Timbuk2: OTC Custom Bag Review

San Francisco-based Timbuk2 lays claim to inventing the messenger bag.  I have heard the same story from Manhattan Portage, New York born and bred, so it’s a good thing that each company has developed it’s own distinctive brand and style.

Timbuk2’s three paneled bags have become an iconic talisman to many work-a-day commuters yearning to feel the imagined freedom of the bike messenger life.  For sure, the bags themselves are a vital tool for those urban daredevils, rugged as heck both.  But in many ways, Timbuk2 is an office brand.

I have been a fan for years and wanted to see about making an official OTC Timbuk2 medium classic messenger bag.  The folks in San Francisco were kind enough to oblige, so I set to work imagining dozens of layouts, color combinations and options on their website-based custom design tool.

While the idea of replicating the look of a grosgrain “blue-red-blue” watch strap was enticing, I opted for a long-term classic look: navy body, all three panels, white logo and a slightly darker navy trim.

At first my wife was disappointed with such a simple design, but when the bag showed up about a week and a half later, she actually loved it.  While I would like to take all the credit, the company behind the brand envisioned just such  a scenario when they they first launched.

From its founding in 1989, Timbuk2’s goal was to create a bag rugged enough to serve the street-pounding bicycle messengers of San Francisco yet stylish enough to appeal to a broader market.

Unlike other messenger bag companies, whose bags were co-opted by people looking to emulate bike messengers, Timbuk2’s designs were created with potential suburban commuters in mind. In 1994, the three-panel design was perfected and customers were encouraged to customize their bag designs.

This gave birth to the particularly unique Timbuk2 style wave seen from San Francisco to New York, Memphis to Denver. Produced in different sizes and with various functionalities, their bags all share a common look and distinctive personality that can go city slick or biker artsy based on the owner’s preferences.

The all-navy OTC special should last me for many years to come both structurally and aesthetically.  Over the past two months, it has served with distinction as an office bag, carry-on, diaper bag, beach bag, pool bag and computer bag.

It’s been stepped on, kicked, dropped, shoved under seats and almost lost.  It even got the Secret Service once-over at the White House.  Overall, it still looks great and is holding up just fine.

As far as accessories go, I opted for the smart phone strap pocket, which easily slips over the main strap.  Sometimes I use it and sometimes I just use the smart phone sleeve in the internal pocket panel.  I also chose the internal large pocket divider which is handy for sorting larger items, like a newspaper.  However, it sometimes flops over and makes access to the main section difficult.  But, at best that’s a minor gripe.

I also chose to add the external grab handle which makes a world of difference.  It gives the bag a briefcase feel and a lot more flexibility when I don’t want to carry it messenger style.

The pocket panel and its layout were recently revamped and updated.  Also, a vertical external pocket was added for easy access to a wallet or subway pass – even when the flap is down. A nice and long-deeded addition.

This approach to continuous product improvement is geared directly at the company’s suburban iPhone toting customers.  The innumerable pockets and zippers appeal to those of us looking for just the right spot for our favorite fountain pen and business cards, not the real messenger who needs one giant pocket and reflector tabs. Those are now optional, by the way.

Overall, the OTC classic messenger bag is a winner.  It’s a long term investment, a modern classic and worth every penny.

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  1. I’ve got a great Timbuk2 waxed canvas messenger bag that I got about 5 years ago. I believe it was a special edition, but I’ve used it almost every day since getting it as a birthday present. If it should ever need to be replaced, not likely to happen anytime soon, I will definitely be purchasing another Timbuk2 bag.

  2. Sir

    Don’t need a murse. I carry a briefcase – a solution developed quite some time ago………

  3. Sir, thanks for the comment. While I would not classify a messenger bag as a “murse,” I understand your point.

    This is but one of many bags in the OTC arsenal. Allow me clarify that, while I love the versatility and style of the Timbuk2 messenger bag, I would not pair it with a suit. Neither would I pair a briefcase, hard-sided or soft, with a polo and shorts.

  4. David, I think you may be taking the term “pair” a little to literally. A formal business briefcase is not a natural companion to shorts and polo. Similarly, I find backpacks to be aesthetically mismatched when used with business dress.

    For me, this is not a structured act of pairing. It is natural compatibility. Casual to casual, formal to formal. Can this be mixed up? Of course; I do it all the time. But some things, like briefcases, are very function- and style-specific. A box briefcase or formal soft-sided briefcase will always look out of place in a casual environment or with a very casual wardrobe.

    Now, if you are asking why a bag is needed at all, that’s a pretty simple answer. I needed to carry a bunch of stuff. I think you might agree that, in the photo above, a briefcase would probably be out of place.

    Thanks very much for the comments/questions.

  5. PJ

    Unless this is a sponsored post, check out the Tumi Albuquerque East/West messenger bag (navy with brown trim). I bought this bag last year and it addresses all of the style and durability concerns you mentioned above. I recognize that it lacks some of the features of the Timbuk2 bag, mainly no handle, but it is sharp and I argue a little more professional. And if it seems small I usually carry a Dell laptop, spiral note book and iPad without issue.

  6. Thanks PJ, just checked it out. Nice bag – definitely has a more professional look to it. Timbuk2 bags are certainly on the casual end of the bag spectrum.

    And no, while Timbuk2 did provide the bag at no cost, this is not a sponsored post. Occasionally we do receive free/discounted products and services, but our reviews and posts are our own opinions. More on that here (http://offthecuffdc.com/about).

  7. I love Timbuk2 bags. My boyfriend actually has this same messenger bag in black! It’s a great bag and really convenient for his lifestyle. Glad you are enjoying yours too!

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