Thursday, 6 November 2014

Review: CARRADICE STOCKPORT Bag for Brompton S-Type


I've had my Carradice Stockport bag for 18 months now so it's time for a long-term report and full review.

Features

As I mentioned in my preview of the Stockport, this bag is styled differently from the City Folder M. It is in Carradice's "Classics" range rather than the "Originals" range. This reflects the more refined look that the Stockport has, with styling a little more appropriate to city/business use than the more "audax-y" look of the Originals range! 


The Stockport has: 
- a laptop sleeve/case that attaches to the interior of the bag at the back by way of poppers ('snaps' to the American)
- leather straps at the front that close the upper flap by way of hole-punch closures
- a leather strip sewn on the front, suitable for mounting a front light
- front pockets (zipped and slip), configured exactly as on City Folder M
- a comfortable shoulder strap included (The City Folder M has the side rings for one but it isn't actually included.)


What it does not have is... 
rear pockets
waterproof cover

I'll discuss the "lack" of these in more detail below.

Size / Capacity

According to Carradice's website, the Stockport measures 39cm high, 32cm wide (across the front) and 12cm deep (from front to back) and has a capacity of 16 litres. This means it is smaller than any of the Brompton bags (even the S Bag is 20L).

Here's the hierarchy of sizes for all the Brompton and Carradice bags. (I am excluding the range of bags that Ortlieb makes for Brompton bicycles, due to their very different construction).

  • Carradice Stockport - 39x32x16 - 16L
  • S Bag - 42x26x17 - 20L
  • Carradice City Folder M - 40x33x13.5 - 25L
  • C Bag - 42x30x17 - 25L
  • T Bag - 42x30x27 - 31L
Note that, assuming the height/width/depth measurements are correct, the Stockport is taller than any of the Brompton bags (even those for the other types of Brompton bicycle), while also being a little narrower (something I've found useful when negotiating narrow passages and going between bollards on cycle paths). There's no denying however that the Stockport is smaller, the main reason being its depth: it's by far the narrowest at 12cm.

I have owned all 5 of the bags listed above, as well as the Touring Bag that preceded the T Bag. Frankly, I find all of the Brompton bags to be hefty lumps of things to carry. Even when not full, they are just an awkward shape for me. They are all very usefully designed and I admit, I loved the big mesh pockets all around the outside of the Touring and T Bags. But -- and this is a big "but" -- the rear pockets made it impossible to sling any of those bags over my shoulder. I don't know why they even bother to include a shoulder strap -- I was simply unable (physically) to use those bags in that way. It's very possible however that taller, stronger riders do put them over their shoulders. (As I often say, there is no single "right" way to use any product, and no two users are alike.)

In contrast to all the other bags, the Stockport's proportions are a bit more like a briefcase. I find it much easier to manuever especially on the train, fitting into gaps amongst suitcases on the luggage rack or behind, or even under, seats. 


When I used the T Bag (31L) or Carradice City Folder M (25L) in the past, I was aware of the temptation to carry too much... and gave into it from time to time. For overnight trips, the extra capacity was very welcome. Yet with the Stockport (16L), I have never once felt I needed to sacrifice taking something due to lack of space. Of course, I am at a different stage in my working life such that overnight trips with the Brompton are much less frequent and if I did need more space, I might well use the City Folder (it does fit on the S type Brompton) or supplement the Stockport with a messenger bag. 

For day to day, I find the Stockport is all I need. In fact, I often put my handbag inside the Stockport rather than carrying it separately.

Here are the contents for a typical day:
  • toolkit (blue zip pouch: inner tube, levers, 15mm spanner, barbell spanner)
  • Brompton-supplied pump
  • extra lights for riding home at night
  • lunchbox
  • files/folders
  • diary
  • pack of wet wipes
  • snacks
  • hand towel
  • cosmetics/toiletries pouch
  • handbag
  • lightweight 'wind cheater' jacket

I pack in layers with items that are heavy and/or have straight sides/edges at the bottom. I usually then put small items like lights, trouser clips, etc. on top of the bottom layer but in between items where they can't shift around too much (or fall to the bottom of the bag or risk falling out the top) - like so: 


And then tuck in softer/lighter/less rigid items (towel, handbag) on top and in gaps:


And lastly my jacket across the top:


I close the bag taking care to tuck the shoulder strap under one or both straps, just to ensure it doesn't slip down and touch the front wheel while I'm riding (which could potentially scorch-mark the strap). 


