Monday, 11 March 2013


This is Timbuk2's Classic Messenger Bag.

Firstly, you're probably eyeing this and thinking "no way is that colour scheme in the shops".

And you'd be right.

You may recall my initial frustration (okay, 'rant') that, prior to buying my first messenger bag, I was curious about how useful and comfortable they really are, but was really put off by the limited colour choices and, let's face it, masculine aesthetics (all too often that dark, gritty, 'urban road warrior' look). 

Looking around, a few Timbuk2 messenger bags looked promising in terms of function (and positive feedback by my fellow lady blogger Cycling In Heels intrigued me further) but again... ugh! what uninspiring colours!

But I had only been looking at websites of UK-based online retailers, like Wiggle. When I visited Timbuk2's own website, I discovered.... the Custom Bag option! 

What a revelation!  While the bag itself can't be altered much in terms of basic design (size, pockets, etc), you can -
  • choose the colour (even fabrics) for each of the three panels that are an integral part of the Classic Messenger's signature look;
  • choose the colour of the binding/trim;
  • choose the colour of the interior lining;
  • choose the colour of the Timbuk2 logo on the front (make it as subtle as you like!);
  • specific whether you wear your bag over your left shoulder or your right;
  • add a larger reflector tab at the end of the straps that close the bag;
  • add a compression strap on the bottom of the bag; and
  • add on (at extra cost)
    - a shoulder strap pad (customised if you wish to match the colour/fabric of your bag);
    - a pocket at the back of the interior;
    - a grab handle on top of the bag;
    - other various accessories as part of your order (each of which are also available for sale separately).
So I thought:  if there's a chance I'm going to like this bag (and the odds look good), then I'm going to get something I not only love for its function but love for its looks.   So here it is.

My order specification was:

Secondly -- and if you've been reading my other messenger bag reviews, you'll know how crucial this is --this is the "XS" size of the Classic Messenger.  It measures 22.5 cm in height; the width is 32.5 cm at the top but tapers down to 26.5 cm at the bottom; and the depth is 13 cm. This is very comparable to the Michaux Club Tan Commuter bag (23 cm high x 33 cm wide x 9 cm deep), which I totally love.  [Just for context, the Large Classic Messenger is 30 cm high, 57 cm tapering to 41 cm wide and 23 cm deep!]


This is the front, with the bag closed -

And the rear -

Single strips of fabric are used right over the front and back of the bag -

I think this is a nice touch, producing fewer seams that can rub/wear. And if you've chosen a patterned fabric in the Custom Bag option, the pattern will be continuous. The one downside is that pattern matching is not carried across over all the panels -- it would have been nice if the pattern in the two side panels of my bag had matched up or, even better, mirrored each other. But that would have added a lot of time and cost to what is probably a fairly automated manufacturing process.

Moving on, there is a strap on the front (below the flap) to mount a rear light -

If you go the Custom Bag route, you can opt for reflective trim. 
(And as you'll see a few photos further along, this same trim is used throughout, even on the interior!)

The bag closes with two methods:  straps with buckles over the outside of the bag, and also Velcro(R) strips underneath the flap.  Both methods work well. In fact, either on its own would be good enough.  With both, there is no way to avoid using the Velcro, regardless of whether or not you then leave the buckles undone.  If I could choose just one, I'd have the straps and buckles. I find that sometimes in a hurry, I close the bag and then find that the seams of the panels in the flap don't line up with the seams of the panels on the bag.  The straps are more forgiving in this regard (if the Velcro weren't there).  The Velcro strips are also incredibly loud, when opening the bag.  Timbuk2 do sell, separately, "Silencer Strips" that you can fix over the Velcro to put them out of commission -- if you don't like the mess, or the noise, or both. Removing the strips re-instates the Velcro function whenever you wish.

Having said that, there is perhaps one minor downside to relying on just the straps and buckles, and that is the material of the straps. It is a little on the slippery or silky side. I have found a few times that they loosen a bit on their own.  (So maybe that Velcro is good insurance after all.)

Under the flap is an organisation area on the front of the main body of the bag. This comprises a zip pocket (which has Timbuk2's signature red ribbon key tether inside), with a slip pocket above that. I think Timbuk2 has this configuration of pockets pre-made as a kind of pouch, ready to sew onto the bag as a unit. I understand pocket unit for the larger size messenger bags has more pockets - with the key tether inside the main body of the bag. (Can anyone confirm?)

