Banjo Brothers Commuter Backpack = Tres Awesome

12.4.2006 | 9:51 pm

I have the most overfunctioning alarm clock in the whole world. It does all of the following things, none of which am I making up.

  • It uses the atomic clock radio signal to get the time. I guess there’s an atomic clock somewhere (Boulder, CO, right?) and — as a public service provided by someone who thinks it’s very, very important for us to all keep our timepieces synchronized — the to-the-nanosecond-accurate time is broadcast via radio. My alarm clock uses this radio signal to tell what time it is. It’s very confidence-inspiring.
  • It knows both the inside and outside temperature. My clock came with a remote thermometer that can broadcast back to the clock. I have this thermometer taped to a fence in the backyard.
  • It projects the time and outside temperature onto the ceiling. The reason I actually bought this clock is because I like to know what time it is when I wake up in the middle of the night, without having to squint my near-sighted eyes. This clock projects the (accurate to one nanosecond) time and (nowhere near as accurate but close enough to give you a decent idea) outside temperature in 8″-tall letters onto the ceiling right above my head, where I can see them, no matter how bleary and unfocused my eyes are in the middle of the night.

I do not tell you this because I want you to envy my clock or to laugh at my geekiness (though I’m perfectly OK with you doing either). I tell you this because I am long-winded and needed a way to eventually get to the fact that lately, the numbers on my ceiling tell me it is between 5 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit when I wake up in the morning.

No way am I going to ride my bike to work in that kind of cold. In fact, for the first time ever, when I was riding the rollers yesterday (I’d be riding them again right now but am sitting in the SLC airport waiting for my flight to Newark) in the garage, I had to stop, get off the bike, and go put on a long sleeve jersey.

I repeat, it’s cold enough outside that I had to wear a long sleeve jersey while riding in the garage.

I furthermore repeat that I am not going to ride my bike to work in that kind of cold.

And, preemptively, I would like to congratulate those of you who bike commute in weather every bit as cold as — nay, much, much colder than! — this, and who are about to admonish me with righteous (because I would never call you “smug”), derisive comments. I shall read your comments and advice with both alacrity and slack-jawed awe. Please do not forget to offer advice on how it’s not that bad if I’d just layer properly

But I still won’t bike to work in this kind of cold. Sorry.

That said, I can hardly wait ’til the weather warms up just a little bit — enough for me to bike to work again — because I’ve got a really cool new pack to carry all my stuff to work in.

Oh, don’t try to tell me that when you get something new you don’t get excited to try it out for the first time. Buncha cynics, all of you.

Oh, by the way, I’m now in a plane and it’s evidently safe for me to use my portable electronics. And since the idea of watching the in-flight movie (some documentary about a girls’ high school basketball tournament, which leads me to ask: is Delta so strapped for cash that it can now only afford documentaries for in-flight movies? What’s next? Old Masterpiece Theatre episodes?). And since I evidently don’t get WiFi as part of this flight, I’ll post this when I get to my sister’s house in Brooklyn.

You know what I’d rather watch than a basketball documentary? Well, practically anything. But what I’d rather watch specifically is the GPS, weather, and map info they’re currently showing on the screens (while they spool up the DVD, I assume). Hey, we’re over Flaming Gorge National Park right now! I have many fond memories of rafting the rapids in Flaming Gorge.

Only 1760 miles to go!

OK, I will now get to the main point of today’s entry. I’d better; I’m down to 1/2 a battery charge, and then I’ll have to amuse myself with watching Season 2 of Northern Exposure (I ripped the DVD onto my iPod).

Wow. I seem completely unable to stop myself from rambling today.

Focus, Fatty! Focus!

There are many, many good things about being the Fat Cyclist. (I’m tempted to list them here, since rambling tangents seem to be the order of the day. But I’m going to show some self restraint and try to stay on point, at least for a moment.) Of all these good things, though, getting cool free stuff is the only thing that makes me do a little dance of ebullience. This dance varies both in length and intensity, depending on how cool the free thing is. For example, a water bottle that also happens to be a gel flask will result in a barely perceptible dance.

An ultra-cool new backpack carefully and thoughtfully crafted to address a need I actually have however, will bring on a dance that lasts hours.

For all you know, I may be dancing right this very moment. It’s also possible that the Air Marshall on this flight has just given me a final warning to sit down and shut up. I may very well choose to comply with this request.

So here’s the backpack. It is cavernous. The outside is super-tough ballistic nylon. It’s bombproof to the extent that if you fall off your bike, you should make every reasonable effort to land on the backpack.

