- Buyer's Guide
Osprey Radial Backpack Review
Osprey has set its sights on making the perfect bag for the committed bicycle commuter. However, Osprey isn’t the first company that comes to mind when most people think of a bike commuting bag. I own a few of their packs from the hiking line, both daypacks and extended hiking packs. They are rock solid. But biking, Osprey didn’t even enter my mind. They have obviously sought feedback from dedicated cyclists. Undoubtedly many people used this bag. They have tweaked and refined it through multiple years. But what does that mean to someone getting the Osprey Radial now? In this iteration, they’ve made quite the cycling commute bag, but have they absolutely nailed it? Let’s discuss.
I loaded the bag up with my office carry. I tested features out. The water resistance was checked out. I hopped on a bike. I commuted and I even grabbed some supplies. We’ll talk about more details of the Osprey Radial below, but in all the above, the bag performed without a hitch and met each of the challenges with grace.
Who It Suits
The Osprey Radial is meant for the dedicated commuter who needs to grab their gear, hop on their bike, get to the office and guarantee that when they arrive they will have a protected loadout that was comfortable to carry. And most importantly, that the bag addressed their needs without thinking about it. At the end of the day, drop your stuff back in the bag and go take care of the two or three errands that you need to address on the way back to the rest of your life.
Let’s not kid ourselves though, the cyclists dedicated to commuting come rain or shine, who have made their bikes the core of their transportation, are a hardcore group. This bag targets that crowd, which may be a hard nut to crack. You have to think of everything that one may encounter and do so while simplifying it in every way. This pack has everything a dedicated cyclist needs, but the decisions made are not to the detriment of everything else. It hits the balance point for me.
If the above hardcore mode describes you, great! You probably already have a system but trust me… take a hard look at the Radial, because it’s slick and converted me from what I used previously. If the above doesn’t describe you or if you have other needs beyond commuting, could this bag still work for you? The short answer is yes. You still want this bag, maybe even more so.
Who It Doesn’t
I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m more fair weather than I am hardcore when it comes to commuting. This is a bag for cyclists: designed to be optimal for someone on a bike. No matter how you slice it, Osprey built this bag for that purpose. Yes, it works in many other scenarios as well. But if your primary intent is to use the Osprey Radial for something other than carrying gear while on a bike there are probably better options. And likely still an Osprey pack meant for you. Will this work for uses other than cycling? Yes. But, you are going to have more trade-offs in those areas and decisions that would have been different if it was built for that purpose.
Attention to detail.
That’s really all that needs to be said. Osprey has obviously spent some serious time thinking about what a commuter needs and what they don’t. For the most part, I agree with many of their choices, but every choice has potential benefits and drawbacks. They’ve managed to handle the balance quite well.
A quick visual tour…
Lidlock: Attached to a short bungee cord is a plastic keeper… just stretch the bungee cord and insert the keeper between the slats of your helmet, then let it go back to perpendicular to the cord. The bungee then securely holds your helmet to the bag, which is great if you need to walk around a bit or head into a store. The obvious benefit is that you don’t need to hold your helmet and instead of it taking up space in the bag, it comfortably rests on the outside. The drawback… well, you just added 8-10 inches to the back of your bag depending on your helmet. Also, note that if your helmet doesn’t have a ventilation slot that the keeper fits through, this won’t really work.
Back support/ventilation: Cycling with a backpack results in a sweaty back, no matter what. With that said, Osprey has done a great job of giving you as much ventilation as possible while also protecting your back from any odd-sized loads you may have in the pack. The straps are comfortable, the mesh works well, and the gap gives some room for cross-air to get through.
Bottle pocket: When you are on the bike, you probably have a water bottle holder. But, once you’re off… you probably want to take it with you to empty/refill or just to keep it safe. Standard conundrum when you get off the bike, where do you put it? So, Osprey has a bottle holder and it works well for a variety of different sized bottles. But it takes a little getting used to. Why, you ask? It’s at a diagonal rather than just dropping your bottle into a vertical pocket. With that said, after some adjustment mentally, I ended up really liking how securely it holds the water bottle and keeps it from falling out if you toss your bag or decide to run with it on.
Special pocket: The scratch-free pocket is great for sunglasses or eyeglasses. Now, I did not intentionally test whether it was truly scratch-free, but I can say that I did not notice any new scratches on my eyeglasses. The pocket is also supposed to be water-resistant. I did dump some water on it and it did not seep through, so it seems to hold up to both of those claims.
Dirty bag: This is sort of standard fare for a bag that is going to be used to bring along extra clothes or shoes. It did the job. Note, if you wear boots and have big feet, you might struggle for room in this pouch. Other than that, not a lot to say. It is necessary, it serves its purpose, and it had no oddities to it.
Let’s dig into some specific aspects that they’ve nailed with this bag:
How do you make a bag that can meet the ever-changing day-to-day needs of someone who can’t just “toss things in the back of the car” when their needs change at a moment’s notice? One day a commuter may need to bring their standard load. The next day they may need an extra change of clothes, a set of gym gear, rain clothes, or extra layers for warmth. That special project to finish that had to go home with them. That random gift for a colleague, or those extra cookies for the potluck at work. What about the end of a long work week that leaves you needing to unwind with a new release from your favorite local brewery? How about that day the weather reporter said it was going to be dry and instead there is a torrential downpour?
