Every now and again something comes along and fits so wonderfully snugly into your life that you instantly find it hard to recall how things were before. I’ve experienced this at the far reaches of both ends of the importance spectrum: the arrival of our first child being the most obvious example of the “life-changingly-important” end. Within just a few days I found it nigh-on impossible to believe that he hadn’t always been there.
More recently I’ve been experiencing similar feelings at the other end of the spectrum. After a little judicious prompting in the run up to the big day, I was given an Alban Bike Bag for Christmas. It may be “just a bag” but it’s fair to say I can’t imagine how I coped without it now.
An explanation of my daily routine is probably needed here. I cycle to work every day – a fact which hopefully will surprise none of you. I’m not the sort of person who likes to bring work home with them so all I usually need to transport between home and work are a minimal change of clothing and a few essential bike repair bits. To this end I had embarked on a reductionist mission to find the ‘smallest rucksack humanely possible’ and had been using a 5 litre micro Dakine one for a couple of years – it’s currently advertised on their website with a free pencil case which, in all honesty, doesn’t look that much smaller than the bag itself. It seemed to be entirely suitable – just big enough for the two or three things I generally needed and, being so small it was really aero, which is obviously of great importance on an 8 mile commute through dense London traffic..* And when it wasn’t big enough for something that was needed I would either, if preparation permitted, switch to a larger bag for the day, or, if it didn’t permit, simply convince myself that I didn’t need that large thing (like that latest cycling magazine for instance) anyway.
Mrs TJP wasn’t quite so convinced about this approach to life though and had been gently badgering me to think about upgrading it to something that didn’t look as though I had a child-sized emergency parachute on my back. “It’s not great for meetings..” she said and it was true that, a couple of times a month I would need to either take something smarter for a meet, or something bigger when I needed to bring the laptop – or more usually a new bit of bike kit – home. Ideally a new bag would be both. Enter Alban Bike Bags.
I’d seen them at SPIN’s pre-Christmas show. Plain black, coated canvas bags in a variety of rucksack, satchel and pannier varieties. I’d plumped for the Roll-top Backpack – a 24 litre take on the familiar messenger bags that are also very popular with the commuting fraternity – as I felt that would be the best all-round performer. Alban’s version may lack all the mesh pockets, in-built lights and reflective frippery of many other cycling specific backpacks but really this is no bad thing. It’s smart enough to take to a board meeting but rugged enough to ride through a rainstorm to get to it. (Keep your eyes on the blog for a review of the perfect jacket to wear to just such a rain-sodden board meeting which will be coming soon..)
The 20 ounce canvas is very light and the high quality, minimal design means that you are not encumbered by loads of zips, loops, zig-zag bungy cords or by crappy plastic buckles on the straps. When lightly loaded it feels even less intrusive than my previous micro-backpack, sitting on the shoulders with a delicacy that you do not expect of such a voluminous bit of luggage. Traditional metal loops hold the arm straps at the right length and a wonderfully simple hook is used on the chest strap. The chest strap itself is free to slide up and down so it always find the best position – which is noticeably different for riding and walking. There is a padded pocket on the inside large enough for a 17″ laptop and the base is double lined for extra durability.
The roll top is not sealable in the way that some messenger bags are but the single leather & buckle fastening is really effective in allowing longer items to poke out of one or both sides without danger of bouncing out when needed. It turned out to be be really handy for the recent collection of a pair of forks for the latest bike-build and for transporting two large cardboard-tubed art prints. The waterproofing has coped really well with the recent wet weather and, even when packed to gunnels, hasn’t succumbed to water transferring through.
The backpack was big enough for everything needed for a recent week away in a hotel – spare clothes, books, computer, power leads, wash bag etc – and yet, as mentioned above, it’s brilliant when empty too. The canvas folds itself flat so you don’t get the feeling that you have this big, empty bag on your back. But when you unexpectedly need to bring something home, it turns out that you can do!
My one tiny gripe about the Rolltop Backpack is the lack of an internal pocket. The company note that there is an open external pocket for drinks bottle, D-lock or mobile phone but, whilst that pocket is very deep, I’d be a tad concerned about putting my phone in there – even if the other two items weren’t onboard that day.. Being a man I am not used to the dark arts practised by women, who seem able to locate even the smallest item in a large bag without the endless fumbling, looking, cursing and, eventually, spilling-out-onto-a-flat surface that would accompany any delving that I might need to do. A little flap pocket inside, somewhere just below the roll, would be a great place for me to stow my door keys.
You would think that I’ve already said everything that could possibly be good about a very simple bag but I’ve forgotten one thing. The price. At £79 including shipping (within the UK) for either the Rolltop or the satchel (which can be worn as a backpack or fixed to a pannier rack) and £119 for a double pannier set, the pricing is as great as the product.
Sometimes it isn’t a huge gaping void in your life that needs filling. Sometimes it’s a hole so small or familiar that you don’t actually realise that there is an emptiness or a lacking there at all. But when you happen upon the ‘exact right thing’ to fill that hole, you suddenly see it for what is was. Thank you Alban.
* of no importance at all