Timbuk2 is a company that started out making bicycle messenger bags out of a garage. The San-Fransisco based company caught the eye of computer-toting commuters, and the company started supporting a wide line of messenger bags, backpacks, and computer sleeves. Timbuk2 offers a unique experience for those of us who love practical computer wear – the ability to customize your order into a unique bag made just for you.
If you’ve been fence-sitting, you should also know that Timbuk2 is offering a 20% off sale on custom bags through March 8th.
Because of it’s roots as a biking messenger bag, Timbuk2 bags often have what seem to be fairly odd accessories. The custom backpack comes with a bottle opener on a strap. There’s an accessory designed to hold cans of beer. They mix this with some very practical accessories for gadget geeks, like laptop sleeves that prevent overheating and pockets designed specifically for power bricks.
Timbuk2 sells two types of items. Custom-made and pre-made. Anything you don’t customize is made in Asia. Custom orders are made in San Fransisco. There’s also a big price difference between the two, so expect to pay twice as much for an item that’s been custom made. You also can’t return custom bags for anything other than defects of workmanship, so make sure you’ve got the size, style, and colors you really want before you click “order.” They’ve got a sizing guide on their website for finding a bag that fits your laptop. Timbuk2 told me that they designed their bags primarily around Macs, so if you’re a macbook owner, their sizing guide is spot on.
It should also be noted that some of their pre-made bags offer features that you can’t find in the custom bags, and custom bags are available in materials that aren’t available in pre-made bags. Whether to go custom or pre-made is going to depend a lot on your tastes, your desire to support American labor, and your technical needs.
When I ordered this bag, I had to choose between backpack and messenger bag. I’ve got a previous Timbuk2 messenger bag, so this is the direction I preferred. Messenger bags are bigger, offer swing-around access to my stuff, and don’t make me feel like I’m going to hit everyone behind me when I stand in lines or commute on the bus. The computer messenger bag also puts the laptop sleeve in a suspended “hammock,” so it’s not sitting directly against the edge of the bag in any direction, and it’s made of a bumpy material meant to prevent overheating.
The custom backpack is also really nice if you’re a backpack person. It’s got shoulder straps that don’t feel uncomfortable and some padding between you and your stuff. There’s less material to customize, but it’s also a smaller, less bulky backpack for carrying a medium sized laptop or tablet.
If you want to find a bargain, Amazon Warehouse usually has a few deals on used bags. That might give you an idea of whether or not a particular style or size will work for you without committing to a full price bag.
Some features I really like about this bag – there’s a waterproof lining, so my computer won’t get soaked when I have to walk a few blocks in the rain. There’s an extra cross strap for balancing it on longer walks. There’s a handle (it’s an upgrade to a standard messenger bag). There’s a quick-release latch for lengthening the bag to get off without knocking my glasses off, and it fits securely closed with the velcro without having to latch it every time.
I chose a colorful bag with three different panels. One is the standard “bulletproof nylon” in blue. This is a tough, somewhat stiff nylon, though I doubt anyone thinks it really stops bullets. One is faux leather – it’s more like upholstery vinyl, so don’t get this thinking you’re going to fool anyone. And the middle panel is lime green reflective material, so I light up like a Christmas tree whenever a car has me in its headlights.You can also get reflective tails on your bag if you don’t want something so bright. To finish things out, I chose a purple binding fabric, a green logo, and an orange liner.
Maybe that’s not everyone’s taste, but when I asked people on Google+, the general consensus was to go with a colorful bag over my second choice of faux leather and gold. I find the colors cheerful, and I know I’ll find my bag in a crowd.
Both the faux leather and reflective material panels are an extra charge, and not all custom fabrics are available all the time. They regularly rotate materials with seasons and supply, so when you order a bag, it really could potentially be the only bag made with that combination of materials. You can also get inspiration for your choices by looking at recent custom bags on the website.
Custom messenger bags don’t come with a strap pad or any external storage. I chose to purchase a “deluxe” strap pad for comfort and extra storage loops and what they call a “shag bag” to store my phone. While it’s disappointing that they don’t offer these items as standard with orders, both items are very sturdy and have industrial strength velcro to keep them in place.
Overall, my experience ordering a custom bag was stellar. The website was clear and easy to navigate. They showed examples of the bag on both a man and a woman to get an idea of fit, although the images of the woman are harder to find. The images of my order updated as each customization was added, and the colors I saw were fairly accurate to what I saw when my bag arrived, although that may depend on your monitor. (Don’t buy matching shoes until the bag arrives.) Best of all, I will never ever have to settle for a generic black bag to tote my computer. That said, this is a pricey commitment, so make sure you know you’ll love it before you order.
Full disclosure: Timbuk2 provided me with a voucher for the purposes of this review.