The inside liner is a heavy-duty, rubberized vinyl, held in with velcro. So if you spill stuff (say a Gu explodes) in the pack, cleaning it will be a simple matter of pulling out the liner and hosing it out.

You can also see a pocket with a velcro strap and a zippered pocket, both of which are big enough to hold your wallet, phone, keys, and any other stuff you might want to be able to get to without digging around.

Inside The Pack
Ok, now let’s take a look at how much space you’ve got in this pack. In the picture below, you can see I’ve got my work computer — a good-sized laptop with a 15.5″ screen, not a miniature jobby — and a complete change of clothes: jeans, shirt, socks. I’ve got room for plenty more stuff, but the pack doesn’t feel huge when you’re wearing it. That’s the beauty of the simple design with this pack: by not dividing it into a bunch of weird compartments, the pack is able to hold a lot more, and a lot more easily.

The way you close the pack is another example of the brilliant simplicity of its design. You roll the top closed like you would a paper bag in a sack lunch (The vinyl and nylon are pre-creased to make it roll naturally in the right way). Then snap a buckle over the roll, and snap the main flap over the whole works, giving you a very secure and weatherproof pack for commuting.  

The Banjo Brothers did a nice job of helping you stay visible on the road, too. They put a two dapper, reflective stripes down the back, and a little strap for you to clip your flashing LED onto (it’s on the bottom right, though my picture doesn’t show it well).

Note that you’ve also got a good-sized side pocket. The Banjo Brothers designed it to hold a U-lock or your cable lock. Nice. (I won’t be using that pocket for a lock, though — I keep my bike in my office. My plan is to use that pocket to hold a couple water bottles, allowing me to commute with my fixie more often this summer.)

Straps and the Back
The part of the pack that goes against your back are a cushy mesh (probably not the technical term). I’m guessing these are to help wick away all the sweat from your back, though I wouldn’t know if these work because — as I believe I’ve mentioned — it is way too cold for me to go biking outside right now.

The pack fits very comfortably, and has long adjustable straps. I can imagine that this pack might be too large for someone smaller than 5′0″, but I can’t imagine it being too small to fit even a really big person. It fits me — 5′8″ — just fine.

The shoulder straps are comfortably wide and padded, and there’s a chest strap that holds them together, so even when you’re rowing your handlebars on a hard uphill, you won’t have to worry about the pack sliding off your shoulders. It’s got an (easily removable) waist strap, too, letting you go totally nuts with the “secure fit” thing.

Wrapping Up
This is a great pack on its own merits, but the price — $80 — makes it deal-a-rific. So, is this a positive review? Yeah, I guess you could say it’s a positive review.

Nice work, Banjo Brothers!

PS: How stoked do you think James — the winner of one of these very packs from last week’s contest – is now? I’m going to guess that he’s quite stoked indeed.


  1. Comment by dug | 12.5.2006 | 2:48 pm

    is this the longest post in the history of long posts? how long was your flight? what, no movie?

  2. Comment by Lisa B | 12.5.2006 | 2:52 pm

    Very fancy yet practical. But supposing you were to ride outside for a (not too cold) commute, wouldn’t your back get all sweaty? Even with the cushy mesh? Not that that would happen to a girl, of course, since we only glow, but just wondering. I still love love my 10-year-old Ortleib saddle bags, and the freedom of not having to muck about with anything across my back and shoulders. Or maybe I’m just bitter over not winning last week’s contest …

  3. Comment by James | 12.5.2006 | 2:52 pm

    I am quite stoked, indeed. Very stoked. Dancing as if I were about to wet my pants in the anticipation. Seriously. That looks like an awesome commuter backpack… and I happen to be a commuter that uses a backpack, not one of them rack thingies, year round, even when it’s cold and raining out. The idea is layers.

  4. Comment by Jsun | 12.5.2006 | 2:58 pm

    The pictures of said pack don’t do it justice, but the review makes me want to spend $ I don’t have to buy one.

    And as for the in-flight tracking on the screen -> an over-sized reminder that you are stuck on a plane with hours until the blood can actually circulate into your swollen feet.

    Once, on a trans-Atlantic flight, I sat next to a woman that had immigrated from England to the US during WWII. As she sat there smoking (you could still do that then), with the cigarette tightly encased within a space between her two closed, yellow-stained, arthritic fingers, she would nudge me and point to the screen up front. She would remark how incredible that feature is and how far we had travelled in 15 minutes since her last remark about that new feature. I had to put on the headphones and pretend to sleep for the last 9 hours of our daytime journey.

