- Buyer's Guide
The Hunt Continues :: Brooks Islington Rucksack
The hunt for the perfect bike bag continues for Ariel Wickham Earnhardt…
Handsome, sophisticated, durable, timeless…Brooks saddles are the only thing I let touch my butt. Brooks is known to make some of the best bike saddles out there. True, they require a little more maintenance than most saddles. But for those who own them, we can tell you it’s well worth the time. Timeless aesthetic, quality materials, proven durability and comfort are also things I look for in a bike bag.
You can imagine my excitement when I first discovered Brooks also offered a large range of cycling bags. AT LAST! SOMETHING TO MATCH MY BIKE! All of the bags are straight up gorgeous. But it was the Brooks Islington Rucksack that caught my eye with its versatile fitting system. I hoped such a design would fit a variety of body types and help keep the bag secure while riding.
Who It Suits
Are you bigger than an average human?
Do you possess super strength?
Do you have time to adjust straps and buckles all the time?
Do you like copious amounts of back sweat?
Get this bag ASAP.
Who It Doesn’t
If you plan on using this bag for running errands on a bike and need frequent access to the items you pack, I would look elsewhere for a bag.
Brooks did not fail in delivering on appearance and quality. The Islington itself is a damn handsome bit of carry. Well built with beautiful and quality materials. The main body material is a treated cotton with an interesting worn finish/texture to it. Adding to this look is a smattering of leather accents which nods back to their leather saddles.
“Brooks did not fail in delivering on appearance and quality. The Islington itself is a damn handsome bit of carry.”
The rough grungy texture of the fabric is also a cool “feature”. It was kind of like driving a dinged up car where you don’t really have to worry about getting it muddier, scratched or dented since it already has that worn out look. Getting some mud on it or a few more scratches just added to the edgy look (the finish flakes off in little bits and should be noted for those perfection freaks whom this might peeve).
The Not So Good
Knowing this pack came from an established bicycle product company, I feel I set my expectations too high. After a few weeks of use it was evident that this pack fell short in being able to serve basic cycling needs. One of my reasons for choosing this bag to test out ended up being the reason I never wanted to use it.
There are several different configurations you can play with when wearing this pack. All of which require adjustment via the shoulder strap buckles. But these buckles were SO DANG HARD to adjust. Seriously. THE WORST BUCKLES EVER. I wouldn’t say that in all caps unless I meant it. Trying to release these buckles required use of two hands. Additionally guessing the length of webbing you needed for a certain setup, guessing wrong, then having to again mess with the buckles was just a lot of work. Since the buckles are vital to the strap adjustment their inability to function kinda throws this feature out the window.
It wasn’t just the buckles being difficult to use; their size was also an issue. Being as large as they were, they would jab into your armpits (and other bits if you are of the female gender). This might not be an issue if you aren’t riding, but if you are it’s extremely uncomfortable. The buckles’ size also made clipping into the daisy chain webbing on the shoulder straps a bit cumbersome. It still takes me about two tries to get it clipped in.
There were days where I would simply look at those buckles and feel overwhelmed, thus choosing an easier pack for the day.
“After a few weeks of use it was evident that this pack fell short in being able to serve basic cycling needs.”
The setup of the back straps was pretty wide too…okay, REALLY wide. Having the pack on in a basic setup was far too wide for my shoulder width. I asked one of my taller cyclist dude friends to wear it around and give me his thoughts on it.
After hearing his feedback it seems that body size and gender did not make that great a difference. We both found the same issues with size, fit, and functionality…and hatred for those damn buckles.
I will say though, that after much testing I was able to find a length that worked for me. By crossing the webbing straps across my chest in the X configuration the pack was rather comfortable (though if you’re larger than me, you might find the straps jab into your neck with this setup). Having the straps set this way helped distribute the weight of whatever load I was carrying and also fit my petite frame much better.
