- Buyer's Guide
Timbuk2 Deploy Convertible Backpack Pannier: Drive By
A few months ago I took a look at the best panniers for bike commuting. One of the main issues I found when using a pannier to commute with (as opposed to bike touring) is that you end up using the pannier off the bike, just as much as using the pannier on the bike. In that roundup some of the panniers had shoulder slings and straps but none really carried well off the bike.
Sensing my woe, Timbuk2 reached out with their new Deploy Convertible pack – a pannier and backpack in one sleek design. I was curious to see if Timbuk2 has cracked the code and given us a bonafide pannier that wears just as comfortably as a backpack.
Who It Suits
The Deploy Convertible Backpack Pannier is best suited for cyclists who commute to and from work but need a normal backpack during their day.
Who It Doesn’t
If you bike to work and get by just fine with a set of traditional panniers, stick with it. The functionality that the Deploy Convertible bag affords comes at the expense of space.
As a year-round bike commuter on my bike 365 days a year, I was really thrilled about a number of features on this bag. Let’s start with the obvious one, the convertibility.
“I was curious to see if Timbuk2 has cracked the code and given us a bonafide pannier that wears just as comfortably as a backpack.”
Beginning at the back of this bag, the first thing you notice is a quartet of inch-thick back pads. While very comfortable, the reason these pads are so beefy is to buffer the rack attachment mechanism which is hidden behind a flap of fabric. I found this system works very well and have yet to get poked in the back by these plastic clips.
Of all the panniers I’ve looked at, the Timbuk2 pannier clips are some of the easiest and most stable I’ve come across. The same is true for the clips on the Deploy backpack. A third rack attachment point is located at the bottom of this bag. Having three points of contact with a bike rack is the ideal balance between stability and not being too cumbersome to attach. The downside though is this Velcro loop does take some fiddling with.
Moving up the back of the bag, a pair of backpack straps tuck behind the back panel. They’re easily pulled out and clip onto loops to complete the backpack conversion. Super quick and easy. After a few trips, I could go from pannier to backpack in under one minute.
In terms of organization on this bag, it’s quite simple. On the exterior there are two water bottle pockets on either side. They are expandable but you’ll be SOL if you drink out of a Nalgene. On the front of the bag there’s a flap pocket with a magnetic closure.
The pocketing and the material on the Deploy backpack take a lot of design cues from Timbuk’s popular bike bag line, which includes the Robin and Bruce packs (reviewed here). Basically this same waterproof, reflective, and sleek material and large, spacious pocketing also graces the Deploy.
Continuing around the pack, there’s a side zippered laptop compartment (up to 13″ machines) which I found to be very insulated. And finally, the majority of the 28 liters of this bag can be accessed via a rolltop that is secured with two repurposed bike tubes. It’s a big, simple compartment which could fit anything I threw into it.
The last feature worth noting that really stood out with the bag was the heavy-duty bottom boot. When I’m fiddling with my bike lock, or converting this bag from pannier to backpack, I always set my bag on the ground. With the Deploy bag I can now care less where I set this bag thanks to this durable and waterproof material. Basically it’s like diamond plating on a car, but on your back.
The Not So Good
Typically with convertible bags of any kind, this section is filled with me accepting the downsides of the bag simply because said bag is trying to be two different types of bags. Not so with the Timbuk2 Deploy. This is one of the few bags I’ve come across that actually works in both its roles. That said, there’s still some things to nitpick.
First, with this bag on your bike as a pannier, it’s going to get dirty. Sure, the bag will clean up easily enough. However it’s more of an issue when you go to put it on your back. I learned the hard way after a rainstorm just how much dirt gets thrown up on the back side of a pannier.
“Of all the panniers I’ve looked at, the Timbuk2 pannier clips are some of the easiest and most stable I’ve come across.”
Second, the Deploy is not going to suddenly replace all of the traditional bike panniers out there. This is because if you need the space that having two panniers affords, you wouldn’t carry around two Deploy bags. So if you need more than 28 liters of space, stick with the double pannier setup.
In the world of carry, the Timbuk2 Deploy Convertible Backpack Pannier is a unicorn – it’s a two-in-one backpack that actually does both roles well. Sure, you have more space with two traditional panniers, and you would have a cleaner back with a traditional backpack, but the Deploy does a remarkably good job. At $179 it’s not cheap, but definitely cheaper than buying a pannier and a backpack. For any cyclist looking to ditch the panniers sometimes, the Timbuk2 Deploy Convertible Backpack Pannier is for you.