Do you need the "missing" rear pockets? 

If you're used to any of the Brompton bags or the Carradice City Folder, then yes, you will miss the rear pockets... at least, you certainly will the first time you reach to put something in one of those pockets as a matter of habit, only to find it's not there!


Whether you can happily do without them longer term will depend, I think, on the kind of journey you make with your Brompton. I was surprised to find that I don't actually need outside pockets at all because my journeys tend to involve comparatively short spells on the bike, sandwiching a longer period on the train. I arrive at the station, fold my bike on the platform and get my handbag out of the Stockport while waiting for the train to pull in. The handbag goes over my shoulder and stays with me on the train part of my journey. It contains pretty much anything I might need for the 25 minute train journey. The Brompton and the Stockport usually go in the luggage rack, perhaps a few feet away from me. When I get off the train, my journey is short enough that I don't need to get anything out of the Stockport or put anything into it. So the need for rear pockets rarely arises. I will admit that in the past few weeks with autumnal temperatures varying throughout the day, there have been times it would be handy to stash gloves in an outside pocket. But I am usually wearing a jacket with pockets, so it's not a big issue for me.

For me, the lack of pockets gives the Stockport one huge advantage over all the other Brompton bags of this type:  I can sling the whole bag, still on its frame, over my shoulder like a messenger bag, something that I just could not do with the Touring bag, C Bag, S Bag, new T Bag or Carradice City Folder (yes, I've tried it).

So for some people, the lack of big rear pockets will not be a problem.

For others, such as those with a longer commute (perhaps of the kind that many people would simply use a full size bicycle for), pockets may be necessity. It certainly is handy to be able to stop riding and get things out or put things away without needing to unfasten the main flap to access the interior of the bag.

Functionality 

Personally, I do not use the laptop sleeve. I do not need to carry a laptop. I have used the sleeve from time to time for slim folders or magazines, so they don't get crumpled by coming in contact with other items in my bag, but the sleeve is heavily padded and does 'eat into' the capacity of the bag overall. In my circumstances, I'd rather use the bag's capacity for things other than the laptop sleeve.  So I've stopped bothering with the sleeve. I also found that the top edge of the sleeve has a tendency to curl, which occasionally put enough pressure on the poppers to make them come undone. 

I find the hole-punch closures work really well. I seem to find it easier to fasten each strap with one hand while not looking than I could with the more common "lobster" clasps (as on all the Brompton bags and the Carradice City Folder) or indeed traditional buckles. There are in fact traditional buckles on these straps, providing another option for fastening them closed. These are positioned further down at the bottom of the bag and can be used to adjust the length of the straps, in case you have a particularly full load. I have mostly been able to set it at one length (the shortest possible) and find this accommodates the capacity I normally carry. Occasionally I have squashed something larger onto the top of my usual contents (for example, an extra cardigan spread lengthwise under the main flap) and then found I needed to loosen the straps by one hole. I've not needed to make such adjustments frequently, i.e. for each individual journey, and there seems to be a lot of leeway in terms of what you can load into the bag before you need to adjust the lengths of the straps.

I use the front light strap almost every day. I love having another light on the front of my 'vehicle', usually set to a different flashing mode than the main light on the handlebars, i.e. with one flashing and the other steady. 

I don't use the pockets on the front of the main compartment (covered by the flap) very often -- occasionally for a packet of tissues, pens or a folded paper map. They are a good size for this, and one has a zip at the top for further security. 

Build Quality / Design 

This bag takes the luggage frame specifically sized for S-Type Bromptons. It is the same width as the Standard Frame but is shorter in height, since the handlebars on the S-Type sit considerably lower than those of other types of Brompton bicycles.

Mine was one of the earliest production bags and has a couple of problems that I put down to teething problems for Carradice in designing and manufacturing this bag.

