For all my bikers out there, constantly terrified of being blind-sided by an SUV every time you courageously merge into traffic, your prayers have been answered. And for all my drivers out there, constantly terrified of pancaking some annoying biker cutting you off at 40 mph, your prayers have also been answered. With its built-in turn signals, the William Root-designed Blackpack is the answer.
As a driver in Los Angeles, I personally know the paranoia of seeing a biker right ahead of me, not knowing where they are going or if/when they are going to turn. It drives me nuts. Quite frankly, hand signals and bikes’ tiny reflective lights do jack shit. However, the Blackpack has a red strip of light along the back that, when activated by the biker via the shoulder strap, shows which way the biker is planning on turning. The light can also serve as a taillight and is easily visible against the hard, black shell of the Blackpack.
Not only does this backpack feature the nifty and potentially life-saving turn signals, it also has several other neat tricks. Inspired by a tortoise shell, the backpack itself is a solid shell that will protect any valuables the biker may have inside. The straps and the part that rests on your back, however, arepadded for comfort. The entire backpack is waterproof, including waterproof seams, so no amount of rain will ruin laptops or paperwork nestled inside. In addition to the light strip on the outside, there is a light on the inside of the backpack that turns on once you open it. Now bikers can see what they’ve got going on in there – even at night.
unknown sat down with designer William Root, to get the full scoop on his creative design:
u: When did the inspiration for this design strike? Was it immediate or was the idea in the works for a while?
W: In a sense, the design has been going on for quite a while. I first became interested in hard-shell backpacks about 4 years ago because they have some great advantages to normal soft-goods, but very few companies make them. So I designed the Nova Backpack (seen below), a hardshell laptop bag with a collapsing outer shell. People loved the look, but it had a number of functional issues so I put the design on the back burner for a while. The Blackpack, in a sense, is version 2.0 in my design exploration in hardshell bags.
u: Was a tortoise shell the sole inspiration behind this design, or did you draw from various other sources as well?
W: I drew inspiration from the tortoise shell conceptually, but aesthetically I was more interested in conveying the solid strength and rigidity of the backpack through a faceted form. I was inspired by cut gems and crystallized geological forms.
u: When you created the backpack did you initially want it to be for bikers?
W: Yes. I am an avid cyclist and am disappointed in the current backpacks on the market. None of them offer the range of features or aesthetic that I wanted. As a guy who doesn’t go anywhere without his computer I’ve always been drawn to hardshell backpacks for that extra bit of protection that soft-shells can’t provide.
u: There are other biker backpacks that offer similar features. What makes yours unique?
W: Many of the features in the Blackpack can be seen in other bags, but there aren’t any bags on the market [that] integrate them into a unique and cohesive design. Most hardshell bags on the market fail to take advantage of the aesthetic liberties you can take with rigid materials, and I have yet to see a bag that simply and elegantly incorporates signals into the design.
u: The turn signals are particularly innovative. How did you come up with the idea?
W: I knew I wanted to include a bike light in the bag from the start. As I was building the bag I realized that I would already have a circuit board, a battery pack and a switch for the bike light, so it wouldn’t add much complexity to add the turn signal and interior light, though it would add a lot of functionality and utility.
u: And it says they are activated through the shoulder strap. Can you explain how that works?
W: The shoulder straps have a button sewn in at the shoulder corresponding to the direction of the turn; one press activates the signal (and ticker), and another deactivates it after the turn.
u: What are the lights in the turn signals and taillight? Will they need to be replaced or charged after awhile?
W: The lights are ultra-bright red LEDs. They have a life of around 50,000 hours, so they should last as long as the bag does. Just like any bike light, they are battery powered and the batteries would need to be charged or replaced occasionally.
u: How are the lights powered? If not by solar, is solar something you would consider for an alternate version of Blackpack?
W: The prototype is powered by 9V batteries, although I am considering a rechargeable battery pack that yes, could be recharged by an integrated solar panel. It was a bit beyond the scope of the prototype, but a solar panel could relatively easily be integrated into one of the facets on the bag to charge up the batteries.
u: Is this a patented design, or can anyone put turn signals on a backpack?
W: Anyone could put lights on their bag and I am certain that I am not the first to do so. However, I think the Blackpack integrates signals into the design better than any other designs on the market.
u: Since coming up with the backpack have you thought of any other features you want to add?
W: There are a lot of features I would love to add to the bag. The first step when designing the Blackpack was to create a list of all the features I might want in a cycling bag: an exterior pocket, a solar panel, an integrated hydration system, and a helmet clip to name a few. Too many features would have compromised the design of the bag, so I focused on the ones that were most important to me: waterproof, lightweight, hardshell, and streamlined with laptop storage and bike lights.
u: When can we hope to see Blackpacks on the shelves? Will they come in different colors?
W: There has been quite a bit of interest in the Blackpack and I’ve been getting a lot of requests. I’m developing the design further and perhaps looking into starting [a] crowd-funding project once I’ve worked out all the kinks in manufacturing. I’m not big on color, though I think it could look pretty awesome…
u: What’s next for you as a designer? Is your focus mainly on products?
W: I’m looking at relocating to the west coast in the Bay area to see what design opportunities are out there. I’m not sure that I want to stay in product. I’m interested in a broad range of topics, from bike design to hydroponics to architecture. I’d really like to work on projects to help shape the world I want to see in the future.