Timbuk2 Messenger Bag
| Owner Comment (below) | Update:
The $9.98 Wal-Mart Messenger Bag (below)
bags were originally used to rush important
documents back and forth by bicycle messengers in big
cities like New York and London. In the beginning,
they were known as courier bags.
They were, and
still are, dumpy looking things that get the tar beat
out of them by their banzai owners. Somehow, the
bike messenger look became hip and the inevitable New
York to Peoria trickle-down fashion effect took hold.
The result is too-fat people browsing
Wal-Mart in bicycle shorts and Wall Street clerks riding
scooters to work with a messenger bag slung over their
Messenger bags and "the
look" have a cult status that has given
Timubuk2 and Ortlieb
the type of exposure in the prime youth market that all
the advertising dollars in the world can't buy.
This drives the white bread Fortune 100 board rooms
green with envy, because they spend millions on cheesy
commercials chasing the same elusive status and they
never quite get it.
Timubuk2 and Ortlieb started out by making purpose-built, no
frills courier bags for the hard-core bike messenger
trade only, but
when the new look caught on, messenger bags got hot and
both companies responded in different ways.
Asian factories can churn
out products like this in their sleep, and it would be
easy to flood the market and quickly put any high labor
cost competitors out of business. Survival in this
type of commodity market means having the brand cachet
that means buyers will accept no substitutes, and
developing an edge over the competition.
Timbuk2 must have realized this, and they realized they
needed to jump the curve. They combined
leading-edge business management concepts with
manufacturing technology to perfect a just-in-time,
made-to-order lean assembly process that's light years
ahead of the typical U.S.-based manufacturer.
This has enabled them to keep the plant in San Francisco instead of
moving it off-shore.
Ortlieb took a slightly
different route and decided to exploit their expertise,
and they've expanded into different markets.
They're now a worldwide enterprise, with a focus on
waterproof products for outdoor activities including
bicycling, motorcycling, water sports and more.
just-in-time "pull" manufacturing system starts with a
customer placing the order. Customers
can go to the Timbuk2 website and quickly step through the
ordering process, choosing the size of the courier bag,
favorite colors and other options like mobile phone
holders, padded shoulder straps and pocket variations to
place an order.
The custom order then becomes a
manufacturing build sheet, and the bag is built and
shipped to specifications. Their ability to make
this work efficiently and rapidly apparently means that
Timbuk2 doesn't need to carry lots of stock which can
burden a company with overhead costs.
I went through their
process late one night East Coast time and was
absolutely amazed when just 36 hours later my custom bag showed up at
the door, 4,800
kilometers distant. In the 3 webBikeWorld
colors, no less!
That's all very interesting, you might say, but
what's a review of a courier bag doing on a site related
to motorcycles? Well, it has to do with sportbikes,
believe it or not!
immense popularity of sportbikes over the last decade
has been amazing. But the lack of any type of
carrying capacity on a sportbike can be a drawback.
Stow the registration card and proof of
insurance papers and you've pretty much run out of storage on a sportbike.
This has spawned an entire industry devoted to various
shapes and sizes of backpacks, tank bags and the like for use
by owners who want to actually use their bike for
something more than a track day.
A messenger bag has a few
things going for it when compared to typical motorcycle
luggage. Besides functioning as a temporary
storage space, a messenger bag also looks decent enough
to carry into the office when the owner rides to work.
The bag also doesn't have to be mounted on the bike, so
there's no time wasted messing around with tank bag
And since it's carried with the owner when
they arrive at their destination, there are no worries
about theft. Motorcycle commuting with this type
of bag seems to be a growing trend, so we figured we'd try the
brand that pretty much started it all to see how it
works when compared to traditional motorcycle luggage.
There is one concern about
using an over-the-shoulder bag or a backpack when riding a
motorcycle. It's always important to
wear proper riding gear and to keep safety foremost in
mind, and it's usually not a good idea to carry hard items like
mobile phones or tools in the pockets of a motorcycle
In case of a fall, a hard item could break
a rib or rupture a spleen, turning what might have been a scary and unpleasant
encounter into a trip to the emergency room instead.
But if you don't have a choice, and you need to truck
some gear back and forth to work or elsewhere, a
messenger bag is something to consider, especially since
it can be used for other purposes.
Timbuk2's messenger bags are
available in four different sizes, ranging from small to extra-large.
Timbuk2 calls them "Pee
Wee, El Ocho, Dee Dog and Bolo".
