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Chrome Urban Ex Rolltop 28L backpack review

7 Sep 2018

Tough, waterproof backpack for urban commandos

Cyclist Rating: 
• Remarkably light for such a rugged backpack
• Can obscure over-the-shoulder views while riding

I recently watched an episode of the BBC’s Human Planet, which featured a father taking his two kids to school. However, he didn’t just drop them off in the family hatchback.

This particular chap lived in a remote village in Kashmir on the edge of the Himalayas, which meant the walk was a terrifying journey of 100km, tip-toeing across ice floes in the Zanskar river valley, clinging to snowy cliff edges and braving sub-zero temperatures.

Thankfully, the children made it safely to school, kissed their father goodbye and settled in for a term of study, while the man turned around and hiked all the way home.

Buy the Urban Ex Rolltop backpack from Chrome Industries

As commutes go, it’s on the extreme side. By contrast, my daily journey involves a 10km cycle across London, which includes some occasional scrapes with angry businessmen in BMWs but is thankfully short on crevasses or the threat of snow blindness.

The worst I have to deal with is rain and potholes. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t need a backpack that can take the knocks, and the Chrome Urban Ex Rolltop is just that backpack.

From the American kings of messenger bags, the Urban Ex is designed to be fully waterproof, incredibly robust and joyously unfussy.

There is only one zip – a small pocket for storing essentials such as wallet and keys. Otherwise, it is a simple one-compartment bag constructed of rugged nylon material with a rolltop closure and a couple of straps and buckles.

Everything about it suggests it would survive years of battering, and Chrome backs that up with a lifetime guarantee. The base is reinforced synthetic rubber; the straps and handles are all bar-stitched and strengthened with extra material where necessary.

The seams are ‘knurled welded’, which is what gives the edges of the backpack the raised, bumpy look. Chrome explains that seams are bonded with radio-frequency welds, which means that they are apparently 1.5 times stronger than traditional lap welds, without adding any additional weight.

Certainly the Urban Ex 28L is a very light bag for its size and robustness, coming it at only a smidgen over 1kg on the Cyclist scales. The knurled welding also makes the bag watertight, according to Chrome, negating the need for an additional lining or taping inside the bag.

As for the backpack’s durability, I’ll need to give it several more months – possibly years – of regular abuse before I can confirm how tough it is. But my initial tests couldn’t find any chinks in its armour.

What I can confirm is how watertight it is. Any brand that claims its products are ‘100% waterproof’ had better be certain of its assertions, so I decided to test it to unreasonable limits.

Rain had no effect on the Urban Ex whatsoever. The water simply beaded and rolled off. Stepping up to a hose pipe test, the backpack still refused to succumb to even the heaviest dousing, leaving the inside bone dry.

Only when I submitted the Urban Ex to the ultimate test of water resistance – complete submergence – did it finally yield. In simply terms, I dunked it in my bathtub, and the water squeezed its way around the edges of the rolltop and into the interior.

As such, it’s safe to assume that the Urban Ex will keep its contents dry under any cycling conditions short of riding your bike off the end of a pier.

In terms of size, the Urban Ex 28L should be more than enough for anyone’s commuting needs. For one journey I packed it with jeans, shirt, hoodie, underwear, socks, shoes, lunchbox, water bottle, laptop, charger, magazine, waterproof jacket, spare inner tube, pump and D-lock. It swallowed the lot with room to spare.

Inside it has a padded sleeve to hold a laptop and a separate sleeve that will fit an iPad (or other tablets).

I particularly like how simple the backpack is – no superfluous straps, zips or compartments. Nothing to flap or sag or catch or tear.

So does this mean it’s the perfect commuting backpack? It certainly scores highly on the tick list for waterproofing, toughness, lightness and volume. It is also well balanced and comfortable to carry thanks to wide padded straps and soft pads on the rear.

But there is a drawback. The Urban Ex’s size means that it sits quite wide across your back. I found that, while riding, the view over my shoulder was obscured by the top edge of the bag.

It sounds like a minor issue, but in London traffic having a clear view all around is vital for safety, and I started trying out different methods of rolling the top in order to reduce its width.

The answer – for me, at least – could be simply to switch to the smaller 18-litre version of the same bag, which would still be big enough for most of my daily requirements.

Buy the Urban Ex Rolltop backpack from Chrome Industries

Also, I’m not sure about the loops on the front of the pack. They are designed to carry a D-lock securely – which they do, if you have the right size D-lock – but beyond that, it’s hard to see what other function they might serve.

Ultimately, these are tiny gripes. If what you need is a protection for your stuff, day in and day out, then you’ll struggle to find anything as tough, waterproof and easy to use as the Chrome Urban Ex.