Those of you who have followed my previous bag reviews already know, I was on a mission to find the best messenger bag I could find. Many years ago, Mark Dwight, then the CEO of Timbuk2 bags, stopped me during a San Francisco Macworld show, and challenged me to try one of their great messenger bags, designed by him. I started using it immediately and loved it. And while I have tried numerous bags since (and reported on most here,), I always find myself comparing every new bag I tried to that first Tinmuk2 bag. It was a great bag, and I used it non-stop now for nearly 4 years, as no bag has been quite good enough to replace it.
But today, I introduce you to my new yardstick when it comes to measuring messenger bag performance and design. My Timbuk2 bag has been retired, and this new bag has taken its place. Mark Dwight has returned to the world of making bags with Rickshaw Bagworks, his new San Francisco company, and he is back to designing some of the best bags in the world in my view. This man truly understands what makes a bag look, perform and function well, and he is not afraid to listen to his customer’s complaints and suggestions either. If he likes an idea, it often get implement in future bags. Their website welcomes comments, complaints, and suggestions, and Mark is thankful for every one of them.
John Nemo and I had the pleasure of meeting with Mark and a few members of his team in San Francisco a few months ago, where Rickshaw bags are assembled. And we saw some very cool technology to make them, and something unique in the bag industry: personal customization of your bag.
The basic elements (the back section, sides, and inside pockets) of the Medium Commuter Messenger Bag, the one I am now carrying, are all made in Rickshaw’s partner factory in Asia. Not only does this keep costs down, but production is also much more efficient as well. They can make the more detailed components of the bag in China, where there are better resources, allowing Rickshaw to do the fast customization and finish in their SF factory. This also means you can make some personal choices as to what your final bag will look like, picking from a wide array of fabrics for the front flap, as well as a large number of colors for the bindings around the edges of the bag. Being somewhat conservative, I opted for a basic black bag, but added a teal blue binding around the edges to add a bit of color.
After selecting my fabrics and color, a piece of the fabric was placed inside a computer controlled laser-cutting machine. It was set for the size of my bag, and I got to press “go” on the machine. Within a minute or so, the machine had cut the proper shape for the front of my bag from the larger piece of fabric.
This piece of fabric, plus the color binding, and a few labels were handed to a woman nearby, who, within just a few minutes, stitched it al together into the final product. Very cool.
But Mark is not just about making cool bags in his old warehouse space in the “Dogpatch” area of San Francisco. He has a “cradle-to-cradle” attitude when it comes to sustainability and being eco-friendly. Much of his bag materials, for example, are made from recycled materials like recycled water bottles. While not 100% recyclable materials yet, just give Mark some time. These bags are made from PVC free materials as well, making them more eco friendly. In fact, these bags are so innovative they were picked as the official supplier for the 2008 TED conference bag, where 1600 bags were needed. To make it interesting for the conference, and to point out the ability to make a unique bag for yourself, Mark designed two each of 800 unique bags for the show, and the challenged people at the show to find their match.
OK, so the company is very hip, cool, and ecologically minded, and that is of course all very important, but is the bag any good?
As I said above, this is now the bag I carry, and it has easily displaced Mark’s earlier bag from Timbuk2. Mark “gets it” when it comes to designing bags, and this is evident in even the smallest details that make up this bag. Starting in the back, there is a large zippered pouch right under the securely attached large carrying handle. Since putting a handle above a zipper is typically a bad idea, Mark has secured the handle by designing two reinforcement straps down the inside of the pocket. This means that no stress at all goes across the zipper, even when lifting a fully loaded bag. Inside this back pocket, big enough to easily handle multiple file folders, are three large pockets on the inside edge, each of which can hold a checkbook, cell phone, or pocket organizer. In fact, they were specifically designed to hold a large and small Moleskine journal I was told, an important detail! Between these pockets are two different places for pens, and below the middle pocket is a see-through pocket to store business cards.
In the front of the bag is a large flap that covers the entire front of the bag. It hides two large front zippered pouches, two open inside pouches, and the padded computer sleeve as well. The design of the front flap is another one of Mark’s great ideas. The flap is designed with small triangular flaps at the folding points to further protect things inside from rain and dust. Typically, in addition to snapping plastic buckles, these front flaps were often held in place by large Velcro strips. Unfortunately, that means when you open your bag in a meeting or quiet place, everyone gets to hear the loud ripping sound of your bag opening. So Mark added magnets to hold the front flap in place instead. But what if you like Velcro better? No worries, the magnets on the flap are actually attached to a piece of Velcro baked material. Simple remove the magnets, and you now have the classical, slightly more secure, more noisy Velcro closing method available to you. Best of all worlds!
