resplendent in our limited-edition Bikecommuters.com jersey.

ergon team

Spin on over to the Ergon USA blog page to read all the lurid details. With a little luck, the other Commuter Team participants will have their profiles up and running soon…there will be a few familiar names to those of you who spend a lot of time reading good bike blogs. Good stuff all around, I say!

Ergon BD-1 Backpack Review

A couple months back, we posted our first impressions of the Ergon BD1-M Team Edition backpack. I’ve had a chance to ride with this pack for all the time since (about 300 miles worth) in all weather and carrying a wide variety of loads.

First, a bit about the bag:

BD1-M

Gender • Male / Female specific
Capacity • 12 liter
Main fabric • 420 D Nylon
Hydration Pack • optional

As mentioned in the earlier article, the whole suspension system revolves (pun intended) around the novel “Flink”, or Flexible Link. Basically, this is a plastic half-sphere that allows the bag to move with the wearer, keeping the bag centered and floating without undue sway. After riding with this bag for those 300 miles, I’d say that the Flink really works!

And, as with other load-carrying backpacks, the hip belt is crucial for keeping the weight off a wearer’s shoulders. I subscribe to the Colin Fletcher method of adjustment.

“…hunch your shoulders so that the pack lifts a little, and cinch the hipbelt tight. Really tight. To achieve that end, pull firmly. Then shrug the pack even higher and tighten again. Now take a deep breath and pull even harder. If the belt hurts a little it’s about right.”

— From Colin Fletcher’s The Complete Walker III, originally published in 1968 and revised in 1984.

This method is a little extreme for the Ergon pack, but let’s just say the tighter the hip belt, the easier the load is on your shoulders. If the hip belt is nice and tight, you absolutely WILL NOT notice any appreciable weight on your shoulders, and that is truly comfortable. The tightness of the hipbelt, along with the sternum strap, the nicely-contoured shoulder straps and the Flink means this backpack stays right where it is supposed to with no wobbling or swaying. Towards the end of my “to work” commute, there is a nice downhill and then a sharp left turn into the edge of downtown Tampa. With this pack fully loaded, I can burn a high-speed turn at a very sharp cornering angle and the Ergon backpack would not shift an inch, even with a heavy load. Now THAT, I like!

high-speed cornering

The same goes with out-of-the-saddle sprints. When I tried either of those with my old messenger bag, I would have to reach back and adjust the location of that bag as it swayed and slipped all over the place. Not so with the Ergon.

sprint

As I mentioned in the earlier article, this bag is packed with features. There is one external and one internal zippered pocket, another open internal pocket and a large, spandex-y pocket for a hydration bladder (to go with the hose-routing loops on both faces of the shoulder straps). I emailed Ergon to ask their recommendation for an appropriate hydration bladder that would fit, as I had tried an older 70 oz. Camelbak bladder and it didn’t fit in the pocket so well. I never got a response from them, so I chalk it up to “lost in the mail” or perhaps less-than-stellar customer service. Oh well…that’s not a deal-breaker.

Here’s the internal pocket for the bladder:

water pocket

One serious drawback that kept coming back to me as I tested this bag is the capacity. It just isn’t big enough to rate as a truly serious commuting bag. Granted, Ergon does not market this bag as such — it is designed for extended mountain bike expeditions where a rider might need to bring spare tubes and tools, a rain jacket or extra warmth layers and some snacks. Nevertheless, it is something to consider. If your daily commuting load is only a few items, this bag would be a dream. If you have to carry a laptop, nice clothes or different shoes, this might not be the bag for you. My typical load for this bag was my lunch, a sweater and a hardcover book or two in addition to my mini-pump and a couple small tools. That’s about all this bag will carry without cramming items inside.

I got to test the built-in raincover a couple times, too. While the raincover doesn’t keep the bag totally dry, it does ward off the worst of the wetness. To be extra safe, it might pay to wrap sensitive items in plastic bags if you’re expecting to get caught in a downpour.

Overall, for the bike commuter who can travel light, I give this bag a resounding “YES”. It’s comfortable as can be, it is strong, and most importantly it is stable with a load. But, if you have a lot to carry, you might consider another brand bag that can handle a bulky load.

Check out Ergon’s complete line of bicycling products here.

Read this review in Spanish at ciclistafanatico.com here.


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