Monday, September 13, 2010

product review: rivendell brand v grabsack

(Note: this is an unsolicited review.)

Bags are funny things. The trend these days is to carry everything with you all the time, or as much as possible; and to that end companies have come out with all manner of backpacks and shoulder bags designed to make you look like a bike messenger without actually having to be one.

The problem with carrying a large bag is that most of us are tempted to carry too much, to overstuff it; and when that happens we get back aches and shoulder aches and in turn tend to keep the local chiropractor -- assuming you can afford to see one -- busy. So most of us who use bags daily tend to own more than one. I own and use three: a large Timbuk2 backpack for carrying my racing kit (which also doubles as an excellent carry-on for trips); a Timbuk2 Dee-Dog messenger bag that's well over a decade old and mostly I'm just too sentimental to let go of it; and more recently, a Rivendell Brand V Grabsack.

I received the Grabsack, designed by the nice people at Rivendell Bicycle Works in Walnut Creek, CA, in June as a gift from a friend. The first thing I noticed about the Grabsack is its size: only about a foot across and maybe 10 inches top to bottom. This means that even if I want to overstuff it, I really can't; its size limits the load and forces me to consider what's actually worth bringing along. In my case, that's usually my calendar, notebook, business card case, pens, a pocket comb and a water bottle and maybe a small snack; plus perhaps a patch kit and tire levers if I'm riding my bike somewhere. It all fits with a little room to spare, and there's a nice divider pocket to keep the little things from getting crushed or lost at the bottom of the bag. If I really want to get ambitious I could probably roll up a rain jacket tightly and stuff it in on top, but then the bag would be bulging at capacity, and not quite as comfortable to carry around all day.

The next thing I noticed was the fabric and overall construction. The Grabsack is designed to be carried either over one shoulder, or to be worn around the waist like a hip-pack. It comes with a fairly long strap, attached with cam-buckles, to facilitate this flexibility of use. In reality, it would have been too large a hip-pack for me, so I trimmed off the excess strap, burned the end with a match to keep it from unraveling, and made it a permanent shoulder bag.

The fabric itself is waxed cotton, in a weight that's pleasingly sturdy-feeling without being cardboard-stiff, and the bag is sewn together with heavyweight thread. A broad horizontal reflective strap across the lower front of the bag offers excellent visibility when riding or walking, and the brilliantly simple toggle/d-ring closure can be managed one-handed, a nice feature when you're noodling around the neighborhood on your bike and suddenly get hungry for that Peppermint Patty you brought along.

Rivendell has these bags made in the US, and they are part of the Brand V [for Vegan] line, meaning there's not a shred of leather to be found anywhere. Leather is often added as trim or as reinforcement for bags that see hard use, but the lack of it here won't mean a less durable bag. I find I now use this shoulder bag about half the time, and it's excellent grab-and-go shoulder bag for on or off the bike. (The time is definitely coming when the Dee-Dog will see far more time hanging on a closet hook than on my shoulder.) And here's the thing -- if I'd had the money I would've ended up buying one of these for myself, because 48 bucks for a US-made bag this good-looking and durable is a helluva bargain.

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