Friday, June 28, 2013

Modify a Timbuk Commute 2.0 messenger bag to make it bike friendly

I have been keeping a eye out for a messenger back that works from the bike to the board room. I had a few criteria for the perfect bag:

  • Removable shoulder strap and a top handle. I like messenger bags, but the heavy duty nylon shoulder strap doesn't look so good in more formal business environments. Being able to remove the strap and use a top handle is a good way to class things up temporarily.
  • Durable. This thing has to survive bike rides on atrocious LA roads and regular airplane travel. Enough said.
  • Secure laptop storage. Wherever I go, the laptop is usually on board. I wanted a secure way to store it vs. having it floating around in the bag's main compartment.
  • Not too boring looking, but also not too flashy. I am not trying to be a fashionista here, but at the same time I am trying to keep things a little more interesting than the black leather and nylon bags that I normally see in the workplace. The bag has to look nice enough that I can bring it into the boardroom without catching any weird looks.
  • Small-ish size. I want something that can easily hold my 13" laptop and some work clothes, but not so big that it is an unwieldy beast.
  • Roller board sleeve. Since I travel by plane frequently, the roller board sleeve is a near necessity for me. It allows you to stack the bag on top of your roller board suitcase for easy transport through the terminal. Also, if you are wearing a freshly pressed suit you don't necessarily want to throw a messenger bag over your shoulder.
Timbuk2 Commute 2.0
Wandering through REI one day I noticed a Timbuk2 Commute 2.0 Laptop Messenger Bag in a size small with a color pattern I liked. It met most of my criteria and I decided to buy it. The main drawback is that it isn't very good as is for bike riding. The lack of a cross-strap makes it pretty much impossible to ride with. To make things more difficult, the shoulder strap is way too long, even for tall riders. But with a little help I was able to address these issues and turn the Commute 2.0 into a fully functioning messenger bag. It took 3 steps and less than $30:

  1. Buy a cross strap from Timbuk2. This little doohickey is $8 shipped. It is great because it is totally removable from the bag but is strong enough for the rigors of riding with a full load. The only problem is that there isn't a good place to clip the strap to the bag. You can use one of the main metal rings, but it would be better if there was somewhere further down the bag you could clip to for better stability. Leading us to step number 2...
    Accessory cross strap from Timbuk2
      Cross strap can attach to existing metal ring
  2. Have a metal ring stitched on to the bottom of the bag. I first brought my bag to an alterations store, but they guided me to a shoe repair shop that would be better suited to the job. Shoe repair people are more likely to have equipment that can work with ballistic nylon. They rummaged around and found a metal piece that could be sewed to the bottom of the bag. Just make sure you have them sew it on the side that you want.
    Bag with new ring installed
    Cross strap attached to new ring
  3. While at the shoe repair place, I also had them take out about 8 inches of the shoulder strap and then sew it back together. This allows the bag to ride a bit higher and tighter on your back when cycling. Altogether I paid the shoe repair guy $20 for the work.
So with an little extra effort, the Timbuk2 Commute 2.0 messenger bag can be converted into a bicycle friendly form.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Bike commuter checklist

Los Angeles is renowned for its freeways and traffic, so bike commuters are sadly an all-to-rare sight. It is really too bad since LA has such ideal weather and mostly flat terrain. But it's vast area and bike-unfriendly roads can complicate things. Luckily for me I recently moved closer to my downtown LA office, and it has opened up the possibility to bike to work.

I do not go into this office everyday, as I often have to travel elsewhere, but when I do go in I really try to ride. It is barely 4 miles. 15 minutes to work and 20 minutes back (I live up a brutal hill). While not long enough for a proper workout, it is a great opportunity to get outside and turn the pedals.

I have been a bike commuter on-and-off since high school, and even with all of these years of experience I still manage to forget stuff all the time. The simple answer? Create a checklist to run through every morning before hopping on the bike.

So what's on my list? Why, I am glad you asked. Here you go:

  • Wear
    •  Shorts
    • T-shirt (I don't wear real cycling clothing since the ride is so short)
    •  Sunglasses
    •  Helmet
    • Socks
    • Shoes

  • Bag
    • Messenger bag (backpack can be equally good)
    • Headphones (for use at work, not riding)
    • Phone
    • Lock and key
    • Belt
    • Dress socks
    • Work shirt
    • Jeans
    • ID badge for my building
    • Wallet
    • C02 inflator
    • Multi-tool
    • Laptop
    • Notebook

  • Bike
    • Road bike
    • Flat kit (spare tire, tire boot, tire levers)

You will need to adjust your checklist for your specific needs, but this is probably a good starting point for most. If you are riding at night you probably want lights on your list. I don't wear gloves since the ride is so short, and I also chose to bring my work clothes and shoes with me. People who need to wear more formal clothes to work may need a different approach.

Checklists are most useful when you physically look it over, not just by kinda-sorta memorizing the list. Airline pilots with 20,000 hours of flight time still read over the pre-landing checklist EVERY TIME they approach their destination, so it's a proven method to minimize the chance of errors. I just keep the list in my phone's notebook app and read it over before my commute. There are also snazzy checklist apps you can use, but use whatever works for you.

My days of walking through the office with no socks, no belt, and/or clack-clacking around in my bike shoes all day are over!