After a summer of regular usage, I’m a big fan of the Alpinestars Force 25 backpack.
As I said in my initial look at the bag, we’ve had iffy experiences with Alpinestars gear over the years; some of it has outperformed expectations, and some of it has underperformed, like the Alpinestars backpack that Editor ‘Arris previously used, which blew a zipper out on the highway, losing its payload.
I’m happy to say the Force 25 has been very reliable. I’ve used it for around-town chore duty, runs to the grocery store, inter-provincial touring, during the Fundy Adventure Rally, and as carry-on luggage. I’ve packed this bag with clothes, computers and tools, and I haven’t broken a zipper yet, or found any other major flaw.
I have used a fair number of motorcycle backpacks, and I’ve only found one that’s “just right.” The Kriega R30 still stands out as the best bike bag we ever had at CMG. However, I think the Force 25 comes the closest of all the rest we’ve tested. While it lacks some features that made the R30 a favourite, it has some other functionality to make up for it, and comes in at a lower price.
After giving the zippers a suspicious examination, my next evaluation criteria for a motorcycle backpack is all-day comfort. It’s no great achievement to make a backpack that works for around-town riding; any old rucksack can do that job. A properly-designed motorcycle bag distinguishes itself by remaining relatively comfortable for longer time in the saddle.
I spent several days riding with a heavily-packed Force 25, including my November ride home from Toronto, and it carries weight well. If you’ve got a few kilos of gear on your back, you’re going to feel it at the end of the day. You can’t escape physics. But the strap system does a good job of distributing that weight evenly, so you’re not stuck with severely strained shoulders at the end of the ride, which is the case with many backpacks.
I think the key to the bag’s comfort is that it conforms well to your body, staying in place even if you’re moving around a bit on the bike. This was especially evident when I used it during the Fundy Adventure Rally.
There are two cross-straps that span your chest while riding, which helps keep the load balanced. The top cross-strap was the source of my only real peeve with the bag; the cross-strap runs on a sort of fabric track, to allow adjustability. It’s also designed to easily pull apart, and that can be a pain if it pulls apart when you don’t want it to. I suspect this is actually a decent safety feature, letting your bag detach from you in a crash if you start rolling; however, in my crash in early September, I slid on my shoulder and the bag stayed attached to me the whole time (and was undamaged).
As far as extra pockets and other attachment points go, I think the Force 25 strikes a good compromise between usability and practicality. Too many pockets means added fabric, which increases the bag’s weight. Too few pockets, and you have to rummage through the depths of your bag any time you want something. The two side pockets and the two accessory pockets on the back allow you to stow items or clothes for quick access, but don’t add much to the weight, and don’t interfere with the bag’s internal carrying capacity.
If you need to add something bulky to the load, or you don’t want to throw something cruddy (like a pair of shoes or wet rainpants) into the bag’s interior, there’s a set of adjustable straps hidden away in a pocket in the bottom of the bag that allow you to attach something to the backpack’s base. Add in four compression straps on the side of the bag, and you can attach quite a bit of extra kit, if you need to (and your back can take the load).
There’s also a mesh helmet-carrying system which packs away in another pocket the bottom of the bag; I never used this, and question its value. I’d rather have the extra cargo space. This is where I stowed the backpack’s rain cover.
Speaking of which: as I said in the initial review, this backpack is only slightly water-resistant, which is one area where it lags behind some of the competition. However. I felt the rain cover was a good compromise, and easily secured—and easy to replace, should it start leaking. I’m not sure I’d trust the bag to an all-day ride through a monsoon, as water can still trickle down between your back and the bag and start to saturate the fabric. However, on the rare occasions you ride for hours in those conditions, you can probably find a garbage bag to keep your cargo dry.
Along with the helmet storage, I also didn’t use the Camelbak storage system, as I never found it hot enough in New Brunswick to need onboard hydration. I do like this feature, though, as I find the in-jacket systems found in the ADV scene to be uncomfortable (and they leave you looking like Quasimodo).
The big question
And now, for the all-important question: Would I buy this bag with my own money? That’s a tough question, for two reasons.
First, I never had any problems with the YKK zippers on this bag; they seem like decent quality pieces, not the best but functional enough if you don’t overstuff the bag. But, if I was going to buy it, I’d want to make sure I had some sort of assurance that, if the fasteners let go a few months later, the retailer or Alpinestars would make it right.
The second reason for careful thought is that this bag sells for approximately $200 in Canada, well below the $335 price tag on the Kriega R30. However, it’s only about $10 cheaper than the Kriega R20 in Canada, and that bag comes with a 10-year warranty. With that in mind, it would likely pay to take a careful look at each backpack’s features, and decide if the added capacity and capability of the Force 25 outweighed the guarantee behind the R20. Whether or not I, or anyone else, buys this bag should depend on that decision.