Daily cycling commuters need a stylish and comfortable solution for carrying electronics, a laptop, and extra clothes with them. One of the best ways to do that is with something from our list of the best cycling backpacks. While panniers certainly take the load off your shoulders they aren’t so easy to carry around off the bike, and are harder to swap between bikes too.
Also appealing about backpacks is that they become an everyday carry item separate from the bike. If the weather is looking rough and you decide to take public transit instead of the bike, you still have a workable way to get your gear to the office. That advantage opens up a bigger discussion though and it might have you contemplating a wide range of uses and features.
Thinking about all the different use cases for a cycling backpack has brought us to the Mission Workshop Rhake backpack. It’s a high-end option from San Francisco, a city synonymous with cycling and style, and we wanted to know if the Rhake worked as well as it looks. Having put in the time riding with it, we are ready to discuss the details. If you are looking for a cycling backpack keep reading to see if the Mission Workshop Rhake is the right option for you.
Design and aesthetics
We recently covered the Chrome Bravo 3.0 and much of that discussion was about the very particular style that drives the brand. Chrome grew from a particular place and time in the American urban cycling landscape which created a distinctive aesthetic. It’s a style that Mission Workshop refers to as “lifestyle-driven technical cycling apparel and bags” and it turns out; Mission Workshop has some insight because the two brands come from the minds of the same people.
Over the years Chrome Industries drifted from the identity that defined the brand at the start. The products have grown to accommodate a wider range of use cases and for a lot of people that’s been a great thing. Mission Workshop started in 2009 and went in the opposite direction. The style is similar but the brand has doubled down and kept a laser focus on making gear that focuses on riding a bike day in and day out no matter the weather.
The Mission Workshop Rhake is perhaps the epitome of both the design and style that makes the brand what it is. It’s undeniably beautiful but the beauty is born of technical details that focus on usability. Your color choices are black, grey, or a special edition black camo with upgraded buckles and none of them are going to grab your attention in a crowd.
There’s nothing flashy about the Rhake, yet you can’t stop looking at it. The exterior of the black or gray versions uses a material called HT500 that is specific to the brand. It starts with a 500d nylon that’s similar to Cordura, but incorporates a water- and stain-resistant coating that acts more like leather than nylon. The claim is that over time, the exterior won’t look degraded but instead will build a patina and look better, not worse. We haven’t used the bag quite long enough to know if that’s true but we have tested the water resistance.
The outer coating helps keep the bag from weighing down as the exterior gets wet but it’s not what keeps your stuff dry. The whole bag uses a two-layer construction with each pocket getting a free-floating internal liner that’s completely impermeable to water. It’s also important to keep the water from coming in through the openings, and that gets handled with aqua guard zippers for the pockets that use zippers. Where it’s needed there are flaps to help backup the zippers and the main compartment uses a rolltop closure with the option of a Velcro closure or a removable buckle.
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There are a lot of closure systems because the 22-liter bag has a lot of pockets. On the front, a big part of the style is the two banks of pockets. Unzip the left side and you’ll find three zippered mesh pockets with an extra pocket behind each of the smaller two. Then on the other side the matching pocket is single space on the inside. Across both pockets are a pair of horizontal compression straps that can cinch the pack closer to the body but also makes it possible to hold a jacket at the front of the bag. Below the two visually dominant pockets is a short but wide pocket and up above is another pocket that takes its room between the main pocket and the front pockets. This one is big enough to swallow a 10-inch tablet.
If you are looking to hold a laptop, you’ll find that pocket is accessible from the left side of the Rhake. There is more than enough room for a 15-inch laptop, with the possibility of fitting some 17-inch options, and the zippered access covers the entire height of the bag. Flip the bag to the opposite side and you’ll find a hidden water bottle pocket. Unzip it and there’s an extra stretchy material with a cinch at the top.
