I’ve been looking for a better solution for my cycling carrying needs for quite a while.
After one week of using it, the Altura Morph is holding its own pretty well.
I cycle to work with a laptop, lunch, bits of makeup, often a snack for my 6-year-old who’s first words when I pick her up from school are “I’m STARVING”. Plus I need extra space for discarded jumpers, unwanted coats, random bits of artwork and what not from both the 6-year-old and her younger sister who we collect from nursery. And a little corner for the odd pint of milk.
At school pickup I can ride my bike into the primary school grounds and leave it safely, but I do want to remove all bags and take them with me to the playground. So the bag needs to come off easily and be portable.
Sometimes I park the bike on the public road for a while – if we are say, popping to the Post Office or the supermarket. So whatever it is, I have to be able to carry my bag comfortably.
I’ve been carrying my laptop and other work paraphanalia in a hand-me-down courier bag / messenger bag type deal. My husband is a bagoholic and continually finds reasons to buy yet another courier bag. Because the buckle is more shiny. Because he visited the place where they sew them by hand. Because it has a flashing strip. Because it’s a better shape. And on it goes… The bag I’ve been using is a Timbik2 and it’s an awesome bag – Timbuk2 are a fantastic company (don’t visit their website – seriously dangerous). Whatever reason Mr Husband had for jettisoning it was clearly a load of rubbish, or perhaps he was feeling generous! Anyway, I’ve been using this lovely bag without complaint – except that over time it does pull somewhat on the shoulder.
For the kids’ extra paraphanalia I’ve had a PedalPro folding quick release basket, which has also been great. Sometimes I’ve used one and not the other, on busy days- both.
Solution for a pain
My main problem has been carrying my work gear across one shoulder. It gets heavy – even with a MacBook Air. And toward the end of the day with added odds and sods, even heavier. I realised that paying for my Chiropractor every two weeks to fix my back while continuing to carry like that was a mis-direction of my funds, and started looking for an alternative bag.
I wondered about a removeable bicycle basket with wheels! Just little itty bitty ones. But then you’d need an extending handle too. And I’d still have a whole heap of weight on the front of the bike, More, probably, since I now wouldn’t have to carry the basket so I’d be more likely to pile stuff into it. Fortunately I didn’t find anyone that made such a thing.
A pannier backpack made so much sense. Could I find one? Not easily. There are, in fact, a few on the market and I mention three of them at the bottom of this article – so check them out as a comparison. When I first ‘googled’ none of them quite grabbed me – I can’t remember all the reasons why.
Anyway, a few weeks passed and my also-cycling husband announced that the very thing I’d been looking for had just appeared on the market. So I wasted no time at all in getting down to my local, rather excellent, bike shop to have a gander. That would be Bike UK, if you’re in Bristol, UK! It took about eight minutes and fifteen seconds to decide to buy it. In that time I walked in, took a really good look at the bag, exchanged a few words with a shop assistant and left to think about it. Got as far as the car (which was right outside with the husb and kids waiting in it), got in, got out, went back into the shop and purchased for a very reasonable £75 or thereabouts.
So, now that I’ve bored you with the backstory, let’s talk about the bag.
Altura Morph Positives:
- One side has the pannier connectors – the hardware, the other side the backpack straps. There’s a clever two-way flippetty panel that covers whichever side is not currently in use. This works really well.
- The panier is dead easy to fit to your rack, and is ambidextrous. That means that if one day you want it on the right of your rack and the next on the left, there’s nothing you have to change.
- The connection to the rack is really positive – no rattling about or movment.
- It’s waterproof AND comes with a full fluro cover.
- Has a soft easy-access top mobile phone pocket.
- Has a section for your laptop, papers and what not and a second section for your wallet or purse, bits of makeup, keys etc. There are pen slots, a neat place for your essential cycling multi-tool and other wee pockets.
