Monday, 25 February 2013

Review (in 2 parts): ORTLIEB ZIP CITY S messenger bag

15 February 2013

Nearly three months on, my love affair with my Michaux Club bag shows no sign of abating. My satisfaction has not, however, made me faithful. Indeed, I am looking at other messenger-style bags even more now, wondering if I had been missing the beauty of how functional this style of bag is, because I couldn't get past the aesthetics. If the beauty is in the function, are all the others just as good?  Since the Commuter is so perfect for my cycling and commuting needs, I wonder if (aesthetics aside) I might have been just as happy with, for example, a Chrome Mini Metro, Timbuk2 Classic Messenger or similar? Are they all "created equal" with the rest just semantics? 

So -- all in the interests of research, you understand -- I intend over the next few weeks to make some comparisons with others bags. My criteria in choosing ones to look at are: size no bigger than 20 litres (as volume seems to be how the industry judges size), and it must have a stability (aka "anti-swing") strap included.

First up -- the Ortlieb Zip City in size small (14.5 litres). It arrived today.

First impressions:  it's MASSIVE!  Far bigger than the Commuter, which is dwarfed next to it.

How do people carry something like this on their bodies, regardless of how full it is?

Secondly, the material is advertised as completely waterproof and I'm prepared to accept that. But it's also very rigid and, though smooth to touch, rough to handle. It puts me in mind of Tyvek, or those heavy-duty garden refuse sacks provided by some Councils here in England. My fingers felt assaulted as I fumbled to open the zipper (another point bearing full consideration). I may be unusual in this regard but cold air makes my hands more sensitive to knocks and bumps and indeed more susceptible to cuts if I'm clumsy with fiddly things. This bag could hurt me, commuting in the cold of winter (and well into spring).

Thirdly, the colours are not quite the same in real life as in photos on websites. I bought the Lime & Blue colourway. The green is lighter than the bright green suggested by online photos, and the blue is darker/brighter (almost Tesco blue). My perception while window-shopping online  was that the shades of green and blue were of similar "value". They're not; the blue is definitely the dominant colour, even if used as more of an accent colour.

Fourthly, the stability strap is completely optional. In fact, the brackets that need to be fitted to the bag in order to attach the strap come in a plastic bag. So you have the option to fit those brackets yourself if you intend to use the strap, or not. This option does open the target market to non-cyclists, who won't be leaning forward and throwing their bodies through the air and thus wouldn't want to have needless black brackets on the bag.

Aesthetic impression:  It's not bad. I like the colours and I like the graphics. The shoulder and anti-swing straps are made of black nylon and totally utiliarian in appearance. The plastic hardware is bulky, driven by technical considerations not elegance. Aesthetics considerations can't be limited to visual aspects though; tactility (is that a word?) is also important. The stiff, rough material is a turn-off here.

My opinion so far probably relates to features that would be more off-putting for women than for men. Size is the most likely deal breaker here. I probably won't keep this bag. But I will look it over in more detail over the weekend, taking photos and measurements and such as I go. If I decide to give it a proper college try and fit the stability strap, then I'll write a full product review in due course. In the meantime, I will leave the tags on to reserve the option to return it to the retailer. Alternatively, especially as I may have the same dilemma with other messenger bags headed my way, I may devise a blog give-away or host a special readers-only sale, whether or not the bags are still "as new" or have had some outdoor testing.


25 February 2013

Further to my post on 15 February and in spite of my doubts about whether I'll be keeping this bag, I went ahead and fit the anti-swing strap and shoulder pad to the Ortlieb Zip City bag on Saturday.

This was quite straightforward. Full instructions are enclosed. Here are photos showing me following the step-by-step process.

The exceptions to this being "straightward" and "as-instructed" is the fact that there is a piece included that I was completely unable to make sense of! It's the curved "hook" with two prongs, identified in the exploded-view diagram titled 3.4 as "C". It is depicted in this diagram at an odd angle that makes it difficult to visualise how it is intended to fit. First I tried putting it on the end, but it fell out. I then tried fitting it just inside the interior cap, but this introduced a gap between cap and bag wall so that the screw couldn't reach, because the prongs extended past the cap - an significant scratching/poking/snagger danger to hands and bag contents! In the end, I left it off. I can't see any way that function will suffer for this.

The next thing was to fit the shoulder pad. I found this to be rather over-engineered - lots of padding and lots of "restraining" fold-over tabs. Having said that, you have to take care to use all the restraining tabs, or the pad will simply fall off.


Here is the (empty) bag on my back:


  • Capacity.   As a basic measure, I prepared a bundle of items that is typical for what I commute with:  a skirt and tights to change into, a small pouch with jewellery for the day, sometimes also shoes. If I were using this bag myself, I'd also put my handbag inside. 

    As you can see, the Zip City bag simply swallowed these items up with loads of room to spare.

    The bag felt fair comfortable, at least a reasonable fit - making me think that the large size of the bag may not be as much of a problem, in practical terms, as I feared at first.

  • Comfort.  While size in and of itself may not be an issue, the potential weight, should the bag be loaded to capacity, probably would be.

    I also noticed that the shoulder straps have a half twist where they meet the bag. I can feel these against my side (on the right) and back/shoulderblade (left).

Possible issues in real life use 

  • The design of top means opening is smaller than the area within the bag. At times difficult to put things inside the bag... almost impossible one-handedly.
  • The bag itself behaves evasively when off the body! Its rigid nature and slippery material means it moves around i.e. slides on the bed/table/desk, falls over, falls on the floor -- often while your hands are full trying to put something in or take something out (see above).
  • It's also worth noting that the zipper used to close the bag is a "TIZIP" zip which requires lubricating before use. Ortlieb's website suggests that a small tube of the appropriate grease is included with each purchase. That was not the case here, and I will be contacting the retailer about this.

Ideal purpose

I can visualise this bag being used by a man (?) who commutes with change of clothes including shoes, with or without laptop and/or files/folders. Waterproofness will be his top priority, along with large unstructured interior capacity for bulky (but not necessarily heavy) items.

I did a road test on Sunday to see how this bag performs in real life -- report here.

Do you have this bag? What do you think about it? 
What do you look for in a messenger bag? 


My reviews of other messenger bags can be found: 
  • Michaux Commuter here
  • Timbuk2 Classic Messenger XS (custom) here
  • Knog Big Dog here

No comments:

Post a Comment

Share This