Chrome bags look bitchin’. The question is, do they function as well as they look? I mean, the logo is rad, the seat-belt style buckle is unbelievably cool, and the color choices kick almost everyone elses behinds. (Timbuk2 bags also offers cool color varietals, but they just seem so darn preppy.) Nah, in terms of cool factor, Chrome bags definitely carry the day. But I’m probably getting ahead of myself. Let me backtrack.
This review is about messenger bags, bike messenger bags, and specifically those made by Chrome. While we generally stick to gadgets here at LD, we have reviewed laptop bags in the past. I got my grubby mitts on a Citizen Bike Messenger bag from Chrome Industries, based in foggy San Francisco, CA. Typically a messenger bag is a single shoulder bag that opens horizontally, has one main strap, a large primary compartment, some level of secondary organizational compartments, and then a myriad of different possible accessories. These might include some degree of padding, a laptop compartment, stabilizer straps, a removable primary strap, a grab handle, etc. etc. ad nauseum. (I like bags.)
Working daily in San Francisco, I keep seeing Chrome gear all over the place. Mostly they’re carried by dirt-baggy, scruffy faced ruffians who nimbly dodge through traffic and congregate during lunch on Market and Montgomery (read: bike messengers.) The other primary class of people carrying these bags are poseurs. I mean, serious wannabes who think the logo is cool and want to seem hip with their designer, hip-hugger jeans, their button down shirts with swirly embroidery, their stupid looking goatee with pencil-thin sideburns on their jawline and their aviator sunglasses… yeah, you know who I mean. I don’t want to be that guy. And I’m not sure I can pull off the Citizen, especially off my bike (you know, just walking around.)
Now, to be clear, I am looking at messenger bags from a particular perspective. I do use it on my bike, I commute from San Mateo to San Francisco using my bicycle and the Caltrain. My typical time on the bike varies between 45 minutes to 1 hour and 45 minutes per day, depending on which route I choose. So I am doing a fair amount of biking with the bag. But I am not a bike messenger. This means a couple things. I am not on my bike 8 hours a day. And I specifically need to carry a few key items, not all kinds of random crap for delivery across the city. I am commuting to work, not routing back and forth across a concrete jungle. I need to carry:
- power charger
- a book
- a layer
- a snack
- an iphone charging cord
It’s important to note here that the Citizen is not intended to be, and was not designed to be a laptop bag. It’s a messenger bag, for carrying stuff around on a bike. I am choosing to use a messenger bag as a laptop bag. If I use a screwdriver to drive a nail, I might succeed in pounding the sucker in, but I also might get some bent nails. That being said, more and more people are bike commuting all the time – lord knows it’s hard to get a seat on the Caltrain for the 8:15AM train. So I think I’m not the only person who’d benefit from a couple of design alterations. And Chrome, btw, does offer some laptop-oriented bags. But none of them are quite like the classic “messenger-style” bags, and none of their messenger bags really hit the mark for the computer commuter.
- Padded laptop sleeve (I’ve covered this)
- Waterproof zipper with storm-sleeve to access the laptop sleeve – it would be awesome to be able to yank out the laptop without needing to unbuckle two clips and rip apart massive velcro.
- Better stabilizer strap – I think it ought to come from the other side of the bag
The lack of a zipper will stop me from using this bag when I travel. It’s just too difficult to pull things out of the bag when it’s stuffed under the seat in front of me when I’m riding coach in an airplane. All that velcro, ugh. But I can also understand not wanting to compromise the waterproof integrity of the bag. And for riding into work everyday, I am willing to put up with the shortcomings because there a lot of things I really like. I’ll tell you what I think makes this bag a big winner:
- The buckle – it’s darn near iconic in San Francisco, and it’s just like a seatbelt in a car. That’s rad.
- The materials – ballistic nylon and truck tarpaulin are badass, durable and waterproof
- The anatomical, padded shoulder strap – even heavily loaded this is a comfortable bag to ride with, even without any padding to speak of
- Shoulder strap again, specifically, the way it holds the bag upright – with a lot of other messenger bags I’ve used (including an Osprey and a Jandd bag) there is a constant tendency for the bag to swing sideways. The shoulder strap on the Chrome messengers actually hold the bag more or less vertically, and the shape itself (with a little help from gravity) actually hold it in place. It was this design element that first caught my eye.
- The one-handed tightener and loosener on the chest strap
The Citizen from Chrome is an outstanding messenger bag with an unusual and innovative design, outstanding materials, the sweetest logo on the market, a wickedly cool (unbreakable?) buckle, and awesome color options. There are some things it does really well, and others that could stand improvement. But on the whole I think the bag will serve well enough for my biking commuter-geek purposes, and it’s clearly outstanding for the purpose for which it was originally intended – to be a bike messenger bag that will last for years of hard abuse. When I’m riding my bike, I’m stoked to have this bag cause it’s comfortable, functional, and cool-looking. When I’m not on my bike and I carry this bag, I feel like a poseur, a big lame-o that’s trying too hard to look cool.
If I were forced to give this bag a numeric rating between 1 and 10, I’d have to split things up a bit. For the purposes of a computer-commuter bag, I’d give it a 7. As a travel bag it’s a 5. And as a bike messenger bag this one is a 10. If I change career paths and start delivering packages via bicycle, I won’t carry anything else. (I’d be laughed at, scoffed and mocked by the other guys if I did anyway.)
This review is also available at 1TO10REVIEWS.