- There’s a great, sturdy grab handle on top that gives all the support needed to swing the pack into place on the rack one-handed, and remove in a similar manner. Really – it is SO EASY to get this thing on and off your rack.
- The straps are broad, well-padded and there’s an adjustable chest strap.
- The back also has padding so it’s a comfy pack to carry.
- It takes 17 seconds (yes, I timed it) to turn the pack from pannier to backpack or vice versa – and that’s with a couple of small fumbles.
- There are reflecty bits here and there.
- The zips seem pretty darn sturdy and the pulls are easy to get a hold of.
Altura Morph Negatives:
- It could use a key clip inside. I’m actually really surprised that it doesn’t have one. Now that I’ve used it for a month or so, this is a niggle. I think I’m going to sew one in.
- I’d like to see the next model a little shorter, and perhaps a little wider or fatter to compensate. I’m finding it a little awkward getting to things that are right at the bottom of the pack. I’ve found I have to completely undo all the straps and the full zip of the relevant compartment to get anything out. Perhaps because it’s a svelte profile, it’s hard to dive down with an arm to retrieve things that have settled.
- A side handle. The top grab handle is great, but walking from the bike parking at work to my office isn’t far enough to warrant ‘morphing’ the pack from pannier to backpack. Though the change doesn’t take long, it’s not something I want to be doing for walk that’s just a couple of floors and a long corridor. At 5’4” the pack is very close to the ground when I’m carrying it by the top handle and feels awkward. A side handle would be a great addition for the more petite among us.
- I’d change the layout of the interior pockets a bit. The laptop side is all good, but I’d quite like a pocket in what I call the ‘handbag’ part that has a bit more volume. Maybe it’s because I’m squeezing a bunch of keys in there, along with those bits of makeup…
- How about a bottle pocket? In a perfect world…. By the time I get up the hill to park my bike to fetch the kids, I’m gasping!
I could nit pick, but after a few weeks of using it I love it. I do wish it was easier to find my keys, and fish things out. So the verdict on the negatives is: Shorter, fatter, key clip, happy.
It works as a backpack only for lightish loads and short distances. It would probably be ok for a hiking daypack as long as you weren’t carry loads of water or too much for lunch!
The first day I used it I actually didn’t cycle! After a weekend of activity I decided I’d have a rest day, but I still didn’t want to carry my work load in a courier bag. I walked the kids to their schools, then 1/2 mile (that’s 0.8km for those who live in a more modern part of the world) down the hill to the train station. I have barely any walk at all at the other end, which is great! No probs at all.
Coming home I needed to pick up a few things from the supermarket, which I did before collecting my children. The things I needed fit in the pack easily enough. Unfortunately they were all quite heavy items. I was testing the limits of this pack! Without a waist strap this kind of weight predictably pulled at my shoulders, and by the time I’d walked that 1/2 mile up the hill and picked children up from two schools my shoulders were feeling the burn, and I bustled the kids home as fast as one can bustle imaginative four- and six-year-olds anywhere. I was mighty pleased to get the pack off. Carrying bottles of bleach for over a mile is not what this backpack was made for!!! I can’t put this as a mark in the pack’s disfavour. For normal loads, the shoulder straps are perfectly good enough. They are broad, well padded, have good adjustment and fit well.
Other pannier backpacks on the market
There is the Ortleib Vario Pannier Backpack, which requires a bespoke mounting set. It’s a bit more expensive, and the bespoke mounting rack means it’s not ambidextrous like the Morph.
A US company, Lone Peak, make the Glacier Peak Panier Daypack which I really like the look of. From the sound of it, it mounts easily to front or rear racks without the need for extra hardware. If you’re in the US – lucky you, you can give it a go. Not me though here in the UK.
What else about bicycling?!
I hope you found this useful. I’m going to review my newest riding gloves here shortly (more a winter riding pair, but worth talking about), and need a summer pair, so will find some I like and give you the low down on those.
Feel free to comment and add notes on any other pannier-backpacks you’ve had or found.