Brompton Bags…where to start?

Let’s face it, at some point you are going to have to carry something on your bike that is too big to go into a jacket pocket.  If you’re a woman, then you are likely to miss your handbag, shoulder bag, or tote, long before a man even contemplates this.  So, where do you start and what are your options?

The first and most obvious one is to carry your normal bag if it has a suitable cross body strap, but it will move about and become annoying.  The next, and usually favoured option at this stage is the small rucksack, but this will become hot and sweaty as soon as you put in some effort, or the weather gets a little warm.  Whilst many people stick with this option, and if you can shower and change at your destination then its a cheap and perfectly reasonable way to do it, many will find it more than a little annoying.

At this point you start to look at ways to attach your ‘luggage’ to your bike.  There are many advantages to this aside from ridding yourself of the sweaty back caused by the rucksack solution; the weight is on the bike not you, you are putting in the same effort of moving the same weight but its better distributed, the centre of gravity is lower and so you’re more stable, and it can look quite cool. Yes, it’s true, luggage can be cool.

As every woman will tell you, a handbag is not only practical solution to the lack of pockets on women’s clothing, but can also be a statement of their respect to fashion and design.  Most women will have more than one, and the same goes for bike luggage options too.

I have an Osprey 7l rucksack that I initially bought for mountain biking, and it still gets used for short winter trips or when I want to have somewhere to attach my helmet at the other end (when I wear one). It saves my hands as I then have everything in the bag or on the bag, and the bag on my back, so I can carry my Brompton in one hand and have one hand free for coffee etc.

But since investing, and it is an investment when you see the prices, in proper Brompton luggage all the other options have fallen by the wayside, including my now neglected rucksack.

I started with a Brompton ‘C’ bag, but we didn’t get on.  It was so huge that I never took it anywhere. If I put anything in it that didn’t half fill it up then the items moved around and the weight went from one side to the other around corners, very disconcerting.  I also didn’t like having to have a separate waterproof cover because it meant deciding IF it was needed when I set off or finding somewhere to stop the moment it started to rain heavily.  Even the idea of trying to work with it meant that I never went on the bike more than once, and only for a couple of miles.

I then moved to the Mini O bag, and this straight away became my go-to bag for every trip.  I could put the stuff in it that normally went in my pockets, and my waterproof jacket, and even some water and snacks.

The Mini O is made by German company Ortlieb, who are famous for their bike luggage.  It is strong, waterproof (although not submersible due to the opening method), and looks pretty cool too.  At around £90-£120 they aren’t cheap, but they are very functional, and they clip onto the luggage block which is available from Brompton for around £15.

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You get a shoulder strap, which is very easily detached, as well as a key fob and interior pocket, alongside the main compartment.  As the bag as a firm structure, it keeps it’s shape very well and is not deformed by the contents very easily unless you really over pack it. Having a frame is always a good idea, although it may add a little to the weight, because if you do take a small spill on your bike, it doesn’t deform and your bags contents are better protected. My bike fell over on gravel with my camera inside and it was fine.

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It is supposed to be able to take an iPad, but when it was designed the iPad was smaller than it is now, and that is its major downfall for me.  I cannot get my small Surface Go computer in it unless I take it out of it’s padded case.  I tried it with what is now the standard iPad and the same was true of this tablet also. In fact, if you have an iPad Pro then forget it completely.  So sadly , it became redundant for any work related trips, which is a shame because it’s an excellent wee bag.  I still use it for fun day trips where all I need are some personal items, a drink, my camera, my lightweight waterproof, and some lunch.

My next purchase was the Barbour Tarras bag in waxed green cotton, which is a very good looking bag indeed.  They’re not cheap at around £145 and come in blue or olive.  I got the olive to match my Barbour jacket, and it really looks good.

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There is room for a small laptop/iPad Pro/Surface Pro computer in a padded rear pocket section, a large internal compartment and two front unlined bellows pockets.  It has a removable frame in the rear external reverse slip pocket, which is not found on the non-Brompton version, the Barbour Tarras shoulder bag.