Looking inside, you'll see a large main area, with a full-width slip pocket at the back of the bag. The divider used to create this pocket is lightly padded. (See the reflective lining!)

The slip pocket is not quite wide enough to fit A4 (or letter) sized papers inside, but the main bag is... just.

The lining is a type of vinyl or PVC - easy to clean by simply wiping it with a damp cloth. I chose a pale colour for contrast -- makes it easier to find the little things that inevitably settle at the bottom of your bag.

There is also a small zipped "Napoleon" pocket at the side of the organisation unit. This is designed for entry from the side, even while on the move.  [I will try and add a photo of this later.]

Moving on to the straps...

The shoulder strap is about 5 cm wide and made of nylon webbing of the sort used for car seatbelts. It is fixed at one end -- although there is also a ring sewn in just below where the strap is attached.  At the other end, the strap feeds through what I believe is called a Cam fastener. It has a looped section that lifts up to loosen the strap and then presses down again to secure the strap at the length you've chosen.  The Cam doesn't have a definite click-down feel to it, so I wonder how secure it really is but so far I haven't had the strap slip on me - so far so good. 

Meanwhile, I like how the Cam is shaped -- curvy with no hard edges (unlike the Knog Big Dog -- you could hurt yourself with that one!)

It may not be 100% clear from the photos above what happens to the excess length of shoulder strap. The bag was delivered with that end of the strap looped through a buckle that is fixed to the end of the bag below the Cam.  I re-threaded it through the buckle in such a way that I could loop the excess length round and round inside itself. This produces a smaller 'package' at the side of the bag and means there is no loose end to flap around.

And now for one of my  favourite features of messenger bags...  uh oh, it's not there!

I'm talking about the anti-swing strap. Timbuk2 say "XS bag does not include and is not compatible with the cross strap."  "Not compatible?" I say, "Rubbish!". 

I've examined how the cross strap is attached to the size S version of this same bag and see no reason why the same can't be done with the XS. And guess what - I had no difficulty attaching the anti-swing strap from my Michaux Club bag (of very similar size). It works just fine.

Timbuk2 could easily offer this as an optional extra -- at a charge as with the grab handle, if they wish.  Meanwhile, they do sell these straps separately. I suspect they're intended for purchase to use with the larger bags, but I'm tempted to get one and try it with the XS. (At US$5, why not?)

Meanwhile, another bag manufacturer (in Glasgow - much closer to home) that I'm interested in makes an XS size messenger bag that also doesn't come with an anti-swing strap. But.... they'll make one for it, on request and on payment of a surcharge for extra material and labour.


The basic bag has to be fit for purpose and do what it's supposed to. 
The Classic Messenger comes up trumps.   I think a few photos tell the tale.

The stock version will certainly perform just as well. So do you need to get a custom version?

     If you're left handed or for some other reason want the strap to go over your right shoulder...

     If you really need a grab handle on the top of the bag...

     ...then, yes, you'll need to go custom to get those things.

Otherwise, it comes down to personal taste and priorities. I did not want to buy a well-designed bag, really like the way it performed but have to resign myself with living with ugly colours.  I don't need a 'designer' look. To be honest, I'd have been perfectly happy to find a stock bag in solid red... or red and white... or dark pink and white. But red only comes in combination with grey (which makes the whole thing look grubby). And there is no pink in the stock inventory.

So, yes, I've paid a premium for little more than style. When I saw the opportunity to do that, I decided to make this bag as individual and unique as I could.  On the one hand, that means this was a bit of a vanity project. On the other hand, without the option to create my own custom bag, I would not have purchased from Timbuk2 at all.  I guess that's what we call a win-win.


Cycling-specific design features: 9 / 10

Usefulness e.g. accessibility and comfort: 9 / 10 
   [My only slight reservation whether water can get into the top of the bag. I find the Velcro a bit annoying. But that can be resolved.]

Durability:  8 / 10
   [Time will tell how stain resistant these fabrics are, and how easy the bag is to clean. Otherwise, the bag is sturdy and looks well made. Used examples on Ebay seem to hold up well.]

Attractiveness:  9 / 10 
   [Hard to score low, when you can have so much control over this!]

Value for money: 9/ 10 
   [Standard bags are available for under £60 if you look. That is extremely competitive in this market. Used bags seem to hold their value on Ebay as well.]

Overall:  44 / 50


My reviews of other messenger bags can be found: 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Share This