  5. Comment by sans auto | 12.5.2006 | 3:18 pm

    Did you commute by bike in Seattle? I’ll take this cold over the daily rain. I can stay warm, i can’t stay dry…. that said, both warm and dry would work quite well for me.

  6. Comment by Lofgrans | 12.5.2006 | 3:42 pm

    I think this freezing weather sucks. I walk/run with my dogs in the morning. 6am in Salt Lake is pretty bitter. I get so bundled up I look like Randy (Christmas Story). Its not very easy to run that way.

  7. Comment by BotchedExperiment | 12.5.2006 | 3:42 pm

    After laboring for years under the injustice of having a non-cycling specific back-pack, I got one (Cannondale Brand) on quadrouple sale at REI. I’ll never go back.

    I hope you took your Dahon folding mt bike with you to Newark. I’m sure the weather in New Jersey is FANTASTIC for riding.

  8. Comment by Rob | 12.5.2006 | 4:21 pm

    How quickly your reverted from being a Pacific Northwesterner – when you comment on how well a pack keeps moisture (exploding Gu) IN instead of rain OUT…

  9. Comment by Jill | 12.5.2006 | 6:10 pm

    Wow. That cold snap hasn’t broken yet? I was in Salt Lake last week. It was 4 degrees one morning when I headed out to ride the crispy South Mountain MTB trails (the north side of South Mountain; no sun to speak of.) An inch of snow and just enough ice to make non-studded tires a little interesting. Loved it.

    But if you’d rather ride the rollers in a dark garage, that’s OK too.

  10. Comment by Pete | 12.5.2006 | 6:49 pm

    Hey, you linked to my buddy Jim’s bike shop, Hiawatha! They’re a great LBS so nice choice!

    And you know, if you layered right it really wouldn’t take that long to warm up. ;-)

  11. Comment by Born4Lycra | 12.6.2006 | 1:51 am

    While I’m happy that James is well stoked. I’ve got two questions. Whereabouts on the thermometer is 5-11 degrees F. I had no idea it went that low. What is the point of having temps like that? Also the idea of my clock projecting things on the ceiling has got me a little nervous. Half the time mine won’t let me switch it off so no way I’m going to let the bugger talk to me subliminally via the ceiling. Also have you never had any times when maybe after an evening of merrymaking numbers being projected on the ceiling have not been that welcome. I’m also getting a vision of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (a kids show back when I was one – kid that is) anybody remember that?

  12. Comment by tayfuryagci | 12.6.2006 | 2:04 am

    That is one cool backpack.

  13. Comment by Uncadan8 | 12.6.2006 | 3:44 am

    Sure, it would figure that you would show up on the east coast when I fly off to Germany. We really need to coordinate a little better. Then I could show you some of the riding in the east. Oh well, maybe next time.


  14. Comment by Tim D | 12.6.2006 | 5:56 am

    I have a fantastic bedside clock. At night, the display is too dim even if I manage to find my glasses in the dark and put my nose right up against it. Then in the morning it switches on the radio and, instead of telling me the time, it changes to showing me the station frequency. As if I didn’t know it was Radio 2, its Terry Wogan for god’s sakes.

    I know what you mean about the cold, too. I had to decide between putting the heating on or getting a jumper this morning.

    Born4Lycra, “This is the voice of tyhe Mysterons” I know what you mean


  15. Comment by Lars | 12.6.2006 | 6:22 am

    Living in Minnesota, I can sympathize with your lack of desire to bike to work. It must be tough to get up and have your super-clock mock you that not only did you get up early to bike to work, but it’s going to be a miserable commute.

    I have backpack envy. I go through life with my kids hand-me down school backpacks when I ride to work. I am going on two years now with Scooby Doo on my back. But even that is a step up from my daughter’s “Hello Kitty” backpack.

  16. Comment by barry1021 | 12.6.2006 | 9:08 am

    Fatty said:
    -I do not tell you this because I want you to envy my clock or to laugh at my geekiness (though I’m perfectly OK with you doing either). -

    Your clock exudes geekiness, it is the epitome of geekiness, it raises you to a geek among geeks, to a new level of geekdom that mere everyday normal geeks can only aspire to. Now I am sure if you should break your Hincapie-inspired sunglasses in the middle, you will tape them back together as a permanent fix. I chuckle at your geekiness. Guffaw also.

    As for the bag, hasn’t anyone noticed the potential fatal flaw in the design? The two illuminated stripes look like the double stripes in the road. This could cause some stupid and unaware driver to think he/she has driven off the road to the left, make an immediate correction and knock you off the road. So you don’t think drivers are that stupid and unaware? Allow me a second guffaw.


