One of the limiting factors for using a motorcycle as a commuter is storage, so I’m always intrigued when there’s new options for saddlebags or bags that are wearable. Velomacchi was founded in 2002 but I started hearing about them a couple of years ago through a Kickstarter campaign, where they were making some noise from their home base in Oregon with a new line of products including a roll-top backpack. Looks like a few months ago, the bag started appearing in the wild – I just got my hands on one, so I figured I’d share some initial thoughts.
First, what is Velomacchi? Well, it’s a combination of the Italian words of Velocita Macchina, which translates to Velocity Machine. It was co-founded by Kevin Murray and Gregor Halenda – hopefully you remember the latter’s name as I’ve featured his work as a photographer in the past. Kevin’s also got an impressive resume, having designed products for companies like The North Face, Nike, Cannondale, Camelbak, and more. Together they’ve developed both a flat tracker Husky 510 and a “Speedway” line of products, the star of which is this backpack.
It’s positioned as a premium product, so there are several features worth noting. The lazy (aka normal) version of me figures it’s easier to just share their video instead of trying to create one of my own from scratch:
I’ve been using this backpack daily for a couple of weeks now, and my first impressions are as follows:
1. It’s the most comfortable ‘motorcycle-specific’ bag I’ve ever worn.
Time for me to reveal a sort-of-secret – I was rear ended on my K75C a few years ago and I broke my left clavicle in the process. Despite the assistance of titanium, it’s never been 100% since (but don’t tell my mother that). So, now you know my weakness if we ever get into fisticuffs.
Anyway, I bring all this up because I’m fairly conscious of my left collarbone when I wear bags. I can’t put the strap of a messenger bag on my left side for more than a few minutes, and I’ll also feel sharp pain if I’m wearing a backpack that’s heavily loaded. But I’ve put 40 pounds of dumbbells (which is way more than you should have on your back while riding a bike) in this bag for testing purposes and my shoulder has been happy, which means I’ve been happy. I’m fairly confident this is all due to the “clavicle hinge”, but if you asked me to explain the science behind it, I wouldn’t have an answer.
Velomacchi describes it as “a first-of-its-kind suspension system that can flex and adjust to the various riding postures assumed by a motorcyclist. The suspension straps feature…pivoting clavicle hinges to give the user a customized fit, whether wearing a t-shirt or full riding protection.” It may seem like a small change from the usual straps but the hinge is clever (Velomacchi has a couple of pending patents on it) and it makes a world of difference.
As you’ll see later, this bag is not cheap, but the comfort alone is worth the price to me.
2. It passes my non-industry-standard “can I bring a 6-pack over to a friend’s place to watch Kobe’s last game?” test.
Exhibit B – actually, you can stack two of ’em if you’re careful:
When I first got the bag, I felt the main compartment would be too small, but so far it’s had no problem swallowing a laptop and the other things I need for a day at the office. If you’re looking for a more official data point than bottles of beer, Velomacchi says the main storage compartment can fit 20L and the rear pockets can carry an additional 5L.
3. The camera mount would be great if I did things worth recording.
In the small amount of video footage that Bike-urious has created, my favorite shots come from chest-mounted GoPros. I like being able to see arms/bars, because I think it’s a better POV for viewers than the usual helmet mounted fare:
So I like the idea of the camera mounting plate, I just don’t do cool enough things on the day to day commute to justify utilizing it. While we’re on the topic of under-utilization, the helmet mount clip and the stormproof toggle closures also make sense but to be frank, I haven’t given them enough time yet to have an opinion on them.
4. I wish it had reflective materials.
Not much else to say, here’s a photo with a small amount of light exposure:
5. The magnetic buckle/’sternum coupler’ is just plain cool.
They call it a ‘no-look’ mechanism, though I’d say I only succeed with the no-look coupling 70% of the time. When it happens, it’s pretty slick and I look like a superhero.
I have no idea how secure or durable it is – I’ve tugged at it pretty good a couple of times and I haven’t had an issue yet, but I haven’t been too vicious because I have no interest in fully stress-testing it and then being left with a broken bag that doesn’t close any more. My completely-unfounded intuition feels like it would be more fragile than, say, a couple of patches of velcro, but give me some time with it to come up with something more conclusive. The good news is, it’s a lot quieter than velcro is. Anyway, if you’re lucky, I’ll end up crash testing this on the dirt several times anyway and together we’ll see how it holds up.
6. The sizing adjustment is well done.
I gushed about the comfort of the clavicle hinge earlier but the way it rotates also helps with fit. In addition, the tightening straps are easy to adjust (even with gloves) and I love that the ends of the straps tuck away so that you don’t have anything flapping around in the wind. Again, the lazy version of me figures it’s easier to share Velomacchi’s video on fit, but I promise this’ll be the last time:
7. $299 ain’t cheap for a backpack.
In the company’s words, “Velomacchi is inspired by the privateer racers who pay their own way, turn their own wrenches and rely on instinct.” In addition, the butterly logo has a wrench and a screwdriver in the negative space, which alludes to the ability of a privateer to work on his/her own bikes.
Now, I always associate privateer racing with getting things done on a budget, and a dollar shy of three Benjamins is really at the high end of pricing for a motorcycle backpack. It’s kind of an obvious (and arguably stupid) complaint for me to say “look, this expensive thing positioned at the high end of the market is…expensive!”, but that kind of dough could get you enough storage from Wolfman to go to Alaska and back. The closest competitor I can think of is probably Kriega, who offer a 35L backpack for about $249. My only experience with Kriega is with the Hydro 3, a small bag that’s solely for hydration which I’m a big fan of. Because I have no experience with big Kriega bags yet, I’m not going to pretend to know what’s better – but I will just say again that this is the most comfortable motorcycle-specific bag I’ve ever worn and there’s obviously a lot of thought that’s been put into it. Is it worth $299? If it holds up well over time, I’m thinking the answer is yes. My usual preference with cargo on the bike is to use saddlebags and keep as much weight off my body as I can. That’s not always possible, so if you’re a rider that likes backpacks, you absolutely need to take a look at this.
I’m a sucker for startups and people trying new things, so I really do wish Velomacchi the best. I’m impressed with their founding team and what they’ve designed so far, so if you’re local/in LA, come on by and I’ll let you borrow it for a couple of days. I believe more people need to see this bag and you might just find yourself falling in love with it. Personally, I’ve only seen one other one in the wild, and it was in the paddock at MotoGP Austin last weekend. Unfortunately, I couldn’t flag the wearer down in time to get their thoughts, so you’re just stuck with mine.
Velomacchi makes more than this bag – they also offer laptop bags, storage cases, tool rolls, and a set of flat-track inspired gloves that look bitchin’. I want to get my hands on them…or in them.
I’ll try to wear this bag every time I ride street or dirt for the next few months and see how it holds up. Expect a ‘long-term’ review/update, but until then…if you like what you see, head on over to Velomacchi’s store where you can purchase this pack for $299. Or leave a comment if there’s anything specific you’d like to know and I’ll get back to you!
UPDATE: Here’s that long term review.