Brompton by Air update 2012 – Part 2 (B-bag Review)

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.

B-Bag on the rear with my clothes and stuff, C-bag on the front with my cabin luggage

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.

On the luggage rack on the Milano Airport Train

Close up of the bend in the base of the bag, exactly where the Eazywheels rest on the base which should be flat and horizontal, not curving up to the left.

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.

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26 Responses to “Brompton by Air update 2012 – Part 2 (B-bag Review)”

  1. Erik Sandblom Says:

    Stockholm central station has a free porter service, but you have to book it by phone. The number is +46-(0)8-441 02 40. The website is http://www.jernhusen.se or http://www.stationsinfo.se

    I’m sorry the B-bag didn’t work out. I hope they respond to your criticisms and improve the bag. Maybe you could get a refund, since the wheels don’t appear to work with the bent bottom.

  2. Andy Says:

    I’m 5’3 and had similar frustrations with rolling the b-bag. (Or worse; when my arm is fully extended holding the strap, the bag is still flat on the ground.) My solution was to run a luggage strap with a handle around the bag and use that handle when I roll the bag; with this method the front of the bag is now 10″ off the ground…a vast improvement.

  3. Ian Banner Says:

    I have heard that an IKEA bag fits the folded brompton perfectly. have you tried that one?

    Also live in Sheffield BTW. I have an electrified brompton. Love it

  4. chrisrust Says:

    The IKEA Dimpa bag is a good fit and I have one that I use for Eurostar. Some people use the Dimpa with gaffer tape reinforcement and also put one inside the other (the outer one is sacrificed).

  5. Andy in Germany Says:

    The problem of bags for small people is one I’ve encounteres several times over the years, but it is a shame that a company like Brompton don’t think about it. Then again, perhaps they don’t make the bags, but another company does it for them and they licence the name on them.

    Either way, it’s not very good for the price.

  6. chrisrust Says:

    The B-bag, like most Brompton luggage, is designed and made by Radical Design in the Netherlands. I think Brompton have a lot of say in the design of these products so both Brompton and Radical, in other ways excellent companies making well-designed products, have dropped the ball here.

  7. Piet Says:

    I concur with most of the comments made in this post. My experience with the Brompton B bag is extensive regularly flying around the world with the Brompton in the B bag.

    My strategy is to put the Brompton inside its black plastic sheath (bought separately). ( I possibly put some shoes etc in empty spaces between the parts of the folded up bike before covering it with the sheath). I also remove the two screwable clamps from the bike as otherwise they provide a pointy vulnerability.

    Once the sheath covered bicycle is inside the B bag, I pack flattened clothes around it, especially jeans etc and focussing on protecting the vulnerable extremities of the bicycle, especially two of the EZ wheels which sit on the front two bottom corners of the B bag. Have found they are especially vulnerable to damage when the bag is dropped. As a special precaution I wrap the two EZ wheels in bubble wrap or similar which acts a shock absorber in any falls. With the clothes etc, I weigh in at about 23kg.
    I also leave in lots of photos explaining the bicycle so that security experts (especially in the US) can quickly figure out it is not a security threat, just a fold up bike. (I once had the unfortunate experience of having the bike unpacked by such experts — you can imagine how it came to me at the airport – half folded, half out of the bag etc as they had tried to put things back).

    The bag is a pain to drag on its wheels other than for very short distances (In and out of elevators etc). The traps are pretty pointless as well, especially the shoulder one. One concern is that once removed you have the attachment pieces flapping about which may get caught up in conveyor belt machinery (One of my straps was damaged in this way). The clips also appear to be of proprietary design so one cannot attach other straps – a definite nuisance. (Attaching other straps is useful eg when loading the B bag on the back carrier of the bike etc).

    The rolled up bag (with clothes inside ), I can carry on the Brompton carrier and cycle carefully for short distances (to eg my hotel etc). A little tricky but definitely manageable. Usually I cycle around with both the rolled up B bag (with clothes inside) as well as an airline roll on type bag (which, together with the Brompton C bag comes with me as carry on luggage).

    I am glad I bought the B bag. It is not ideal and, I judge, could be improved. Nevertheless it has become an absolutely indispensable part of my travels. Useful, yes. Perfect, No.