The main compartment of the Rhake bag is one big cavern that includes the vast majority of the space in the bag. The very bottom pocket on the front appears from the outside to sit below the main compartment but that’s not the case. Instead, the main pocket extends all the way to the very bottom of the bag where you’ll find a loop that makes a decent place to clip a helmet. There is also a zipper at the top of the main compartment that opens a document pocket which covers almost the entire back of the main compartment.
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My favorite thing about the Rhake bag is the laptop compartment. I feel like I’ve spent most of my life searching for this laptop compartment and it’s shown up in a bag that barely mentions the feature. The first piece of this pocket is really the padding for your back. The design is a fairly conventional mesh outer with three sections and air channels in between. The lower section also has a pass-though for sliding over a luggage handle, but what makes it unique is how dense the padding is. Measuring using the pass-through section there’s 9mm of super dense padding and that’s at the back of the laptop compartment. Then on either side of the pocket is another 8mm of the same dense padding.
Most bags out there, even when there’s a dedicated laptop pocket, offer only minimal protection. You can tell that Mission workshop knows what it takes to keep a laptop safe while riding but also while going about your day. I previously purchased a Pelican hardcase for a trip where I knew I’d be handing my laptop case off to someone while riding. The density and protection Mission Workshop offers is enough that I would have felt safe handing it off too. If you spend energy worrying about your laptop in your bag, this is your solution.
The other thing I’m a big fan of with the Mission Workshop Rake are the shoulder straps. There are a lot of similarities with the Chrome straps and that starts with a similar accessories system. Mission Workshop calls it arkiv and while the system has a lot of pieces all it really adds to the Rhake is the option of adding a couple of different pockets to the straps. From there, things start to drift away from the Chrome design in some important ways. The chest strap is much easier to move around for one thing.
The upper part of the shoulder straps connect to the main body of the bag without adjusters, but instead of being an issue the bag has been designed in such a way as to negate the lack of adjustability. The Mission Workshop Rhake is a tall bag and the straps connect higher up on your back. They are also a bit wider and they have more curves to them. The result of these small details is a bag that feels like it stays close to the upper part of your back and holds its weight in a balanced way. It feels great to ride with and it’s comfortable walking to a meeting or through an airport.
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The Mission Workshop Rhake is a specialized bag built to exacting standards. Without a doubt it means it’s expensive but more than that it means it will last a lifetime and will do the job it’s designed to do very well. It’s obviously built by people who ride a bike, and if you’re looking for a bag to carry while riding a bike this is one of the best on the market. The straps use a design that keeps the weight close to your back and feels balanced while riding. There’s a ton of pockets for lots of organization and the whole thing is waterproof. It also happens to be the most protective laptop compartment I’ve ever seen outside of a pelican case. The only thing I’d love to see is some specific detail to keep a helmet attached without swinging.
If you are considering which is the right backpack for cycling in a commuter situation the main thing you will want to consider is what you need from that bag. If you are looking for a general-purpose bag that you can use as your only piece of luggage for travel, and sometimes bike with, then a larger bag might be a better choice. 22 liters is big but it fills up fast if you are travelling. If you are looking for a bag that works really well on a bike, does an amazing job of protecting a laptop, and has tons of pockets to keep everything in place, the Mission Workshop Rhake is as good as it gets.
|Build Quality||As good as it gets. Choose your bag well because it’s going to last a lifetime.||7/10|
|Storage Space||Enough room for day to day but it will feel tight for travel as your only bag. Lots of organization is handy for quick access.||7/10|
|Comfort||This is a comfortable bag both on the bike and off.||10/10|
|Style||Sleek, technical, and understated. This is a beautiful bag.||10/10|
|Value||The quality is there but it’s an expensive product.||7/10|
Tech Specs: Mission Workshop Rhake
- Price: $380
- External dimensions: 21″ x 13″ x 5″
- Internal volume: 1,350 cu. in. (22L)
- Weight (empty): 3.1 lbs.
- Body Fabric: Available in HT500 or MultiCam® Black Camo Cordura®
- Max Laptop Size: 15-inch guaranteed, some 17-inch laptops will fit
- Laptop Compartment: 41x30cm with zipper running the full length, no gusseting