Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

14 November 2010

Just What This Girl Needs: Another Bag!

Back in the day, I carried a boxy gray canvas shoulder bag.  I bought it from the sort of store that seems not to exist, at least in Manhattan, anymore:  Its merchandise was too disparate even to qualify the place as a "variety store" or flea market.  In fact, just in sheer size, or lack thereof, the place could hardly even qualify as a store of any kind:  It was just a few feet by a few feet of space that contained bins and a counter. And there didn't seem to be more than one of any particular item.

The shop or store or whatever you want to call it was on or near Canal Street.  The bag, if I remember correctly, cost 75 cents.  On its flap a serial number and a cross of the kind found on a few countries' flags were stenciled.  It had no stiffeners, so, when empty, it could be folded small enough to fit into a small pocket of a backpack or pannier.

I carried that bag through my last two years of college.  Then I took it with me on my first trip to Europe, where it served me nicely for carrying my camera and notebook when I was off the bike and wandering the back alleys of various towns and cities on foot.  When I lived in Paris, I used it to carry any number of things. And, after I returned to the States, I found that the bag served as a kind of musette.

When I first started carrying that bag, it wasn't socially acceptable for men to carry shoulder bags.  Then, a few men  would start to carry what others would refer to as "fag bags" and, later, "man purses."  And my particular bag, by the time I finally wore it through, would come to be known as a "Swiss Army bags."  When I first bought the bag, there was no benefit--at least from a marketing standpoint (What did I just say?)--to be derived from asociating it, or any product, with the Helvetian military.  Only those who actually worked in the outdoors (like rangers) and dedicated hikers and campers knew what a "Swiss Army Knife" was, much less used it.  

Fast-forward three decades.  Only stylized near-imitations of that bag are to be found now--at least, in any place where I shop.   I have, however, found something very similar, only better--and vintage, to boot.

I bought it from Out Your Backdoor (OYB).   The package in which it was shipped included, among other things, OYB's newspaper/magazine that reads like the copy on the label of the old Dr. Bronner's soap bottle if it had been written by hippies-turned-survivalists. The subjects include any and all outdoor activities from gardening and tree-planting to off-road biking, and music, literature and art from independently-produced "folk" artists.  Some of those writers, composers and performers wouldn't give themselves such labels, or may not even be aware that they exist.  It's not the sort of stuff people learn how to do in MFA programs.

Those stories, songs, drawings and such are a bit like the bag I bought:  Some might believe them to be too unrefined.  But if you like things with, or that can develop, a patina, you might like some of them.

In other words, the bag I bought from them fits perfectly into their ethos and aesthetic:  They're canvas with leather bottoms and fasteners and look used.  But they're not "treated":  The bags are military surplus, or at least look and feel the part.  

To these bags are added tabs and straps that allow them to be used as bike bags.  They're billed as "seven way" bags.  I tried three of those ways, and might try a fourth.

As a saddlebag, it would be good for a day ride.  It fits in a similar way to the Velo Orange Croissant bags and the Berthoud bag on which it is modeled, and seems to have about half again as much carrying capacity as either of those bags, but about half  as much as (or less than) a Carradice Barley.  Supposedly the OYB bag can hold three wine bottles.  But you didn't hear that from me, a non-drinker.

OYB provides three tan leather straps similar to the kind that come with the Carradice bags.  They work best on bag loops like the ones found on the Brooks B17 saddle, but can also be attached to the saddle rails.  As the bag is longer than its VO/Berthoud counterpart, its bottom may rub on the tire of a bike with a small frame, or one on which less than the traditional "fistful of seatpost" is exposed.  Of course, if you use a rack or fenders, or have a larger frame or more than a fistful of seatpost, this will not be a problem.

Also, the bag will install in somewhat of a convex shape if you mount it on saddlebag loops.  That takes away some of its capacity, but there's still enough room for almost anything you'd need for a day ride.

Without a support, the bag is surprisingly steady.  That may have to do with the structure of the bag which, while it has no stiffeners, holds some semblance of a distinct shape due to its thick canvas and leather.

The bag also makes a nice small shoulder tote in which you can hold a wallet, keys, pen, cellphone and a few other items, such as a hairbrush and compact.  I'm guessing that it would also be good as a handlebar bag  or small pannier for a small, light load, though I haven't tried using it for those purposes.  

Best of all, this bag is less expensive than just about any other saddle, handlebar or shoulder bag.  OYB will install a leather "blinky" strap for an extra five dollars.  Whether or not you choose that option, you'll get a bag that's sturdier than most others available today and has the cool "retro" vibe that looks great on vintage bikes, as well as current steel bikes.

I decided to try the bag on Tosca for the heck of it.  But ultimately it's going to Marianela, as I think its brown leather and brownish olive drab canvas will look nice on her.


  1. there can never be enough bags!! love your creative adjustment of it :D smart cookie on the go!
    xxo.meli <3

  2. Thanks for the great review! I'm a total bag whore, and I have NO idea why I love bags of all kinds. Looks like I'll have to add another to the collection.

  3. How cool, I've just ordered one of their panniers (without seeing your post)! I am glad you like it so much and hopefully I will feel the same about the pannier. It seems like a good company, when I emailed the guy with some questions he was very nice and replied right away.