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Epitomising the notion of a bright idea, the Jack Wolfskin Neuron laptop backpack boasts a ring of LED self-illumination on its outer surface to help cycle commuters be seen in the dark. At its core, it's also a secure way to transport your work essentials including electrical devices. It's not perfect, and not cheap, but it's a very interesting option.
The Neuron laptop has three standout features: its shaped body, rather like a lightweight foam guitar or camera case; its self-illuminating rear face; and its fairly eye-opening price. We'll deal with cost and value later, but first let's look at those other USPs because they're striking enough.
Unlike typical flaccid rucksacks that only really take shape once you fill them up with stuff, the Neuron features dense and durable Armatech Plus 600D fabric over a stiffer foam body, which gives it a definite shape whether its 26-litre capacity is full or empty.
The zip opening traverses from the bottom left to the bottom right via the top of the bag, meaning it opens reasonably wide in a clamshell fashion. Access to the inside is pretty good, although I feel like the two sections should be able to completely flip to 180 degrees, like a suitcase, rather than just open to slightly less than 90 degrees.
In the rearmost section of the bag, you'll find a large padded pocket for up to a 15in laptop with a smaller flock-lined padded sleeve that will take a 10in tablet in front. Attached to this are a couple of elasticated mesh pockets.
In the front section of the Neuron there are just four mesh pockets and a black port, from which emerges a USB lead.
You'll also notice a soft bulge at the bottom of the main compartment – this is the waterproof cover which is housed in a pocket accessible by an external zip.
Aside from that, there's only one more zipped compartment on the outside of the bag – Jack Wolfskin calls it a 'security pocket' – and it is found to the left of the padded back section. This means, when you have the bag over your shoulders, your body naturally prevents anybody from gaining access to it.
In terms of external fixtures and fittings, there's a padded carry handle at the top, two quite thin padded shoulder straps with very small reflective elements, and a quick release chest strap that can connect them together.
There are no external mesh pockets or attachment loops for accessories, although there is a plastic clip for keys inside. It's a pretty simple, streamlined setup.
But what's that USB lead for? This is this bag's second USP – LED self-illumination. Attach the lead to a power bank and the outer face of the Neuron emits a red ring of light.
It's quite fun, and while the OSRAM technology isn't blindingly bright, because the ring stretches across most of the frontal area, it does make quite a significant presence in the dark. Incidentally, the material covering the illuminated ring is reflective, so if you run out of power it's still quite striking in the presence of direct light.
Unfortunately, both the self-illuminating ring and reflective material can become less striking when it rains for one simple reason: the bag's fabric isn't waterproof, so in a massive downpour you'll have to resort to the waterproof cover that I mentioned, which rather diminishes the effect of the self-illumination. It's not a terrible compromise – the light still shines through a bit and the white cover itself is quite noticeable. In any case, on the road, in medium rain, the Neuron keeps its contents dry, even if its outside surface gets a little damp.
After capacity and practicality, comfort is probably most riders' biggest concern. Although the shoulder straps seem a little on the skinny side, that's not actually such a bad thing. Shoulder straps, a bit like saddle designs, can suffer from over-padding to cause chafing, and the Neuron's thin and quite firm straps offer good support.
The loops at the end of the tightening straps are helpful for pulling the shoulders taut, especially if you're wearing full finger gloves. However, I found tightening the straps was only easy up to a point, then you have to really yank them the final inch or so to get a nice close fit.
Because the bottom ends of the straps attach to a triangular section of material that extends from the bag, I am also concerned that people with smaller frames could run out of adjustment and find it difficult to achieve sufficient tightness. I'm quite a broad chap and I had the straps tightened almost to max.
With the proviso that you've got a nice direct fit, in terms of comfort and stability things are pretty good. The chest strap between the two shoulder straps helps to keep the bag in place. Heavy weights can be carried fairly comfortably and the back section padding, like the shoulder straps, is verging on the minimalist but none the worse for it.
