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unsolicited review: chuva storm defender backpack

Posted Apr 22 2009 11:57pm
Wanting to investigate both a more affordable waterproof backpack for our shop AND wanting to find a bag I could wear comfortably when riding my bike to races this fall, I agreed to try the "Storm Defender" waterproof backpack made by Chuva (distributed through Cyclone Bicycle Supply; your LBS can order from them).

The bag is comparably sized to the larger Ortleib messenger backpack, though when closed the Ortlieb is perhaps an inch or two taller.

To compensate for the mostly black bag, reflective stripes run down the sides and there's a large reflective patch on the lower bottom of the bag as well. For city use I'd probably choose to have a little more reflective material myself.There is a small reflective strip on the lower back to which a blinky light can be clipped.There is also a cell-phone holster bag attached to one of the shoulder straps. I found this holster flimsy and not at all waterproof, and I elected to remove it.

The shoulder straps are a rather stiff closed-cell foam encased in soft fabric on the body-facing side and the waterproof material on the outside. The straps are a little wider than I would like, but I think that most men (and flat-chested women) will probably be comfortable with them as they are. I may eventually have the straps modified by a custom seamster so that the width graduates narrower on the lower part of the strap. There is a break-in period for the straps to become more comfortable and I expect this will take a few weeks of daily use. The chest stabilizer strap is set a little low for women (remember that these messenger bags are designed by men and are usually intended for use mostly by men, so women seldom figure into the design) but a combination of adjustmets to it and the shoulder straps has resulted in a comfortable setting for me.

The back of the bag includes a generous padding that is positioned well for most people, and helps to lift the rest of the bag off the back a little bit (which will be nice when the days get hotter).

The bag originally came with a hip belt. I tried using it for the first few days and eventually found that its placement was really not low enough to make a difference; fortunately, Chuva made this feature with a buckle attachment so that it can easily be removed without dangling straps left over.

The closure of the top-loading bag combines a velcro strip that keeps the compartment closed, a roll-top feature that allows for some overstuffing if necessary; and two end-buckles that allow the ends of the closure to be buckled to the body of the bag so that the top corners don't impede rear view as much. I am surprised at how much I appreciated this tiny detail while riding in traffic, and I think all messenger-style backpacks should offer it.

There is a small internal pocket on the inside of the bag for things like a wallet and keys. Anyone needing much more organization that that would probably be better served by a single-strap messenger-styled shoulder bag, which usually offers more orgainzation.

I think that for my purposes the bag will serve more than adequately, both as a daily commuting bag and as a race bag later this summer and fall. As for whether or not our shop would choose to carry it, well, that's another can of worms. By and large our shop's stance has been to promote US-made bags wherever possible. With most US-made backpacks of this size and waterproofness starting at over $100, the recent downturn in the economy has seen a slowing of sales in these bags for most shops. The Chuva backpack retails for les than $70.00, making it a much more affordable option for the bike rider on a budget (like me, for example). Why is it cheaper? Because it's made in China.

(Side note: since manufacturing of cordura and other "outdoor" fabrics has all but disappeared in the US, most "US-made" bags are constructed of material that was most likely woven in China. So the bag is not entirely "US-made", if we're going to be honest about it. To add to that, bags with intricate sub-assemblies (internal pocket dividers and such) are built with sub-assemblies made in China, because the cost of making those sub-assemblies in the US would price the bag out of the market. I found it refreshing when the president of Rickshaw Bags admitted this to me last year at Interbike.)

The seams are sealed and so far look to be quite sturdy. After three days of riding I did notice a tiny bit of fraying at the edge of one of the reflective stripes but this does not seem to affect the structural integrity of the design. Quite frankly, for a bag that retails at just under 70 bucks, this is a good deal.
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