Bag For Life

VecchioJo cherishes the old and baggy.

by VecchioJo   February 8, 2013  

“Would you like a bag for that?”

“It’s alright thanks, I’ve got one”

I forget how many times I’ve had that interchange, because it’s been most every day. At least once. For years. Long before re-using a bag to go shopping was the eco-lip-service thing to do, long before shops charged for bags, and long long before courier-bags were the hipster thing to have I bought this bag. Like many people that get around by bike and just do things on two wheels I simply needed a big old bag to swallow a whole bunch of the day-to-day - a lock, spare tube, multi-tool and hat as permanent residents, and on top of that anything that might be needed to take along or be picked up, books, food, clothes, post, everything else. Stuff. I’d tried a rucksack and it was uncomfortable and kept hitting the back of my head, I’d tried pannier bags but they were awkward two times over to lug around the shops. So a courier-bag it had to be, or a Timbuk2.

Back then you didn’t buy a courier-bag you bought a Timbuk2, just like no-one buys a vacuum-cleaner, they buy a Hoover. They were about the only company at the time you could go to for such a bag, that would be a while ago then, long before the competition turned up with all their added extras and cool trendy value-added features. It’s a pretty basic bag, and all the better for it, just a big waterproofed gaping sack with some pockets. Three on the inside; pens, driving license, sister’s front door key, lipsalve. A zipped one on the outside with a sleeve behind it. Keys and wallet in the zip pocket, sugar sachets over-grabbed from coffee shops in the compartment behind, always useful. And a handy pouch for the bike-lock key on a lanyard to plop into.

Most every time I’ve left the house this bag has been slung over my shoulder, on a bike or not. So much so that the physio I had to see once to be kneaded back into shape knew I owned a courier-bag just by looking at a crooked me trying to stand up straight, and knew which side I carried it on. And told me off. Anyway, the large majority of the things in my life have come into it via this bag. Some has left. Food, clothes, music, books, magazines, bike parts, coffee. I instinctively know just how much shopping I can get away with buying to fill the bag, and know just how to pack it so it’s comfortable and balanced on the way home without a tin of beans digging in the right kidney or the corner of a box of cat food sachets elbowing into a vertebra. Aside from the everyday overloading with the practiced one-move lift and jerk and swing over the head and onto the back, the clicking in of the tension strap and the body wiggle to get it settled, it’s had its fair share of inappropriate loads. Pairs of wheels to be trued by the bike shop, remembering in traffic that the bag’s cargo is now wider than the handlebars, and frames to have headsets squashed in. Boxes from the parcel depot significantly bigger than anticipated. A 6-slice Dualit toaster. That was a painful four miles.

Apart from the aftermath of The Washing-Up Liquid Incident I can’t recall if it’s ever been washed, which probably shows, although all the rain it’s hoiked through has probably washed off most of the sweat it’s absorbed. It does have regular purges to keep the weight down though; receipts, tickets, bottle tops, elastic bands, bits of paper with phone numbers written on, the odd business card, contact lens pods, bread crumbs, a valve cap and some confettis of rice from that bag which split. There’s that half a pencil with the ever-so-handy but never ever used length of Gaffer Tape wrapped round it. That biro that doesn’t work, one of several. A pin-badge. Some tissues from that café. The dog-eared bit of paper with the poem on. 2p. All removed and then put back in because they’re part of the bag.

I’ve had the bag for not quite half of my life, I’ve definitely had it for over half my cycling life, so it’s acquired quite some palmares. It’s not just racked up cycling miles in and out of town and to and from the shops either, as a large and adaptable manbag it’s been in the boots of cars, stuffed into overhead lockers in planes, rattled around in the muddy backs of vans, sat on my lap on overcrowded trains, and squished under my legs on coaches. It’s only managed halfway round the world in one go but it must have been around it several times in cumulative miles. Sitting on a latenight train, off a delayed plane, looking at the bag slumped in the seat opposite I get to tired idly wondering how many thousands of pounds of bike bits it’s transported, how many kilojoules of food, how many hours of pleasure has it brought to me, the bag big enough to hold a vinyl 12” without creasing the corners. Or a whole rack of CDs. All those magazines. A library of magazines. £15 of race winnings.

But I’m increasingly feeling that it might be time to invest in a new bag. The zip has a few broken teeth and sticks just there so it can sometimes be an embarrassing tug to try and get the wallet out at the till, but it’s been like that for a couple of years now. The stitching on the bottom is starting to unravel a bit and the left-hand Velcro tab is coming undone as well. One of the reflective tags has disappeared, that went ages ago, and the yellow one that’s left isn’t the original anyway. But there’s still life in this old dog yet, it’s not ready to be put down. Every time I think about buying a new bag I falter. It wouldn’t be this bag, it wouldn’t be moulded to me, it wouldn’t have the patina of my life’s silt, it wouldn’t have that smear of blue paint on the inside, it wouldn’t have those miles, those stories. It wouldn’t be instinctive. Where can I buy a new bag with at least a decade of life in it?

20 user comments

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They may not have a decade of life in them but Trakke do some lovely bags, which im sure would survive another decade of use.

