Having given my latest packing method a thorough road testing on a one week multimode trip to Sweden and Italy I think I understand the B-bag and its limitations for multimode travel pretty well. It does some things very well but overall I’m very disappointed and I would not spend £135 on another.
First of all the packing method outlined in part 1 of this update worked. The B-bag provided an effective single bag to transport my bike and most of my clothing and other needs for the trip and it also provided a holdall for my stuff which strapped easily onto my seatpost rack as planned. Other Bromptonists have checked for me and reckon it would also strap across the Brompton rack, if you have one, without heelstrike. My more valuable or fragile kit went into the C-bag which also functioned as a cabin bag and for everyday use as a daybag-cum-briefcase at my destinations. I was pleasantly surprised at the stability of the bag when strapped onto my seatpost rack and I would be more willing to cycle a good distance with it than I had expected. I did one short rural ride of around 3 hours and was not aware of the bag at all.
Probably the biggest advantage of the B-bag over other bags I’ve used is the rigid base which allows it to sit across a rack in a stable way unlike a soft bag which sags. The wheels are also a benefit when you have to move the whole package and the padded sides may help to protect the bike, although that has never been a big problem with my unpadded bags.
So what’s wrong with it?
1. It’s not easy to wheel the bag, especially if you are small or medium height.
The arrangement of two wheels at one corner and a strap to pull it at the top of the bag is not ideal compared to modern trolley cases but it’s better than nothing. I found it much easier to move and manoeuvre the bag over short distances than non-wheeled bags. However, for anything over a few strides it becomes quite a strain, the strap is too high up (I’m 5’7″/ 170cm) so I have to bend my arm and lift my shoulder to keep the front edge of the bag off the ground. My chiropractor is very un-impressed. Moving it less than 200m across Sheffield station was a real pain and so I ended up using luggage trolleys wherever I could. However in Stockholm Central Station I didn’t see any baggage trolleys so it was helpful to have the option of the built-in wheels. There was a second problem that the two strap handles on the top of the bag are pointlessly long and completely unsuitable for lifting the bag, especially if you are short.
But it would be very easy for Brompton to fix this problem. Fit a shorter strap, maybe positioned differently and a majority of users might be able to let the bag hang from a straight arm. Just really bad design resulting from lack of attention to what happens in use. This is likely to affect more women than men so it’s unacceptable negligence towards small people and women. Maybe the blokes at Brompton are all strapping rugby players.
2. Padding and shape make it clumsy to roll up
The B-bag is not square, it is higher at one end to allow for the saddle. I guess the idea is so anybody can use it without removing any parts from the bike. Maybe there are some owners who would be challenged by removing the saddle but it’s pretty easy with the Pentaclip and I always do it because my Brooks saddle has been damaged when left in situ, it’s vulnerable to impact and structurally easy to distort. Probably not a problem with the foam Brompton saddle.
But that creates a lot of extra bulk at one end so rolling the bag into a neat sausage is not really possible, similarly my strategy of packing the bottom of the bag with my clothes etc and rolling it to make a relatively compact hold-all always results in a bit of a bulky mess at that corner, no matter how carefully I strap it. The foam side padding just adds to the problem.
So for me a square bag, like the Carradice bag I have been using is much preferable and I’m not sure I want the foam padding either if removing it gives you a more compact and lighter bag when completely or partly rolled up. I still used my well proven approach to local padding and strapping to protect bike and bag so there wasn’t really a benefit in the padded sides.
3. The base started to bend permanently under the load
After my second flight I noticed that there was a distinct bend in a section of the base (some kind of composite plastic or metal/plastic material) close to the wheels. My first reaction was that I may have overstressed the base when tightening the longtitudinal strap (Muji suitcase strap) that I used to hold the part-rolled bag together before attaching it to the rack. However, later on, I realised that the base material was bending exactly at the point where the Eazywheels of the bike were resting and concentrating quite a lot of the weight of the bike and other stuff so the damage probably occurred in “normal” use with the bike inside.
So although I was using the bag for more than just the bike, probably an extra 6kg, and maybe this was overloading it by Brompton’s standards, I just don’t think it’s acceptable in a world where air travellers are penalised for having more than one bag. I wheeled the bag quite a lot over various terrain, including drops at kerbs and similar obstacles (like coming out of a train)
To sum up I felt it was unreasonably uncomfortable to move about, too bulky and, given these problems, I didn’t feel it was worth the extra weight or cost compared to the Carradice bag or similar. However it was a useful exercise for me as I was able to think through what might work instead and I’m planning some modifications to my Carradice bag. More about that later.