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Saturday, February 05, 2011

Custom Bags: Fancy Bicyclist Part 4

In my "career" as a commuter/transportation/utility/whatever-you-want-t0-call-it cyclist, my choice in bags has followed a typical and predictable path. When I first started riding here in Portland 10 years ago, I simply used the generic backpack that I owned. Why not? Of course a small backpack presents limitations when one wants to use their bicycle as an all-purpose vehicle, so I soon got a rear bicycle rack with integrated baskets. These proved useful for grocery shopping.

But this bag was still not enough. The biggest issue was the bag wasn't waterproof, so any rainy day I had to elaborately bag everything inside the bag in plastic bags. This was annoying, especially if I was in a quiet place and needed to take something out of the bag. Those fancy and expensive messenger bags I had once thought out of my price range became more appealing day after day.

In 2003 I ditched the basket rack and I got a set of panniers. These were pretty basic but got the job done and came in handy during my first bike tour through the Midwest in 2005.

A year later I made my first purchase of a bike-specific messenger bag. Since it was a sample prototype bag it only set me back $15. I used the crap out of it the next few years.

It wasn't long before I started to see the limitations of both. The messenger bag started to fall apart not soon after I got it and was being held together by jury-rigging. The panniers weren't waterproof, requiring a rain cover. They were quite large as well. I wanted to have front and rear bags for the upcoming Pacific Coast Tour, so I sold those and bought front and rear waterproof Axiom panniers. The messenger bag got replaced by a Chrome backpack a few years back.

These bags were all well and good and I put them through a lot of use and abuse. But I started to desire something different. Something...fancier.

It didn't hurt (or help, depending how you look at) that Portland has become a hotbed of handmade bicycle bags. This movement can be traced back to Philly based Re-Load Bags from the early aughts. They were the "next step" in bike bags after the ubiquitous Chrome and Timbuktu bags that are common in most urban areas. I remember looking at the Re-Load stuff back around '02 or '03. They were nice bags, but they only made shoulder-strap bags and all were about $200, a lot of money for me back then. Eventually other bag companies started to come into the picture, like Portland's own Black Star Bags. And these other companies started to make bags that were more commuter friendly, like backpacks and panniers.

All the custom bags I saw looked nice, but I wasn't going to pluck down the serious $$ for them. Plus, I already had too many bags, both for my back and my bike. I didn't need another one.

Then came along Curtis with North St. Bags. He introduced his convertible backpack/pannier a few years back at a Bike Craft Faire, and I've coveted them ever since. But the price...and I have too many bags as it is...

Well, after a year of fighting it, I've decided that getting custom bags would be worth it after all. I can purge most of the bags I've already own and replace them with new North St. Bags. I decided to go ahead and buy a basic set of Route 7 Panniers. These would work as grocery panniers or front bags for touring. They are similar to Ortliebs, but have a cordura outside with a waterproof lining. The fastening system is simpler than the Ortlieb, and the hook position can be changed depending on how you want to mount the bag on the rack.

Over the weeks and months to come I'll be testing out these handsome bags.

Loop for rear blinky!

I'll also be getting a custom set of Avenue B panniers. One of these will be a convertible backpack/pannier, so no need for a separate backpack! And I can wear it on my back or the bike, ultimate versatility!

Yes, I have gone the Fanciness Road of No Return.

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