15 January 2008

bikefix Exclusive Review: Deuter Race X Air 1 pack

Update, 10/5/08: Joe over at Deuter USA wanted us to mention that the quote "Similar to Vaude's system..." isn't quite correct. Deuter invented and released the first ventilated back system (the Aircomfort frame) in 1985, so would have us note that "Vaude's [system] is similar to Deuter's system (but not nearly as awesome)..." We think that's reasonable enough.

By this point, most everyone knows the reasons to carry a hydration pack. Beyond providing a place to carry tools, food, clothing and stuff, having a tube deliver water conveniently to your mouth encourages regular and frequent drinking- preventing dehydration and encouraging pee stops. To borrow a phrase from Dan, I'm a bit of a bag hag. Like Dan, if I were a lady, I'd have loads of handbags- and ready justifications for one more. So it's notable, then, that I've been using Deuter's Race X Air 1 hydration pack as my primary mountain biking bag for nearly three years.

Over the past nineteen (!) years of mountain biking, I've used a number of bags to carry my water and gear. From hip packs (ass satchels) to first-generation Camelbak sleeves. From minimal (while racing) to massive (as an Alpine mountain bike guide), they all have their place. Early hydration packs, building on the outline of the bladders themselves, were often tall and narrow- making them a bit unstable. They also carried the weight quite high, and I was forever being twatted in the back of the helmet by a heavy pack when lunging over logs or attempting steep descents. And of course, there's the old complaint that they're just plain hot- uncomfortable no matter where you ride.

Part of the beauty of Deuter's Race X Air 1 is the way in which it addresses all of these complaints. The first thing that you notice when inspecting the empty bag is that it has a rigid frame. Analogous to bows, a pair of spring steel stays are held in an arc by a mesh back panel. Similar to VauDe's system, this allows the back to breathe much better than in a standard pack. Because there is very little pack contacting the rider's back, the pack can be quite wide, which makes it very stable. In fact, the added depth (which moves the pack's CG away from the rider) is overridden by the width, making this one of the most stable bags I've used, especially when moderately or over filled. Continuing the ventilation theme, the unpadded shoulder straps are made of a widely-spaced rubberized mesh which do a good job at carrying small to moderate loads.

What else? A mesh pocket on each side provides handy and secure carrying space for snacks, gloves, and a tool or two without being baggy. The front pocket has several pockets and a key holder for organization. The moderately-sized main pocket has a sleeve for a 2 or 3L bladder (one is included) as well as a Velcro hanging loop that keeps the bladder from sinking to the bottom of the bag as it is emptied. The frame stays provided a nice little hammock for the bladder, which doesn't intrude too much into the bag itself. Finally, there's a helmet (or pad) holder which helps keep everything together when driving to the trailhead (gloves, glasses in helmet, helmet on bag...). There are reflective strips and a blinky tab as well.

So, perfect bag then? Sadly, no. For starters, it's a bit of an odd size. While it never feels under-packed (thanks to the springy stays), the 17L size is a bit big for short rides and a bit small for all-day epics (and the food & wardrobe they require). Fortunately, the 1 is bracketed by the Race X Air and the Race X Air 2. There is also a 14L ladies' version, the Race X Air SL. The double-layer of mesh at the bottom of the bag can feel a bit hard at time, and happens to land right on the back pocket zipper of one of my favorite jerseys, which can be painful. Compared to VauDe's suspension system, Deuter's takes up a bit more space, but that's a minor issue. Finally, while there's little on the outside of the pack to snag, some sort of bungee or strap for a jacket would be nice and allow for a bit more carrying capacity (at the expense of clean, snag-free lines).

After nearly three years' use, the Deuter is showing almost no wear at all. The Fabric is a bit stained at the bottom, thanks to spattered mud and a forgotten piece of Brie (not kidding- the smell made me think that I'd shat myself one summer afternoon). The zipper covering for the helmet holder was recently fouled by mud, but some water and an air compressor fixed that. When I bought it, this pack was running about $70. Now they come with a 3L bladder and cost right around $100. Not unreasonable- there are plenty of packs in this price range- but not cheap either. Given its sturdiness, though, I can't complain.




ojulius said...

It's also too big for small bodies. I tried one on once.

Anonymous said...

Try crashing with a Deuter bag! The metal frame is gona bust some ribs - I know from first hand!!!