  8. chrisrust Says:

    Thanks Piet, glad to hear somebody else is using the same approach. How do you carry the trolley case on the bike? I once added a Brompton luggage frame to a trolley case but it wasn’t ideal. C-bag is now my cabin bag.

  9. Piet Says:

    I have always bought Bromptons with the back carrier. The back carrier I find indispensable. I am surprised you go without. For example in everyday travels on a commuter train I put my foot down on the carrier (now folded under) to secure the bike from sways and lurches in the train.

    With airline travel, when riding from the airport or similar with the mostly empty B-bag, C-bag and roll on trolley case, the C bag goes on the front, the trolley case on the carrier at the back, and the rolled up relatively empty B bag on top of the trolley case wedged against the seat stem post (cross wise). The bungy cords (provided with the carrier) secure things extending from the back of the carrier to the back of the saddle.

    Last month I travelled with my wife (set up similarly) across North London for about 10km after having arrived at Marlybone from Gatwick on a bus (having previously arrived from Canada and in turn Australia).

    On aircraft, I carry on luggage both the C-bag and a trolley type square bag. This is not a problem on international flights but may be an issue internal European flights where carry on rules are enforced rigorously. If so, I come prepared to fit the C-bag inside the trolley bag.

    The above setup is not ideal but relatively practical. Have thought about replacing the trolley bag with a trolley that can be carried as a backpack (have seen such things). This helps when eg getting on and off trains where handling 3 things at once (Bike+C-bag, B-bag, trolley bag) becomes a challenge. In this circumstance I would carry the trolley bag on my back leaving two arms to handle the Bike and B-bag. If anyone has practical experience of any of this or can recommend an appropriate trolley/backpack, please share the information.

  10. Nancy L. Seibel Says:

    Your points are well made. At 5’1″ I found trying to move through an airport using the Bbag so incredibly unwieldy and painful that I sold it after just one trip. Very disappointing and big waste of $$. Too bad I didn’t see your review first! I am now seeking a better solution.

  11. Joseph Says:

    Radical designs makes a cordura zip square unpadded bag that folds up small. I have it but don’t remember the name of this model.

  12. chrisrust Says:

    Yes I’ve seen that, it looks like good value, and I believe Radical now sell it from their website so you can buy it outside their usual market areas.

  13. Frank Ragsac Says:

    Could you tell me where you got that Muji Luggage Strap with handle? I can’t seem to find it in their website. Thanks.

  14. Holani (@Holani) Says:

    Thank you so much for all of your reviews and information. I can’t seen to get a Carradice bag here in the US… sold out… Could you post close up photos of it, mostly I’m interested in the shoulder strap… can’t see it in the photos… I want to find a similar subsitute and so far the closest has no shoulder straps. Thanks again!

  15. chrisrust Says:

    I took the shoulder strap off, I never use them. I get the impression that there are quite a few similar bags and not too many differences, as long as you protect the bag from chafing by padding the sharp bits of the bike you should be OK.

  16. chrisrust Says:

    Hi Frank, looks Like Muji no longer sell that strap. On the UK site they now sell a “suitcase belt” which looks quite neat but lacks the handle. That’s a shame, if I knew they were going to discontinue it I would have bought a couple more. A good rule for life I guess, if you like something buy at least three.

  17. Gary MacDonald Says:

    Hi Chris, we just finished our 8 week Bromptoneering trip round Europe and also found the B Bag to be painful. We ended up posting the bag ahead to the next accomodation prior to talking a flight. For all other transportation means we just used the Brompton cover. I just watched a TedX talk with Allen Lim where he uses a hard case which converts to a trailer. Any idea where you can get one? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LndpgmPLW-0&feature=youtube_gdata_player

  18. chrisrust Says:

    The only suitcase trailer that I know of if the Bike Friday one. Because Bike Fridays can pack down smaller than their (bigger than Brompton) fold, by some disassembly, they get the wheels and everything into the case. Not sure if their finished package is within the normal airline size limit which may be being enforced more these days.
    The video does not show the trolley packing down to a suitcase as the wheels are still attached to the outside so he may be cheating. To get the Brompton in he leaves the wheels out. In fact he may normally use a Bike Friday but it would not work for the video as it takes a lot of time to break down the BF. You’ll notice that he uses a removable, non-standard seatpost so that may be necessary for the fit.
    There’s a logo on both cases which might be “WM” so you could follow that up. Or just contact Allen Lim and ask him :o) I daresay he’ll be only too pleased.

