Thursday, February 27, 2014

Review - Initial Impressions - Chrome Industries Front Rack Duffle

The folks at Chrome sent me this front rack bag to review. I've got one commute in the bag, as it were, and I have some initial impressions to share.

They call it the Front Rack Duffle; I'd call it a porteur bag. Or a front-rack bag. But, their name is better, because the duffle-ness of it is what makes it pretty righteous to me. More on that in a bit...

The first impression is that it's super light for how much bag you get. It's welded super waterproof fabric. I'm looking forward to seeing how that holds up. I'm guessing the welded thing does well, since that's what Ortlieb does and their bags last for multiple lifetimes.

I can totally vouch for the waterproofness of the fabric. Aside from the snowy rainy icy gunk that was falling out of the sky today, I also tested the bag by pouring a cup of hot coffee over it. I had inadvertently opened the lid on my coffee cup, which I had tipped over... as I walked through the cafeteria at school, thereby leaving a meandering trail of coffee dribblings about 30 feet long through the cafe. I wish I would've been bold enough to take a picture it, because the spill was impressive in its coverage and scope, but I was already feeling like a heel. And taking a selfie with the mess seems like it might have made my profuse apologies a bit less genuine.

Anyway: the bag didn't let any coffee in! I wish I could say the same for my jeans.

So the bag appears waterproof, and it's silly light. That's where we're at.

The other first impression is that I love how friggin huge it is. Like all bags I prefer, it's just a giant hole - no  pockets or organizing weird features. It's all about the dump and roll. And this bag, unlike the deeper and taller Ortlieb packs and panniers (which I love, and to which all bike-related waterproof bags ought to be compared), the duffle-shape of the Chrome makes access to all the crap in the bag much easier than the dark deep hole that is Ortlieb.

As I sat in my office today, I was very happy to have a giant target for books, lunch leftovers, and folders that I pitched into the bag. And when I got home to retrieve it all, it was a good thing to have it all contained, yet laid out in front of me. I am not the most organized person, and I'm finding the shape of this bag really enables my disorganization in a satisfying way.  It also made me realize that I spend a lot of time digging around blindly at the bottom of the ortliebs. Indeed, I think the shape of this bag is what will make it stick.

Stuff I'm not sure about on my initial impression includes 1) the lack of shoulder straps or other useful off-bike portability features and 2) the way the bag connects to the rack is generally not awesome, though I may need to get used to it.

According to the copy on the web page for the Chrome Duffle, the bag was designed "to function primarily as an off-body bag that mounts on flat Porteur-style racks." So the fact that it doesn't have useful off-bike features like a shoulder strap is supported by the design goals... but I think those are questionable goals if this is also to be used for commuting, which is also noted as a supported scenario. A couple days a week I have a multimodal commute: bike -->bike locker --> bus. So this bag is coming off the bike and living on my body for the rest of the day. It would be lovely to have a shoulder strap option, and I may fashion one up.

As for the rack connection deal -- I think I need to use it more before I carry on about that too much. But carry on a mite, I will: it seems fussy, slippy, and not fast enough. Fussy: you must mind all the dangly straps so they don't go into your front wheel (and so they are contained when off the bike). And by slippy, I mean, given the location of where the buckles live relative to the edge of my rack, the webbing slips out of the buckles, which is troublesome for obvious reasons. The fast part: the on/off scenario is still new to me and is too slow. I will give it a few weeks to see if a routine solution emerges with the default hardware. Otherwise, I'll be implementing the Rory Bag Hack, the finest front-rack on/off commute hardware solution of all time ever.

This will be a great camping bag. Mainly cause it's huge and light. I'll check back in and report in a month or two on durability and and hardware updates I make.


Fred Blasdel said...

What do you think the minimum rack width is for it?

It looks pretty boxy in some of pictures, is that the contents or does it have some reinforcement panels on any of the sides?

Tarik Saleh said...

Dammit, that looks awesome, I love my chrome back pack, but it does not have that useful giant hole feature. I echo Fred's request for footprint info ...

John Speare said...

I'd say the smallest rack would be around 10x9 inches. 10" is the outside width of the straps on the bottom. My rack is about 12 inches wide and I wouldn't want to go much smaller.

There are no reinforcement panels -- I just cut out a chunk of coroplast for the bottom.

I have a couple ideas on how to modify the quick on/off scenario without ripping into the bag and compromising it's super duty waterproofness.

dylan hurst. said...

Hey John, nice write up. Im thinking of getting one of these for my dirt/touring bike, but im especially interested in the rack you are using.

Where can I find one? I love that it connects to the mid fork eyelets, as I have a surly ogre and would like to fill the eyelets and not the axel:)


Unknown said...

I'd like to know which rack you're using, too. Seriously thinking about the duffle.

John Speare said...

Richard - that's a homejobber rack.

Check out Haulin' Colin (CycleFab, LLC) for a similar rack.

Kevan said...

Digging up an old post. If you still have this bag, can you try it on your NFE? Curious about the width and compatibility with drop bars.