Banjo Brothers Cycling Commuter Backpack
Several years ago single-strap messenger bags exploded into the urban cycling market. Cyclists were looking for simple, good-looking bags that can carry a bunch of important stuff, while keeping it all dry. Style-wise, they added an edginess that embraced urban living, and provided a solidarity between urban riders that helped create a “cool factor” for riding a bike. For years many of us used messenger bags, admittedly for the cool factor, but also because there were very few other bags on the market that met the simplicity, style, and waterproof construction criteria. Messengers ride bikes in the city, a lot, so they must know what’s best for urban riding, right?
The problem is that most cyclists aren’t messengers. We don’t need to have quick and easy access to our cargo, nor are we very often carrying copy boxes. After several years of riding with single-strap bags, many urban riders began to find new aches and, like myself, see a noticeable difference in the shape of my shoulder. We realized that messenger bags take a lot of effort to make comfortable when they’re full of canned tomatoes or a laptop. Even more importantly, we realized that messenger bags aren’t very comfortable when you’re off the bike. It may only take fifteen minutes of riding to get to your favorite bar to see a band, but that also means three or four hours of standing around with all the weight on one shoulder.
Some companies realized this emerging market, and began to create backpack style bags that met the same criteria as the messenger bag, but were designed for the rest of us that aren’t messengers, but mere commuters and urban riders. Banjo Brothers was one of the earlier ones on the scene with their waterproof Commuter Backpack that comes in either a 1500 and 2000 cubic centimeter capacity. Pictured and tested was a new white version for 2010.
Until the more recent surge of dual strap cycling bags hit the market, one of the few options available was the classic, and inexpensive, student style backpack. Even the more expensive water resistant models leaked—unacceptable if you need to carry a laptop or a library book around. The Banjo Brothers Cycling Backpack was designed with the urban commuter in mind. The dual layer roll-top design, also used successfully in their water-proof panniers, gives full confidence that anything inside will remain dry. Although the roll-top design is a time-proven way to keep things dry, it does tend to make it difficult to access items at the bottom, as well as encourage overloading, but who doesn’t do that?
I particularly like the removable waterproof inner layer—a thick plastic embedded with a rip-stop webbing and held in place with velcro. The ability to remove the most important part of the bag is comforting, as it’s cheaply replaceable as well as allowing me the ability to easily clean out the compost that tends to accumulate at the nether regions of my bags. The outer layer is a textured plastic similar to the inner layer of most messenger bags. Although it adds another layer to keep water out, I’d be interested to see how it holds up after a few years of folding and rolling. I suppose that’s why the bottom of the bag, the part that sees the most abuse, is made of a different material—classic messenger bag cordura. If the exterior wears anything like an aged messenger bag interior, I’ll be glad that the bullet-proof and replaceable inner layer is there. Although my personal preference leans toward more natural looking fibers, the faux cordura look does attempt to make the bag look not so artificial.
Functionally the bag is designed very simply, with an attention to detail on the features. It lies far enough down on your back that it barely interferes with a rearward glance. The padding is minimal and provides a bit of ventilation. The main part of the bag is one large compartment with nothing internal to keep things separate or organized. A laptop needs to be placed in vertically, and I find this feels much more secure than carrying one in a traditional messenger bag. On the outside of the bag, Banjo Brothers added some small-item pouches, the largest of which is zippered and fits a map and a few tools nicely, while the smaller one seems to be spec’d to fit a standard flask. There are also three pen or marker carrying spaces, with the biggest able to fit a Magnum 44. This whole area is covered by a large flap (with two reflective racing stripes) that presumably protects this area from water, although in a heavy downpour it’s exposed to the elements some, so I’m a bit reluctant to carry my cellphone in here. The side of the bag has a fully exposed pocket that has proved extremely useful for carrying a U-Lock, a map, a water bottle, or any other item that you may want easy access to. Lastly, there is a loop for attaching a blinky light, sewn in such a way that the blinky will actually point backwards, instead of to the sky.
My biggest criticism is with the shoulder straps and that they seem a bit long. I’m a fairly average sized guy, and I found that I needed the straps pulled taut to have the bag feel solidly attached to my back, eliminating any ability to tighten more. This was further confirmed when I let my roommate, who has a much smaller frame than me, and breasts, try on the bag. She also found that the vertically-adjustable sternum strap should be a bit higher to help pull the shoulder straps in around her parts, to get them from lying on top of them. In Banjo Brothers defense, they did seem to attempt to design the shoulder straps with the female anatomy in mind, but didn’t consider the smaller framed people as much. Admittedly it has to be tough to design something for a human body that comes in so many shapes and sizes.
Style-wise, the bag looks “bikey” enough that other cyclists will give you the pez, but it could still pass as a “normal” backpack if you don’t want to seem too sporty. Although the white makes me feel like a white belt or sky-diver, it’s definitely growing on me with black bags available if you just can’. If you’re OK with the “Made in China” tag, the price point for this quality at $79.99/$89.99 (1500/2000 cu in) is hard to beat.