As the Tarras bag is available from Barbour as part of their everyday range nobody would know you were carrying a ‘bike bag’ off the bike.  I have used mine for  trips and meetings that I’ve attended even when leaving the bike at home. I have also used it going shopping with and without my bike.  I don’t bother to take the frame out, but you can and when you do it conforms to the human body shape and rests against your side or hip.

The ‘Olive’ colour seems to sell out almost immediately it becomes available, and I got mine from Brompton UK directly the moment it went back into stock.  I went back a couple of days later and it was again out of stock, unless you wanted it in the blue.  I think this is because olive is the most popular colour of Barbour jacket, so it stands to reason people buy the matching colour of bag.  I have also spoken to a few guys who consider the blue one to be the “girls” colour, and that probably doesn’t aid the sales.  Being realistic, many more men ride to work than women although that would change with better infrastructure I am sure.

Barbour are patronised by the British Royal family, and the Queen often goes for the navy blue Barbour, whilst the male members of household go for the greens and browns, and I think this then adds to the gender based perception.

I happen to prefer the olive and have my jacket in that colour, and yes it is a female cut and model.  I also have a Barbour jacket in a wine red colour, one in black, and one in bright orange. I will use this bag with those also.

It is certainly great as an everyday bag both on and off the bike.  Being waxed it has a very high level of water resistance, and I have never found any issue with water ingress into it, even in the heaviest of downpours.  Because of the position on the bike, thanks to the Brompton luggage block, the bag can take around 10kg of contents.  I find this bag seriously useful, but its low position does mean it gets a very dirty bottom from mud splashes, car spray, and so on.  To me it adds character to anything Barbour, by getting a little worn, but you do have to wash the muck off frequently and this will, over time, reduce the wax efficiently.  You can buy the wax from Barbour yourself and re-coat it (a very messy job), and I imagine that Barbour will re-coat for you for a small charge.  They are happy to re-wax their jackets and other accessories, so this should be no different.

Investing in a Barbour jacket is also a serious undertaking, retailing from anywhere between £180-£400+ but it is no surprise they have collaborated with Brompton. Two very British companies with a timeless and classic style working together makes total sense from a UK and export market, especially to the oriental markets where British style is taken very seriously.

To many people it may scream something country gent about it, and certainly will lack an appeal to many younger or ‘hip’ riders I would imagine. I’m too old to be ‘hip’, so I’m not worried, and I’ve worn a Barbour to almost every situation I’ve found myself in for the last thirty odd years.  I have several in various states of battered-ness. My black Barbour International one even saw me through a Goth period!

I live in Scotland, and I don’t see the point in getting wet.

One big problem both these bags have though, in my opinion, is the lack of internal pockets or dividers.  I like to have things compartmentalised in my bag, and can be a bit OCD about organisation I’d admit, but it would be nice to be able to pluck something out of the bag without fear of something else coming out with it.  Any woman who has accidentally flicked a sanitary product out of their tote bag, usually whilst retrieving their diary where it has snuck its merry way between the pages will be nodding their head at this moment.

I think, and again it’s only my opinion, that a lot of cycle luggage is designed by men and based largely around the carry all in one compartment approach of the traditional messenger bag or pannier.  If a woman’s handbag designer had an input on these things there would be many more interior divisions and pockets.  We would probably moan there isn’t enough capacity if it’s all divided up, but camera bags have had this worked out for years by using removable and re-position-able dividers.

Brompton did attempt this to a degree with the S and C bags, in that they had a huge cavernous space and some slip pockets on the inside, but it’s still not dividing the space up as well as could be. The amount of people I see with bags inside bags, often using pencil cases for stuff, proves I have a point here.

As well as this compartmental madness of mine, now that we are in the winter months, I find myself constantly attempting to wipe the muck off my Barbour Brompton Tarras bag, which is becoming a bit of a pain in the butt.  Even showering it off doesn’t seem to help until you can take a brush to it, and I seem to end up with either a wet or mucky bag rubbing against my best work clothes unless wearing my jacket as defence.  If I am wearing my jacket then I don’t give a wotsit because Barbour’s are meant to get mucky.

Anyway, I have been looking for another option.  Something that may be more dedicated bike bag, with some space and better organisation, that’s easy to see at night if possible, and capable of getting mucky and then cleaned off with great ease.

