Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gear Review: ViaTerra Fly Camera Tank Bag

Putting the ViaTerra Camera Tank Bag through its paces

I am a motorcyclist and a photographer. My best pictures from my two-wheeled adventures have come out of DSLRs and other cameras that are larger and heftier than my iPhone. Usually, I carry a Canon 7D, a Tokina 11-16mm and a Canon 24-105 mm lens as well as my trusty Lumix LX-5. Into the arsenal have been added a couple of GoPro action cameras. Through the years I have struggled to find a good way of carrying my equipment on the motorcycle.  I have used the backpack style Lowepro Slingshot 102 AW Sling Bag but that has been uncomfortable to carry over a long days ride, especially in Ladakh where you have to rise and sit with the ebb and flow of the roads. I have tried stuffing the Lowepro into a drybag and lashing it to the pillion seat but that means unhooking a zillion bungee cords and unclipping the roll-top dry bag to get access to my photo gear. Repeat in reverse to repack and relash while Vir Nakai, my usual partner in moto adventures and Helmet Stories mutters darkly into his beard. My latest and rather inelegant solution has been to pack my photo gear into protective cases and holsters and stuff it into a magnetic tank bag.

A couple of months when the guys at ViaTerra offered to send their latest product, the ViaTerra Fly Camera Tank Bag, for a Helmet Stories trial by fire we jumped at the chance as there were two almost back-to-back Ladakh rides that we could test the bag on. The Fly is a compact 16-litre capacity bag that looks rugged and well finished. Encased by a 1680x1680 tough Denier syntheic fabric, it has three YKK-zippered external pockets: a slit pocket on the upper flap and  two tapered pockets on the sides. The tapered pockets apparently give you some extra space on handlebar lock turns. The bag comes with a rain cover stashed into an exterior pouch. On the bottom, two soft and padded ribs protect your tank from scratches. It also has straps that convert it into a backpack.

Unzipping the main compartment reveals a well-padded interior. There are two elastic hoops to batten down a DSLR fitted with a lens, which is a neat idea. A zippered unpadded nylon pouch on the side can hold a long zoom lens quite comfortably and I chose to stash a lens there inside a lens padding cannibalized from another camera bag. You will have to devise your own solution by adding padded dividers in the remaining space to isolate your other equipment like I did. On the inside of the top flap there is a slim rectangular pocket to hold memory cards, cords, batteries etc.

Mounting the Fly on to the tank is a simple process. A zippered compartment under the bag hides the mounting straps: one zipper to open and another to close and I used this compartment to add additional foam padding. A single strap upfront is looped around the frame down tube and tightened via time-tested double-D fasteners. At the back, two straps on either side can be attached to any convenient chassis points and tightened with a similar fastening solution. This holds the bag quite firmly in position with minimum forward, backward or sideways movement. The D-Rings makes it easy to loosen the forward strap to allow access to the tank cap at fuel stops. The Fly can also be mounted as a tail bag quite easily.

The protection, exterior and interior, is excellent even though ViaTerra does not provide adjustable padded dividers inside like conventional camera bags. I wish that interior pocket was much larger with specialized compartments for memory cards, batteries et al, so that all your stuff would not get jumbled up and would be easier to access. The rain cover is flimsy and I doubt it would provide much protection in a heavy downpour. The zippers on the outside are exposed and perhaps a storm flap or an overhanging lip would make this bag a little more weather and dust proof. The mounting arrangement is excellent but I couldn’t help wondering if a two-piece bag would make life easier: a base that straps on to the tank, and the actual bag Velcroed and then strapped on to the base. This would be nice on longer rides: at the end of the day you could just unstrap the camerabag and pull it off the Velcro base instead of removing the whole rig, cleaning the dirty straps before stowing them away and repeating the exercise the next day.

On the two rides to Ladakh that I carried the Fly tank bag, I was able to stop and shoot much more than usual and in a much more convenient manner as my gear was now so easier to get to. On the whole, the ViaTerra FlyCamera Tank Bag performed very well on the ride even though I had to MacGyver the interiors for my needs. This bag finally offers motorcyclists in India a good solution to carry photographic gear in a safe and yet easy to access manner. And at a price of Rs 2,200, what you would pay for a standard local tank bag, it is definitely a sterling buy for motorcyclists who like to shoot.