The CRC Pro Bike Bag is the Ryanair of bike travel bags when it comes to price, but does it deliver first class performance?
Flying with your bike is a stressful experience at the best of times: manoeuvring through the throngs, trying to avoid the retractable barrier poles at check-in; praying that you don’t get charged excess baggage on top of the excess baggage fees you’ve already paid; the wait for your pride and joy at the baggage hall, hoping it hasn’t been lost in transit; nervously peeking in to check whether it’s been crushed like a tin can. As an experience it’s probably not far behind moving house and redundancy on the anxiety scale. Which is why choosing the right bike travel bag is so important, as a good one that really protects your bike can genuinely help bring that blood pressure down.
As an online giant, Chain Reaction Cycles is expert at examining good products and reimagining them (to put it diplomatically) at a lower cost. One case in point is this Pro Bike Bag, a travel bag designed mostly for flying with your bike, that’s been heavily influenced by Evoc’s classic Bike Travel Bag Pro. But while Evoc’s product is a lofty £600, the CRC version is considerably more affordable at £250. Or, to put it another way, enough of a difference in price to be able to fly somewhere like Geneva for a riding holiday. And in some ways the CRC bag is actually better than Evoc’s. But more on that in a moment.
Built from heavy duty fabrics (a tarpaulin-like material inside and Cordura-style fabric outside), with sturdy zips and a base reinforced with moulded plastic, the bag flaps open completely on one side to make it as easy as possible to insert a bike. In reverse to the Evoc bag, CRC’s design holds the drive-side against the inner face of the bag. This makes it a little more difficult to nestle the bike into its padding, and make sure the rear mech is tucked between the chainstays as you’re working blind to a degree.
As the wheels are stored in pockets within the main compartment – not accessible from the outside – you need to remember to stow the rear wheel first, before the bike. The good news is, the wheel compartments are big enough to hold a 29in wheel with a 2.5in tyre without deflating.
To protect the frame and fork from being crushed, CRC helpfully provides a range of dropout inserts, all individually organised and labelled in their own pockets. These can then be held by the through-axles. Unfortunately there’s no 15mm Boost front hub spacer – the most common fork axle dimension. If you have a RockShox fork with Torque Cap compatible dropouts you can use the 20mm option instead, but anyone with a Fox fork will be left out in the cold. Instead you’ll need to fashion your own by buying and cutting down some piping from a hardware store.
At 1,400mm in length, the CRC bag should be plenty long enough for most modern enduro/DH bikes. But it’s very difficult to space the Shock Block inserts – that hold the axles in place and away from the base – far enough apart to hold the Crush Protection dropout inserts. We’d prefer a reinforced, padded section under the fork dropout instead, similar to Evoc’s design.
With the bike installed, the narrow wheelbase isn’t particularly stable. It tips over easily when wheeling around, more so than the equivalent Evoc bag.
After several years and 16 flights, our sample CRC bag is definitely looking worse for wear. Obviously one expects a bike bag to get a hard life, and some amount of damage is inevitable. After all, it’s the bike we’re looking to protect, not the bag itself. And in that respect the CRC Pro Bike Bag has done an excellent job. But, the main plastic handle used to wheel it around has snapped in the middle, some of the internal loops used to strap the bike into the bag have come unstitched and the interior fabric has ripped. And we’ve got Evoc bags that are older and more widely travelled that are in better condition. Which suggests that paying less will have an impact on durability – something that will come as a surprise to precisely no one.
While we like thoughtful touches such as the frame inserts, and we really like the price, the overall build quality of the CRC Pro Bike Bag makes it obvious that durability is not comparable with the much more expensive Evoc options. It’s not as easy to pack a modern enduro bike into, and it’s not as stable when wheeling about. If you’re looking for a budget option for travelling with your bike, a cardboard bike box is still the cheapest and lightest option given that it weighs about half the CRC bag and costs nothing if you ask nicely. And if you want an all-singing, all-dancing bike travel bag, then the CRC Pro Bike Bag might save you money in the short term, but an Evoc might be the better long term purchase.