Road Test | Osprey Momentum 26
In the past few years, my city has really stepped up the support and promotion they give to alternative forms of commuting. This all cumulates in May with the Commute to Work Challenge and CycleMAYnia, a collection of bike themed events throughout the month. I have always been a cyclist but only recently have I started commuting and, thus, taking steps to use gear that is functional and practical. Like many Caryologists, I have stuff. Lots of it. And I usually want it with me. While I have plenty of messenger bags and backpacks, and technically, any of those could be used as a commuting bag, I wanted something designed from the ground up to meet the needs of commuters. I think I found it.
The way I picture it, when the designers sat down to create the Momentum, they referred to a commuter’s wish-list of features and started figuring out what they could incorporate and what they would need to get rid of. Fortunately, I don’t think there were too many things crossed out. I was sent the 26 liter pack by Osprey to try out. It’s the smaller of the two packs, weighing just a hair over a pound. For my 5’8″ frame, it was the perfect size. To be honest, I used to be into carrying huge packs just in case I needed the volume. The reality is I don’t really need a large pack.
Expandability: The Momentum has an expansion panel which is activated by a single zipper that runs the three-quarters perimeter of the bag. It expands the 26 liter bag to 31 liters. That difference means I was able to fit in a medium sized box to ship out once I got to work. With the expansion panel closed, the bag is nice and compact while still retaining a perfectly usable and spacious main compartment.
Straps: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again but the attention to detail Osprey puts on straps is unparalleled. Let’s face it, straps the difference between a good fitting pack and one that bounces around. There are quite a number of innovations here. The most interesting is that the pack can convert from a backpack to a “briefcase.” The shoulder straps can fold backwards into a specially designed rear panel and completely disappear. There are top and side grab loops and the waist straps can be completely removed. Sometimes when I am carrying a small load on my bike, I don’t use the waist strap and don’t want it flapping around. A nightmare of mine is to have a rogue strap tangled in the rear wheel or drivetrain.
Another cool strap feature are loops to keep excess slack in check. I am a smallish framed person so I have to pull the adjustment straps pretty tight. With other bags, this means upwards of a foot of straps dangling all about.
Commuting specific features: These things sound so simple but I think it really adds to the Momentum’s case as a commuting bag. I attended a bike to work event yesterday and instead of hanging my helmet on my handles or lugging it around with me while I balanced a plate of yogurt and granola in the other hand, I just strapped it to the back of the bag. I also like that Osprey put reflective strips all over outside of the bag, but in a very minimalist way. The entire panel does not light when hit with a light, just small portions.
What’s really neat is they put these strips on the inside of the front panel as well. Why would you need it on the inside? Well imagine you stopped on a night commute and need to grab something out. The tabs help you identify the different pouches so you can quickly find what you need.
There’s also a raincover that is quickly deployed from the bottom of the pack. Now I don’t need to ride with a vinyl pack to keep it dry. I can have a fashionable nylon bag and deploy the cover when the weather gets grim. The front also sports a blinker light attachment point and unlike the Flapjack, it’s a thick reinforced strip so the attachment feels secure.
Compartments galore: They key to a good pack is organization and the Momentum has plenty of features to help you with this. While you are wearing the pack, you’ll notice a pouch on each of the shoulder straps. On the right side, there’s a compartment to hold your keys, complete with a retractable cord. On the other side is a padded pocket to hold your cell phone. They also thoughtfully lined the zipper track to prevent scratching up that iPhone of yours.
The front-most panel has semi-soft heat embossed fabric which offers a non-scratch surface for glasses electronics. While fleece could be used, the material Osprey went with is much easier to clean. Just imagine how many spent energy gel packs you kept in the back of your jersey pocket. Now they can go in the pack and it’s a simple wipe post-ride to get things clean again. The compartment has a pen slot, mesh pocket and a slide pocket, plus a key-clip which I found perfect for USB flash drives and spare keys I don’t need to access daily. I usually keep my sunglasses in a case but for days I go caseless, I make sure to put the keys inside the pocket directly behind the clip, so they don’t scratch my shades.
