Shortly after I wrote about Velomacchi’s XSR700-based “Rural Racer” build, Fish, Founder and President of the CityBike Foundation for the Preservation of Front Tires, ran into Kevin Murray, founder of Velomacchi, at the Handbuilt Motorcycle Show in Austin where the newly-completed RR was being unveiled. Two weeks later, both Fish and I got to hang with Kevin and the bike at the 2018 Quail Motorcycle Gathering. We got handsy with some of Kevin’s—or rather Velomacchi’s—gear and came away impressed.
Velomacchi makes two sizes of their Speedway backpack: 28L and 40L. The packs are very similar, sharing a roll-top design built around a “watertight” main compartment with a magnetic closure that makes it easier to roll up the top tidy-like; Velomacchi’s weight-distributing harness system with nifty magnetic sternum coupler; an easy-access laptop pocket and the rest of the thoughtful, moto-specific touches that make this backpack exceptionally functional for riders. More on all those in just a moment.
The two packs differ in size (duh) and the 40L gets one big pocket on the back instead of the 28L’s two, and two compression straps, since it’s intended to carry a bigger load. We got our hands on a 28L Speedway, figuring it’d offer a good compromise between capacity and overall bulk.
Photos: Angelica Rubalcaba
I’ll get to features in just a moment, but the most striking thing about the Speedway when you first lay hands on it is the straight-up burly construction. This doesn’t come through well on Velomacchi’s website, and my first thought was “Well, it sure looks stylish. These damn kids and their nice-looking backpacks.” Sure, they say “1000D competition fabric, water proof, abrasion resistant,” and that sounds kinda tough what with the “1000” in there, but companies always say stuff like that, so we’re always a little doubtful.
Hands-on, the fabric feels like it warrants a stronger description, maybe something about how if you crash in it you don’t get roadrash but rather the road gets backpack rash. Yes, that’s an exaggeration, but it’s sturdy, son.
Velomacchi says the fabric is “1000 denier 66 nylon with a heavy TPU lamination on the back,” and this burly fabric is the reason why the roll-up part is a lighter fabric: you’d have to go all Hulk to roll the top down if it was cut from the same cloth as the bag’s body.
The internal TPU layer makes this tough-ass stuff waterproof, and there’s a “kiss coasting” on the outside to keep the external fabric from absorbing too much water, although Velomacchi says, “We like to call our pack “water tight”, as it is not submersible,” presumably because when a brand uses the word “waterproof” to describe a backpack some fake news jerk takes it scuba diving and then complains all over the internet about how the bag didn’t keep his precious iPad dry 10 meters below the surface of whatever sea such fools swim in.
In practice, the Speedway’s watertightness is a quite literally a mixed bag (d’oh!). Let’s say you’re riding around the greater Bay Area in what passes for storms in the impending mega-drought environment we live in. The main compartment ought to be functionally waterproof, as should the two pockets on the back, which utilize fold-over closures. The laptop pocket, however, is outside the roll-top main compartment and closes with a regular zipper protected only by little flaps. This makes it easy to bust out your laptop at the coffee shop, but doesn’t offer the protection of the main compartment for what is likely the most expensive thing in most people’s gear.
We haven’t had any real rain since I started testing this bag (and I lack a scuba cert) so our real-world evaluation of the water-tight/proof-ness has been limited to how well it repels morning fog, the occasionally coffee spill, and the tears of people crying about how Honda’s new CRF450L isn’t light enough. I have zero concerns about stuff stowed in the main pocket getting wet, and am pretty sure the back pockets will remain dry except maybe in the most gnarly Stormageddon conditions, where a few drops might eventually sneak in through the folded-over tops.
But I wouldn’t ride with my computer in the external pocket in conditions wetter than fog or a very light mist. Sure, the solution is simple: “Put it inside the main compartment, dumbass!” I wish the outside pocket offered more protection from the elements, like a more water-resistant zipper and a bigger flap.
This is of course a non-issue for people who think the term “riding season” applies to us here in The Bay, but a potential concern for year-round riders here, and especially elsewhere in the world where it still rains on the regular.
