Being a photographer, I’m a bag whore. (Many of us photographers are) Over the years, I’ve used bags from LowePro, Canon, Kata, M-Rock and more. Last year, I made the move to converting a “tactical” pack into a photo bag which has worked out great. Subsequently, I’d been interested in using a messenger bag for photo use. I like messenger bags for their carrying versatility, quick access to gear and incognito looks. They don’t scream, “steal me.”
If you’re in the market for messenger bag, you’ve got problems because there are bunch of them out there. But I was looking for bomb-proof versatility with authentic design and build, so my list shortened. After a lot of research, I decided that I wanted a messenger bag from one of the boutique manufacturers that specialize in bags for real-life couriers. Much like the tactical pack that I have, these bags feature the bomb-proof materials and simple, practical design that I was looking for. I work at Stalk Bicycles…so it goes without saying that I’m also a total sucker for craftsmanship and anything hand-made. My short list included PAC Designs, Timbuk2, SeaGull, Rickshaw, Zugster, Crumpler, and R.E.Load. All of these companies make awesome bags, but I ended up pulling the trigger on The Rummy from Mission Workshop.
Mission Workshop is tucked in an alley in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. I pulled into the alley with my car and realized that there was no parking…inconvenient, but a testament to their bike roots. These guys are the real deal. The retail space is set in a small warehouse, giving it an industrial but tidy, well lit space. I spent some time with Ray (I think that was his name) and he was super patient, walking me through the features of the bag and how to fit it. He was even patient enough to let me load up my camera gear in the bag to test how the weight would feel on one shoulder (a main concern of mine).
Mission Workshop makes 3 sizes of messenger bag. The largest is called The Shed and it’s pretty darn big. The Monty is the smallest. The Rummy was the middle-sized bag and was perfect for what I was looking for. In short, this bag kicks ass. It’s not just bullet-proof, it’s bomb-proof. The materials, stitching, velcro, clips, shoulder strap, buckle are…all top notch. Some of the features of this bag that I liked in particular were the roll top closure, the quick adjust shoulder buckle and the overall stealth/utilitarian looks of the bag. You can choose from several bag and hardware colors. I chose a black bag with silver hardware. Again, I wanted a bag that didn’t attract attention. On to the features I liked the most:
The roll-top design of this bag makes it so you can use it in one of two “modes.” You can close the bag by simply folding the main flap down like any conventional messenger bag. But you have a second option of rolling the main flap closed, which gives you quicker access to a smaller zippered compartment and 2 accessory pockets. The accessory pockets are closed with a smaller flap that is weather sealed and has velcro and buckles. It’s pretty trick.
The main compartment has massive capacity because it extends up into the cover that folds down the front of the bag. As potentially unwieldy as it would be to fill this bag up to capacity, it just means that you have the option of packing a small child if you wanted to. For me, it meant that my camera gear was more protected against rain because I can roll the top shut with an interior that is completely lined in thick tarp. The thick waterproof lining actually provides a little “stiffness” to the bag so that it holds itself open while sitting on a table. This makes it easier to get stuff in and out of a main compartment that’s as deep as the Rummy’s.
The shoulder strap is easily adjusted using the aluminum “buckle”. From what I can tell, it’s similar to the buckle on PAC Designs or R.E.Load bags…it’s solid and effective. There’s a stabilizing strap that come under the opposite arm to stop the bag from swinging when you’re on a bike. The equivalent of a sternum strap on a hiking backpack. The shoulder strap has a wide, firmly padded…pad, which spreads the load over a larger portion of my shoulder. The strap is also reversible using simple-but-effective velcro straps that attach the strap to the bag. It’s comfortable.
I’ve personally carried about 15+ lbs of camera/computer gear in this bag comfortably. I won’t lie though, my shoulder was a little sore after a full day of being out and about with all my gear. But I like how this bag allows me to be nimble and incognito while I’m out shooting. I’ve traveled with a pro body+grip, a 24-70, 70-200 and 16-35 lens in the main compartment with 2 strobes, extra batteries and memory with room for a netbook comfortably in this bag. On location, I’d leave behind non-essentials and the bag would be even more comfortable.
In all, I love my Rummy and will probably never need another messenger bag. It’s simple, effective and not flashy. It’s about as kick ass as Kick Ass himself. The boys at Mission Workshop have a good thing going. They build bomb-proof bags and gear combined with awesome customer service. I wonder if they would consider making making special edition in green and yellow?
At a family Thanksgiving party this year, I was fortunate to bump into Zack of Stalk Bicycles. Zack was inspired to build bamboo bikes while he was living in China. He noted the abundance of the material and its uses in construction…and decided that he wanted to build bamboo bikes. After talking to him at the party for nearly an hour, I was, in one word…stoked. Stoked at not only witnessing the craft of bike building, but seeing one built out of a material that grew straight out of the ground. A material that was once a living plant. The bike…an object that typically conjures visions of 2-wheeled steeds, built of steel, aluminum, titanium, alloys and more recently, carbon fiber.
Zack was explaining to me the properties of bamboo and how there are over a thousand species of bamboo out there…they’re not all the same, but they are universally known for being a strong and lightweight material. Furthermore, bamboo like most woods, have the unique property of being strong, stiff and yet…flexible. They can bend (to a certain extent), and return to shape without fatiguing the base material. Aluminum bikes are light…but notoriously stiff. Also, if you bend aluminum back and forth, it will eventually snap…try doing that with the pop tab from an aluminum soda can. Steel is noted as being more flexible, but heavy. Recently, progress has been made with laying up carbon fiber to give it flex properties…but it’s damn exclusive (aka “expensive). Bamboo seems like the magic material for bike building. But I digress.
So a week after Thanksgiving, I went over to Stalk Bicycles’ shop to check out how it was done. I didn’t get to get my hands dirty on a frame on this day, but I spent another few hours hanging out with Zack and Lars talking about bikes, their shop (which is inside of a former World War II machine shop, complete with old 2-ton cranes and the light odor of machine oil and metal) and their plans for taking bamboo bikes mainstream. At the moment, they build custom bikes…and when I say custom, I’m comparing it to getting-a-custom-suit custom. They create the geometry and choose the type of bamboo for your bike per your body “specs” (e.g. weight, height, inseam, etc), your preferred riding position, and more that I don’t know about. The end result is a bike that’s built just to fit you, that’s truly unique, and has been built by artisans. Note the bike in the pictures: the attention to detail was truly awesome. They even made bamboo cable guides that blended seamlessly into the frame. Imagine the effort involved with choosing individual bamboo stalks to fit cable sleeves, then drying them, cutting and sanding them to shape, and finally “welding” them to the framey to look seamless. If that’s not craftsmanship, I don’t know what is.
Anyhow, enough of my blabbering. Most of the pics you see here are of a bike frame that they built for a fundraising event. This frame is unique among their frames because it also features artwork from one of the most highly regarded tattoo artists in the Bay Area (Philip Milic, founder of The Old Crow Tattoo shop in Oakland). I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Lars and Zack have invited me back to help them build a frame. I’ll bring my camera. =)
Stay tuned folks, there’s definitely more to come.