By Brandon Bilyeu
Convertible Pannier Backpack:
• Quality materials and craftsmanship
• Reasonable price
• Classic good looks
• Laptop sleeve
• Lots of big pockets
• Lack of internal storage compartments for small items
• Not waterproof
• Gets dirty in pannier mode, need to clean before converting to backpack mode
A Versatile Bag That Looks Good Too
174 Hudson is a new cycling accessory line from Priority Bicycles based in New York City (at 174 Hudson Street). Their first product offering is the Convertible Pannier Backpack. As the name suggests it can be used as either a pannier or a backpack and is designed so that the parts for both setups are always with the bag. It is constructed out of a heavy waxed canvas which is a time tested material that is hard wearing and water resistant due to the wax. The canvas will age and build character over time as it is broken in and absorbs the abuse it will undoubtedly receive.
In backpack configuration there are two padded and adjustable shoulder straps as well as a sternum strap for a secure fit. There are accessory loops sewn into the front of the straps for easy mounting of lights or clipping your keys. The inside of the straps is mesh lined for breathability and less abrasive against clothing than the waxed canvas. I was concerned I would feel the pannier mount poking into my back but there is sufficient padding that I could not feel the mount at all. Overall I found the backpack to be very comfortable to wear and spent the majority of the time testing in this configuration.
Converting to pannier mode is quick and easy. All you do is unzip the flap covering the pannier rack mount, unbuckle the shoulder straps at the bottom, and stuff them into the pannier cover pocket. Then you clip the pannier on your rear rack, flip out the yellow locking knob, and use the two bottom shoulder strap buckles to secure the bottom of the pannier to the base of your rear rack. The laptop sleeve and a backplane stiffener keep the pannier rigid and out of the rear wheel spokes. I don’t have a bike with a rear rack so enlisted a fellow bike commuter to test out this feature and he said it worked great as a pannier.
Even though the pannier testing was done in dry weather upon the return of the bag to me for further backpack testing it was very dusty and dirty from being so close to the rear wheel. So while the conversion from pannier to backpack is super easy you probably don’t want to ride with the pannier to work and then throw it on your back to walk into the office. This is especially true for wet weather, though I would not recommend using this bag in the wet for anything but quick trips. While the waxed canvas provides some water protection the seams are not sealed and the cotton liner in the bag wicks any water that does get in. From my one hour commute I found that light drizzle would result in dampness inside the bag by the time I got to work and real rain would cause serious wetness of the contents.
Lots of Pockets
Storage comes in the form of a multitude of pockets of different sizes. For smaller storage the pack has external elastic rimmed water bottle pouches on each side and two front pockets with magnet closure flaps trimmed in vegan leather for some nice visual contrast. Above the two front pockets is a medium sized sleeve pocket piggybacking on the main compartment that is closed with a waterproof zipper. The main compartment is essentially the entire body of the bag and has a large waterproof zippered opening all along the top and down one side of the bag. This large compartment is expandable/collapsible by using a roll top and buckle, the side zipper being a nice touch to help give access to the very deep compartment (24 inches/61cm deep when fully unrolled). Inside the main compartment is a padded sleeve that can hold a 15 inch (38 cm) laptop.
All the pockets are lined with a black cotton for a soft interior, but the dark color makes it very hard to find items in the bag as it becomes a black hole. One element I feel could improve this bag is interior small pockets. For instance, I didn’t feel comfortable putting my wallet in the side elastic or front magnet pockets so it went in the front sleeve pocket. When I needed to retrieve my wallet I has to fish around in this large pocket for a small item. It would be helpful if there were some zippered small pockets sewn into the interior of the larger pockets.
A Great Commuter Bag for Dry Weather
Overall I found the Convertible Pannier Backpack to be a very functional and stylish commuting accessory at a fairly reasonable price point. I love my bright yellow Ortlieb waterproof backpack, but the 174 Hudson kills it in the style department which means it can be used outside of cycling without looking silly. The main bike commuting drawback is that the bag is only water-resistant and not fully waterproof. This means year round bike commuters will need a different bag in the wetter months of the year, but it will work great for fair weather commuters with just enough protection for the unexpected shower.