I don’t travel light. If I’m going somewhere, I bring at least one camera, at least one handheld games console and my iPad. I spend ages choosing a bag. The last proper bag I bought was the Crumpler New Delhi, and the review I wrote of it is still one of the most-hit posts on my blog (I’m not terribly proud of this, but it is what it is).
My relatively new-found love of cycling has changed my requirements for a bag. I need something with room for a change of clothes, as well as the stuff listed above, and probably some other stuff. I also need the bag to stay light and still on my back when I’m doing miles. As I live in the UK, I also need something that isn’t afraid to get wet. This basically means I need a bag made for a messenger (a messenger bag isn’t necessarily a bag made for a messenger, but that’s what I’m going to call them for now).
When you spend some time looking at messenger bags, you realise there are about two options. A rucksack (probably a rolltop) or a shoulder bag with a stabiliser strap. I am not a fan of the rucksack. Since my GCSE Spanish speaking exam, I have been one of the sweatiest people I know. I sweated through a jumper in November on my driving test. At my thinnest I am sweaty. At my fattest, I am equally sweaty. It’s my thing. Rucksacks and sweaty people don’t mix. A day with a rucksack on my back (yes, even those clever, breathable ones) and it looks like I’ve been doing backstroke. I don’t buy rucksacks.
So, shoulder bags. When you look at shoulder bags for cyclists, the first name that always pops up is Chrome. If you want a bag, Chrome probably does the perfect one for you. I’ve never used one, but look at their site. They have a bag for everyone. If you’re lucky, like me, you have a friend like Perkins who knows about all of the cycling bags. During my research phase, I looked at (he showed me) bags from Trakke, Mission Workshop, Restrap and Bigxtop.
The Restrap and Bigxtop messenger bags seem focus on the smaller side of things (although the Restrap ‘Highrise’ backpack however, looks massive) and there isn’t really anything small about my requirements so, great as their bags are, they’re not really a candidate for my main bag.
Trakke are a Scottish company who have a small-but-perfectly-formed range of bags. They’re not cheap, but they look very well-made and have a unique design. The main reason these guys were ejected from the running is their website: no pictures of the bag with stuff in, and almost unusable on my computer of choice; the iPad.
Mission Workshop are my kind of company. Look at their entire range of products. Every single one isn’t just built to solve a problem; it’s built to find a big stick from the yard and beat that problem round the face until it runs away. Their bags are made to hold as much stuff as you can carry out of your way whilst you’re cycling.
Mission Workshop Rummy VX Contents
They don’t know if you’re left-shouldered or right-shouldered, so they don’t assume. The straps on their shoulder bags are reversible using a ridiculously strong velcro system that triple-locks the strap into place. They have a video that shows you how to do this.
They have a full range of photos on their site that shows all the colourways inside-out, so you know what you’re getting. They have a video showing how you’re supposed to put the bag on (they have this great, quick-release buckle that drops the strap to its maximum length so you can access the contents of your bag easily without taking it off, or get it over your head with that helmet on). Tightening the bag back up again is a simple pull of a strap and adjustment of an elastic stay to stop the loose end flapping about. When you’re not using the stabiliser leg, that can be tethered to the velcro strap lock to stop it jangling around and getting on your nerves.
In short, they don’t want you to feel like you’re taking a gamble on them, and you don’t.
Mission Workshop Rummy VX Front, flap down
Their higher range of bags (the VX) are made from an insane, waterproof fabric, which water just beads up on and rolls off. Instead of plastic buckles to hold the main compartment flaps down, they have what they call the Arkiv closure system. This is basically a heavy-duty metal slide that goes over a reinforced canvas strap, then locks down easily. This seems to reduce the number of failure points of a plastic clip. With this, there’s one thing that might fail. With plastic clips, there’s at least five that I can think of off the top of my head.
Everything on these bags is adjustible on a complete whim, to fit with what you’re trying to carry at the time.
After weeks of visiting the site every day, watching all the videos, looking at all the pictures, watching YouTube reviews, reading everything: I went for the Rummy VX. A wise man once said to me: “get the biggest bag you can“ and, in retrospect, I should’ve listened. The Rummy is a great size, but I do find myself filling it quite easily. Still, with a spot of bag feng shui, I’m able to fit everything I need in it with room to spare.
