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Alban convertible backpack-pannier review

13 Dec 2019

A bag promising to be backpack and a pannier. Good at both or neither at all?

Cyclist Rating: 
Intuitive design • Waterproof • Looks good
• Straps awkward to put on • Slightly small

I like to compare the Alban convertible backpack-pannier to your typical utility footballer and please bear with me as I do. Your typical utility footballer is someone who can play in a range of different positions in the outfield rather than having a specific place.

For some, like say Ruud Gullit, it's because their athletic prowess and tactical nous afford them the ability to play in a range of roles across the park, capable of adapting their game for the task at hand.

Others, like a Phil Jones, find themselves as utility players, not through their natural ability like James Milner and Gullit, but because they don’t quite cut the mustard to do one specific job and instead find themselves shoehorned into a series of different roles because they can kind of do a few things ok.

The Alban pannier backpack would be a utility footballer. A multipurpose item that’s both your standard backpack while also being your trusty pannier and your rugged commuter bag while also being your stylish city bag.

But the question is - does the Alban backpack pannier do utility like Gullit or like Jones?

As a pannier...

As a pannier, all you need to do is simply unclip the shoulder strap and place it into the bag, unfasten the two leather poppers and then catch the metal hooks onto your rack.

It’s as simple as that and once on, it’s all pretty dandy too. The pannier is secure and doesn’t really move around. So when it’s living life as a pannier, it’s doing the ideal job. a backpack

As a backpack, it’s not too bad either.

To swing it on as a backpack, the bag uses a 40mm-wide removable shoulder strap that attaches to both bottom sides, passing through a metal ring in the upper centre of the bag. The shape creates an arch for you to pass both arms through to wear on your back with a buckle to adjust for size.

Buy the Alban convertible backpack-pannier from Alban

I found the design neat and the straps to have enough slack to even hook over my broad rugby-playing frame. The straps themselves are comfortable on the shoulder but the metal hook in the middle of the bag can dig into the middle of your shoulder blades.

You’ll also find that the design means that when putting the bag onto your back by holding on side of the strap, it will simply pull all of the material through making the other side too tight to squeeze your shoulders through.

Basically, to put the bag on you have to go for the ‘both shoulders at the same time’ approach which takes a while to master.

I understand why Alban has opted for this one-piece design - it keeps things simple - but I couldn’t help but think if detachable straps for each shoulder was the approach, putting the bag on your back would be a much simpler task.

Good looks, well made

Talking design, I’m a fan of how Alban has made this bag look. It’s easy to brush over aesthetics but they are important and I think Alban has got it spot on here.

The tarp bottom is sleek - and immediately cool because it’s tarp - and the leather fastening strap is classic while everyone loves the look of a roll top.

The one I tested was black on black. Sure it’s not the best for visibility - in fact, come to think of it, it’s probably the worst colour choice for visibility - but at least the fabric's waterproof.

Also it actually is waterproof, not just showerproof. The coated Cordura material and tarp bottom proved basically impermeable, beading the water on contact before seeing it roll-off, a big plus especially when being used as a pannier.

Just enough capacity

In terms of size, the bag does a job. At 18 litres it’s not the biggest but was capable of fitting what I’d need for a day at work: t-shirt, jeans, socks, underwear, shoes, musky aftershave, laptop, charger, copy of Cyclist and some jam sandwiches.

Luckily my employers provide freshly laundered towels for me in our office showers. But if they didn’t, I’d have a problem because the bag’s definitely not big enough to fit in all of the essentials above and a towel, too. If you went for the double pannier approach, there would be space but then that would negate the concept of having a pannier that can then be worn as a backpack - unless you wear the second one on your front like someone on their gap yah in Vietnam.

There are two side pockets that are ideally sized to carry a spare tube and pump and a front zipped pocket, too, which I found useful for keeping my wallet and office pass in.

Buy the Alban convertible backpack-pannier from Alban

Within the bag, there are only two compartments, one main section and then a padded foam section for your laptop. With nothing but my jam sarnies and laptop to keep safe, I found this to be enough although others may appreciate an inner secured zipped pocket to keep smaller things from rattling around loose.

Fundamentally, this bag does a job at being both a backpack and a pannier. It does a good job of being a pannier and a decent job of being a backpack albeit with a few flaws.

So to return to that football analogy I started off with, I don’t think this bag is quite as good as Gullit and not as bad as Jones; I guess that makes it James Milner.