The smallest bag is 15" (380mm) wide at the top, 10"
and 5.5" (140mm) deep with a 12" (305mm) wide bottom,
which actually is a nice size for
motorcycle use if there's no need to also haul the occasional
laptop. The small bag has a
capacity of 743 cubic inches.
At the opposite end of the
range, the extra-large size
"Bolo" bag is a monstrous 27" (685mm) wide at the top by 14.5"
(368mm) deep and opens to 9" (230mm) thick,
with a 20" (508mm) wide bottom. It has a huge
internal capacity of
3067 cubic inches, which is bigger than most motorcycle
saddlebags and tank bags combined. This bag would
probably be way too big to use when riding.
Note that the bag should be carried around on
the back, not on the side.
wanted something that was just big enough to hold an
occasional laptop, along with the notepads, books and
typical miscellaneous assortment of junk that gets thrown into
the average sized commuter's
Timbuk2 says that the medium
sized bag as the most popular, and it seemed like it had
the dimensions that would meet our needs without being
too gargantuan, so that's what we ordered. Each
bag starts out with a different base price, and the El Ocho is $70.00 before options.
The next step in the custom
ordering process is deciding on a fabric.
Timubuk2's messenger bags are available in a choice of
two fabrics which should be familiar to motorcyclists; Cordura and ballistic nylon.
Just about every
textile motorcycle product around is made from one of these two
fabrics, known for their toughness and longevity.
Since ballistic nylon is heavier and more resistant to
pilling, we figured it would be the best choice.
When used for motorcycle commuting, a messenger bag will
see a lot of chafing against heavy a variety of objects, so we needed something that would stand the
Every Timbuk2 messenger bag
is made from three vertical fabric panels, and each
panel can be ordered in one of 16 different colors.
That's a lot of combinations, but after thinking about it
for a while, the obvious choice was the
webBikeWorld corporate colors of red, green and blue!
After choosing the size,
color, all that's left is to select
any desired options; we went for the carrying handle
($10.00), a silver colored Timbuk2 logo ($5.00) and a
center divider ($10.00). At checkout time, a
couple more options are available.
We chose the
no-slip, removable padding for the shoulder strap
($10.00) in black and a size small mobile phone holster
($15.00) in purple. The mobile phone holster
attaches to the bag's shoulder strap or a belt and it's a
handy little device. The small size is the perfect
shape for a Motorola flip-phone, and the holster's
location on the shoulder strap makes it easy to grab the
phone when it rings.
As we'll see, quick access to
the bag's contents is relatively difficult, especially
when it's on your shoulder. So if you use a cell
phone we suggest ordering the holster.
The mobile phone holsters are available in four
different sizes and a whole palette of colors, so there
should be one to fit just about any size phone.
The total damages were
$120.00, plus $12.00 for the two-day shipping and
handling service (standard delivery is $6.00), for a
total of $132.00. This is actually isn't that bad
for a custom-made product that's comparable to a good
quality briefcase. A judicious buyer could skip
some of the options and probably get away under 100
bucks, but don't forget that this bag can also be used as a briefcase or overnight
travel bag, which makes the price seem more reasonable.
So what's it like to use?
The nylon web shoulder strap that Timbuk2 provides on
their bags is 2" (5cm) wide and very robust, with a big
(big) metal adjustment buckle on one side. There's
a smaller nylon webbed strap that's designed to swing
around the back of the rider and attach to a big D-ring
on one side of the bag, and this is a must-have feature
for using this type of bag on a motorcycle. It
virtually locks the bag in place and prevents it from
flopping around in the air stream when riding.
All of the
contents shown above easily fit into
Timbuk2's medium messenger bag (below).
Stuffed with more than I
really want to carry over my shoulder on a motorcycle,
the medium sized bag can hold, for example, a Compaq
Presario 2585 laptop; a fold-open full-size notebook
with writing pad; a legal-sized clipboard with pad,
several magazines and a couple of books; a mini-umbrella
and whatever else you can stuff inside, including an
assortment of pill bottles, maps, emergency rations,
earplug containers and a few other odds and ends.
My previous go-to-work briefcase was a soft two
compartment job by Land's End, and the medium messenger
bag holds nearly as much.
Although this assortment is relatively comfortable to carry
over the shoulder, because of the wide nylon strap and
padding, this is probably a bit much to sling around on a
motorcycle. But once on board and with the bag's
safety strap wrapped around the front, it actually isn't bad
and doesn't seem to affect the rider's balance.
