For The Green: a bike bag?
April 30, 2008 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Looking for an eco-friendly messenger bag. Used? Recycled? Fabric? What have you?

I'm prepping to start commuting to work a few days a week by bicycle. I'm looking for a greeen (eco-friendly) messenger bag that's ideal for this purpose.

I've seen recycled material bags from Freitag, Alchemy Goods, and Timbuk2. I've also searched Ask.MeFi. So far I'm most interested in the Alchemy Goods bag. I'm curious as to what else is available.

More info: I'm a guy. My commutre will be about 15 miles. I'll be carrying a change of clothes, an ipod, phone, maybe a book, sometimes a laptop (I'd be willing to buy a sleeve for that--eco-friendly preferred here too), pens & pencils and the usual day-to-day stuff that winds up in pockets. I like the idea of loads of pockets and (maybe?) at least one internal divider.

What have you bought and did you like it or hate it? Or did you see something you just thought was the bee’s knees even if you didn't buy it. This is my first go at bike commuting. I can look up tips from many sources for the commute itself. What should I Consider or know about getting a good bag? Any usage/tweaking/hacking tips?
posted by horseblind to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Queen Bee Creations makes awesome bags out of recycled vinyl ad banners. I own two bags from them, one which I recently sent back and had repaired after some unexpected wear. They are a super-good company to buy from.
posted by Brittanie at 9:39 AM on April 30, 2008

My Timbuk2 bag (which I bought form REI) has already broken after less than a year. Fortunately they have a lifetime warrantee, but I've nothing to use while I wait for a replacement.
posted by mkb at 9:45 AM on April 30, 2008

I can't speak on the green aspects here, but why not look for a pannier bag instead of a messenger? The Arkel Commuter bag is one that seems to come up again and again.
posted by suckerpunch at 9:47 AM on April 30, 2008

Mountainsmith makes a nice line of recycled bags and backpacks. I've just bought one of their recycled backpacks, and it's very, very nice. Has that durable feel, you know? So check them out.
posted by resurrexit at 9:47 AM on April 30, 2008

I like my Freitag bag a lot (the Dragnet size), though I'm not sure how good it would be for bike commuting. It's kind of floppy even if I use the belt (maybe it's just too big for me?). Other than that, it is really sturdy. I've had it for 4 years with no complaints.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:49 AM on April 30, 2008

The greenest bag is a used bag.
posted by zsazsa at 9:51 AM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Some of those Freitag bags have hip belts instead of T-straps. I'd make sure the bag you end up getting has a T-strap.
posted by suckerpunch at 10:01 AM on April 30, 2008

I have two Timbuk2 classic messengers (not the laptop specific ones). They are terrible for carrying any significant weight - the strap sticks straight up from the top of the bag, and when you wear it the bag wants to lay flat on your back but the strap wants to wedge the top of the bag right into your back. I carried a 15" laptop in a sleeve and I always felt the bag was trying to strangle me.

I think you should look into panniers. Your body, back, and shoulders will appreciate it. Your clothes will too, especially on hot days.
posted by meowzilla at 10:16 AM on April 30, 2008

For biking, I always found that messenger bags slide around the side. A regular backpack with two straps will stay anchored firmly, no matter how much you lean and/or thrash around. It also distributes the weight evenly on both shoulders.

Other than that, I'll second that if you're serious about the eco-friendly aspect, a used bag is the best. Preferably a local one.
posted by echo target at 10:30 AM on April 30, 2008

2nding Mountainsmith as quality bags. I have a lumbar pack that comes in handy all the time, and it's made from recycled materials.

My non-recycled suggestion to you would be PAC Designs bags. I rode around with mine all through my undergrad, then took it into the field with me for a year as an oceanographic technician and now I ride to work with it on my back every day. it still looks as good as the day I bought it and shows almost no wear-and-tear whatsoever. Seriously, I can't recommend these bags highly enough.

Why would I recommend a non-recycled bag to you when that's just what you have asked for? Because I expect my PAC bag to never, ever die. It's the toughest thing I've ever owned, and I expect to be using it for years to come (i.e., it may be made from non-recycled materials, but it will not itself need to be recycled anytime soon). They are a bit expensive, but they are hand-made by a wonderful woman (Pat, a former bike messenger) who lives on an organice farm and makes these in her spare time, so you're supporting a small business in addition to getting the best bag you will ever have.

