Road Runner Bags Rolltop Review
I wanted a go-anywhere carry-anything backpack, and I’d long been searching for a big bag that didn’t swallow me whole beneath it. The second criteria: make all the essentials accessible, even when the bag is jam-packed. The essentials being my notebook, laptop, camera, water bottle, U-lock, wallet, and a jacket. The last hope I held onto in my quest for a better bag: that it would be comfortable—not just carry-able, but comfortable.
Road Runner offers high quality at accessible prices. The bag I’ve been using is the large roll-top, which has a base price of $145. A range of add-ons in the $5-$15 range make it easy to customize any bag to the perfect specs for your needs and taste. I went ahead and added on a half-dozen special pockets and straps, basically the full gamut of options. By the time I’d added the laptop pocket ($15), two side pockets ($10 each), compression straps ($12), waist strap ($15) and a reflective strip across the front pocket ($10), the total price was $217. Even with all the bells and whistles I’d barely broken $200 for a bag that could get me through a summer away from home, and still be practical day-to-day.
Affordable, yes, but not cheap. Brad Adams and Brianna Meli both knew how to sew before they met each other, so the pair got off to a running start when they began making bags in 2008. Five years down the line and every detail has been considered and fine-tuned to fulfill any cyclist’s survival needs.
“If you spend a lot of time doing anything you’ll be good at it,” says Adams. The pair have their production process down to a science. Working in tandem across the four sewing machines in their workshop it takes just three hours to turn the raw materials into a practical and stylish do-it-all backpack.
With a rolled height of 20 inches and an unrolled height of 28” there is ample room for clothes, shoes, books, food, gadgets, tools—you name it. The compression straps make any load secure so whatever is inside can stay put.
There’s a thin layer of padding on the back, and it’s just enough to soften the pressure of any load and keep the odd chunky object from jabbing into my back. It is not so thick that it feels bulky or creates extra heat (less “bag back”). The bag is soft from the start, so it hardly needs a breaking-in period. The reinforced strip of Cordura at the top makes for easy rolling.
The most useful standard features are the key rings on each shoulder strap and the quick release buckles at the bottom of them, making it easy to unclip a strap and get to a U-lock stashed in the side pocket with quick access to your keys as well. I found the shoulder-level position of the key rings to be more convenient than my belt loop, and handy for having a bandanna and whistle easily reachable as well. The release on the straps is also convenient for freeing yourself from very heavy loads, like groceries or a case of beer, without shimmying your arm through a tightened strap.
Speaking of beer, the inside of the bag is fully waterproof and can be transformed into full-on portable cooler, while the ample front pockets offer enough space to carry anything you wouldn’t want chilling on ice—say your phone, wallet, tools, etc. The front pockets include the laptop sleeve, one wide document pocket and two front zip pockets, each 8 inches by 8 inches. For someone who may be a bit organizationally challenged, or likes to always be prepared with anything, these extra pockets are invaluable.
There is a strap and buckle over the roll top that is useful for times when the bag is stuffed so full it van be rolled (which I found to be a rare occasion) as well as for carrying delicate items, like bread or bananas, at the top of a full bag, allowing for any cargo to be secure. Side snaps on the roll top make closing and rolling it up a cinch—another example of a thoughtful detail that, while not functionally critical, makes all the difference.
Smart design is applied to all of the straps as well, from the ½-inch padded shoulder straps start close enough in to the center that they’ll never slide off and angled out to wrap snugly around the torso. These straps are intuitive; there’s no fumbling around to slip your arm into the second strap while you’re trying to get out the door or jump on your bike. Loop pulls on the end of each should strap and on the waist and chest straps keep the excess length from dangling, and D-rings at the end of every cinch and buckle make it easy to make adjustments while on the move.
I have only two rather minor complaints: I wish the side pockets were a bit roomier — my large U-lock fits snugly, but it would be nice to not have to wrestle it out. The cinch straps on the pockets are handy, and another reason why a roomier pocket on an otherwise well-dimensioned bag probably wouldn’t hurt any. The second issue is this: I love that there’s a light loop on the back, but I wish it was on the left side (traffic side) or along the center of the front pocket flap rather than on the right. However I noticed that most Road Runner bags actually do have the light loop placed in the center, either at the bottom of the bag or on the flap top.
I’ve done everything with the bag from pack it for a summer-long three-month trip to use it for overnight bike camping trips; for groceries and laundry, for piles of books and cases of beer. When it comes down to it, this bag is functionally amazing, and a huge help in responding to the demands of the day, on and off the bike.
About Krista Carlson
A regular contributor to the print edition of Urban Velo, Krista Carlson is a cyclist obsessed with bike polo, baking, pickles, and all things bike-y. She is a native Angeleno and is madly in love with the city and everything that makes it the beautiful, crazy place that it is.