Review: Chrome John Cardiel Series (Fortnight, ORP, Shank)

All swagger and charisma vanishes when you’re tugging luggage around the concourse at an airport. Between fanny packs stuffed with Purell and high-waisted money belts, it’s hard to look cool while traveling.

If it’s possible for anyone to jetset while retaining his dignity, even bad-assery, it’s John Cardiel. He’s a professional skateboarder, a vocation that’s forced him to log thousands of international travel hours. But Cardiel has also recently developed an affection for fixed-gear bikes after cycling helped him rehab from an accident. He has since befriended the fashionable folks at Chrome, makers of bags, shoes and other wearables designed for the urban cyclist.

Cardiel and Chrome have designed three bags bearing the skater-turned-cyclist’s name. Each model is a different size and has its own purpose, but all three bags can be used in concert for longer trips.

The Cardiel bags will appeal to those who prefer not to check any luggage, as the designs work best as carry-ons. That said, they’re only a good fit for those who, like me, practice a minimalist (bordering on ascetic) approach to packing for a trip.

The flagship of the Cardiel line is the Fortnight ($180), a standard-looking backpack with a zipper closure for the main compartment, which goes all the way around the bag. There are also several outer flaps and pockets for stowing the smaller stuff. As hinted by the bag’s name, the volume of storage would last a spartan bike rider two weeks. Whether or not you’ll get the same mileage depends on your material requirements, but I found 40 cubic liters of storage to be more than sufficient for a long weekend on the road. I didn’t skimp on the creature comforts, either, bringing a MacBook Air, several changes of clothes, work documents and a handful of power tools.

The problem with other backpacks (including some in Chrome’s line) is that when packed to the gills, the top of the bag rises up above the neckline, obscuring peripheral visibility. While riding on a busy street with a different high-sitting bag, I was overcome with paranoia that there was always somebody in my blind spot.

But the Fortnight sits comfortably low, affording a full view of the surroundings. A chest strap and padding on the back keeps the weight distributed evenly. Unfortunately, because Chrome built the pack with truck tarpaulin and Cordura to make it nearly indestructible, it has a bit too much extra weight. Empty, the Fortnight weighs almost four pounds — enough to keep you from feeling lithe while strapped in.

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