Thursday, 21 October 2010

When choosing a bag, style matters

I realise from a comment that I got on the O bag that my views on Brompton bags may be considered as a consumer test on which bag to buy and which bag is best. They are not. They are my views based on what I like and whether I would buy and use a bag. Whether it is in shoes or bags, style matters to me just as much as how practical or efficient a bag or shoe is.

I know that using a bag on the front block is more efficient and better for my back. But I don’t like the look of the bag in the front. The exception to this is the Brompton wicker basket which I don’t use so much now that I can get a ‘basket fix’ from riding the Trek.

Brompton provides a range of bags for the front and back for the bike. I feel that until recently the design of these bags never received the same attention as the design and look of the bike. The bags that were available two years ago also had drawbacks, 1. Narrow shoulder straps. The pannier is impossible to carry when commuting because of narrow straps. I had to buy an additional shoulder strap pad. This is an obvious and simple design feature that could have been incorporated at the beginning. 2. Black interior lining. The endless frustration of finding anything in a deep bag with a dark lining was too much for me.

I get asked questions about what bag to buy for the Brompton from those in the process of buying. My advice on this is to go without buying a ‘special bag’ until you get to know your Brompton and your way of riding and using it. This will probably take a couple weeks and not more than a month. Oh yes, get a bag block fitted so that you still have the option.

Here is a rough guide on how I use my Brompton when I am working:
  • Cycle to station. Fold bike and get on the train.
  • On arrival in central London wheel bike through interchange to another platform. This will involve carrying bike up and down stairs.
  • Or on arrival wheel bike through to the underground station to get tube using escalators.
  • Get on second train or underground train with the Brompton. If on underground, change trains and wheel the Brompton through the station and carry up and down stairs. Get on another train.
  • On arrival cycle to destination.
Note: All the various interchanges and tube journeys often require me to have the bag on my back.

I try to minimise as far as I can the number of changes I do or trains I have to use. I work across London and I cannot predict where I will be from one month to the next. My first Brompton bag was the pannier, but I soon discovered that I could not carry it comfortably when going through the various interchanges I had to make between the train to underground tube. I also discovered that I didn’t need such a large bag for my work journeys. But too late I had already parted with £70. I got the zip around bag (now discontinued) and found this was too small for my needs and it was still uncomfortable to carry because of the narrow straps and the hard frame on my back.

I did try wheeling the bike when partially folded with the pannier fixed to the front block. This only works until you have to use stairs and then you have to clip the bag off and on or risk falling over if you loose balance.

Two years ago I considered whether to make my third investment in another Brompton bag, this time the messenger type bag that was available. These came with wider straps but in dark grey with a Brompton logo on the front. I didn’t want to give Brompton any more money for a bag I really didn’t like the look of and given that I needed a bag I could carry on my back I then opted for a non-Brompton bag by a company (Timbuk2) that specialises in bags for people who cycle.

Personally I like riding with a bag on my back and this works for me because of the various changes and folding I have to do. I can fold and unfold and just get going. However if I just had a simple commute, for example, cycle to station get on train arrive and then cycle to destination then maybe I would have just stuck with the pannier. Or if I didn’t have to use the train and I had to cycle all the way and this journey took longer than 40 minutes then carrying a bag on the front or the back rack would be cooler.

Which is why I advise new users to get to know your travel style before parting with more money so you can be sure you have the right bag for your needs and quirks. I like to use a bag that I can carry on my back because of the numerous changes I make in the course of a journey. I now know that I like to ride in this way and as I said, I prefer the look of a bag on the back rather than the front. I also want a bag that is soft against my back, with wide straps and a light coloured lining and works well as a bag when I am not cycling.

I do what works for me and this may not be the best way but it’s my style.


Leslie said...

Sadly, there's no such thing as the perfect bag, but I agree: if you're doing a lot of folding and unfolding, carry the bag on your back. If you're wandering around, a bag on the Brompton block is liberating. But ALL cycle bags are expensive, 'cos we're just too-willing victims of our own desires!

Cycling in Heels said...

Yes they are expensive and yes I always looking for something new and better. I should be happy with what I have.

Yo soy Yu said...

I think it really depends on your personal needs. Right now I'm using a small messager bag since I dont need to bring too much things with me every day. But before I needed to carry my laptop around...then maybe I will buy a O-bag or something similar.

Milady said...

I agree about the front bag. it is pretty ugly! I only use it when I know I don't have to go up and down stairs and i am carrying loads of stuff that otherwise I would be balancing on the handlebars in a supermarket jute bag!
As I usually carry a laptop, I love my Dakine bags, with waist straps so they don't pull on your shoulders and you can carry surprising weights in them.

She Rides a Bike said...

Very interesting post. I recently purchased a Dahon folding bike and soon I'll get the rear rack and be making some decisions about an appropriate pannier for my needs. I'll be using the Dahon mostly on travels to other cities and have understood the fit of a pannier on a folding bike can be a bit of a challenge.

Cycling in Heels said...

Do Dahon have panniers made just for their bikes like Brompton? Let me know how you get on.

She Rides a Bike said...

They do have some of their own front bags and Dahon specific rear racks. I plan to get the rear "luggage" rack since it provides more ground clearance for panniers. Will keep you posted.