No woman owns just one handbag, darlings (ed.)

Having decided what I need is basically a bigger version of the Mini O, but with more pockets or divisions inside, I set off the other day to look at the larger Brompton ‘O’ bag. Also made by Ortleib, the ‘O’ is much larger, probably twice the capacity, of it’s ‘mini’ brother but made of the same materials and structuring thus ensuring its durability and waterproof-ness.  I should be able to wipe down, and possibly shower off, any debris accumulated from the wet winter riding in Edinburgh.

The problem with the ‘O’ bag, as I soon discovered, is the price!

It ranges from £205-£220 depending on the store and model, and they don’t seem to reduce the prices of past years models like bike shops do with other manufacturers.

Buying Bromption is like buying Apple…the prices are set by the manufacturer (ed.)

At the moment, the current model is Grey and it is very nice, although adding the reflective element found in the previous Reflective Black would have made them even better.  Considering they used to come in Blue, Red, Orange, and White, Grey is a little boring.  The interior, on initial impressions seems quite useful too, with several organisational features, although it still retains the one large cavernous space theory.

Black cycle backs show up the dirt something rotten, and although the reflective bit is an absolute godsend for visibility, when lit by car headlights, even the ones in the shop were a bit mucky.

IF our roads were safer, like the Dutch models, we wouldn’t have to think like this. We would all ride around in our normal work clothes, without being lit up like a Christmas tree covered in fluorescent paint, and un-helmeted.  However, until our infrastructure matches that of our European neighbours, being seen does make arguing your case in court easier whether its right, or you like it or not.

Whilst I would love to wear my waxed cotton on my bike all year, I feel forced into the fluorescent trap by my insurance and the poor behaviour of drivers in the UK.  My winter kit looks like I’ve gone a little madder than usual, but I feel it’s necessary, even if it shouldn’t be.

I have specifically chosen gear which illuminates when hit with a car headlight:

Last year the Brompton ‘O’ and Mini O both had the option for the reflective print, and these are still available in some stores, but the ‘O’ is not available from Brompton in this option at the moment.  The new grey is nice, but its not as wipe friendly as the order designs, such as my Mini O, with the vinyl coated (?) surface.

I was about to settle on the Grey at £205, £15 cheaper for not being reflective, but was still wondering if it was worth it, and if it was, was it worth going for the Reflective Black since I could still find one, I couldn’t decide…then I had a moment of common sense and decided to check out secondhand options.

It was pure luck that I then happened on a secondhand model advertised locally, at more than a 50% saving on the new price, and coming with a luggage block (which I can resell or keep as a spare). That was a bullet I was happier to chomp down on.

So here is my new to me ‘O’ bag:

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The Brompton logo tile is reflective, as is the stitching on the handle, but the white base colour will also help.  Being of the original material it will also wipe down very easily, unlike the newer cloth ones that are out now, I imagine.

It is more functional than desirable, and it screams bike bag more than any of the others, and certainly more than the Barbour Brompton Tarras bag, but sometimes function has to overcome form.

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As you can see there is a large main compartment, a computer sleeve for up to a 17″ laptop which is padded, pen holders, two velcro pockets and two zipped pockets, as well as the key fob. It also has a shoulder strap which I have left folded inside.

The ‘O’ bag rear is also very interesting:

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As well as the highly robust and simple to use attachment point, the same as the one as on the Mini O (which also allows you to gauge the difference in bag size), it has these funny black plastic bars.

These are for the attachment of two waterproof dry bag style pouches, also supplied with the bag, which can then be used to expand the storage and to separate wet and dry gear.

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They simply clip on and off those funny bars on the rear and therefore run either side of the bikes frame.  This keeps some weight distributed about the frame rather than hanging all off the front of it, moving the bags centre of gravity backwards onto the mounting block.

I’m looking forward to getting out and about in the winter weather over  the next few days and trying the ‘O’ bag in real Edinburgh in January conditions, after which I will report back. Until then, keep safe folks and keep the rubber down and the sparkly bits up 🙂

 

2 thoughts on “Brompton Bags…where to start?

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