Theyre a scottish brand hand making bags in a small workshop in Glasgow. They use as sustainable materials and a great hard wearing waxed cotton bags (or harris tweed if youre feeling flush)


posted by miffed [169 posts]
8th February 2013 - 16:18


I enjoyed reading this Jo. My bag (a Crumpler) is probably coming on for 9 years old, but it's had an embarrassingly easy life compared to yours by the look of it - it's still black black, for one thing.


posted by BigDummy [314 posts]
8th February 2013 - 16:49


I've got a blue and grey timbuk2, had it for donkies years, certainly had a hard paper round still looks fine tho'. Couldn't get away with rucksacs - far too flimsy. Also carted all sorts of tut in, on, and around it it still keeps coming back for more. Loved the article - certainly relate to the timbuk2 love Love Struck .


posted by Rupert49 [39 posts]
8th February 2013 - 17:03


I'm still using my Creative Courier Timbuk, circa 1995. Going strong still, if a bit grubby. I would love to find a replacement pump bag, mines on its last legs, it clips to the outside, been perfect.

posted by lolol [176 posts]
8th February 2013 - 17:24


Lovely, Jo. My wife has the small Timbuk2 courier bag in Italian flag colours which she used as a general-purpose handbag for years. It was fine while courier bags and Italian flags were a minority cognoscenti type thing but in latter years she's had to stop using it for fear of being collared by twenty-something hipsters in Waitrose. It's a beautiful thing and gets better with age.

posted by nick_rearden [864 posts]
8th February 2013 - 17:43


and the courier bag?

(badoom tish)

i too have a small tricolore Timbuk2, i hardly ever use it because i don't want to get it dirty, and i always forget to swap the bike lock key over from one bag to another, which has led to enough longer than expected journeys in and out and in again bike rides

i also have several special Timbuk2s from events and suchlike that i can't use because i'm an idiot

i may have a problem

posted by VecchioJo [808 posts]
8th February 2013 - 18:11


That's funny, because my husband got this old bag over 20 years ago. Though it was second hand when he got it and he could have gone for a newer version, it was perfect company on a bike. It is now rather the worse for wear, after so many years' loyal service, yet he shows no inclination to part with it, even though it is a bit saggy round the middle these days.

Which is lucky, as I'd be gutted if he traded me in Wink

Trek Sal's picture

posted by Trek Sal [52 posts]
8th February 2013 - 20:28


Timbuk2 offer a lifetime warranty on theor bags. Maybe they'll fix the bits that need repairing?

posted by Jezzag [40 posts]
8th February 2013 - 23:08


Great article - my Timbuk2 has a similar story, although nothing too drastic has happened to any of the stitching. It's seen a lot of miles and a lot of strange loads and I still can't bring myself to remove the radio straps (yes, I was one of the poncy ones who actually bought the radio accessory and didn't just use toe straps or zip ties) even though they haven't been used in anger for nearly a decade.

posted by Pierre [91 posts]
9th February 2013 - 9:26


Lovely story. My (10+ years old) Timbuk2 has been in storage for a couple of years, replaced by a backpack just because I fancied a change. Time to get it out again i think...


nmgeddes's picture

posted by nmgeddes [13 posts]
9th February 2013 - 15:08


Levrier in Bristol make decent bags, not cheap but last an age..

Fringe's picture

posted by Fringe [1097 posts]
9th February 2013 - 15:13


i've had one of these:

for about 6 months and it still looks brand new, even being used every day. They're from the guys who started and then sold chrome (and don't have the stupid seatbelt buckle)

posted by pjt201 [101 posts]
9th February 2013 - 19:31


I've had a Timbuk2 bag since 1990, its used almost daily and has been on every holiday I've taken. Won't be retiring it any time soon.

posted by hopster [11 posts]
9th February 2013 - 19:33


I'm very happy with my bagaboo. Going strong after about 7ish years. They're made in hungary, and offer an extensive customisation service.

posted by Hoester [67 posts]
9th February 2013 - 19:55


Timbuktu also have a lifetime warranty, OK by the time you've paid the shipping to and from the states it not quite such a good deal but I've had one replaced after a buckle broke.

posted by riddoch [23 posts]
9th February 2013 - 20:04


Had a great Lifeventure courier bag - not quite as big as your average Timbuk2, but I still used it for pretty-much everything. Quality was amazing - stayed looking like new for about 4 years - but then got nicked.

Replaced it with a Rapha rucksack, which has also been brilliant, but the zip has just gone after about 3 years of daily use.

I do too much commuting road mileage now to go back to a courier bag (not to mention a slightly wonky spine from an accident), so am going to try one of those Shimano rucksacks next I think.

andyspaceman's picture

posted by andyspaceman [246 posts]
11th February 2013 - 16:02


+1 for Bagaboo - got one about 12mths ago and love it. Supermarket shopping, handluggage on an flight, commuting, even as a doctor's bag for home visits, does it all and looks as good as the day I bought it.

awkward's picture

posted by awkward [62 posts]
12th February 2013 - 10:04


excellent hommage to a piece of luggage.

Reminded me of when I was so desperate for a "T2" that I followed a smelly fellow from DC's Dupont Circle to a seedy apt building, forked over cold cash in front of the entrance and was just about feeling a rube when the bag was dropped from a window above, landing at my feet like a gift from the gods.

And I'm sure it had some fairy (if not Angel) dust on it; on at least two occasions, my overstuffed co-pilot cushioned me in a bad crash. Fortunately I wasn't hauling tins of beans or kitchen appliances.

Hope you (eventually) find a suitable replacement.

posted by Viro Indovina [81 posts]
16th February 2013 - 13:04


Manhattan Portage all day long, had mine for about 6 years and it pretty much looks brand new still. I'm not sure how they do that.

posted by Martbo23 [11 posts]
19th March 2013 - 23:59


Should I be especially embarrassed that my bag cost $9?

It's held up pretty well - one of those super-light stuff bags you can wad up into a ball and stuff in a pocket. I take it whether I think i'll need it or not.

When in doubt, send em to fat camp!

posted by srtech [8 posts]
1st July 2015 - 21:49