Each day after unpacking my bag I was amazed at the amount of heavy items I had carried that day. I found myself packing WAY more than I typically do for my EDC, simply because it wasn’t a nuisance to do so. The other day I found I was hauling around three changes of clothes, a six pack, a few large books, a laptop, and a load of groceries with no major comfort issues. Even when packed to the brim this pack didn’t block my over-shoulder vision or protrude into the back of my head as some packs do when full (a definite plus).
Crossing the straps in front in this way also upped the badass look of anyone wearing it by like a bagillion points. It looks pretty dang guuuud if you ask me.
I really enjoyed the fit of the cross chest setup. It really felt like the bag was secure and a part of your body. HOWEVER, it is not the most convenient setup. Once you take the time to strap in you basically have no access to any pockets except the laptop sleeve. If you need your U lock, your phone, your wallet, whatever, you have to unbuckle…which means more fumbling around with buckles. Yaayyyyyyyy…
“Even when packed to the brim this pack didn’t block my over-shoulder vision or protrude into the back of my head as some packs do when full.”
A large part of this frustration is due to the design. Once a buckle is unclipped from the strap, the rest of the webbing isn’t secured in any way so you have to buckle it back into the other backpack strap to keep the pack from slipping around. This is an issue if (like me) you have packed a heavy load. You gotta hold on tight to that buckle while you move it from strap to strap. Additionally because the buckles are so large they cover some of the daisy chain webbing where you need to clip in the buckle you have in hand.
“…these buckles were SO DANG HARD to adjust.”
Whew…okay, enough details on this subject. Basically what I mean to say is that this pack can be comfortable, but that comfort comes at a cost. Expect a lot of fumbling and a bit of a learning curve. If you plan on running errands around town choose a different bag. If you want to pack a shit ton of beer and food for a long trip somewhere this could be a good option.
As far as fitting the needs of a cyclist the storage offerings seemed lacking. Coming from Brooks I expected this pack to have simple features allowing one to easily pack bike-related items: bike lock, water bottle, tools, etc.
Organization options for this pack were sweet and simple. A generously large main compartment, a small inside zip pocket, an outer pocket with basic storage spots, and a back access laptop area. Nothing too fancy.
But (as I hinted to above) a pack that doesn’t offer a proper place to stash a U lock isn’t a pack I’m going to want to bike around with. The available real estate for simple side pockets to fit a water bottle and/or bike lock was simply not utilized. Had two basic stash pockets been implemented on the sides of the bag it would have helped immensely.
The padding in the laptop compartment/back panel was ample enough for me to put my phone in without noticing it was there. Which was nice since that was the only pocket you can really access while strapped into the bag.
Speaking of the back panel, I don’t typically address back sweat as it’s always going to be an issue to some degree when riding a bike. No matter what pack you’re wearing. I mean you’re riding a bike…it’s excersizzzze yo. If it bugs you so get yourself some panniers, silly.
But since all of you readers are not me and may find this info useful, start planning your outfits to match the darker shades that will appear on your back and shoulders when using this bag. On cold days back sweat was expected but not a huge issue, until you took the pack off and started getting sweat chills. And on hot days…blegghhhkffttttackckck.
“Had two basic stash pockets been implemented on the sides of the bag it would have helped immensely.”
Being weatherproof is another must for any commuting pack. I was skeptical about how well this fabric would do in inclement weather. After riding for a few hours through some heavy rain all of my items stayed dry, maybe some paper felt a tad damp (humidity?). But I was pleasantly surprised at how it held up to the downpour. However, on the second rain run (20 minutes of moderate rain) I opened the pack and noticed that the seams were starting to soak through. No bueno.
Others to Consider
Overall I greatly enjoy how Brooks was able to put some fresh material spins on a simple bag and still maintain the classic feel Brooks is known for. It’s no surprise that both my friend and I received many compliments on the pack…like…an annoyingly overwhelming amount of compliments…
But with a 330 Euro price tag I think the bag should offer more in terms of function. Plenty of packs out there are more thought out and functional for nearly half the cost. It’s a shame to see wonderful materials, styling, and effort put into quality hindered by some of the issues I have noted. If those characteristics were focused on a bit more thoughtful design we would have one banging bag here.