Commuter bike update
I have really been enjoying commuting to class on my new Marin Hamilton 29er. The simplicity of a single-speed bike is welcoming and the more relaxed geometry and fatter tires make for a more comfortable ride. One of my goals with this new bike was to get my gear off my back and onto the bike. After a couple of weeks worth of detailed searching I finally found a great solution. Pictured above is a Topeak MTX TrunkBag DXP with expandable panniers that I picked up for $65 from Tree Fort Bikes. It only works with Topeak’s MTX series racks of which I chose the $25 Explorer. The MTX system features a track on the top plate of the rack that accepts a molded plastic plate on the bottom of the trunk bag. A single integrated plastic locking clip is the only point of attachment and makes for quick on/off with a very secure attachment.
The main portion of the bag is the size and shape of a medium sized camera bag. It is lined with rigid foam to give it shape and protect items inside. There are Velcro attached removable dividers like you would find in a camera bag which is (surprise!) exactly what I am using it for. A water bottle pocket on the back does a nice job of holding my coffee thermos and an elastic pocket/shock cord combo on the top takes care of my cable lock. Inside I have divided the main compartment into three sections. The front section holds my 12v SLA battery for my DIY bike light with room left over for the battery charger for my camera and a couple of bungee cords. My Pentax K10D DSLR with 18-55mm kit lens + 50mm f/1.7 lens fit nicely in the center section while the rear section holds my bike tools and zippered waterproof bags (this trunk bag is not waterproof). I throw my iPhone in its leather sleeve and my wallet in on top of the camera when I hit the road.
Where things start to get interesting is when you open up the large pocket shaped panels on either side of the trunk bag. These rigidly molded panels unzip to reveal fold out low-profile ballistic nylon pannier bags (see photo at top of page). In all of my searching these pannier bags were the only ones I could find that would hold my 15″ Apple MacBook Pro that weren’t also 8″ thick. In fact, these bags seem custom tailored for a 15″ MBP in a protective neoprene sleeve. The beauty of this system is that I can simply remove my MBP, quickly stash the pannier back into its storage compartment on the side of the trunk bag, release the latch, slide the trunk bag off the rack, and head on in to class. When I have extra items to carry (like a sketchbook, jacket, model making supplies, a bottle of wine or two, etc.) I can simply open the pannier on the other side and stuff it full. I could easily see fitting a complete change of clothes in these panniers in addition to the laptop and other gear mentioned above. BTW, the bag can be carried fully loaded (panniers and all) by the handle on top or with the included shoulder strap, though it does look a little weird…
The weather was nasty the last half of last week so I have only gotten to ride with my new set up 3-4 times. The experience is quite a bit different than commuting with a backpack as all of the weight is now lower and on the bike. I do feel more stable but I am noticing the lack of the assist on the hills that the extra weight on my back provided in pushing down on the pedals. The bike feels quite heavy now when loaded. There have been a couple of uphill starts where I stood on the pedals and thought for a second that I wasn’t going to go anywhere. Makes red lights a bit more interesting. Of course the idea here is to get a workout along with getting to class. This is a set up that I can highly recommend to anyone looking for a good commuter bag for any number of uses- but particularly for 15″ MacBook Pro users. Best of all, I am now free of the dreaded backpack back :-)
See this post for an update on my long-term thoughts about the Hamilton.