  19. Jayne Says:

    Thanks for the good advice on transport bags. I have just bought a new carry handle from Offyerbike, which is also useful. Apparently, they are also looking into producing a version with a shoulder strap. http://www.offyerbike.com/

  20. Noel Says:

    As I’m thinking about the possibility of taking my Brompton by air, I’m starting to look at various alternatives for packing, including the the B bag. So it is useful to see an actual user’s comments/feelings.

    I have got the distinct impression that you were lifting the handle on the lower top corner in order to pull the bag forward (with the wheels at the back corner). If I’m correct, I’m not surprised you (& others) may had difficulty moving the bag for any distance. I suspect this may have also had something to do with the bend in the base.

    After looking at an image of the bag, my inclination would be to treat the wheels as being at the front, pull on the carrying handles (& push on the wheels) until the bag is leaning toward me & can then be towed without any lifting required. If I’m wrong on that, I’ll quickly find out by looking at one in my local Brompton dealer.

  21. chrisrust Says:

    Not sure how that would work Noel but I’m using the bag as Brompton intended. Probably a mistake on my part :o)

  22. fuad dharmawan Says:

    Hi Christ

    Thanks for your idea, I just buy my Rando Rack today ( cheap one, made in taiwan) after reading your blog yesterday and set up as your picture. I put my rando rack at Telescopic steel Seat post, the idea is, if I will fold to my bag, I just take out easily with my saddle. My bag for the Brompton is S&S BACKPACK CASE, FOLDING
    Case measures 26″ x 26″ x 10″ . With bicycle removed, compresses to 26″ x 10″ x 3″ and can be worn as a backpack or carried on a rack. Approximate weight is 8 pounds. Inner cover I use Dahon Carry Bag because It’s made from rugged Nylon, heavy duty zippers, robust seat-belt webbing, and 5 mm of dense padding for protection. I feel more secure for my Brompton when come to baggage handling at the airport. For my cabin luggage I use T Bag from radical design. I have some confusion set up before reading your blog. My 1st and 2nd trip was a mess, but now I am comfident. Hope the system can work. Last note , when I use train or bus or ferry, I just brought my dahon carry bag

    Warm regards from Jakarta, Indonesia

  23. coronè Says:

    hello everyone
    thanks for sharing all these insights
    it doesn’t seem like but yet I was wondering if there’s any chance to bring the brommy on board (inside a bag of course)
    thing is in my travels I use a 28L Deuter backpack that clearly exceeds the airlines’ size constraints but no one ever refused to let me take that on board..
    any ideas?

  24. chrisrust Says:

    The best place to ask this question is the Bromptontalk forum. Lots of experienced Brompton flyers there from many countries.

    I have the impression that some internal US airlines are more liberal and may allow a Brompton to be carried on, I think I’ve heard of one or two cases of people doing that. Outside the US it’s very unlikely as airport security is quite tough and I could not imagine Brompton getting through the xray checks.

    My personal opinion is that it would be very dangerous to take a Brompton in the overhead luggage rack of a plane. They are heavy, hard and have some sharp corners and I could imagine the bike being accidentally dropped on somebody’s head from the rack. While a heavy suitcase might not injure you too much as they are quite resilient, being struck by a Brompton, especially on of the projecting parts like a hinge, would be like being hit on the head with a hammer. Having it in a bag wouldn’t make a lot of difference unless it was very heavily padded.

  25. coronè Says:

    thanks for the thoughts Chris .. the point of being dangerous for other people on board makes a lot of sense.

  26. sa101fall2012 Says:

    I’m leery of soft packs, as I’ve heard of so many problems with bent easy wheel posts and other problems. Soft packs make a lot of sense if you’re touring after flying by plane, but in general if you’re only traveling a few miles to an office or apartment or hotel room, it seems like there should be a good way to strap a hard pack on the front of the B.

    I’ve been experimenting with using bungees to attach an airline-legal Samsonite suitcase on the front. It needs a wedge at the top to keep the suitcase from being too close to the handle grips. If I can carry all of my clothes etc in a small pack and the B in a suitcase, I am all set.

    Has anyone tried this one out? http://www.nycewheels.com/dahon-a-airporter-mini-case.html It is airline-legal.

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