Evans Cycles have just started to stock US luggage experts Blackburn’s Outpost range and with a two month bike packing trip ahead, naturally, I couldn’t have been more up for trying it out. Here’s my first verdict…
By Magdalena Schoerner
‘Bike packing’, a more modern approach to traditional touring, is undoubtedly becoming more and more popular in the UK and this is reflected by an increasing number of cycling brands now offering their own versions of frame bags/seat packs/top tube/ handlebar bags and more. However, Blackburn Designs, founded by Jim Blackburn and distributed in the UK by Zyro, have been on the forefront of bike cargo innovation ever since starting the business in the mid-1970s. After all, Mr Blackburn is credited with having invented the first aluminium rod rack in 1977.
Needless to say I was keen to find out how much that innovative approach, expertise and heritage would translate to their bike packing luggage range.
With pretty limited space in my front triangle (and a background in design), I decided to make my own, bespoke frame bag a couple of months back to make sure I can maximise the space – after all every cubic cm counts when it comes to packing up everything you may need, including camping equipment, for two months on two wheels.
(Blackburn’s Outpost range does offer a good looking frame bag design though (available two different sizes), which you can check out on our site.)
With just some toiletries and small bits and bobs in the frame bag and deciding against the option of pannier bags, I would be relying on the combination of Blackburn Outpost Handlebar Roll, Seat Pack, Top Tube Bag and Cargo Cages to hold everything else I would need (apart from tent and stove which I was lucky enough my partner is happy to carry).
It was time for a fully loaded test run!
My first impression was that everything was super sturdy and well made, more so than other similar products I had looked at. With this may come a small weight penalty but, on a trip like that, I’d definitely rather have lasting quality and stability over the benefit of saving a few extra grams.
Looking at all my – carefully selected – clothes in one pile for the first time, I really wasn’t feeling confident they’d fit underneath my handlebars or anywhere on the bike in fact…but the 11+ litres Outpost Handlebar Roll, was the first positive surprise of the day.
It is fitted to your bars with via a quick release bracket (using Jones Loop Bars for the trip I had to/could play around with a few different options for best positioning, otherwise it’s a super straight-forward mounting process with ‘normal’ flat or riser bars, take a look at the video below). The walls of the ‘roll’ which sandwich the dry bag in between, are solid and covered with water-resistant fabric and there are two buckles at the front to fasten. The dry bag itself can be accessed from either end which is super handy! When empty, the whole thing weighs in at just over half a kilo.
It’s hard to imagine what 11.5 litres actually means but in this case I can confirm – a lot! I actually managed to fit all my clothes including waterproofs and even a pair of sandals. Result.
Next up was the Seat Pack which I was hoping would hold my sleeping bag and sleeping mat behind my saddle. It’s a very sturdy construction with every buckle and the position of every piece of webbing carefully considered. Again, provided with a dry bag (10.5 litres capacity and constructed in a cone shape) and fastened with two buckles, this time the bag is fitted to the bike by being looped through the saddle rails and at the bottom via two Velcro straps stabilising the bag against your seatpost. Trying to maximise the space, I found it ideal to stuff my sleeping bag directly into the dry bag (but you may want to use an additional layer to protect your sleeping bag) and to place my rolled up sleeping mat (Therm-A-Rest) on top with no issues to get it fastened.
Tyre clearance was a slight concern for me (with my seatpost not sticking out very far) as well as the potential of the whole thing moving from side to side while riding but, to my surprise, none of that was an issue.
In fact the whole construction felt so secure I forgot it was there (until the next steep descent and trying to shift my weight behind the saddle that was :)..) but generally, like with the Handlebar Roll, the clever design (and little add-ons like mounting loop for lights etc.) of Blackburn’s Outpost Seat Pack left me quite impressed.
On to Outpost’s Top Tube Bag and what first struck me was how heavy-duty it seems in relation to its moderate cargo capacity. Clearly this isn’t a bad thing but a slightly lighter, less complex construction would have perhaps worked equally as well…? Another potential issue may be using it in combination with a (non Blackburn) frame bag as the mounting points may be obstructed/too tight to loop straps of both the bags through the frame (although some adjustment is possible) and, if you are running a dynamo hub and aim to charge your phone while it’s in the bag, you may be missing a media port.
However, I still ended up really liking this bag for its ultimate convenience for anything small but vital and which requires super quick – on the ride – access such as mobile phone, some cash as well as snacks, perhaps sunglasses. It features a little mesh pocket on the top of the ‘lid’ (which I very conveniently used for a little tube of sun cream on the day) and the interior comes with a removable organiser.
Finally, I was glad to know I had a couple more storage options for tools/fuel bottle/water (not to be mixed up!) on my fork legs and with the Blackburn Cargo cages.
All in all, the range appears really well thought out and it’s quite clear an emphasis has been laid on long-lasting quality and durability over wanting to provide a lightweight option.
So it’s thumbs up after a first trial run. If you’re interested in a long-term test, check back later in the summer when I will have hopefully had another 2700 miles of testing the range…:)
Thanks very much to Tony and Nick from Zyro for providing the items.