At the beginning of March, Ryan asked if I’d be interested in testing and reviewing Chrome’s new laptop-centric shoulder bag, the Buran. I agreed, and after 200+ miles ridden with the bag on my back (and several more cheating), I think it’s time to share.
Before trying the Buran, I’d mostly stopped using messenger bags for commuting. I found my many-years-old Timbuk2 bag too small and uncomfortable for what I needed to carry, and my younger, custom Bagaboo oversized and without laptop protection. The Buran fits solidly in the middle:
It’s not a huge bag, especially compared to a full sized messenger bag. My Bagaboo was the smallest Workhorse they made at the time, and it easily envelopes the Buran. I found this bag can pretty much be filled to capacity without ever becoming uncomfortably heavy unless fully loaded with something super dense, like text books. There were only a handful of days I found myself needing to carry a larger bag, and they were always for non-commuting.
The bag fits well on the back while riding, and was easily as comfortable as my more expensive bag. Even when not in use, the built-in padded laptop sleeve acts as a back pad, making loading the bag comfortably much less of an issue than with a non-padded bag.
The size of the bag looks good on me, although It may look a little small on others used to bigger bags (I’m 5’ 6” on a good day).
While the bag isn’t huge, that’s also not to say it’s small:
Pictured is the oldest, kludgiest laptop I could find around the office (about 13” x 11” x 1.75”) and there was still about an inch of width on each side to spare in the spongey zippered sleeve that sits flush across your back. In the main compartment there’s plenty of depth for a 6 pack of 16oz. cans or a half-rack but not a whole lot more. I usually commute with full change of dry clothes, packed lunch, Kindle, bike tools and, on occasion, a 12″ wide-screen laptop, and still have room to pick up some small groceries on the way home.
On the front are two deep pockets, usually filled with bike tools and other small goods. Each pocket is big enough for two tubes and a 15mm wrench, and can still velcro shut containing a 16oz. can.
Behind these pockets is a section that took me about a week to find, with all the usual briefcasey features – pencil holders, pockets and zippered pouch – I don’t use very often. Thoughtfully, it closes tight and pretty much disappears from the bag, never getting in the way.
Not pictured is a zippered document-sized pouch that sits on the back. This is handy for keeping unprotected papers flat, but it also the least protected from the elements.
The front clasp is the iconic seat-belt buckle Chrome uses on all its shoulder bags. I always thought this was just a novelty, but found it to be useful, especially when dealing with the bag in crowded buses and bars. Also handy – although not my favorite aesthetically – is the handle on top, allowing you to carry the bag like a briefcase in tight spaces instead of pulling it around front like a baby sling.
The shoulder strap also has a secure strip useful for accessories, like my aging non-Chrome phone holder. This is incredibly handy, and something often missing or useless on lower-end bags.
I was a little less happy with the strap adjustment. Chrome uses a similar system to most custom bags – pull the excess strap to tighten, d-buckle pull to loosen – but I found it to be a little tight compared to my Bagaboo. It often took both hands to tighten when the bag was light, not preferable while riding. This has started to loosen up with use, but is still far harder to adjust than my more expensive bag was from the start.
With two months of spring riding, the bag made it through a lot of rain without issue, but Seattle can be seriously weak compared to the downpours I remember growing up in the Midwest. I wanted to give the bag a real weather test, so I took matters into my own hands. I strapped on my loaded bag and took a shower:
I wore the Buran through a full shower, thoroughly soaking the bag and much of the bathroom in the process. Everything inside stayed bone dry, other than some dampness in the unprotected document pocket that sits against the back. “Who cares,” you say, “a lot of things can keep your stuff dry for 10 minutes.” This is true, so I left the bag hanging to let the moisture fully soak in, spraying every once in a while to keep it saturated. I finally got some results after an hour. The back facing portion of the laptop sleeve was very mildly damp as the external back pocket began to seep through. About 15 minutes later there was noticeable wetness to the touch along the seams in the liner of the bag in both the main and laptop compartments. It was not enough to damage any electronics, but possibly enough to smear an unprotected handwritten check or something. Keep in mind this after over an hour of shower-level wetness. Unless you find yourself delivering cotton candy during a monsoon, you should be fine; this bag should easily stand up to the anything but the most extreme, moisture critical applications.
Overall I’m very impressed. The Buran is commuter-based without looking it. It’s comfortable and reasonably sized. And at $140, it seems to be the right price and a good alternative to a custom bag for those of us carrying smaller, office-oriented loads.