Quick Review: Bontrager Interchange Deluxe Plus Rear Trunk Bag

A couple of years ago I decided to get a rack on my Trek FX7.2 to enable me to carry more stuff when using my bike for commuting or running errands. Since my bike is a Trek, I got a Bontrager rack. However, to save a few dollars I ended up getting some semi-decent bike panniers from Banjo Bros. to tie me over until I figured out what I really wanted.

This past April, there was a sale going on at Freewheel Bike on the Bontrager trunk bags. My friend Chuck has an Interchange bag and loves it. So I decided to head over to the store and check out the selection and see if I found something I liked. I did some examinations of the three different models, and as soon as I showed my wife the features on the Deluxe, she insisted I invest in the higher end model. I’ve been using it for a few weeks now, and I couldn’t be happier.

DSC09244The Bontrager Interchange Deluxe Plus rear trunk bag is the top of their Interchange line. The Interchange series simply means that it hooks into a Bontrager rack easily and quickly, without any velcro straps. The front of the bag hooks into the front metal loop on the rack and then it clips into place on the rear. It’s a super simple system, and it’s solid and foolproof.

The main compartment is around 10L of capacity, and I use it to store all the essential bike gear, such as tire levers, CO2 canisters, and a spare tube. The beauty though, of this model, is the expanding side panniers that allow you to increase your total storage to a full 36L. You unzip the side pockets, and they expand into a full pannier on each side that velcro’s to your frame at the bottom. It’s quick and easy to expand, as well as simple to pack away again.

DSC09247I used this rack for a shopping trip this past Sunday and the expanding capacity was perfect. I used a single pannier for my laptop on the way down to the co-op and coffee shop, but then once I finished shopping I extended the other pannier and loaded it down with groceries. I also had a fair amount of space left over in the main trunk that I could use as well. It was the perfect amount of space for a small grocery shopping trip. If I hadn’t had my laptop with me, I could have even fit more into my bags, but as luck would have it, I didn’t need the additional space.

DSC09246-2My bike was pretty weighed down by the time I started heading back home, but the bag stayed put, and I never noticed any type of rattling as I rode. As I rode I also encountered another wonderful feature of this bag… a rain cover. I came across a short sprinkle on my journey, but all I had to do with pause quickly and pull out the hidden rain cover that is stored under the lid. It doesn’t cover the side bags, but the main trunk stayed nice and dry.

Despite the expense, I can’t say enough good things about this bag. I love not needing the full panniers for most casual rides, but love the flexibility to expand my storage when I need it. I’d recommend keeping your eye out for a sale to ease the sticker shock, but even at full price, it’s a great piece of gear that I hope to use for a long, long time.

Testing fat bikes

I’ve talked about wanting to commute, and generally get around more, by bike. One of the issues in Minnesota is the winter time when streets are icy, snowy, and generally hard to travel on. Since I had some time on Monday I decided to check out a couple of fat bikes at Freewheel Cycle to see what they were all about, and if they might be the answer to my winter biking issues.

I tried out two different models, the Salsa Beargrease, and the Trek Farley 5. The two main differences on these bikes is that the Salsa has a carbon frame, vs the Trek aluminium, and the tire size (Salsa: 3.8; Trek 4.5). I took them both out on the same route down the street from the store, down and up a hill, and a few tight loops in a parking lot.

I tried out the Salsa Beargrease first, and almost immediately I found out why fat bikes are so popular. The smoothness of the ride, and the feeling of stability is incredible. The handlebars extend wide, so you really feel like you’re as stable as possible. The tires make a ton of noise on pavement, which gives you the immediate sense that you’re riding something “different”.

Both bikes have a single cog in the front with 10 or 11 gears in the back. This makes for very easy shifting, but it also does limit how fast you can really go. I took both of the bikes down a slight hill, and wasn’t able to get over 17 mph before I ran out of gears and had to settle for coasting. I wasn’t complaining too much though since riding on flat pavement isn’t what these are intended for.

I also took both bikes around a couple tight curves in parking lots and I could feel how tightly the studded tires were gripping, making my much more confident in my turning. I can see how these would be a tremendous benefit on some of the sharp curves on local mountain bike trails. Heading back up the small hill was slow but steady. Once again I had to suffice with a limited amount of gears, but I managed to get it done just fine. Before I knew it my short test rides were over.

Overall, I found the Salsa Beargrease to be the more enjoyable ride. It felt speedier and lighter, due to the frame and smaller tires. The Trek was fun, and “tank-like”, but lacked just a bit of the “wow” factor of the Salsa. Considering the comparable price, it’s easy to see why the Salsa’s are so popular right now. I think that either one could be a great bike, but if I were to pull the trigger on buying one, the Salsa would be the way to go.

I don’t know if I’ll invest in this, this year, but I got a taste of how amazingly fun these bikes are, and why they’re as popular as they are. If winter is calling and you want to keep biking, these seem like an awesome way to go.