Sunday, July 17, 2011

recreating the basket, city style...

You may have noticed for the last few months
that I have been displaying a banner
I was partnering with Po Campo.

What is it about?

Well, it all started back when I decided to bring Lexa into my bicycle world
to be my around town friend.

I am a basket gal at heart.

I love the basket on the Pash,
it is super handy for riding around town
and throwing in my lock, purse, camera, water, jacket, and anything else I fancy to have at the tip of my fingers or need to haul around town for my urban jaunts.
One of the concessions with switching my city rides to a 'road' bicycle was that a basket was not really going to work.
I have that bad back issue and do not like carrying heavy backpacks or courier bags.
I tried the rear rack on Lil'C and really did not like the weight.
So I began to ponder how I could accomplish the task of carrying around the necessities,
get the convenience of a basket,
and have a bit of urban style.
Po Campo's bicycling bags came to mind.

Not one to advertise in this space,
and never having approached a company,
I decided to reach out to Po Campo to see if I could test one of their bags for awhile.
I sent off an e-mail outlining my dilemma and included a picture so they could see what I needed to bring with me on an average trip (lock, pump, lights, tool, spare tube, tire levers, wallet and phone).

Much to my delight, Maria wrote back in agreement.
After a few e-mails back and forth discussing what would be the best option for my needs,
a Pilsen Bungee Handbag arrived at my front door.
Part of my deal was that I wanted to take a couple of months to really test out the bag and get a good feel for it so I could share my impressions with all of you.

First a little Q&A with Maria:

What inspired the Pilsen design?

Po Campo started with the Rack Bag (now Armitage Satchel) and Handlebar Bag (now Streeterville Clutch) and we felt like we needed an in between size bag for everyday usage. We also wanted to design a bag that was versatile enough to go on both the handlebars and rear rack because we had learned that a lot of people don't have rear racks but still want to be able to mount a decent sized bag to their bike.

The design has a similar triangular profile to our other bags, making it surprisingly spacious. It is also "softer" (i.e. has less structure), which helps with attaching it to handlebars and makes it comfortable for carrying under your arm.

How many trial and errors did you go through?

Getting the placement of the bungee correct took a little trial and error because the bungee performs differently when use with the rear rack than with the handlebars. We also had to experiment with different style racks and handlebars to try and get a solution that worked on most models.

What do you like about the Pilsen and what would you like to change?

The Bungee Bag is one of my favorites because it feels small yet holds so much. I find the bungees useful for holding other things, too, like an umbrella or a magazine or newspaper. What would I like to change? Hmmm...maybe have a couple more scrunch pockets on the inside to help with organizing things.

The Pilsen was introduced in Spring 2010 and Maria says it has been one of their best sellers. I can see why. When you begin to look around for a functional and stylish handlebar bag, it can be difficult to find.

As soon as I opened the box I took the Pilsen out for a test ride. My initial thoughts were that the bag was a good size (everything I wanted to put in it fit), the straps seemed too skinny (I was concerned about them being able to hold weight), it attached easily to my bicycle, it was stable.

I took this bag everywhere with me the last few months.

-A memorial ride where it sleeted and snowed

-MBC board and committee meetings where it carried my necessities, board minutes, and notebook.

-Bicycle Dates where I could detach it from my bicycle, and have a stylish accessory to throw over my shoulder, clip my helmet on, and set beside me (no big bulky bags to tote around!).

-Around town explorations where I also threw in my non-phone camera.

-Open Streets where I had the usual reserves inside to get safely there and home.

-A Midsommar festival

and more.

With the Pilsen Design meets Function.

What I like about this bag is it is well designed and looks like a purse. I have a strong belief that everyday objects should be well designed for both style and function and am on the eternal search for that ‘perfect thing’. One only has to follow my search for that Perfect Dutch-Style bicycle to figure that out about me, and to know I am never done ~ I always keep searching for something better. I also have a strong affinity for textiles, before it became part of my profession it had become one of my passions. Po Campo blends all of these things well into a nice package.

I love taking the Pilsen on my bicycle journey’s because no one has any idea I am toting around a bunch of bicycle tools inside, yet I am prepared for anything. I can carry the Pilsen into places without looking like I am participating in an extreme sport. Inside there is a zippered pocket which works great for tucking my phone or small items in and keeping them in place. The outer pockets work great for chapstick, keys, or small items you quickly want to access. The bag is well made and well designed.

I found this bag to be extremely stable - I go over A LOT of city bumps. I was nervous that the small straps would not keep the bag in place and it would bounce all over the place when I hit a bump, but it is steady and stable ~ no movement, much to my delight. I still think the straps could be ‘beefier’, but perhaps I am looking for more structure and like the visual of Po Campo’s wider straps on their other bags. I do feel that the bag leaned heavily forward, but this really has no affect on its function ~ really just another visual thing for me. I experimented with attaching the straps a few different ways to keep the bag from rolling too far forward and keep the strap from flapping around. But as Maria says, the bag is less structured for a reason and the straps are intentional for their purpose.

Maria kindly sent pictures of how she attaches her bag and of course, this is one of the best attachment options. You really can’t access the contents of the bag while riding, but that’s not the best thing to be doing with a zippered bag anyhow. I often found that criss-crossing the straps was helpful as well. I did have some paint rub on the handlebars from the metal of the straps, but since this is my city bicycle I figure it just adds to the patina.

On the Lexa the gearing system is attached to the brakes ~ you push levers in on both brakes to change gears. The Pilsen never interfered with my ability to change gears. I also never had an issue with the weight on the front of my bag ~ I really never noticed the bag was there; it didn’t affect my steering or stability. The only time I had an issue up front was when I maxed out the bag with a second lock (sometimes I’m a two-lock gal) ~ that was too much weight. It stressed the straps and pushed the bag against my brake cables causing issues with the brakes. So though the bag can carry a lot, unless you have a rack system, I would recommend keeping the contents to the basic necessities. Since the Pilsen really acts as a purse, I often did not bring my wallet with me, just a phone and some critical cards ~ that helped to keep the weight down as well. Pack only the necessities.

I am still contemplating a light rack and/or courier bag or bicycle backpack because sometimes I need to bring a coat or a second lock and I feel I still need a better solution for those things, but overall, for getting around town and bringing the basic necessities, this bag perfectly fit the bill.

If you like to support manufacturing in the US ~ hurry and treat yourself to a Po Campo. They just lowered their prices to accommodate customer feedback, but take note… Next season they move their manufacturing operations overseas to keep prices down. Such a catch 22 we people create, we complain prices are too expensive, so manufacturing goes overseas, and then we complain about quality. You be the judge and let your voices and wallets be heard.

If you are in Minneapolis, Po Campo can be found at the Hub or One on One. Elsewhere, check here or purchase online.

Thanks Maria for letting me try out the bag! I look forward to following the growth and design trajectory of Po Campo. The Midwest, it ain’t all about snow and cornfields people!