Timbuk2's messenger bags include some
internal storage capacity. There's a pocket module
that's sewn on to the liner
on the inside front of the bag. The module
includes a nice, wide zippered pocket that's
11" (280mm) wide and 10" (254mm) deep, and it
also has four separate open pockets that can hold things
like pens, papers, a small flashlight, a mobile phone,
CD's or music players and other miscellaneous
It also has a smaller zippered pocket that's 6"
(152mm) wide by
about 4.5" (115mm) deep, and it includes a business card holder that will
about a dozen cards and has a clear vinyl window.
The optional middle divider
that we ordered is basically two thin panels of nylon
sewn into the middle of the bag. The divider has a
short 3" (76mm) piece of Velcro to keep it closed. Without the divider, the interior of the bag is just one big cavern,
shapeless and saggy, but the divider unfortunately
doesn't do anything to help matters. It would have
been nice if the divider was made with some type of
stiffeners built in, which would help give the bag some
The problem is that when the bag is empty or nearly so
it loses it's shape, and it just sort of sags and hangs
there like a big blob. This makes it harder to
carry and to open because there's nothing to grab on to
and it doesn't stand upright when laid on a counter or
desk. It would definitely be better if it had some
type of stiffeners, either in the sides or the edges of
The bag has a flap that
serves as the cover, which folds over the front and closes with four
4" (101mm) long strips of Velcro, two on each side
on the inside. The
strips are staggered, giving a range of adjustment so
that the flap can be closed even when the bag is
In addition to the Velcro, there are two plastic clips on the
outside of the flap. Each clip is attached to an adjustable
nylon webbed strap, and each strap has a reflective
strip hanging off the bottom.
The clips are frustrating to use, because two hands are
needed to open them.
This is not your father's briefcase, and I guess
couriers don't have to get in and out of their bags very
easily. When the bag is carried over the shoulder,
it's almost impossible to reach down, undo the plastic
latches and access the inside.
I have to take the
bag off my shoulder first, then set it down on
something, then use two hands to open the latches.
If the bag is nearly empty, the lack of shape means that
the bag won't stand up on a flat surface, but it has to
be laid down on its back and straightened out before the
clips can be opened.
Although the bag is lined with (claimed) waterproof
material, the flap simply folds over the opening, and
when riding a motorcycle in the rain, it's easy for
water to enter underneath and soak the contents.
If you need a waterproof messenger bag, check out Ortleib's
designs, but don't forget that a poorly designed closure
might add to the frustration of quickly accessing the
If you're a sunny day rider like me, the Timbuk2
messenger bag is a quick and easy way to carry
belongings back and forth to work. The combination
shoulder strap and safety strap helps it to stay in
place when riding a motorcycle. The medium sized
bag holds more than enough for my needs, and it looks
cool when used as a briefcase or overnighter. I
wish it was easier to access the internals, and I also
think that the bag could be improved by offering some type of
internal stiffening panels that would help the bag keep
its shape when it's not loaded full.
I don't like wearing backpacks, and I
don't like having a backpack's shoulder straps wrapped
around my arms. I also feel unbalanced when
wearing a backpack, and they aren't really designed for
office commuters. The Timbuk2 messenger bag is a
nice alternative to typical motorcycle luggage.
Note: For informational use only. All material and
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page. NOTE: Product specifications, features and details may
change or differ from our descriptions. Always check before purchasing. Read
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Retail Price: Base prices $60.00 - $95.00;
options can add 50% or more.
of many custom or standard colors in 4 sizes.
See below for a
comparison to the $9.88 Wal-Mart messenger bag!
neighborhood model, L.B.!
$9.88 Messenger Bag!
After a month or so
of trying, I found that I
just couldn't get comfortable with the Timbuk2 bag.
I really don't like its formless shape -- it's like an
amorphous blob that must constantly be stretched and
adjusted so that it hangs correctly unless it's nearly
full with stiff folders, a laptop, books or something
else to give it substance.
Also, the two front
buckles need two hands and four separate movements to
unlatch. I certainly wouldn't choose this design
if I was a bike messenger in a hurry.
adjusters on the front buckles are too weak to hold the
extra length of strap, so they're constantly coming
loose, which doesn't help the bag keep its shape either.
One day whilst cruising
the aisles of Wal-Mart, I came across a bin of messenger
bags for $9.88 each. At first I laughed, but as I
started looking them over, I was impressed.
nothing to lose (except a 10-spot), I brought one home.
Wonder of wonders, the thing is great! It has more
features than the Timbuk2; it has a shape and an
internal stiffener, and I can fit everything I need to
carry with more comfort.