Photos: Surj Gish
Strap It On
The most obvious moto-centric feature of the Speedway backpacks is the “patent-pending 3-point rotating harness system,” which is designed to keep the weight of whatever is in the backpack off the rider’s shoulders for greater comfort and easier riding.
Kriega pioneered this sort of design years back, and it’s impossible to talk about the Speedway’s strap system without mentioning their backpacks.
Well, not impossible, but it’s a reasonable comparison. I have ridden extensively—mostly off-road, loaded down with tools, tubes, and camera—wearing Kreiga’s very good R25 backpack, which now hangs in the garage here at World Headquarters for Max to use when he forgets to bring his own backpack when swapping press bikes.
I thought the Kreiga system was pretty good, but Velomacchi’s is easier to deal with, thanks to the nifty—yes, I’ve used that word twice now—magnetic closure, which connects the two sides in an instant and offers a satisfyingly positive engagement and click that will be a real pleasure for anyone who—like me—finds their peace in the simple pleasure of perfect parts fitment.
Adjustment of the straps is also easier, thanks to Velomacchi’s cam lock system. (I’m tempted to call it their Twin Cam system, but I’ve probably pissed off Harley-Davidson enough for now.) The cams offer an intuitive, simple way to adjust the backpack to fit your torso, and the better the straps fit, the better the system manages the weight in the bag.
It works: I scarcely noticed the bag when riding around town or thrashing my favorite East Bay twisties. It’s not like the weight completely disappears, but the strap system manages the load in a way that lets you focus on riding—and it seems to do so with less of the chest compression I sometimes notice with my Kriega R25.
Velomacchi has a helpful video that shows the whole system in action, and how to fit the bag to your torso:
Did you notice how the little sternum coupler magically turned and locked into place? It’s beautiful, right?
Velomacchi obviously wins the beauty contest, unless you dig Kriega’s conspicuously technical style and think it’s nice that North Face puts their logo on the back of their jackets too, so people can see how hardcore “outdoorsy” you are, both coming and going, as you walk to get an $8 cup of artisan drip in SOMA.
I also find the Speedway’s strap system less fiddly and attention-getting when putting it on and taking it off in public settings where I’m trying to avoid drawing any more attention to myself than my high viz-paneled ‘Stich already has. “Mommy, look! A fireman!”
Photos: Angelica Rubalcaba
Photos: Surj Gish
A Whole Lotta Moto Love
I mentioned the wealth of two wheel-specific features, and they are extensive and thoughtful indeed.
In addition to balancing your load, the straps offer help in several other ways. There’s a place to stick a camera mount if you’re into recording your commute, a sleeve for a tire pressure gauge, and a handy little pocket, perfect for your ID and credit card. Each strap also has an elastic loop at the top, for the hose from the hydration pack that can come along for the ride in a separate pocket up against your back.
There’s a small, semi-stealthy pocket on the throttle side that has an elastic leash for your keys and can hold a handful of small items: tools, a notebook, your wallet, or snacks. On the back, there’s a clip in the middle of the bag intended to hold your helmet while you walkabout, and tie-down points in case you want to put the backpack on the seat behind you instead of on your back.
If your eyes have already glazed over, this video provides a quick run-through of the bits and bobs for the “does this book have any pictures?” crowd:
Ain’t No Drag
All this adds up to a pretty sweet bag for motorcyclists (or even cyclists, if you know anyone who rides without a motor). It’s not perfect: in addition to my complaints about the lack of water-tight/proof-ness of the laptop pocket, I think the toggles used to close the outside pockets over-emphasize form even though they function ok; and I wish the hook for the strap that secures the roll top offered a little more positive engagement.
These are all pretty minor concerns, especially if you don’t ride in the rain or don’t carry a laptop, and realistically a bigger concern for many will be the Speedway’s price: at $269 MSRP, it’s well into the premium backpack range—although it’s certainly not alone there. Ultimately, the Speedway 28L is a well-made, highly-functional, stylish bag that has become my primary riding backpack.