Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Timbuk2 Especial Claro Review: Not for Me, but Great Customer Service Wins the Day

A while back, I covered my abiding respect and affection for my Jandd Hurricane messenger bag. It was and is the stoutest and most robust bag I've owned—but it was really starting to show the wear that comes with age, and it came time to find a replacement daily driver. This is not that story.

This story lives somewhere between the story of the Jandd—a story about an adequately designed and beautifully built object—and the story of the U-Turn Audio—a story about a maybe-adequate object betrayed by abysmal customer service. This story is about the Timbuk2 Especial Claro.

Going out into the world for a new bag was thrilling and stressful. I love that kind of shopping: zooming in to check pocket details; stroking my chin over fabric types; trying to parse "weather resistant" vs. "waterproof"; squinting at different volumes and weights. But it's stressful, because I haven't been on the market for a really long time. "Ich kenne mich nicht aus", as Wittgenstein said, when he was looking to buy a new bike bag. So I spent untold hours on the internet, and more than a few hours boring the bejeezus out of Noodles talking about bags. I checked every site I could find—bag sites, review sites, shopping sites, everything. I pestered my friends with late-night texes about their bag and life choices. I stared at every person carrying a bag within eyeshot, judging, assessing, creeping the fuck out (probably).

Eventually, the planets aligned and I realized something incredibly important: I have insane numbers of coupons for ten wing-wangs off at LL Bean and those coupons stack. This means I could throw coupons at a purchase until I ran out of coupons or until the remaining charge was less than ten wing-wangs! Also? I get free shipping from Bean, because I am secretly an important man.

Let's take a secretly an important man break!

What all this meant was that I could burn a bunch of coupons and get a new bike bag for nine wing-wangs. Also the copy around it said specifically that it's for Serious Cyclists—and who's more serious a cyclist than me!? Nobody, that's who.

And that is how the Especial Claro entered my life. It was so cool looking! A little too stylish for me, probably, but I really enjoyed wearing it, carrying it, fiddling with it, looking at it, talking about it...I kind of felt like an early William Gibson character. (The "hammered carbon" look feels like a very specific alternate future I wish I inhabited sometimes.) But all was not well in this romance for the ages. Enter: writing letter to Timbuk2's customer support team.

I recently bought (and came to really like) a Medium Especial Claro. I really liked how light it was, and I appreciated its minimal approach to organizational features and pockets -- I tend to packrat a LOT of stuff, so the more pockets I have at my disposal, the more I carry with me everywhere, which isn't actually helpful. Plus I really liked its style: I'm an office drone, and the bag matched that vibe, but with a little flair / style that made me feel like I wasn't JUST an office drone.

But after less than two weeks, the seams under the shoulder strap have started to tear loose. I never carried any kind of load I consider out of line for a messenger bag -- I'd guess a 12-pack of Tecate + a couple bottles of fizzy water and a U-Lock would have been the heaviest load. I commute exclusively by bike, and ride everywhere I go, and I've been using a giant Jandd bag for years, and that kind of load would normally go on top of my everyday carry without any problems. (I had to take everything out to make that load fit the Claro, and it was a pretty tight fit.)

So my question is this: Is the Classic Messenger a better choice for me? I.e., will it allow me to carry the stuff I tend to carry on a daily basis without structural failure?
Should I just go for another Claro and adapt my habits to the bag rather than assuming the bag will adapt to whatever I throw at (or in) it? (This would be the case if the Classic Messenger had about the same carrying capacity and build quality -- because if those things are equal, I much prefer the style and waterproofness of the Claro.) Thanks! Sorry for the novel's worth of backstory and detail, but as somebody who really does live on his bike, I have...well, I have special needs.

They got back to me v. quickly.

Hey [Fat],

Thank you for contacting Timbuk2.

Sorry to hear that your bag wasn't working like it should, can you shoot over an image of the issue so we can take a look?

In regards to your product question, the Classic Messenger Bag will do the trick. A lot of the colorways are made from Cordura Nylon and that is a top of the line Cordura that offers lightness and water protection!

If you grab a medium you will be able to easily fit a 12 pack, fizzee water, and U Lock...I speak from experience.

It will also be able to hold the same amount of weight, if not, more.

It is more likely to get water inside the main bucket if your bag is over stuffed, but the fold over flap on this bag also has water wings so water is less likely to dribble in.

Just let us know if there's anything else I can help with or answer,

Your pals @ Timbuk2
Customer Service

This is pretty much exactly what I wanted to hear.

This is totally helpful -- thank you VERY much! I definitely appreciate it. You should tell your boss that this was exactly the response I was hoping for, too! I'll go back to the store where I picked this up and swop out the Claro for the Classic...

I've attached a couple images of the fraying (both sides). Hope they help! The quarter was just for scale.

The story is pretty much over, but one line from their next email really made me laugh, so I'm including it here.

Hey [Fat],

Thanks for shooting over those images. That's definitely odd and not the type of quality that Timbuk2 is known for. Your Claro should have held up a lot better. I'm going to make sure our product design team gets these photos.

If for some reason the store cannot help with the swap, please let us know. We want to make sure you get the best bag that will meet your needs and let you enjoy your Tecate without any worries.


I like a company that demonstrates attention to detail at every step: from educating me about fabrics (never buy anything that's not Cordura: noted!) to keeping an eye on what I like to drink (Tecate and fizzy water, mainly). I like a company that takes Tecate as seriously as I do, as seriously as Kowloon Walled City takes Tecate—and tone. I like Timbuk2. I sent the Especial Claro back and have been using the Classic Messenger for a couple weeks. It's a good solution for me. But that's a story for a different time.

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2 Comments + Unabashed Criticism:

Blogger Holly M. Wendt said...

It's nice to see a story like this that has a happy ending. I wish I liked the look of the Timbuk2 bags more--just not my style--because the near-infinite options make me really happy.

(I went through similar research/hand-wringing/excessive discussion for the bag I carry for teaching purposes, so the first part of this definitely resonates.)

12:04 PM  
Blogger Fat Contradiction said...

Haha, yeah, Timbuk2 makes a wide range of strangely ugly-ass bags. That said, they do have a coherent style and they look a lot better than the pure "function" bags out there: your Jandd, your Rickshaw, your Bailey Works, your Zo Bags and so on and so on and so on and so on.

To anticipate the next chapter in this story a bit, the one I ended up with is the basicest option: black on black, completely nondescript. Which will work for me for a while, I think.

Thanks for reading, Holly! Much appreciated.

9:46 AM  

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