This bag has several
zippered pockets, a nylon liner, a detachable key ring,
a business card holder, and two external mesh pockets,
one on either side, with elastic tops.
there's a CD-player holder with a "hook and loop"
closure, and even a tailored hole that can be used as an
outlet for the headphones so that the player can remain
There are pen holders and a
two-compartment interior that has a nylon adjustable
strap and detachable buckle to hold the two internal
sections together to keep the contents in shape.
There is a soft padded internal stiffener that lives
inside the wall separating the two internal
The outer flap has two
small sections of "hook and loop", visible in the
right-hand photo, that keep the flap closed but make it
much easier to open and close, especially with one hand,
than the Timbuk2. The shoulder strap is hefty and
adjustable, and it even has a small shoulder pad.
The Timbuk2 cell phone holder fits perfectly on the
To be honest, this is
everything I wanted in a bag, at 7.5% of the cost.
I'm not sure who makes them, or how long they'll be
available, but they came in several colors and I picked
this neutral silver. What a deal!
►Your Comments and
Please send comments to
Comments are ordered from most recent to oldest.
Not all comments will be published (details
). Comments may be edited for
clarity prior to publication.
From "J.F.": "Hi, I have just read your
review on the Timbuk2 bag. I have one for 3 months now and
it's a great bag. I bought mine mainly for (mountain
biking) and commuting (on a pushbike) but I found it fabulous
for riding my motorbike.
I can stuff all my climbing gear in it better
than in a backpack and even more. It doesn't swing around,
and most of all doesn't create a drag as important as the
backpack. I thing they are really great. And they
are UK weatherproof as well. I can't believe I have lived
without it so far."
From "A.M.": "Read your short review on
messenger bags, thought I'd add my two cents. I commute
daily using a
Bailey Works Superpro bag. Unlike the Timbuk2 and
others, this is designed to ride across your back, with one
corner at your shoulder, and the other at your hip.
It's absolutely immobile at (ahem) highway
speeds, and more or less disappears the moment you strap it on.
Also, it's thunderstorm-proof. I've been using mine more
or less daily for about a year now, and aside from the dirt, it
shows no real wear. Only drawback is that they're not
cheap. . .And given that they're made by about a small company
of 5-10 people in Portsmouth NH, that's OK with me. If
you're still looking, get one of these. I have no stake in
this company, and I'm not advertising. The bag is just
From "G.P.": "I just read
your El Ocho review on the site and just wanted to leave a
comment about it. Not a single messenger I know uses those
plastic clippies for closing the top on a regular basis.
All that Velcro they use is usually good enough. That's
why you'll see the edges of the top hatch usually rolled up on
more used versions. Typically the clippies are only used
to hold rolls (like plans, or posters) horizontally or in an
attempt to shield a huge load from the rain. If you have
the large strap clip set right, you can just spin the bag around
your body. If not, its only a one hand operation to open
the bail and spin it around.
When you ride, put that thing up on your
shoulder and crank that strap on good. Put the cross strap
clip about mid to high on your chest and clip it in. You
are now hugged by an unyielding triangle of stuff carrying
power! Just wanted to leave you some tips! Oh, btw, how
does that Wal-Mart bag fare in the rain :-D. I had a
Timbuk2 a long time ago, but when I closed the top the bottom
part of the bag folded in with smaller loads, making little
mouths (lack of a better word) on the side that let in copious
amounts of rain. I've since switched to a
which although heavier hasn't had a leak problem yet.
Can't stop reading your site."
"I just wanted to say "THANK YOU" for the excellent review of
the Timbuk2 "El Ocho" messenger bag. I've been looking for a bag
that can accommodate my laptop as well as my work clothes that
would be water resistant, easy enough to manage on the
motorcycle and good looking enough to take into a meeting.
I had been using a backpack (as many do) to carry my items back
and forth and it's been uncomfortable and unstable to say the
least. Using your product review as a basis of comparison
between several other bags (all sight unseen), I decided
confidently on the Timbuk2 El Ocho bag. I ordered mine
through Ebay and was extremely satisfied when it finally
arrived. The bag was just as you described and is more
versatile and comfortable that I imagined. Thanks again for a
terrific product review! I'm always awaiting the next product
review on the webBikeWorld.com site."
"I've had the same bag for more than 4 years and I
still love it. Great build quality. I just wanted to let you
know that the bag shouldn't be slung under the arm while riding.
It should be positioned in the middle of the back. It should be
more comfortable and safer."