21 October 2008

biekfix Exclusive Review: Chrome Sultan pack

Traditional messenger bags certainly have their place. The single strap and flap closure allow them to be swung around the body and easily accessed without being removed (good for both messengers' stops and more mundane urban errands). Worn high and with a stabilizer, they allow their load to be borne across the back (rather than the shoulder), and a well designed messenger bag can handle both small and large loads without their contents shifting excessively.

For a long time, I was a big fan of the traditional messenger bag format. At one point, though, I worked for a messenger company that provided its riders not only with radios, but with spiffy red tarpaulin Deuter Euro-style roll-top backpacks (on which they sold advertising). While the big red bags took adjusting to, they certainly had their advantages. The roll-top closure was simple and waterproof- perfect for England's rainy Midlands- and the two well-padded straps handled large and awkward loads far better than my old standby. Furthermore, there was the always exciting proposition of removing the bag, setting it on the floor and wiggling one's Lycra-clad bum at cute receptionists whilst pretending to rummage around for their particular package. Ever since, I've used various backpacks for most of my on-bike load carrying.

A couple of years ago, while looking for a unique carry on bag for travel, I had a look at some of Chrome's wares. While I had initially intended to purchase the company's monstrously large Kremlin messenger bag, my attention was caught instead by the very Sultan you see here. Chrome is a San Francisco company whose products are clearly rooted in and refined by actual on-bike and on-the-job cycling experience. Despite prices competitive with other companies', their bags are all made in San Francisco- no doubt by infrequently-shaven gnomes weiring short trousers (who, it turns out, also make some very nice short trousers) while listening to bands you've never heard of. It turns out that short trousers are full length when worn by gnomes, but no matter. The bags are normally sized.

Able to consume a massive 2,475ci worth of stuff, the Sultan is probably overkill for anyone short professional messengers or those who do 2 weeks' worth of grocery shopping by bicycle. The bag is constructed of heavy duty Cordura-looking nylon on the outside and the floating main compartment is a waterproof material. The densely padded shoulder straps are reinforced with 2in nylon webbing, which will conveniently accept any number of messenger bad accessories, and the hardware is the metal type more often seen on watersports or climbing equipment. There is a slim (though deep) document pocket on the front of the bag and accessed by way of a meaty waterproof zip that is perfect for reports, magazines, photos and so on. On the outside of the main bag, two U-lock or manifest-sized flap pockets (with unique, easy to use metal closures) are separated by what I'm assuming to be a pen pocket. At least that's what I use it for.

On the bike, there's no escaping this bag's size. The dense foam back panel gets hot quickly despite half-hearted attempts at channeling and won't protect the rider from the sharp corners that will result from poor packing technique- pay some attention rather than throwing crap in and you shouldn't be stabbed by a binder corner, though. The Velcro closure makes a loud BRAAP! when opened- satisfying, but not exactly stealthy. In true messenger pack style, there's very little (OK, nothing) by way of in-bag organization- depending on your packing style, that can be either a boon or an annoyance. I find that it holds a couple of Eagle Creek packing cubes or a laptop sleeve almost perfectly, with a pair of shoes (sideways, with soles to the front and rear of the bag) very easily and comfortably, with sundries in the outside flap pockets and papers (in up to a 3/4in binder) in the document pocket.

Overall, the construction is reassuringly stout. Seeing as the size of the Sultan puts it squarely into luggage territory, let's have a look at it in that light. When fully loaded, the Sultan is dangerously close to the FAA's maximum carry-on luggage size. Because the wearer is typically between the ticket agent and bag, though, I've never been challenged on its size. While it looks large, the tapered top means that, when pointed toward the outside of an airplane, the bag fits in overhead compartments easily. Being a backpack, it's easy to maneuver down crowded airplane aisles and leaves the hands free to use the restroom, buy snacks and whatever else one might need their hands for in a modern airport. Best of all, it doesn't have wheels, which once marked their owners as hardened road warriors but have become so ubiquitous that I see them inspiring a massive backlash. The little Chrome emblem serves as a secret, winking signal to other hip travelers that you, too know what a fixie is, own a cycling cap (and wear it brim-down, not like Woody Harrelson in White Men Can't Jump), and almost certainly ride brakeless.

While the Sultan is really too big for most cyclists' needs, its smaller siblings, the Ivan and Pawn share the same construction and are better sized for the daily commute. If used daily, I have no doubt that the Cordura fabric would quickly become stained- it's probably best to stick with darker colors unless magic marker embellishment is your style. In my experience, the token waistbelt does little to actually stabilize or bear loads- it would be nice if there was a non-surgical way to remove it. Other than that, I have no complaints. For the money, the Sultan is a very well made and well thought-out bag that's equally at home on the bike or in the air. I have no doubt that mine will last for years and years of bicycle errands and air travel. Certainly a bikefix Pick.



1 comment:

A Taco said...

thanks for the review! Very helpful!