Immediately inside the front flap are two large zippered pouches that zipper along the top and partially down one side. They hold things well even when you forget to zipper them, he said knowingly. Both pouches have three small pouches inside (one on the back of the pocket, and two on the front) and a center open area, as well as a keychain tether; a short one on the left side, and a longer tether on the right. I found these pockets perfect for carrying cables, CDs and DVDs, thumb drives, and other smaller articles that I did not want to get lost inside.
Immediately behind these pockets are two, larger open-top pockets for storing “stuff.” In the back pocket is a removable, padded computer sleeve held in place by long Velcro straps, easily removable if necessary. The bottom of the bag is also water proof, so go ahead and set it down in that puddle (I did) and everything inside stays nice and dry.
Lastly, this bag has one of the best shoulder straps I have used to date. It contains a new type of quick length adjustment lock (similar to what we saw on Timbuk2’s bags), a wide padded shoulder strap (replaceable), and even a padded protector for the adjustment buckle so it does not dig into your side. The strap is attached to the bag via quick release “D-type” latches, and is easily removable if so desired.
Construction is incredibly strong, and for the last two months I have been beating the crap out of this bag, and it still looks like new (many photos are of my bag taken only a few days before this went to press.) Stitching is solid all around, and the bag seems to hold its shape well. And Rickshaw does their own repairs for a time and materials charge should you accidentally damage or tear the bag. If you are nearby, you can just drop in and let them have a look as well.
With all these great features, there is still more room for improvement. First and foremost, missing for me are outside side pockets similar to the Timbuk2 bag. Mark thinks pockets will detract from the look more than they add function, and I am sorry to say, I believe Mark is just wrong on this one. On the Timbuk2 bag, they would lie flat when not in use, and made carrying a water bottle, cell phone, or glasses (for example) easily accessible at all times without having to open the bag or even take it off my back when riding. Instead, Mark has designed small “add on” straps on the side of the bag to attach “future” accessories. He gave me a zippered pouch to attach to the side, but that pouch sticking out is just wrong, it is not easy to open when riding with the bag, and simply does not integrate well with the rest of the design. I am told that the company is working on new line accessories for the sides of the bags and my pouch was just a temporary solution for my needs, so this may be all moot soon.
Inside, I like the look and feel of the material used, except for the inside of the computer sleeve. For some reason, this is a different color from everything else, being red instead of the gray and black used elsewhere. And it is made from some kind of material that literally sticks to the metal housing of the Mac computer, making it difficult to insert or remove the computer, as the computer does not really slide across this stuff. Something fuzzy here would have been much better. I have only a 12” Power Book that was difficult to put in and out; I can’t imagine what putting a 15” in here must be like. A spokesperson for Rickshaw Bagworks tells me that this material will be eventually replaced with something that works better, so again, a moot point for now.
Lastly, I found the inside large two pockets, specifically the front one, to be mostly useless for anything larger than a notebook or a few file folders, especially when the computer is inserted. This is especially true if you put stuff in the very front pockets as well, which I did. I believe this inside area would be much more useful if the one divider inside was simply removed, making one larger pocket rather than two smaller ones.
But even with these few small issues, this is still one of the best bags I have used in a very long time. And given Rickshaw’s dedication and response to customers, you can bet they will just keep getting better. As I review other bags in the future, you can be sure I will be comparing them to this bag now as well as future offerings from this company. Look for good things from Rickshaw Bagworks.
Great looking bag, love the custom colors and fabrics available.
Best strap I have ever used, well padded in multiple places.
Comfortable to carry, holds up well, and stands up straight when set down.
Well designed. Especially love the removable magnets on the front Velcro.
A company that cares about environment, customers, and their product.
Missing side pockets.
The add on “pouches” stick out too much and are ugly on the bag.
The inside surface of the computer pocket makes insertion and removal of a computer difficult.
The inside large pockets do not hold much. Remove the divider to make one large pocket instead.
MyMac rating: 4.5 out of 5. Side pockets please!