  17. Comment by Miguel | 12.6.2006 | 11:42 am

    B12, yes, I too must laugh at the poor fat cyclist and his perfectly nerd-oriented clock. What a geek, he probably wears his white socks and Tevas even in the miserable December cold. Poor poor fellow, someone ought to tell him that he is far too geeky for his own good.

    That aside, I was commuting the other day to work (on my mountain bike because the roads are too slick for the road bike) and it was a terrible day for commuting. Winds not less than 25 mph and gusts up to 38, and snowing. I work in a secure area so when I got to the guard-gate the gentleman who took my badge (which I had to dig out from under at least 4 or 5 layers of performance fibers) told me that he “just saw a guy come in on a motorcycle- which [he thought] was crazy.” He then proceeded to tell me that I was “completely nuts” and that I must have “a real set of balls”. I refrained from mentioning how cold they were at the moment but the comment did brighten my day significantly. Ahh, biking commuting, the hardest part is getting out the door. Oh yeah, and buying all the layers. That part is tough to commit to.


  18. Comment by Al Maviva | 12.6.2006 | 12:09 pm

    4 degrees? God Jill. I knew that you live in Alaska and do Super-Marathon-Snowy-Death-March-From-Hell-You-Could-Actually-Die-Doing-This races, but you now you’ve convinced me that you are harder than an ice cold bag of 44 ounce hammers.

    I so love that in a woman cyclist…

    Would come out and beat me in a hill climbing race some time? Maybe we can do it towing matching Burly trailers filled with cement blocks, because regular Burly trailers on a 22% grade wouldn’t be tough enough, or humiliating enough for me when you dropped me.

    Frankly, your insane, denser-than-plutonium 210-toughness makes me nearly as hot as the picture of Fatty sniveling and crying in his Snickers jersey in the garage, as he looks at a regularly updated number (ever falling) representing his testosterone levels. Yeeeaaahhhh. Weep, fatboy, weeeep!

    Okay, perhaps I have some issues.

  19. Comment by Kerri | 12.6.2006 | 1:47 pm

    I, for one, think your clock sounds awesome. I have a non-alarm clock in my dining room that has the atomic clock/weather station functions, but my alarm clock, sadly, does nothing so cool as projecting the time on the ceiling.

    The backpack looks cool, too. Yet another cool piece of bike gear I need to add to my wish list.

  20. Comment by Anthony | 12.6.2006 | 3:06 pm

    Since no one else has taken the bait… 15 F? That’s only like 12 below in celsius. I rode to work last week at -30 C (-22 F) with fresh snow to boot. At -12 I don’t even put my long johns on!

    Now, I did take the bus when it hit -42 C. Not because I was worried about myself, mind you, I was just concerned about the bike. Tires freeze up and metal tends to get a little brittle at that temperature.

    Get some good moosehide mittens trimmed with beaver fur. Ya can’t go wrong!

    Whitehorse, Yukon

  21. Comment by bradley | 12.6.2006 | 4:02 pm

    Rather than rolling closed like a paper bag for a sack lunch (paper sack for a bag lunch?), though that may seem to be the case, the pack closes as does a, yes, a dry-bag/sack of the sort used by rafters, kayakers, canoers and other river/water folk. Didn’t you use one while rafting the rapids of Flaming Gorge? In case of an unanticipated water landing, do you think you could use the pack as a seat bottom and/or flotation device?

  22. Comment by Jill | 12.7.2006 | 1:42 am

    Wow Al … Thanks … I haven’t been that flattered since a drunk trumpet player in a punk band called Less Than Jake told me I looked a little like Reese Witherspoon.

    22% eh? I’ll bring my hiking boots.

  23. Comment by Tim D | 12.7.2006 | 1:48 am

    By the way fatty, how are your sisters. Keeping well I hope.

  24. Comment by barry1021 | 12.7.2006 | 6:38 am

    Jill Please, don’t encourage Al, it’s hard enough to get his meds adjusted now….

  25. Comment by Harrison Spain | 12.7.2006 | 7:31 am

    Is that backpack a “one of a kind”? I’m all ready to order one, and can’t find it on the web site :-).

  26. Comment by Harrison Spain | 12.7.2006 | 7:35 am

    Ahem… nevermind (sheepish look inserted here). The Banjo site does not show the backpack, but the site (also in your blog) does :-).

  27. Comment by eclecticdeb | 12.7.2006 | 8:32 am

    I guess it would be mean to mention the 65 degree and bright blue skies that we are currently experiencing in the Bay area. Or the fact that I’m (ahem) unemployed at the moment and have been spending mid-mornings riding the nice rolling hills that are just outside my door. Then coming home to a nice warm shower. Life can be pretty good sometimes (even if I am dirt poor at the moment).

