Back in 2000 I needed a new bag. Rucksack? Courier? Pannier? Decisions, decisions, decisions. All of them have plusses and minuses. Rucksacks can hold an inordinate amount of stuff, but curling up over the bars with a packed ruckie on your back can lead to all sorts of grief. Courier? I liked the way a courier bag swings to access its content, but weight is not evenly distributed. Panniers? They’re……ok. So-so. Tricky to carry off the bike and the supplied straps are rarely brilliant. I walked the high street. Nothing. I trawled the local bike shops. Nada. There were plenty of bags (of course!) but nothing really floated my boat. Not until I strayed across a review of a Timbuk2 Bolo courier bag in – I think – American magazine ‘Bike’. The Timbuk2 was handmade in San Francisco and fully customisable via an online bagbuilder. It wasn’t cheap of course, but things that are worthwhile rarely are.
I logged on and played around with the online bag builder for hours. My partner complained at me. The bag was getting far more attention. She had a point. I settled on an olive green colourway with a rust centre panel. Quiet, understated, faintly grungy, but above all, mine. Many weeks later, a package arrived smothered in customs labels. It was here. It was love at first sight.
That was 16 years ago.
I feel the need to type that again. That was 16 years ago. This bag is still my #1 bike bag. I’ve had others in the meantime. An Ortlieb rucksack, now lying under the stairs and waiting for fresh velcro strapping. Altura panniers that bit the dust after a few years of heavy grocery shopping. But these brief flirtations have all felt wrong. The Ortlieb and I can’t meet each other’s gaze. It was a failed affair. None of the alternatives can match the Timbuk2 for its bombproof construction, ease of access and the all-round bloody brilliantness that my (MY) bag represents.
After 16 years it looks better than ever. There’s a weathered patina to the fabric that gives the impression of a life well lived. An occasional stain of indeterminate origin (most likely a drop of beer at a lively gig). Further customising with badges (Sputnik from a Public Service Broadcasting show, A 1970 Soviet lunar lander, A brilliant yellow Boneshaker badge, Roll for the Soul’s tools in a mug). When I look at my Timbuk2, I don’t see a prosaic item of utility. I see my life reflected back. I remember carrying too many books on every visit to every city in every country I’ve ever visited. I remember stuffing it full of kit for races. I remember my annual Christmas card round that takes me to every corner of the city and well over 3 hours to complete.I remember getting ribbed at the pub for carrying a bag when I really don’t need to (NEVER leave the house without a tube, a pump, some tyre levers, a swiss army knife, a book of short stories, a hat, a……). I remember a sound investment that’s served me tirelessly for 16 years and will probably go on for 16 more. It shows no sign of stopping and every sign of striding on.
The bag, bizarrely, reminds me strongly of a favoured song, the wonderful Beck/Air collaboration, The Vagabond. The opening harmonica wafts from its crevices and folds. Rhythm guitar sets the tone of its colourway, keyboards the mood. The chorus hangs over it: I’m running after time and I miss the sunshine/Summer days will come, happiness will be mine/I’m lost in my words I don’t know where I’m going/I do the best I can not to worry about things.
You know, I think my bag is the vagabond. I think it wears me.