One thing I did realise on the road is that the self-illuminating light, in daylight hours, has very little presence. It might seem obvious that the darker the conditions, the more effective it is, but in these days of daylight running lights it's a bit of a shame it isn't bright enough to grab drivers' attention at all times. It's also a shame that there's only one setting: constant on. I think a flash mode would be quite impressive.
At £140, this is not a cheap option. Yes, it's smart, well made, and that self-lighting trick is a novel feature, but there's one specific area where I can't help feeling a little short-changed. Power banks are, metaphorically speaking, ten-a-penny these days. So I think the least Jack Wolfskin could do for £140 is provide one.
That said, rival commuting products are none too cheap either. For example, the smart Chrome Mazer Vigil Pack, which also boasts a 26-litre capacity, good storage options and enhanced reflectivity but no self-illumination, costs £160. Meanwhile, the super-practical and ultra-waterproof Shimano Tokyo 23 daypack costs £119.99. So, in that company, £140 is on a par for a product of the Neuron's quality.
I've always been very keen on self-illuminating products of any kind – the fewer excuses you give drivers to not see you, the better. The Jack Wolfskin Neuron is one of the classiest and best made examples in this market, with its built-in light proving very effective in hours of darkness. The fact that it is also super-reflective for when the power pack runs dry and functions well as a secure carrying option for your laptop and so on is great news. But it's also pricey and not quite perfect.
Interesting moulded body rucksack with built-in lighting that will look after you and your laptop
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Jack Wolfskin Neuron Backpack
Size tested: 26 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?
It's a 26-litre, laptop-carrying backpack with built-in LED lighting.
Jack Wolfskin says: "Out and about in the big city after dark? Stay safe and visible with the NEURON! With active illumination by OSRAM, this pack really stands out from the crowd, and it improves the visibility and safety of the user. To activate the LEDs, simply connect a power bank to the USB plug inside the pack and the illumination will work for at least nine hours. The pack also features large areas of retroreflective fabric, so if you run out of power, you will still be visible. There is a small security pocket at the back of the pack that provides a safe (and easily accessible) place to stash your wallet. Your laptop and tablet can be stowed in the padded e-device compartments, and there are several handy stash pockets for smaller items of kit. The NEURON is also equipped with covered zips for anti-theft protection, a sternum strap and a separate waterproof pack bag."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Jack Wolfskin lists these details:
Measurements: 47 x 29 x 20cm
Laptop/tablet compartment: 15in and 10in
Capacity: 26 litre
Adjustable shoulder straps and chest strap
Padded carry handle
LED illumination by OSRAM, powered by a power bank (not included)
Large reflective surface
6 inner pockets, security pocket
Integrated rain cover with reflectors in base compartment
Armatech Plus 600D - fine, densely woven, durable and resilient fabric
Nicely put together. No complaints and the moulded foam body of the bag feels premium.
Pretty good. I'm not entirely sure the shoulder straps will fit everyone ideally – especially those with a smaller frame – but it fitted me well.
Good, although the moulded bag body can get crushed quite easily. So far, it has continued to spring back into shape.
At 1kg before any contents, it's quite a heavy rucksack.
Not a whole lot of padding, but just enough to be effective.
About average for top-end rucksacks from respected brands with a bit of innovation. The Chrome Mazer Vigil Pack also boasts a 26-litre capacity, good storage options and enhanced reflectivity but no self-illumination and costs £160. Meanwhile, the super-practical and ultra-waterproof Shimano Tokyo 23 daypack costs £ 119.99.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
It performed pretty much as expected on the bike. Although there is an integrated rain cover, the Neuron actually proved water-resistant enough to not need it in light rain. Comfort and stability were good. The self-illuminating function is effective at night, but not super-bright.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
I quite liked the shaped foam body – it gives the Neuron a feeling of being more than 'just' a rucksack.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
It's expensive and there's no included power bank – really, how much would it cost Jack Wolfskin to chuck one in?
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? No
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Possibly
Use this box to explain your overall score
There's no escaping the fact that the Neuron is quite a left-field choice. It handles basic rucksack duties well, and the self-lighting tech is fun, but that asking price is significant.
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, mountain biking, leisure