  28. Comment by Kali | 12.7.2006 | 10:19 am

    I got as far as your mention of a DVD for season 2 of Northern Exposure and then had to head over to to see if I could find it. Thanks for the tip!

  29. Comment by Al Maviva | 12.7.2006 | 10:27 am

    Hey Barry, that’s not mpmmmpppph….. mmmmmphhhhh… Get your hands off my keyboard, Bar.mmmmmmppphhhh….

  30. Comment by Tayfuryagci | 12.7.2006 | 11:18 am

    Guys, time for Al’s Haloperidol. Get me my tranquilizer gun.

  31. Comment by Alaskan Dave Down Under | 12.9.2006 | 7:09 pm

    Coldest ride (and commute): -58 F actual temp. -92 F with wind chill. Time: 90 minutes.

    Didn’t have the option of taking the bus since they don’t run in fairbanks at 5 am.

    I have, however, turned into a HUGE wuss since moving to the land of eternal summer. I think I had a few screws loose back then (even more than now).

    Hmmm, got up 106 F in the shade yesterday… nice spring weather down under.

  32. Comment by rocket | 12.12.2006 | 7:30 am

    Before Fat Cyclist posted his rave review of this pack, I too, had ordered and received the pack but not used it due to below freezing morning temperatures. I first used it as a suitcase for a weekend getaway because I could cram lots of stuff in it. Yesterday, I used it for the first time as a commuter pack. Here are some improvements that I recommend to Banjo Bros:
    1. Add another side pocket, because I have lots of small items that need a place separate from the cavernous main bag.
    2. Make the exterior closing strap longer. On my way home from work I stopped for groceries and filled the pack to the top, with no fold-over capability. The strap was too short to reach the clasp! So I had to take some items out of my commuter pack and put them in a plastic bag, then the pack would fold over and the strap would reach the clasp. It was only a few blocks from store to home, but the additional bag was an irritation.

  33. Pingback by Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » It’s Nice to be Nice to Dave Nice | 03.4.2007 | 2:32 pm

    [...] Banjo Brothers Commuter Backpack and $50 Gift Certificate to Penn Cycle: A while back, I wrote a review of this backpack. I loved it. I still love it. And now you can have one and love it, too. And, because the Banjo Brothers are cooler than they have any right to be, they’re throwing in a $50.00 gift certificate to Penn Cycles, where you can get pretty much any bike-related item you want. These two items are worth $130.00 togehter and will be treated as a single awesome prize for some lucky winner. Sweet! [...]

  34. Comment by TempeB | 03.7.2007 | 5:22 pm

    I bought the backpack last month, based on the rave review here. I haven’t used it yet, but hope to finally begin occasional commuting next month when the weather gets better.

    I really need something like this, because I made a major mistake when I purchased my bike. Turns out that the model bike I bought has a frame configuration such that it CANNOT support a rear rack. Major problem!!! I tried all sort of racks, and it just wasn’t possible. By the time I realized this, it was too late to return the bike, and besides, I was told a “real” commuter bike would be several hundred $$ more.

    So, in order to commute, or even travel more than short distances, I’ll need something like this pack just to carry necessities. My handlebar bag is already full, with my U-lock and my air pump and tools, and other necessities.

    I’m looking forward to wearing the pack for my commute, and I’ll post feedback here on the experience.

  35. Comment by Joe | 03.21.2007 | 1:11 pm

    I have used my Banjo Brothers Commuter backpack several times now. Works pretty good.

    Holds everything I need it too.

    A couple of days it did get up to 85 degrees on the way home and my back got a bit sweaty, but not horrible.

    Fits well in my grocery pannier on my other bike. So it makes it easy for me to ride which ever bike I feel like riding on any givin day.

  36. Pingback by Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » Your Jersey is SOOOO Ugly… | 06.28.2007 | 11:53 am

    [...] And what can you win? Well, first prize gets a cool Fat Cyclist Special Edition Banjo Brothers Commuter Backpack. [...]

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  38. Comment by James Williams | 09.4.2010 | 11:41 am

    Any idea where can I buy a backpack which has a solar charging kit with it.

  39. Pingback by Product Review: #01150 Waterproof Cycling Packpack | 09.16.2010 | 1:07 pm

    [...] Review: #01150 Waterproof Cycling Packpack September 12, 2010 by admin An oldie, but a goodie. This review of the #01150 Medium Banjo Brothers Backpack appeared on the blog in December of 2006. In typial Fatty fashion, the review starts [...]


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