Bike to work: Three functional and stylish commuter packs

Backpacks from Topo Designs, Thule, and Shimano are tested for the daily commute on two wheels

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The backpack is a timeless piece, though not as historic as the satchel or as ironic as the fanny-pack. It is highly versatile and in recent years has been made much more comfortable and purpose-built for toting around laptops and tablets.

National Bike to Work Day is today and for many people, making the pledge to bike to work leads to a summer of cycling to the office instead of driving. So in an effort to make that commute easier, we’ve rounded up three of our favorite backpacks.

The three bags are all similar in size; the Topo Designs Rolltop is the smallest with a volume just shy of 30 liters, while the Thule Crossover is the largest at 32 liters. However, each bag is quite different in form as well as function, and each will appeal to a different type of commuter.

Thule Crossover 32L — $130

When Thule launched its luggage line a few years ago, it was a home run. The cycling world loved the organized and roomy designs of the new line. Thule backpacks quickly became commonplace at every type of cycling event.

I’ve been using the Crossover 32L for just shy of a year now, and it is my most used bag. It has three main compartments; a main pouch, a laptop sleeve, and a front compartment perfect for pens, Garmins, and flash drives. There is also a crush-proof zippered sunglass compartment, two water bottle sleeves that easily fit a full-size Nalgene, a small bottom compartment for cables, and an external pouch that’s perfect for stuffing a rain shell in.

The laptop sleeve is one of the shining aspects of this bag. It has thick padding and dividers so that a laptop, tablet, and the latest issue of Velo can all share the same compartment without rubbing against or wrinkling one another. The Crossover sports little cubbies galore, so that your phone case, ear buds, business cards, Cliff bar, and so on, all have their own place.

The main downside to the Crossover is the straps. It has a sternum strap but lacks a waist belt; Thule’s EnRoute Escort bag may be better suited for you if that’s something you’re after.

With all the solid products coming out of Thule’s backpack team, we have to ask, when will we see hydration packs?

Shimano Tsunkist 30L — $120

Shimano seems to make everything these days. Aside from its fishing endeavors, which are equally as extensive as its cycling pursuits, the Japanese giant is offering nearly everything a cyclist could need except for a frame and fork.

Shimano’s daypack and hydration packs hit the market last season, and I came into ownership of this pack at a Shimano product launch earlier this year.

Shimano claims that the Tsunkist has a volume of 30 liters, which seems large considering the bag’s slim-cut design. This test pegs it just a bit larger than the Topo and two liters smaller than the Crossover. The Tsunkist resembles a hydration pack more than a pack designed to carry a laptop.

The Tsunkist is packed with features, more than the other two bags in this test. The Shimano bag offers a rain shell, which hides in its own compartment, a nice addition — especially if you’re commuting in the spring or the northwest where it rains perpetually. Or so we hear.

Like the other two, the Shimano has a padded laptop sleeve, and while it’s not as nicely divided as the Crossover, it does have equally as much padding.

Where the Shimano comes up short is being able to make big hauls. It lacks the one big compartment that both the Thule and the Topo Designs have.

Topo Designs Roll Top — $200

Topo Designs may not be as common of a brand name as the other two bags in this test, but the Denver-based company has been manufacturing bags and other outdoor gear in Colorado since 2008. The Roll Top backpack is one of its newest releases, a simplistic take on a sometimes overly built item.

Let’s be honest: a backpack is something you have to wear and it needs to be functional, but it might as well look good. None of the bags in this test are particularly ugly, but the other two don’t have the simplistic city style of the Roll Top. That style is carried into the bag’s features as well. The Roll Top has two pockets: a main pocket that also houses a laptop sleeve, and a front pocket with a couple of smaller zippered stash pockets. The main compartment can be accessed by a front zipper as well.

The Roll Top is far and away the most expensive bag in this test, and most people will scoff at its price tag. However, where the Roll Top exceeds expectations is in its durability. It’s made of Cordura fabric, which for those of you who aren’t familiar with textiles, is a super robust woven fabric that almost feels like denim. The back panel is ventilated and the Roll Top fits snugly, much like the Shimano.

There is no winner here

All the bags in this test are great, which is good because for over $100, they better be. Each bag strives in a certain area: the Thule is a hauler, the Shimano has all the bells-and-whistles, and the Topo is durable and classy.

Each bag has its own style as well, so it’s more of a question of what you’re looking for than which one is best.

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