A high-quality and simple roll-top commuter backpack that takes rainy rides in its stride - and looks set to last. But if you’re someone who likes a multitude of compartments for organizing your gear, you might find the range and variety of pockets somewhat lacking in this model.
Reflective webbing - and lots of it!
Sleek enough to take into the office
No easy-access exterior pockets
No bottle holders
No zipped internal pockets
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Chrome Industries has a reputation for creating high quality, robust products which serve the needs of urban cyclists. The Urban Ex 2.0 Backpack delivers exactly on that brief. Robust enough to deal with ‘day-in, day-out’ use, and with effective waterproofing to withstand the inevitable rainy commutes. It comes highly recommended as one of the best cycling backpacks for commuters.
Chrome Urban Ex 2.0: construction
The Chrome Industries Urban Ex 2.0 Backpack is constructed from 600D polyester and is available in both 20 liters and 30 liters. Instead of relying on a waterproof zip for its weatherproofing, it uses a roll-top design, which is generally both a more effective solution, as well as being more reliable over the long term.
There are two ways you can go about rolling up the top. The first method - which looks the neatest and allows you to pack the rucksack a little fuller - uses the two side-strap clips to hold the roll in place. The second method is rolling the top and clipping the two ends together, just like with a basic dry bag. This is quicker and easier (it’s only one clip you have to do up, rather than two), but it means you can’t pack the bag quite as full and it doesn’t look quite as neat.
To make the rolling up process easier, Chrome has included magnetic strips at the entrance of the bag, which naturally snap together and make it easier to achieve a neater roll. Chrome has really paid attention to the little details there.
Inside, there’s a padded sleeve which fits up to a 15" device. Just for reference, it has a measured size of 14" H x 9.5" L x 1" W. Attached to the outside of this sleeve are a couple of unzippered pockets - here you can stash two pens, a smartphone, as well as attaching a set of bike lock keys to the dandling keychain.
On the exterior, it’s worth noting the absence of any easy-access pockets. What Chrome has included is six daisy loops. Firsty, these are reflective, which is an important touch for a backpack that’s likely to be used before sunrise and after sunset during winter commutes. And secondly, a bike lock can be threaded through and attached.
Chrome Urban Ex 2.0: the ride
I live about 20km away from Cardiff city center and I’ve been using this backpack for those rides in and out. According to a Met Office report, Cardiff is Britain’s wettest city with 115 cm falling on it each year. So, I had a pretty apt testing ground for finding out exactly how well the bag performs in miserable conditions.
I have to say, it passed with flying colors. With many rucksacks which boast weather protection, I will still make sure that any items I really don’t want getting wet are securely ‘double-bagged’. But I’ve become so confident of Chrome Industries Urban Ex 2.0 Backpack that I don’t often bother with double bagging electronics anymore - I’m happy putting them straight in and fully trusting in the bag’s waterproofing.
The rolltop design is neat, straightforward and simple. For the most part, I do it up like a dry-bag, clipping the top back to itself. On occasion, generally when it’s ended up being a little warmer than I was anticipating and have had to take off a bulky midlayer, I do use the side-straps and am thankful for that little bit extra volume it provides.
Let’s move onto the comfort next. The shoulder straps are neither super lightweight, nor excessively supportive and weighty in themselves - I think that it’s really important that the right balance is struck and Chrome has achieved that here, in my experience.
The straps provide comfort which is very proportional to how heavy you’re going to be able to pack the bag - especially if you’re sticking to office-related goods. A laptop and a couple of extra layers, some food, etc.
Whilst we’re on the subject of laptops, the padded laptop sleeve is certainly one of the more generous ones I’ve had the pleasure of using. It was also useful having a compartment inside to drop a wallet and smartphone into. However, I did find myself wanting more places to separate other smaller essentials, such as some energy bars - and to have been able to access a pocket quickly from the outside, rather than having to unfurl the roll-top would have been nice.
Once I locked up my bike, I was sad to realize I didn’t actually have a bottle holder for transporting my water bottle once I’d removed it from the bottle cage. This seems a pretty basic omission for what is otherwise a very practical rucksack.
But back to the good stuff. The webbing which holds a D-shaped bike lock is a very clever idea. I used an Onguard bike lock and this didn’t fit quite as neatly as the Abus lock in Chrome’s product imagery - it was a bit too wide to fit into both the top and the bottom webbing. But attaching the lock just to the top two bands and letting the bottom hang free worked fine. I was quite surprised by how little it actually threw off the weight of the rucksack - I expected it to feel more lopsided than it did.
Chrome Urban Ex 2.0: value and conclusion
With a price tag of $140 / £154 for the 20 liter option and $160 / £176 for the bigger 30 liter capacity, the Chrome Industries Urban Ex 2.0 Backpack is in line with other highly rated brands.
For example, the Ortlieb Commuter Daypack Urban Line backpack is also a pretty simple design and costs $210 / £155 for its 21 liter capacity. CamelBak’s MULE Commute 22 backpack has a much better selection of pockets and costs $140 / £120.
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