Recently Chrome Industries, the people who are famous for starting the whole messenger bag craze, moved their head office from San Francisco to Portland. Chrome has been around a while now (since 1995) making high quality, cycling specific, gear hauling bags. Having had a few Chrome bags over the years, I decided to look at their most recent lineup to see what was new. The Hondo is one of Chrome Industries latest additions. It’s minimal, contemporary and fashionably designed for the urban commuter.
I can imagine the product brief: the designers chuckled as they read, thinking “oh man, not another one of these unicorn projects” (at the seemingly fictional situation.) The brief read “Design a hip looking pack for the commuter of all sizes that is comfortable, light, economical in materials, contains lots of features and oozes durability and ruggedness while being affordable to the normal joe”. – This; the product managers dream is often hard to realize. – fortunately for Chrome designers, they might have nailed it. Read on…
The Hondo is aimed squarely at the urban commuter market as the solution to work gear hauling needs. At a $100 and $110 it is placed in the hot market of backpacks, mid price range for a good quality pack. As smaller sized backpack, the Welterweight Hondo is a lightweight brother to the regular Hondo. The welterweight uses durable but lightweight material (if you have felt most regular chrome bags you will know they are pretty burley – due to their extra robust materials and construction). Welterweight series indicates bags that are 50% lighter than regular chrome items, this approach can be found in other bags styles also.
What it’s made from:
- Lightweight 500d nylon compared with a 1510d nylon used on other bags.
- Weatherproof lightweight tarpaulin lining compared with waterproof welded 18oz tarpaulin.
- Extra reflective TPU tarpaulin accent panel on front and reflective webbing on straps.
- Stylish modern clean design
- Reflective by night rear panel
- Integrated slide-in padded area to hold a 15″ laptop.
- Pleated side pockets for small water bottles or other items.
- Loops on the front to the bag to attach U locks or other items via caribeeners etc.
- Front convenience pocket – keys, phone.
- Multiple internal pockets.
Without a doubt this backpack comes from the Chrome stable, the construction, cut and sew carry the same classic lines and manufacture methods. The bag is boxy (in a good way) and of a square tube construction with well sewn Chrome style edging where materials join together – and of course the bag oozes durability. Reflective accents add for safety on the front of the bag and on the straps. The front of the bag has a large 10″ x 5″ full reflective panel, that looks dark grey in normal light and when in riding position is great to bounce car headlights, A nice safety touch and a good standby should you have forgotten your blinkey.
On the outside:
Two non zippered pockets and two external zippers are on this bag. The first zipper opens a small front compartment, which is ideal for quick to reach keys, wallet, phone. The zipper is shrouded by a strap (see photo), at first I thought this was awkward and got in the way, but after thinking for a while, other than adding style points it could mask the zipper, making it more secure, hidden when in close public situations with people behind you.
The second dual zipper is the main compartment and zips from both sides about 75% away around the bag on the upper half. The large top access allows the mouth of the bag to fold forward, large and easy to get to the insides, revealing the pockets and laptop space. The inside pockets and lining are black and sometimes with lack of light it all blends together and can make finding stuff tricky in low light situations. Convenient strapping and U lock loops adorn the outside of the bag ideal for adding a U lock or clipping a blinky light. On the sides, two external pockets both small water bottle size with a nice detail of a drain hole at the bottom and pleated so when not in use they don’t bulge out.
On the inside:
For maximum utility the the main zippered compartment has three areas. A padded pocket for laptop or i-pad that sits right behind where your back would be. Then there is a smaller pocket that can fit large notebooks or things up to 7 wide x 9″deep , think memo pad, folded paper etc. In front of this is a small accessories pocket 4″ wide x 5″ deep and two pen/pencil holders.
The rest is main compartment , think 16″ x 10.5″ wide of usable silhouette and at full capacity about 3″ deep. ( A normal magazine is 10.5″ x 8″ and 0.25″ thick)That’s a pretty good area. This area can hold whatever you like but think, at a squeeze a helmet or a pair of jeans and a shirt folded nice and will stay nice.
The Hondo is a narrower bag at around 11″ wide, this makes the fit on the back quite nice as it doesn’t flop over the sides, the overall smaller format feels more than manageable even when loaded and doesn’t feel massive. The straps are comfortable and easily adjusted with a simple loop over metal buckle. (not a cam lock as used on more expensive models) The straps and back panel are made from a material covered eva foam and attach directly to the bag at the top (not supported by a yoke unlike a lot of other Chrome bags. The Yoke adds strength but can also be restricting for different size users at the shoulders) The Hondo’s yokeless straps seem flexible and robust a good solution, in addition the front of the straps provide a couple of loops, these are great for holding sunglasses or for attaching a bluetooth speaker for those of us who like our tunes as we ride. The Hondo comes complete with a chest / sternum strap between the two arm straps, it acts as a perfect as a stabilizer while riding, they are common place nowadays on backpacks and here Chrome include a removable and fully position adjustable one.
Even though the material is backed by a waterproof material, Don’t expect a fully waterproof bag here, the zippers and seams have not been sealed. I expect this bag to withstand light showers but heavy downpours, your stuff on the inside will get wet.
Vision is always important to me, and by that I mean the classic look over the left shoulder. Having experienced very large packs, I know firsthand the design of such details can impact your ride experience when understanding where cars are in relation to you. Something to understand here is about my ride position, the style of riding can greatly affect your visibility – the more upright, the easier to see over the shoulder, the more “race” bike the more the pack will get in the sight line. My bike is not the lowest handlebar bike but it’s certainly not a more upright style, I would say in between. In my experience overall, the Hondo is pretty good, considering it rides pretty high on the back and is not a drop shoulder design. I don’t have concern with the corners impairing vision, but again this is a very personal preference that you should check for yourself.
Drawbacks & Future improvements:
- With about 120miles over 8 trips, I found that when loaded with a laptop and in riding position, the lower large central foam pad on the back creates a pressure point on the spine. I found the bag to be a lot more comfortable when not carrying an i-pad or laptop. Maybe this EVA foam pad will break in over time, but the pad could have been designed a little different to fit the spine better. If a laptop is your must I would suggest trying the bag and simulating a leaned over riding position or being cool with a break in period.
Nice to haves:
- For navigating the pockets inside, it would be nice if the internal material was a lighter color than black, this would help with contrast and seeing things easier.
- Add a hidden / secret pocket. Just like in the early days of Chrome, these secret pockets made a great hiding place to put your wallet and worry even less on those occasions when bag is unattended.
- The front pocket is pretty large and I considered the idea of making it a touch smaller, if it were not as deep – 3″ shorter, I think it would be more useful as it would be quicker to grab stuff .
If you are in the market for a new commuter bag , backpack style, seriously consider the Hondo. It wins massive on style points with its minimal yet functional no fuss aesthetic and provides a well designed and versatile way to organize and carry everyday gear.