27 October 2008

bikefix Review Update: Ergon BD2 pack

Having seen Ergon's weird and wonderful line of packs at 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, I was fascinated by the company's weight-on-the-hips approach. By March of this year, I'd secured the larger of their bags at the time (there are now three intended for cycling, three for hiking), a Team Edition green BD2 to test. Eight months on, I'm still using the BD2 on near every ride- and not for wont of options.

There are two things that stand out about Ergon's packs. The first is a fairly large, high-quality nylon frame (good to 40° below, a friendly German told me at Interbike, which happens to be where Celsius and Fahrenheit values converge), to which a padded waist belt is anchored. The second is a shoulder harness that is connected to the pack's frame by bright green ball joint- the "Flink." Why all the hardware, when most hydration packs on the market can make do with far less? It turns out that the Flink is really an enabler- it allows Ergon shift the vast majority of the pack's (and it's contents') mass onto the rider's hips. Unlike most packs, which use a waist belt primarily as a stabilizer, the Ergon's waistbelt (available in men's and women's versions) manages some 80% of the load. The Flink prevents the rider's torso from being tied directly to the hips through the pack. Because the shoulder straps don't have to be tight to prevent things from shifting around, the weight can be carried quite low on the back, lowering the rider's center of gravity. This also means that, unless something goes horribly wrong, there's no chance in Hell of being twatted in the back of the head by a shifting pack.

Is this a big deal? If your rides run 60-90 minutes and not terribly far from the car, then probably not. If, like myself (and the rest of the Bikefix Crew) your rides lean more toward (mis)adventure, then the loads can be pretty big (multiple spare tubes, pumps, tools, rain gear, candy corn and calzone), and things can feel a bit tippy. With a claimed 15L capacity, the BD2 can handle having a fair bit of crap stuffed into it (though Charlie is eagerly awaiting the 30L BC3)- enough for longer summer and mid-length fall & spring rides. As one local rider says, "if you can't handle a big bag on smaller rides, you're f***ed on the big rides." Fair enough, and the more I'm caught out in high-altitude hail storms, the more I see the logic of carrying a pair of warm gloves and knee warmers, just in case.

Of course, large capacity bags can get a bit floppy when under-filled. Here is where Ergon's attention to detail really pays off. There's no escaping the BD2's mass when unloaded, but it does virtually disappear when worn. The internal bladder sleeve (which holds a CamelBak 3L bladder quite nicely) is covered by a zigzag of shock cord, which serves to control the bladder as it empties as well as a convenient place to lash shock and tire pumps. The internal pockets are narrow and tall, which is odd (and occasionally frustrating), but works alright once figured out. Everything else pretty much falls to the bottom of the bag.

Speaking of pockets, the BD2 has loads. My complaint is that, without exception, they're weird. The outside pocket (think keys, wallet, phone) is as wide as a wallet but two times as tall. As a result, my keys, wallet and phone sit in a jumble at the bottom and half of the pocket's volume is wasted. The floating compression system has not one, but two two-dimensional pockets. I threw a spare Flink screw in one, but haven't thought of anything that would work well in the other (a single Gu? a couple of credit cards? a Tyvek tire boot?). The exterior mesh pockets are often (and in Ergon's catalog shots) partially covered by the compression and as deep as their interior siblings, making reaching for the camera or a granola bar diffucult (and occasionally dangerous) while riding. At least nothing falls out. The bag's main zipper runs down the center of its back, which is a mixed, erm, bag. While the bag's entire contents can be accessed equally easily, that's not particularly easy at all. Not awful, but something that might be revisited for the next go-round. There is also a good-sized map pocket against the rider's back. Handy for waterproof maps, but plain paper will get soggy fairly quickly. An iPod can be stuffed in there, along the side, but anything that contacts the back will be felt, which can be pretty irritating.

The waistbelt is a bit on the big side- the sides come almost completely around my 30in waist, leaving a long strap flapping in the breeze (mine's tied off onto the frame). With silicone-dipped mesh on the pads, it's intended to be worn around (rather than above) the hip bones. While I initially experienced some rocking as my legs contacted the pads, they seem to have broken in and it's no longer an issue. While the waistbelt structure is said to be able to support the bag while sitting on the ground (as in the photos here), mine's softened enough that it tends to keel over the moment I turn my back. It wasn't a huge selling point for me, so no big deal. The pack's (and especially the waistbelt's) size makes it a pain to store- and forget about throwing it in a flight case for traveling. While the fabric is near waterproof (as I discovered when my bladder leaked on a cool spring ride and I didn't notice it until there were a couple of cups of water sitting in the botom of the bag), there is a nice rain cover that's come in handy- most recently on a 17mi hike in the hail/snow/rain a few weeks ago. Speaking of hiking, the BD2 has also become my favorite day hike bag (good for those justifying the expense to the family accountant).

In my initial review, I suggested that all the strangeness going on with the BD2 was deliberate, and for good reason. Some things, it turns out, are so wrong they must be right. That's how I feel about the BD2. While the pockets and organization could do with some refinement, there's nothing I've worn that feels as good, especially when fully loaded. I could almost do with a couple more liters' capacity (why 12L, 15L and 30L bags? When the BD2 is revised, the company may want to bump up it's capacity to 18 or 20L to reduce the jump in bag sizes)- but only if it doesn't come at the expense of stability when underloaded. After eight months' riding, the BD2 is holding up very well- some of the compression system straps' elastic is looking a bit like ribbon candy, but that's the only obvious problem (and they still work fine). While everyone is likely to have aches from carrying a big pack all day, those I experience with the BD2 are far less than those with competing bags. That fact, the BD2's stability during technical shenanigans, and its versatility make it not only unique, but the best riding pack I've come across. That's right- it's bikefix Pick number 25.




Matt said...

You nailed the review Marc. It's the pack for adventures and what makes it so amazing is that nothing in it sinches down like other brands. Throw in a sandwhich and it's not pudding like your camelback might make it.

Word of advice. That bolt on the center harness can back out - so slip on some anitslip on the threads.

bikefix said...

Thanks! There's a grooved bolt/circlip kit available- if one didn't come with your bag, you should drop Ergon a line. Then, you'll have a spare bolt to put in one of the tiny little pockets!