What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ-Test: Timbuk2 Patrol Backpack

After 5 years of packing my office into a carry-on bag for travel to the great races of cycling, I had yet to find the ultimate ‘mobile office/ cycling / carry-on’ bag. After field testing the Timbuk2 Patrol backpack at this year’s Giro, my search could be over.

As many of you readers who travel for work, or need to carry a laptop with you will know, it can be a challenge finding a bag that combines solid, secure and easy access laptop storage with adequate space and flexibility to carry essential travel items.

The Patrol Backpack – rugged, durable, stylish – and darn functional.

The right bag has to be big enough to hold your junk, but small enough to sling through airports and crammed airline seating, durable enough to take the beatings of rental car/ press room/ general travel and well designed enough to allow easy access and a logical layout for compartmentalizing the aforementioned junk.

The back of the pack features raised and pads to cushion and improve airflow and cooling, while the straps tuck away out of sight when not needed. Plus handles on the top and side of the pack make for easy hoisting.

I’ve had some good bags in the past, each with a variety of storage configs that worked well for some things, and not so much for others. My biggest problem was that I always had to pack my Mac in a separate padded laptop case, then fit that inside my carry-on – fine for safe storage, but getting through airport security required too much unpacking. Kinda like the old Certs mints commercial, these “two, two, two bags in one” just never quite cut it.

Over 33 Flavors!
Enter Timbuk2 – purveyors of high quality totes, bags, and light packs, including about 33 different models to hold a laptop. After a lengthy perusal of their website I selected the Patrol in Ballistic Fabric for this review.

The Timbuk2 website proclaims the Patrol has “Dual straps for those who don’t need what they can’t carry.” Considering the amount of stuff I need to lug with my person on these Grand Tour junkets, I was inspired.

The bag opens up like a clamshell, which makes access easy, as I found at several points on my recent trip to the Giro. My daily packing method usually starts out nicely organized, then gradually deteriorates as the day wears on and I simply grab for stuff, or shove things back in while on the move. But reorganizing was always easy thanks to the big snaps and easy open zippers – so I never hesitated to do a quick reorganize as needed.

On Closer Inspection
I liked that the bag was slightly larger than the other bags I have, and it of course has the built in Laptop compartment – no more hassling with a separate laptop case would make getting through airport security a whole lot simpler.

Initial inspection of the bag revealed some good stuff:
1. This bag is beefy – they call the material “Ballistic”- which seems a good descriptor given it’s rugged “hand” which feels like a super heavy Cordura. Mine weighed 4.29 lbs, and the dimensions of 14.50” wide x 19.00” tall x 8.00” deep qualify this as the largest carry-on computer bag/ daypack in my closet, but also still well within the bounds airline restrictions.

2. The construction in general is heavy duty and built for action. The zippers are by YKK and big, with large and easy to grab holds made out of metal. I counted 7 on the bag, and each one seemed bigger than needed, but I was pleased they didn’t skimp here.

3. The 4 compression straps are bigger than any comparable backpack I own, and although again seem over built, I was encouraged to simply put more stuff into the bag without worrying the whole thing might explode and my bottle of ‘not available at home’ singlemalt would shatter at my feet….

4. The laptop compartment is really cool – it’s lined with a soft corduroy, which both protects your digital ‘life’ and allows easy access – no sticky wickets here. The compartment is padded on both sides, to shield from bumps and too aggressive packing. It’s also big – mine measured 18” long x almost 12” wide x 1.5” deep – enough to fit my Mac, plus a bunch of magazines, and I even had room at the top to stuff in a light sweater – nice.

That corduroy lining makes a snuggly place to keep your laptop.

Timbuk2 offers bags in a multitude of cool colors, so I went with the army green/ spinach combo. A nice change from years of black bags, I really liked that the inside of the pockets were colored which allowed me to actually see what was inside – how many times has something disappeared into the black void of a pack pocket, only to resurface mysteriously after its need has passed?

Of course you can get the Patrol pack in black, or a snazzy dark brown/ flame red combo – all of which do a nice job of disguising dirt, so the pack looks good for a long time.

The shoulder straps are not only built to handle some serious weight, but also shaped to be more comfy than anything else I own in this category. The inside of the straps (that sit against your shoulders) is a mesh which looks like it aids in airflow and cooling. I discovered that lugging 15-20 pounds through Frankfurt airport was a lot easier than I expected. The really cool thing about the straps, though, is that they can be tucked away in a special compartment when not in use, which nicely cleans up the exterior of the case.

At first inspection, the strap hooks looked a tad ‘dainty’ to my untrained eye, but after that, I never noticed them – always a good sign. The hoop tab also tucks away when not in use.

The buckles and straps inspire some serious closure, and I never thought twice about loading more heavy things inside.

There’s a collapsible ‘sleeve’ inside the main compartment that was handy for stowing soft items like a jersey and bibs, but also runs the risk of muddling your access to the rest of the content in that main compartment. I did like that I could roll it up and stash it pretty much out of the way.

Inside the front flap are two transparent pouches, which are rubberized on one side so wet items won’t soil the main compartment. I was not crazy about the placement of the zippers on the inside of the front flap. They’re easy to use when the bag is fully opened, but impossible to reach into otherwise, because when the flap is closed, the zippers end up at the bottom of each pouch, so quick top-down access is not gonna happen. I’d prefer to see ‘em placed for top-down access when the pouch is closed.

The top pouch is set up for the stuff you need a lot, and quickly. It’s got stowage for pens, sleeves for iPod/ phones/ creds/ biz cards etc, and a handy detachable key holder.

This lower pouch on the front is where I kept a bunch of stuff – my spare camera, spare phone (hey it’s the Giro – everyone has two phones), toothbrush, gum, and it’s big enough to hold travel docs if you want ‘em on the outside of your person…

The full length sidepouch was perfect for collecting my receipts and other random items.

No self-respecting pack would be caught dead without a bottle holder, although I’d like to see this one a little deeper.

Here’s another compartment – this concealed neatly behind the straps, and sitting against your back. Timbuk2 suggests using it for travel docs, which makes sense as it’s tucked neatly away from pickpockets… it also works nicely for other flat item storage, and is easy to reach in the airplane overhead bins.

Here’s some – but not all of the stuff I packed into the Patrol bag – all at one time. – My laptop, essential electronics bag in case airline loses suitcase, two cameras – big & small (not shown), travel docs, wallet, cell phone, iPod, Bose headphones, Pez caps (for impromptu swagging), Capo Ronde jersey, 3 magazines + Giro guide, water bottle, and duty free whiskey (1 litre size!)

Carried Away
I’ve noticed Timbuk2 at Interbike for years now, and always regarded them as producers of high end bags, totes, and the coolest messenger bags I’ve seen. (Having been a bicycle messenger my first summer out of university, I notice such things.) But only since I toured around their website did I learn how cool these cats really are. I also learned they’re 20 years old this June, and indeed have their roots in the bicycle messenger biz.

Their site features a way cool “build your own bag” feature, and they even do suitcases for full blown travel. Having Giro-tested their Patrol backpack I can also confirm the high quality, and functionality of the goods. I also dig their “Party like it’s 1989” open invite to their birthday gig – that’s my era baby!

For sure a forward thinking company, you can buy all their wares online, or at quality retailers around the country, and around the world.

• See the website for info: Timbuk2.com

• Timbuk2 Patrol Backpack: MSRP US$225.00

• Buy Timbuk2 backpacks at AMAZON.com


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