15 April 2008

bikefix Initial Review: Ergon BD2 pack

One of my favorite phrases is "so wrong, it must be right. " What does that mean, exactly? As a product developer, to me it means that you've got to have a damn good reason to stray from the tried and tested. One good example is Metabo's P'7911 hammer drill. It looks weird, but the logic is sound and the ergonomics are improved over what folks are used to. Another good example is Ergon's BD2 hydration pack. Ergon is the German company who came to the US market several years ago with some unusual ergonomic grips that have since become favorites of disto-freaks everywhere (we have some of their Enduro grips on test). New this year is their line of bike packs. Two things set Ergon's packs apart from what's become quite a crowded hydration pack market: First is a frame that transfers virtually all of the bag and its contents' weight off of the rider's shoulders and onto the hips. Second is the flexible link (Flink)- a ball joint that allows the shoulder harness to move independently of the rest of the pack.

When I first received the pack, it felt weird- but in a good way. With the waistbelt properly cinched around the hipbones, the feeling of shoulder freedom unusual, especially with the bag fully loaded. Everyone who tries it on spends a few minutes sashaying (strutting or flouncing in a showy manner) around, getting used to the fact that their shoulders can move naturally despite the massive pack on their back. There is an ovoid nylon frame around the back of the pack with arms at the bottom providing a solid mounting point for the waistbelt. At the top is what could best be described as a shoulder harness and the two are connected by a lime green half-sphere the size of a ping-pong ball and pierced by a long socket cap screw. This is the Flink, and it has three attachment points to accommodate different torso lengths. The waistbelt is well padded and features a cool rubberized mesh (which I'd never seen before) to keep from moving about. The 15L capacity bag is bisected by a waterproof zipper down its center and has several narrow, deep pockets on the inside and out. A floating compression system/helmet holder/pocket attaches at two points near the top of the bag and to a quick release buckle near its bottom. All of the zippers are of the rubberized water-resistant type and a raincover deploys from its own bottom pocket. Inside, a bladder pocket (which holds a 3L CamelBak bladder just fine) is secured by zigzag of elastic cord. There is a small loop at the top from which the bladder can hang and the combination of the two does a fantastic job keeping the bladder's contents from shifting, whether empty or full.

While my Deuter Race X Air 1 nominally holds 14L, the BD2 can sure pack in a lot more stuff. The tall, thin internal pockets were too narrow for my tool kit but too shallow for my pump, so they get emergency rations (Gu and granola bars) and my CO2 inflator. The elastic cord on the hydration sleeve does a great job at keeping a mini pump and shock pump in place (on either side of the bladder), and tubes, tools, and a windbreaker go to the bottom. It's a bit hard to tell what the pockets were designed for (they don't fit the things I ride with very well), but maybe others' gear will be a better fit. The long main compartment zipper is an interesting touch- while it doesn't give great access to anything in the pack, it does offer OK access to everything, which isn't a bad compromise and keeps the rider from having to dump everything on the ground to get to whatever has sunk to the bottom. An externally accessible zipped pocket holds a cell phone, keys and wallet, but is also tall and skinny and the three tend to end up piled at the bottom- not necessarily the best use of that volume. Oddly, that zipper is covered by the compression straps, so to get to its contents, the compression system must first be detached (to get to a ringing phone, for example). Two external mesh pockets are a handy spots for a camera, small tools, and food but can be difficult to access while riding and can also be obscured by the compression straps (they're even partially covered in Ergon's studio photos). The floating helmet holder/compression strap has two small Velcro'd pockets built into it, where I've stowed a spare Flink bolt and nut (just in case). The pockets are pretty small- too small for a map, my keys or much food but in an awfully vulnerable position for a cell phone. To me, they don't add much other than cost. There is what almost seems like a map pocket between the main compartment and the rider's back, but it's oddly placed- a camera or food can be felt through the fabric and a map would get soaked through with sweat.

There are a number of options for routing drinking tubes, but as nice as the Velcro and nylon loops are, they don't seem to work as well as the clips that come with CamelBak bags (the Velcro straps need to be loose or they can push the tube into the shoulder strap enough to be felt on the shoulders). Initially, the shoulder straps cut into the inside of my arms and were fairly uncomfortable, but broke in pretty quickly and now feel fine. The fabric of the bag is impressively water resistant- good if you're caught in a quick rain shower, bad if your CamelBak bladder leaks (and marinates all of your gear before you realize it). With waterproof (or nearly so) fabric and zippers, though, why bother with a separate rain cover?


