Life's a Picnic at Brooks: Part 2

Brooks are more famous for their saddles but they've had bags in their lineup since 1895

by nick_rearden   June 10, 2010  

In Part 1 we covered the saddles and items they like to call 'etc' in their range from the Brooks picnic launch earlier this week.

In Part 2, we'll spend some time on their bag range which has, to be honest, passed us by up until now. Partly because Brooks started small and low key while for us there was always plenty of highly-technical and very well-established cycling luggage to talk about.

Mainly, though, because Brooks transparently pitched themselves at the 'stylish' part of the bike luggage world and like all self-respecting bike snobs we were genetically intolerant of anything obviously looking 'stylish'.

Well, we've had to have a rethink as the last couple of years have shown that we do like to get to work sometimes looking like something other than an extra from Dr Who. Assos and Ortlieb is all very well, thank you, but just tooling around in town and hopping on and off the bike among terrestrial lifeforms might just mean an extra set of performance criteria to live by.

Brooks love their natural materials but the downside of leather or cotton canvas, even if it's waxed, is that it cannot be quite as waterproof as multi-coated ballistic nylon. But then again, it's breathable and feels nice. It's the same choice as wearing a North Face jacket vs a Belstaff. Only buyers can decide which they're more likely to need and plenty of enthusiasts will end up with both to choose for the occassion.

Meanwhile the existing Brooks bag range has slowly gathered momentum with now a dozen or so items including two kinds of panniers, several saddle bags, a basket and a handlebar bag as sales have grown. Which is as good a time as any to admit that we should have written "Brooks re-started small..." because a handlebar bag first appeared in the Brooks catalogue in the 1890s and what we would now call a messenger bag in 1910. It's only because their bags fell by the wayside in the post-war cycling slump that we now think of Brooks as a saddle company. Anyway, now there are five new items.

 

Soho vertical leather bag. Big enough to take a 13" laptop or the inevitable iPad, small enough to treat as a classic 'handbag' but stout to take a cyclist's daily urban beating. £239.99

Barbican bike shoulder bag in leather. A fully leather version of the existing canvas Barbican. Hefty and with a detachable inner stuff-tidy; you can think of this as a cyclist's professional brief case that takes a 17" laptop and all your papers. £325.00

Islington Rucksack in distressed waxed cotton canvas and leather with carabiner clips which allow either a casual backpack fit or a crossover, super-secure mode. Highly expandable for shopping. £249.99

Hampstead Sport Holdhall in distressed waxed cotton canvas with chunky carabiner-style clips which either firmly attach this to your rear rack or rearrange to haul as an overnight grip or shoulder-bag. £269.99

Brixton Casual Commuting Satchel. Yes, it's a satchel in distressed waxed cotton canvas but with a clever feature that allows conversion into a tote shopper for that last half mile from M&S. £179.99

 

4 user comments

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Manbags are all very nice, but leave a lot to be desired when it comes to on-bike comfort. Brooks saddles are noted for their saddle bag loops, but how many of these bags convert to saddle loop fitting? Why no new distressed canvas or waxy cotton transverse saddlebags in the range?

neilwheel's picture

posted by neilwheel [130 posts]
11th June 2010 - 8:07

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They're largely thinking about hopping on and off the bike, around town type cycling here, Neil, which is very much the exploding market. I know when you and I think of cycling with luggage we're thinking more of the fine fellow in the top picture and, of course, on the bike is the place to position the luggage for distances. But popping into the grocers? Saddle bag loops don't cut it. That Hampstead Holdall is designed to snap quickly onto the top of your rear rack and there are already two different models of rear pannier, one of which is designed to fold out of the way when not in use and t'other snaps on and off quickly. Mind you, I think it's an area that's going to need a revisit because touring is set to grow again over the next few years. You reckon?

posted by nick_rearden [859 posts]
11th June 2010 - 8:17

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Nick Rearden wrote:
I think it's an area that's going to need a revisit because touring is set to grow again over the next few years. You reckon?

Most definitely.
I ditched the fakenger bag in favour of a Carradice Carradura a few years ago. I use it for trips to Aldi all the time. I stick a carrier bag in the saddlebag, which gets whipped out when I get to the shop. The saddlebag stays in place and once the shopping is done, its as easy as popping the loaded carrier bag into the saddle bag and pulling on the saddlebag's drawstring to secure it.

I'd forgotten how much easier to carry and more comfortable to transport a transverse saddlebag can be over the usual rucksack or satchel. The load is moved closer to the rider/bike centre of gravity, improving overall stability. There's no added weight bearing down on you and your dangly bits once you're sitting on the bike either - the bike takes the load, not your backside.
In my case, the bag itself has a considerable 'ledge' with which to shelter from the elements should it rain and you won't find it swinging around and clattering you on the knee should you need to make any sudden braking manoeuvres.
Fitting an Edbro/Carradice QR Bagman attachment to the saddle rails means the saddlebag can be fitted or removed in seconds. In an ideal world, saddlebag makers would be fitting a shoulder strap to their saddlebags which could hide under the lid when on the bike, then pressed into action off it. Just think of the Notting Hill street cred of a well-worn Billingham camera bag or Barbour shooting bag adapted to fit on a B17?
The Portland scene are already on it, modding fakenger bags to fit on saddle loops. Next year's skinny jeans and dafty caps fad, perhaps?

All in all, I'd say the return/re-invention of the transverse saddlebag is well overdue; the relative merits over a shoulder bag can be felt within minutes.

So, one last shout-out for saddlebags. Take a look at these classy, practical US made-bags. Unfortunately, not available in the UK, but nevertheless containing features that might 'inspire' an enterprising UK bag maker.

http://acornbags.com/lgbag.html

neilwheel's picture

posted by neilwheel [130 posts]
11th June 2010 - 12:24

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Hear, hear Neil.

I've been using Carradice bags for a few years, graduating from a green/honey Pendle to a Black and White Camper Longflap, which is the most cavernous, practical and, to my eyes, stylish, way to carry stuff on a bike. No need for a rear carrier and the load snugs in behind the rider. After a few miles, you don't know it's there. Also works great when you take a singletrack trail shortcut - the load doesn't drag through the undergrowth like a low slung pannier.

Great idea on the shoulder strap - I've been meaning to bodge one on mine for a while. A shoulder strap is even more useful when you use an SQR quick release, making the transition from cycling to loafing around town even smoother.

There's a good reason that the wonderful, small scale operation of Brooks hasn't expanded into the canvas saddle bag market - because there's already a wonderful, small scale company up in Nelson who've got the market (literally) sewn up: http://www.carradice.co.uk

posted by eddieallen72 [3 posts]
30th June 2010 - 14:02

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