Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Zobha Downtown Backpack: An Elegant Solution to an Awkward Problem

One of the challenges of riding my bike around town is figuring out how to carry whatever it is I need to take with me or bring home from where I'm going. Between my bike basket, rear rack, Osprey Helix day pack, and my D2R shopping pannier, I can carry just about anything, from several days' worth of groceries to bags of cat food to occasional clothing and household purchases. But one item had me stumped, and that was my yoga mat. I take classes at Village Green Yoga, which is pretty close to home, but farther than I really enjoy walking with my Jade Harmony mat, which great to practice on but definitely heavier than some others. Rolled up, it's 2 feet long – too long for the rear rack without obscuring the back light, too long and too awkward for the day pack or the shopping pannier, and no way will it fit in the basket. I considered attaching it to the rack sideways with bungee cords, but I really like carrying my lock there and I wouldn't be able to do both. Reluctantly, I opted for leaving the bike at home and schlepping my mat to yoga class.

Fortunately this was a problem with an elegant solution. A bit of online searching introduced me to the Zobha Downtown Backpack, which is designed specifically for folks like me who want to ride their bikes to yoga class. It arrived yesterday, just in time to take it to class last night. It is a very nice-looking pack, gray and black with a bit of lime green trim. It is pretty small, but there is room for my bike repair kit, wallet, keys, and rain jacket. You could probably fit in a cell phone if you wanted to, or carry your yoga clothes instead of a jacket. But the best thing is that there are two long velcro straps that come out of a zipper pocket at the bottom to hold the yoga mat quite securely and comfortably. I hardly felt the weight of it at all, although I felt at first like I ought to be riding with a “Wide Load” sign on my back. Kent suggested that I could channel his Cousin Vernes who passed on some years ago, famously referred to by our niece as “the one with the big butt.” “She probably felt that way all the time,” he pointed out. But I'm not into the whole channeling thing, and Cousin Vernes, bless her heart, was a bit on the talkative side. It could be distracting if she decided to hang around and chat in my head all during my yoga practice. And besides, the mat isn't really all that much wider than the handlebars. It makes my hands and my butt feel pretty balanced, actually. The straps felt somewhat long for me even when adjusted to their shortest length when I was walking around with the pack, but they are just right for riding. I had to adjust for the width a bit when carrying the bike down the stairs (with Kent eagerly going for the camera, even though this was decidedly not my most photogenic moment ever). But once I was rolling, everything was fine. Great ride, great class, and only a few strange looks in the parking lot. I figure they'll soon get used to seeing me with my bike and Zobha pack with yoga mat attached, because that's how I'll be getting to the studio every week from now on.


rickrise said...

If I recall correctly, similar straps used to be standard on backpacks and some knapsacks--to hold a sleeping bag or a tarp or groundcloth. I suppose with knapsacks mostly used to carry schoolbooks or office junk these days, that's gone by the boards and had to be reinvented. Doesn't look odd at all to my eyes.

In LA I see sometimes dozens of cyclists a day carrying yoga mats. (Our neighborhood is yoga-heavy, with several studios.) Most use a long strap that lets you carry it like a big soft rifle.

I've carried 58" rolls of fabric sticking straight up out of a pannier, braced with bungee cords. Looks MUCH sillier!

JuliaR said...

interesting, thanks! I agree with rickrise, that it seems that old packs may have had some mechanism by which to secure a sleeping bag. But they were likely over-engineered. I tote my yoga mat over my shoulder so it is roughly vertical on my back but that precludes wearing a backpack, which I then stow in my pannier. But your horizontal placement of the mat seems more stable and secure. I wonder what it would feel like, if the mat was on the top of the backpack? I shall have to experiment!

Alexis said...

Christine, I'm loving your entries on the blog!

I have the same yoga mat (I think it's even the same color) and have carried it in my Ortlieb pannier (it sticks up, but doesn't cause much problem), or in a case on my back that has it more vertical (when I was biking a shorter distance).

Do you worry about the mat getting wet at all? I like mine to stay dry, which is why I have the case for it, but the backpack is intriguing.

Maggie said...

Great solution to the bike/mat problem.

Christine Peterson said...


Good question, and the answer is yes -- I do have concerns about my mat getting wet. I've lucked out with our summer weather so far, but I plan to purchase a water resistant mat bag next. It's not as aesthetically pleasing as my cotton one, but hopefully it will keep the mat dry on the many rainy evenings that I am sure we'll be having eventually.