No, I don't work for PAC Designs. Yes, I love my PAC intensely
posted by Pecinpah at 10:34 AM on April 30, 2008

If you'll pardon diverging from the explicit question, I think you'll be much more comfortable with a good rack and pannier (I like my Ortlieb, which is waterproof.) You can put the messenger bag into the pannier. (The Ortlieb can be carried like a shopping bag, but the bag-in-bag makes life easier.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:43 AM on April 30, 2008

I've been doing a long commute (30-40 miles round trip depending on the choice of route) with this bag from Chrome for 5 years. It's a fantastic bag--comfortable, stable on my back, easy to get things out of, totally waterproof, indestructible.

I can't say that the bag is 'green' in the sense that it's made from recycled materials or anything (nor can I say that it isn't, since I just don't know). But it is green in the sense that, at this rate, I doubt I'll need to buy another one until this one is probably 10 or 15 years old. So it is eliminating quite a bit of waste.
posted by dseaton at 11:50 AM on April 30, 2008

I own a full set of Ortlieb panniers and some grocery style rear panniers from REI. Both are great, but not what I use for my daily commute. I find that backpack makes my life much more convenient. I bike about 10 miles to work and get around fine with my BlackBag. Good price and bomb proof, but not recycled.

The only other recycled fabric that I can think of that is commonly used besides sign material and tires is old sails. There seems to be a few brands and some etsy sellers.

I would follow the above advice and get a dedicated bike bag. It really doesn't matter if your bag has two straps like a backpack or one over the shoulder like a messenger bag. If you do decide to go with a one strap over the shoulder bag, be sure to get a bag with a stabilizer or cross strap. You can use a simple bungee cord that goes from your should to under your armpit in a pinch.

The only real reason to use a Chrome-style messenger bag is for fashion. A lot of people associate backpacks with younger kids and think that single strap bags look more mature. People might argue that single strap bags allow you to quickly spin the bag around without removing it from your body. I assure that the utility of this feature is waaaaaay over stressed. I find myself doing this maybe once every 3-4 months.
posted by Telf at 12:15 PM on April 30, 2008

I find that a backpack makes my life much more convenient.

Also, Pecinpah is correct. PAC bags are almost universally considered to be the best bike bags you can buy. You pay for that quality though.
posted by Telf at 12:19 PM on April 30, 2008

I also own a PAC Ultimate and can attest to its sheer levels of ass-kickery. Mine's going on seven years in age and has been my suitcase for more than a few international flights as well as rough weather urban bag (where it must hold a laptop for an hour in a thunderstorm and keep everything bone dry), and it's also just as good as the day I got it.

Like Pecinpah says, it isn't ostensibly green, but is useful in that it will be one of those bags that you will reuse for the rest of your life. Also, unlike a poorly made bag, it will not discourage you from riding your bicycle because it is brilliantly designed to minimize almost every hassle that accompanies riding a bicycle with a load on your body. Load swaying as you make turns? That's why there's a stabilizer. Load feels heavy on your shoulder? That's why there's also a waist belt. Bulky load makes it hard to see over your shoulder? That's why there are compression straps at corners and at the base.

However, for a 15 mile one-way commute, I would say that regardless of how well designed the bag is, your body will be traumatised. For that disatnce, you should do yourself a favor and get panniers. My messenger bag is fine for my current 13 mile round trip, but when I used to have a 28 mile round trip ride, panniers were the best way to go.
posted by bl1nk at 1:02 PM on April 30, 2008

This local company has received a ton of support. The bags were designed by an ex-messenger, and everyone around town is runnin' them... They might be willing to make a custom bag for you if you really want one made of recycled materials...

Good luck...
posted by Glendale at 1:31 PM on April 30, 2008

I bought a bag from Baileyworks via a LBS well over ten years ago and it's just starting to really break in. They make a truly bomb proof bag. When I bought mine they were working with lots of different fabrics as well, I ended being able to custom order a bag with a flame retardant outer shell.

I'll be shocked if this bag doesn't out last me.
posted by paxton at 9:07 AM on May 3, 2008

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