The Osprey Radial can handle it. With organization, an expandable main compartment, great ventilation, a built-in rain cover, water-resistant zippers, zipper garages, and many other thoughtful features, this bag ensures that it is flexible, and most importantly, that it remains comfortable and out of the way the entire time. Just what you need.
With a lifetime guarantee upheld for any reason, you can assume that Osprey makes packs that are meant to last. This pack fits, and perhaps exceeds, that norm. There wasn’t a single thread out of place on my unit. Every stitch was solid and impeccable. The high-quality materials (210D Dobby and 500D packcloth) should last a lifetime. But they are not overbuilt to weigh you down daily.
Is it the latest and greatest engineered fabric? No. But that’s the point, it doesn’t NEED to be that. It may sound cool, it may work great, but it isn’t necessary.
The Osprey Radial is undoubtedly for the cyclist. MANY design decisions are rooted squarely on the fact that this is a pack that will be on your back while you are in a cycling position on a bike. The ventilation, the dedicated clip to hold a light, the strap stowage, the frame separation, the ability to expand or compress the bag, the rain cover, and more. Use it in rain or shine, hot or cold, at five miles per hour or 25 miles per hour. Load it with five pounds or 25 pounds. But every decision centers on the idea that you are commuting on a bike, and that you have stuff to carry that is in addition to the things that you would normally have on you.
They didn’t try to replace everything that a biker would normally have, for example, mounted water bottle cages so there is no dedicated hydration sleeve or port on this bag. They even named features with a nod to cyclists, for example the “integrated kickstand” that the pack sports so that it remains upright when you set it down.
Not So Good
Yes, this bag is flexible. It can adapt to MANY needs and manages to make most of those adjustments while staying out of the way. But it’s still committed to its core purpose and that core purpose limits its flexibility in a very specific way. This is NOT a bag that you should use to load up 60 lbs and hike with. It is not designed for physical abuse. It shouldn’t go into a boardroom with you. For those of you who are looking for the one-bag wonder that can do anything, this isn’t it.
A couple of small things
Preferences. We all have them. Some of us are even pickier than we will ever admit. So let’s talk about a couple of things that Osprey could do to improve this bag. They’ve nailed so many of the details, it feels almost ridiculous to call out some of these… but I’ll be the first to admit, cyclists are a fickle bunch so let’s be fickle.
Color choice. There is black and “rise orange”. Now, I get the black colorway because well, black goes with everything. But cyclists are people who are often clad in tight spandex and somehow still turn it into a fashion statement. The Osprey Radial doesn’t give them any real ability to express that.
Strapage. There are built-in strap keepers to take care of the inevitable flapping straps you will run into when you are carrying a pack while cycling. They aren’t necessary, but they are an incredible nice-to-have. So, if they have some built in, why am I calling this out as a complaint? It is because they missed a few. Namely the excess strap from the waist belt and from the shoulder harness. Now, I’m not particularly fussy about neatness, but if you are going to let me tidy up the straps so that they don’t flap while I’m commuting, then it’s all or nothing otherwise the remaining ones annoy you even more. Osprey should have spent the extra pennies here to get them all secured, otherwise the others are sort of a waste.
Kickstand / Frame. Okay, it’s clever… but that gap? It’s concerning… will my laptop get bent if I overpack? Not testing this theory, but I have to say it is a bit of a concern. The kickstand is at the bottom of the frame and is an extension of the frame that spreads out and supports the bag to keep it upright when packed. I believe that it is using the weight of the bag/load to spread the stand and provide that stability, sort of an X beam off the frame.
Shape. The Osprey Radial is narrower at the bottom and wider at the top. When I first put it on, my wife promptly said, “It looks a little weird on your back, is it wider at the top?” This also likely contributed to the problem with tipping over. The bag’s shape naturally directs you toward putting bulkier things at the top, which in turn can make it top-heavy unless counterweighted by smaller but heavier items at the bottom.
Alternatives to Consider
Pretty much every commuting cyclist I know has a Timbuk2 bag in their rotation. They started out as a cycling product company and helped define the space. It’s in their core and it shows. Now, they’ve also gone through a redesign over the last couple of years, so they’ve evolved. Check out their options to compare, but remember, they have always been known for their messenger bags and this is a backpack instead.
I mentioned that pretty much every commuting cyclist has a Timbuk2 bag, but what do the others have? A couple of different brands color that list, but the second most frequent after Timbuk2 is Chrome. In fact, one of my friends describing his Chrome bag stated, “This thing probably saved my life one day when I got hit by a car and flew off the bike, sliding across the pavement with the bag protecting my body the whole way. Other than these few scrapes, would you have guessed that I slid nearly 15 feet with this as my sled?” Talk about an endorsement. That merits checking out their stuff too if you’re in the market.
Osprey isn’t the go-to name when it comes to cycling gear, but their reputation is rock solid. Have they made the perfect commuting backpack? No. The Osprey Radial still has minor tweaks and room for improvement. However, it has now become my core pack to commute with, replacing some of the others mentioned above, and that says a lot.
This article was written by Tim Yardley, father, cyber security researcher, cyclist, and general outdoor enthusiast.