Firstly, the frame sleeve on the back of my bag is a very tight fit for the luggage frame. It was a real struggle to insert the frame when I first got the bag. Once on, it is slightly lop-sided. It certainly is secure though and, so long as the frame itself does not need to be replaced, I do not anticipate ever needing to remove the bag from it.

Secondly, the cut of the flap is not quite right to enable it to to fit snugly over the interior of the bag. Unless I take particular care, the flap rumples up at the corners. As a matter of habit, I check this and straighten it if necessary. Otherwise, this would be a gap where rain could get in. 


I reported this design flaw to Carradice. This year I have been seeing more Brompton owners out and about with Stockport bags and have had a chance to inspect a few of them. It does seem the problem has been corrected, with the darts at the top corners of the flap repositioned slightly for a much better fit.

Waterproofness 

Speaking of rain, I haven't been caught out in a full force downpour with the Stockport but so far, in the course of an average English winter with a multi-modal commute that involves 5-6 miles of cycling (each way), none of the contents have got even slightly damp, much less actually wet. (I've had more 'condensation' moisture inside a fully waterproof Ortlieb pannier than I've had with the Stockport. Something to be said for breathability?)

The Stockport is constructed of Carradice's classic waxed cotton and does not come with a "waterproof" cover. (To be honest, I've never found any of the yellow slip covers supplied with the Brompton bags to be effective... unless the real purpose was to wick moisture through it onto the bag?!)

Durability

I have found this to be a very robust bag. Nothing has broken or come loose, not even the odd bit of stitching, not even the binding materials used at the edges of the bag's panels, where it's common to see wear from rubbing.

There are scratch-like marks to the fabric of the main flap, where the cloth has been rubbed by the top edges of plastic crates currently in our dining room, next to where the bag sits overnight.

Summary 

So -- is the Stockport for you?  Only you can answer that. Think about what you need to carry, how you use the bag you have, indeed how you use your Brompton. How long is your typical journey? Do you need to carry the bag over your shoulder for any length of time, for example while carrying your Brompton up or down flights of stairs? Do you need exterior pockets that you can access easily?

Personally, I love this bag. It's my favourite of any Brompton-specific bag I've used. If I was designing it from scratch myself, I would probably put one slip pocket on the back but this is not an essential feature for me. It may well be for you though -- if it is, I suggest you look at its sister, the City Folder M also made by Carradice. It's slightly bigger, has those pockets, yet is still more refined looking than of the Brompton ones of this type -- all while being significantly cheaper!

When I bought my Stockport, it was a brand new product and there were no reviews of it anywhere on the Internet. My preview of it, written in April 2013, is the most visited page on this blog. It is still hard to find consumer-driven information about this bag, so a full review has been long overdue! I do hope this fuller description of how I use my Stockport and what works for me (and what doesn't) helps readers considering buying this bag themselves. 

So here's my VERDICT: 

Design features: 8 / 10
I have to mark down for the teething problems with the design of the main flap and the slightly too-tight fit of the frame sleeve. Otherwise, the bag is very easy to use, both on and off the bike.

Usefulness e.g. accessibility and comfort: 9 / 10 
My only slight reservation relates to whether water can get into the top of the bag, due to the less-than-perfect fit of the corners of the main flap. 

Durability:  9 / 10
After 18 months, the only signs of wear are marks on the fabric and that's due to how I store it. 

Attractiveness:  9 / 10 
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I like this bag's style. 

Value for money: 9/ 10 
I bought this bag in February 2013 for £120. The current price on Carradice's website is £130. This is a good price point in this market, and given the durability of the bag, represents very good value. 


Overall:  44 / 50

4 comments:

  1. Interesting as a front loading pannier. I'm like you, I need side/rear pockets. A lot of panniers don't have them externally with zippers. I put in wallet, lights, etc. I don't want to undo my whole pannier straps along with groceries to get at esentials..which also includes keys.

    Yes, that material looks very durable. Ah, the big search of panniers is on for me...I have my criteria.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, yes, the search for the perfect bag! A lifelong quest, I fear. ;)

      Delete
  2. hi are you still happy with yhe bag

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi, yes, this is pretty much the only bag I use on my Brompton.

    ReplyDelete

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