The main compartment has a document pocket which holds A4 documents and manila envelopes with ease. This is a godsend for me since I always have various invoices, receipts, agendas and notepads with me. There are also three more pocket pouches which are designated for bike tools but really can be used for anything. You lose a bit of room at the bottom due to the raincover.
Oddly shaped cell phone pocket: While I am a huge fan of the cell phone pocket, I am perplexed at the odd shape. It’s sort of ovalish even though phones are almost always rectangles. It fits a smart phone just fit but you’ll soon notice there’s plenty of height available. I really need access to two things post-ride: my phone and my wallet, which includes my RFID security card to access my workplace. What I’ve been doing is putting both inside the pouch. Unfortunately, this is a very tight fit that results in my phone (screen) turning on during the ride and the screen getting marks on it from the wallet hardware. Technically, the pocket is meant for cell phones only but it’s so cavernous, it makes me want to put another flat item in there. I think it’d be nice if Osprey could slim it down or make it a bit larger to accommodate both items.
Cheap retractable key clip: I really dig the retractable keyclip and it’s one of those things that makes you wonder how you lived so long without one on a bag. Unfortunately, when I took a look at it, I found it to be a little cheap. The Osprey logo print on it looked like it was already fading, even on a brand new bag. I know it’s such a simple mechanism but my only fear is it potentially wearing out early. I do realize this is a totally bonus piece of hardware that Osprey did not even have to include. Luckily, for the nitpicky like myself, the retracting mechanism is completely replaceable. As a side note, here’s a protip for the readers: attach a micro carabiner clip to the ring and you’ll be able to easily remove and attach your keys to it.
Lack of U-Lock slot: I received the latest iteration of the Momentum but if you look at earlier versions, you’ll notice two differences: the older ones had zipped pockets on the sides instead of mesh pockets and they had U-Lock slots. While I prefer the mesh for water bottles, I really wish Osprey kept the U-Lock slot. Where am I supposed to put it now? They are such heavy things that putting it into the main or front compartment where I might have delicate items is not and attractive idea.
Best suited to
Commuters who don’t carry too much gear: The bag is perfect for commuters who are just carrying an average amount of things to their destination. It can handle a large number of items, but not any single item that takes up a large amount of volume, save for a laptop. Small cameras, flash drives, notepads, multitool, spare tube, etc are perfect and all will find a home in one of the internal pockets. There are no large cavernous pockets here which is a con to people trying to carry six-packs but also a boon for people like me who don’t like losing my Square reader on the bottom of a bag.
Professionals who commute to work: I won’t claim that this is a professional looking pack. Osprey is a technical pack company and this is another example of that. However, with the ability to stow away all dangling straps and the sturdy side strap, a professional would not draw too much attention carrying the Momentum briefcase-style into a lobby or office.
Not suited to
Non-commuters: While anyone could clearly use this bag as a day to day bag, the main draw is obviously the commuter specific features it boasts. The three-compartment design results in smaller main compartments and really would be annoying for anyone who needed the volume for a large jacket or other sizable equipment. With no hydration pouch support, this also would not be an ideal bag for hiking or trail-running.
I supposed I’d want to see strap retention on all the straps because I really don’t like the slack dangling around. Also, the helmet attachment uses elastic cords and it is very very difficult to work. You can’t get enough leverage with one hand while positioning your helmet with the other hand. I’d like to see more slack given. That way the user can just attach the helmet and tighten everything down with the cord clip on the end. On a recent trip to the farmer’s’ market, I realized that the compartments are very difficult to access with a helmet attached.
Any envy for a similar bag?
To be honest, besides panniers, I don’t feel like the industry has really shown any love for backpacks for commuters. While it’s not perfect, the Momentum is pretty darn close.
When you are riding your bike to work each day, you want a pack that does exactly what you need. No more, no less. I think the Momentum 26 really hits the sweet spot between size and functionality. It has everything including the kitchen sink. Its series of compartments keeps things separated and organized and its cycling specific features such as a helmet attachment point and pocket for keys and your cell phone show purpose-driven design philosophies.
Clearly, the team at Osprey either commute themselves or sat down with those who do. At the price point and considering how much use one would get from such a bag, I would not hesitate to recommend it.
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