For someone as dainty as myself, the padded section of the waistbelt seems to be a bit too long. On other riders it looks fine, but wrap it around some 30in hips and the two sides nearly touch. This isn't a big deal while standing, but when bent over in a riding position, the action of my (admittedly manly) thighs can be enough to push the padded portion of the waistbelt off of my hips- or at least make it rock noticeably. Add to that the fact that there isn't anything to manage the 18in of waist belt left over and I get the impression that Egon's developers and testers were probably at least average-sized. Normally sized folks need not worry, though, and it's been only a minor irritation for me. The solution may be for Ergon to cut away about 1x3in of the inside bottom of each waistbelt, but that may well cause problems for other body types. The attachment for the female side buckle is solidly attached to the padded portion of the belt, reducing the amount of webbing and keeping the buckle well out of the way- a very nice touch. Despite the hard frame, which could be used to keep the much of pack off the rider's back (as Deuter or VauDe do), there's quite a bit surface area in contacting the rider, which can get quite warm- though no worse than many other packs of the same size. It just seems like a missed opportunity, especially for those of us in hot or humid climates.

Oddities and niggles aside, on the trail, this pack is pretty damn cool. Frame and Flink work together with the waistbelt to transfer almost all of the bag and its contents' weight to the hips. As you can see from the top photo, the bag rides quite low, helping to lower the rider's center of gravity. Not once was I twatted on the back of the head during technical moves by a shifting bag (I hate that) and can't wait to take it to Moab and our local ledge-fest Faulty Trail once that dries. After at least 20 hours riding with the BD2, I'm impressed. While I'll have to switch back to my old bag to be sure, I've noticed much less back pain, especially 3 or 4 hours into off road rides. I wish that I'd had this bag while guiding- there's plenty of room to carry tools, spares, clothing and a first aid kit and larger loads are managed better than any other bag I've ever worn. While the integrated frame and waistbelt arms allow the bag to stand up by itself (cool), it certainly a pain in the ass to handle- it's impossible to hang on the wall hook next to my helmet (not cool) and it certainly won't fit in my flight case, which is a shame, because the bag would be perfect for a week or two in the French and Swiss Alps. Downhillers and all-mountain types should get along very well with this bag- it stays put without being the least bit restrictive. Even when nearly empty, there's no perceptible movement within the bag, making it that much more versatile.

The damage? $160 in the US, plus your bladder. Ouch. There are a lot of features here driving the price up, some of which most folks could do without (including a couple of nylon straps that I can't find any use whatsoever for). Of course, I'm sure that the largest expenses are the frame, Flink and shoulder harness- without which the BD2 would be just another bag. It is offered in Large and Small sizes for each women and men in either the pictured Team Edition green or black/charcoal- that's 8 bags for this model alone. There is also a smaller 12L BD1 for $140 and a frighteningly large (30L) but very cool looking BC3 coming in May. Some of its details could do with further refinement, but for a first effort, the BD2 is fantastic. I really think that Ergon are on to something, and I only expect them to improve from here. A large volume, well-built bag that feels nearly weightless and doesn't move even when full? Yes please. Definitely wrong enough to be right.

marc

www.ergon-bike.com

4 comments:

Barrett Turner said...

Marc,
Would you recommend this bag for commuting? I am getting a road bike that I would like to use to commute to school (10-15 miles one way). I want to avoid racks/panniers so that I can maneuver the bike in traffic more readily if I have to do so. My load would include a few books (some hardback), a small notebook, change of clothes, basic tools, etc.. The only thing that I don't want to carry around is my laptop--I can write papers from home and it would do me good not to have internet always available when I have reading to do. Would this bag serve a go-fast commute of 10-15 mi lengths?

bikefix said...

barrett,

I'd probably recommend a VauDe or Deuter bag for commuting- the Ergon isn't the right shape to take standard papers, books or binders. I use a VauDe for commuting because of its more conventional size and ventilation system. Our review of a more recent model is at http://www.bikefix.net/2007/12/bikefix-exclusive-review-vaude-alpin_24.html

marc

Barrett Turner said...

Marc,
Thanks for the redirect. Is the Vaude pack Charlie reviewed waterproof? If not, do you know of any models which are and that also have the pack suspension system?

bikefix said...

Barrett,

Almost all of the VauDe packs that I've seen have raincovers that deploy from the bottom of the pack. They're usually brightly colored and have worked well for me when it rains (which is not often here, but hard when it does). The roll-top messenger backpacks from Chrome (Sultan or Ivan at http://www.chromebags.com/products/bags/show/30/), Deuter and others are fully waterproof, but can be harder to get into and don't tend to have the suspension systems. They are very well made, though.

marc