The Rummy is a rolltop messenger bag. I never really saw myself using the rolltop that much, because I don’t really see the point, but for easy access it’s the best option. Plus it eliminates all points of potential entry for water (which is a big issue for people who don’t let weather dictate whether they ride or not). However, for larger loads, I find myself using the flap and extending the fastening straps, because more seems to fit in that way and I’m not worried about crushing things by securing the rolltop. I am probably doing this wrong, but it’s my first rolltop, so cut me some slack.
Mission Workshop Rummy VX Back, strap detail. The marks are rain water, not a defect. It’s really wet out
The description says that you can fit a 15" laptop in the front, zippered compartment of this bag. I can confirm that this is true, but I can also confirm that you should not do this. If you have an oddly sized/shaped item in your main compartment, it feels like it’s going to snap the laptop. Just get a sleeve and throw it in the main compartment. I keep my iPad mini and a notebook in the front compartment, as well as business cards, cables, keys, painkillers and whatever other little trinkets I might need.
The Rummy VX is phenomenally-made. As far as I can see, there are no weak elements on here. Hold the empty bag in your hands and it feels heavy. This is a good thing. If you’re travelling at 25mph with your favourite possessions on your back, you want to know that they’re safe. The build quality of the Rummy fills me with confidence that that’s the case. When it’s pouring with rain, you want to know that everything in the bag is safe. With the top rolled down and the front pocket covered with a huge, weather-proof zip, you know that’s true. I’ve been out and got this bag soaked and there wasn’t a hint of water anywhere it shouldn’t have been.
Mission Workshop Rummy VX, rolled on my back
The shoulder pad is wide as hell, thick and comfortable, which helps spread the weight of the bag. I have filled this thing to the top and carried it round all day and, where other bags have made me feel like a 90-year-old man by the end of the day, the Rummy VX never got heavy or uncomfortable. In fact, the only discomfort I get is when the strap cuts into my pudgy bits and makes me self-conscious. The bag tells me to quit being a lazy bitch and get in shape. It’s like that ruthless friend who looks at you disapprovingly when you order pizza instead of salad. In the saddle with a moderate load, the Rummy VX stays still and light. I’m still not sure how it does this, but I’m really glad it does. After a windy, rainy 20 mile ride, I had no discomfort, no back or shoulder pain, and I didn’t have to check the bag into place once.
The observant will note that I’ve said very little about how the Rummy VX performs on a ride. The reason for this is that you don’t really notice it’s there. I can’t moan about how when you’re out of the saddle, the bag swings round and smacks you in the face because it just doesn’t happen. I can’t complain about it digging me in the back or the strap rubbing because the bag really doesn’t move. In my view, this is what you want from a bag when you’re cycling – something that you can put on and forget exists.
Loaded up with a Leica M Monochrom, PS Vita, 3DS, pack-a-mac, scarf, iPod classic, phone, keys, tools and Kryptonite mini-D with flex, it felt like there was almost nothing on my back at all. This is obviously not a huge amount of stuff, but it’s my stock carry when I’m not working (add at least a laptop and a charger for that), so it’s really all I needed to test. It would be nice to throw an SLR in there as well, but I only carry two cameras when I’m specifically going out to take photos, and I’m probably not cycling if that’s the case.
If you’re looking for a new bag, I can honestly and emphatically recommend the Mission Workshop Rummy VX. Its build quality is second-to-none, and the guys who make it seem to be rightly proud of what they have created. Whilst there are a couple of niggles (which are mostly due to an exaggeration of the capacity of the bag – if you carry a lot, or might need to, seriously, get the bigger one. Don’t second-guess, the bigger one is the one you need), they don’t detract from the fact that this is an incredibly versatile, trustworthy bag that I am confident will last me for a good few years at least.
You can pick up the standard Rummy from Urban Cyclery in the UK, or the rest of their range from their site. Fair warning, I paid £23 import duty for the Rummy VX, and UPS’ handling of it was terrible. Make sure you have cash or a chequebook on your scheduled delivery date, which will be about 5 days after your order date if you’re in the UK, otherwise they won’t leave the package with you. No warning on the tracking, no ability to pay by card on the doorstep, nothing.
I am not affiliated with Mission Workshop (and they haven’t even replied to any of my tweets). I bought this bag with my own money, and I’m writing about it favourably because it’s great. If you have a product you think is awesome, and you want me to write about it, contact me on Twitter and let’s hook it up. I love awesome things, and I love writing about them.