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Merida's Fifteen II backpack is a fairly straightforward medium-capacity commuter or mountain biking rucksack that doesn't have too many tricks up its sleeves but does a lot of the basics very well. For daily rides to work and long days in the saddle, it's great... as long as it doesn't rain.
After testing a lot of slightly unusual carrying products recently – such as the ultra-quirky and sturdy Chrome Yalta backpack-cum-messenger bag, or the semi-hardshell and self-illuminating Jack Wolfskin Neuron rucksack – it comes as a surprise to find a bag that seems happy to do only what it's designed to do. That's not to say the Merida Fifteen II is boring: it's actually quite refreshing to have a product in this sector that seems to have eschewed novelty for competency.
Let's start with the basics. The 'Fifteen' in its names refers to its 15-litre capacity. This isn't a huge amount, but fill it to the brim and it's about as much as you'd want resting on your back while in the saddle. For taking a few books, lunch and kit to the office, it'll do fine.
With two external zipped pockets, two small elasticated side pockets, side straps, a couple of tabs to hook your helmet off the bike, and a light mount, it has most practical bases covered.
It's not just a commuting bag, though. Unzip the massive front flap and you see the decent carrying potential is shared between four internal pockets of differing size. That includes a specific space for a hydration bladder should you want to take it on a long weekend daytrip. This section will also accept a small laptop – my MacBook just slips in – and benefits from the most protection available, being up against the back panel.
There's not much protection elsewhere, so you won't want to carry anything too valuable. Cargo easily damaged by dampness could come a cropper, too, as the zips are particularly prone to water ingress. That's a bit of a shame, especially as there's no integrated rain cover. The nylon/polyester mix fabric actually puts up a decent fight against moisture – if Merida only fitted some waterproof zips it could claim it was at least weather-resistant. And while overall build quality is very good, I have some doubts that the material will survive years of really heavy abuse.
But those are all the downsides because, while the Fifteen II might not be built to protect vulnerable contents, it is built to at least look after the rider. The padded back section isn't over-designed but feels fantastic on the bike and the use of both chest and hip straps keeps the bag rock solid in place on your back. The combination of good reflective details and the light mount I mentioned earlier help keep you visible on the road, too.
Although the bag might help others notice you're there, you may not notice the bag is on. I've used it to ferry some fairly heavy kit around and forgotten I was even wearing it. The wide shoulder straps are probably its most cushioned ingredient, and even though the back pad doesn't feature any clever air-flow enhancers, its relatively restrained padded mesh sections do a decent job of keeping you sweat-free.
When it comes to cycling-specific rucksacks, the Merida Fifteen II is at the cheaper end of the spectrum. However, we've also been impressed by the Proviz Reflect360 Touring Backpack, also at £49.99. And for a small up-spend, at £64.99 the Deuter Race X has a slightly lower capacity but excellent on-bike performance. So the Merida looks like decent value.
I've been lucky enough to test the Fifteen II in summer, where its comfortable and lightweight nature has been able to shine brightest. However, I'm not sure I'd be quite so impressed were I reviewing it in winter. It does many things very well and a lot of thought has gone into satisfying many riders' most common needs. As it stands, it's a fair price, too. But all-year-round British riders are going to need to factor in the cost of a rain cover.
Superbly stable and comfortable mid-capacity rucksack, but the lack of rain protection could leave it a damp squib
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Merida Fifteen II backpack
Size tested: 15 litres
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
This is a medium-capacity cycling rucksack aimed at commuters and day-trippers.
Merida says: "A spacious and comfortable pack that's designed for all day adventures and the daily commute. With a 15 L capacity, the Merida Fifteen II is built to carry everything you need for a full day on two wheels. It has space for a hydration bladder and stays locked in place with an adjustable chest-strap with hose-holder and an adjustable hip belt. The Fifteen II has a helmet holder to stow your helmet when you reach your destination and an internal organiser for small parts and tools. It has various reflective details and a mount for a light to help keep you safe."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Volume: 15 litres
Material: Nylon 10%, polyester 90%
The Fifteen II is built very nicely with good production quality.
Fantastic on-bike performance. Super-comfortable to wear, very stable and feels impressively lightweight.
It's held up well so far but it's early days, so I don't know how sturdy the material will prove to be over long-term use.
Very good – light on the scales, and with such good support it arguably feels even lighter in the saddle.
Really fantastic comfort with cushioned shoulder straps and a simple but effectively padded back.
At the cheaper end of the spectrum and pretty decent value compared with many, but the Proviz Reflect360 Touring Backpack offers similar performance for the same price but with enhanced reflectivity and an integrated rain cover. And for a small up-spend, at £64.99 the Deuter Race X has a slightly lower capacity but excellent on-bike performance.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
On dry days, there's very little to complain about. The Fifteen II felt fantastic on the bike and can carry a fair amount stably, comfortably and securely.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Its excellent levels of comfort and stability.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Not rainproof and no rain cover.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
I've had to take the two most prominent aspects into consideration when giving the Fifteen II an overall score: on a dry summer's day, it's a fantastic rucksack that feels perfect on the bike; on a wet winter's day, it's a liability that could leave your contents sodden. Very much a hero or zero product!
About the tester
I usually ride: Islabikes Beinn 29 My best bike is: 25-year-old Dawes Galaxy
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, sportives, general fitness riding, mtb, Leisure