Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What women want (I think) in a bike bag

At Interbike 2011 last month, I heard the oft repeated question “What do women want” followed by the observation “all the people making the decision about what women want are men”.  I’m not an industry insider so all I could do was nod and wonder if that is really the case.

A leather saddlebag in the Italian Commerce Authority exhibit.
To the question of what women want in bikes and bike accessories, I can only speak for myself. I am but one woman and I really only know what I’m looking for in a bicycle and bike products. I can certainly guess what other women might choose but my theory would be largely formed around a specific woman rather than women in general. When I first went hunting in search of a commuter bike I studied up on Paul Dorn’s website for the hard science of bike commuting but I found my inspiration on Copenhagen Cycle Chic, also authored by a man, Michal Colville Anderson. Both I found very helpful, despite each having very different perspectives on transportation cycling, and I didn’t give their gender a second thought. Both writers helped me determine what I was looking for in a bicycle, and when I visited the many local bike shops in Flagstaff I was able to find the bike for me, or at least accessorize one to meet my needs.

Leather Bobbin pannier.
Meeting my needs, however, is not the same as meeting my wants. Up until a few years ago I couldn’t find bike bags and panniers that balanced function with style. They seemed to be designed for the male bike messenger in mind or a college student.  A functional bag or pannier means that it can carry all my daily necessities of life (wallet, glasses case, cell, camera, rechargers, gloves, scarves, notebook, magazine, water bottle and lunch), will be waterproof and easy to transport off-bike. Style means that I can carry it into a work meeting or a boutique looking professional, well organized and pulled together.

The Toocan pannier, by Detours.
I couldn’t have been more pleased when I walked into Absolute Bikes two years ago and found the Detours’ Toocan line of bags and panniers displayed in the accessories section. I purchased the pannier immediately and went back for the small shoulder bag a few weeks later. As I discussed in my review of the Detours pannier, it was not just the attractive floral pattern that motivated my purchase but the combined elements of style and functionality. Just slapping or flower or a butterfly on a bike bag is not responding to what I need.

Interior of the Toocan bag, by Detours.
I purchased the Detours bag for, among other things, the sturdy, heavy-duty construction of the quilted, nylon fabric; the a hard, flat, rubberized bottom that allowed the pannier to sit firmly upright on the floor; and the numberous pockets of varying sizes for efficient organization of contents.

A Brompton bag offering.
I would never try to speak for other women. Half the time, I have no idea where other women are coming from. What I am pretty sure of is that most women want to offered a variety of bike bag options that they can examine in order to figure out what will work best for their individual needs. I love Elly Blue’s writing on the economics of bicycles but I am pretty sure that our pannier and bag selections could be pretty divergent. More power to us both for choosing what best suits our individual needs and preferences. While at Interbike last month, these are some of the bags that caught my eye from Detour, Koki and Linus:
Alki Beach Basket in Feather, from Detours.

Detours Fremonster Flap in poppy.

Bagaboo R, recycled chic from Koki
Panniers and handlebar bags from Linus.
Ladies, what are you looking for in bike bags and panniers? I suspect that most of you also seek a happy medium between style and function, with price playing a role as well. And gentlemen out there, where are you? Are you finding what you need? Is finding a bag that supports a professional image an issue or not?


way wakka said...

I thought these were neat... as a rack is not needed:

She Rides a Bike said...

Oooh, yes. I love ticking fabric, too.

BB said...

Gosh! Haven't things come on in the last 10 years? Thanks for snapping a lovely range to show us. I'm quite taken with the little Linus handlebar bags.

ampyali said...

I'm so glad I read your review of the Detours Toocan bag before I made my purchase. It has met or exceeded all my expectations and the rain cover has been a huge plus up here in Portland, OR. It is a well-designed, well-constructed pannier at a reasonable price. I wish they would come up with a similar model that's a little more manly in appearance--my husband needs one but laughed at me when I suggested the Toocan--it's apparently too feminine.

She Rides a Bike said...

Ampyali, check out their Pike Place Pannier in black. It doesn't appear to have a graffic.

Sharlene Washington said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sharlene Washington said...

I love my Detours Toocan pannier--similar to yours but made with recycled juice wrappers. I commute to work nearly every day, rain or shine, 8.5 miles each way. The bag is perfect to hold my change of clothes as well as my purse and whatever else I might want to bring and includes a rain cover to keep things dry and a shoulder strap should you want to carry the bag. I carry home a 25 lb bat of organic vegetables weekly and it has held up to that challenge. It is sturdy, large enough to hold what I need, has lots of pockets so I can find things easily. I was initially concerned about how much it weighs, but it reality it hasn't been an issue. A year later, my bag looks as good as it did the day I brought it home.

She Rides a Bike said...

Sharlene: 8.5 miles is really impressive! My longest commute so far has been about 5 miles and I really enjoyed arriving at work fully awake and filled with energy. I'm familiar with your gum wrapper bag and almost purchased it myself. I was quite surprised that carrying a full load in my panniers has never really slowed me down. Recently, I pedaled around Phoenix with my little 3 year old cousin in a trailer and didn't feel the weight at all.

inspiredcyclist said...

I am delighted to have a Po Campo bag, that I use on my back rack. It is easy to attach/detach and very well made. I've been admiring the beige handlebar bag from Linus, that you have pictured. And I just saw a bag in the most recent Title Nine catalog that looked well designed and attractive, but the company name escapes me at the moment. I think each individual's needs are going to differ, but everyone will appreciate a well made product, with compartments for smaller items.

She Rides a Bike said...

Inspired, well-made means about as much as style and function for me. I need something that will last. I am disapointed that I missed the Po Campo exhibit since they were on my "to visit" list. I've heard great things about them and they are attractive and look good off-bike. Next year . . . .

Sam said...

I love leather as I think they're the classiest kind. I have not found leather panniers that have the qualities I'm looking for:
roomy interior
wide flat bottom
Doesn't look too big from the outside - I like the Po Campo roomy-ness why simultaneously not taking up much room, but they're a bit too girly for me.
Hooks like arkel pannier so they don't bounce off when riding over shitty roads
Well stitched and built to last.
Not too girly. I really dislike patterns on my bags, I'm the old, boring, stern librarian sort and that is what I want in my bag.

I get by now on an arkel pannier that also doubles as a shoulder bag along with Frost River panniers that serve as panniers and look severely dorky off the bike.

Many of the current options weren't around a few years ago, so I'm hopeful that something will come around that I do like eventually.

She Rides a Bike said...

Sam,I saw a lot of not girly panniers at Interbike. Kind of New England-y university professor. The kind you expect to hunt through and pull out a thick, worn, copy of Sartre. The only problem is that they are way, way out of my price range at the moment.

SuperKat said...

i just won a Detours bag..the toocan transit box...i still need to pot about it....

but i look for cargo hold and cuteness...thats why I want Basil double panniers sooo bad! Its number one on my xmas list

She Rides a Bike said...

SuperK - Congratulations on your win! I look forward to your review. I really like the Basil Willow saddlebags. Major cuteness and utility combined.

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