0. Introductionalizing Maunderings / Methodological Preliminaries / Theoretical Foundations
Rain. It was rain that brought Jandd into my life. I'd quit the rains of Portland for California sunshine, but a year or so in, my secondhand first-generation Timbuktu was disintegrating badly, and my college-era Bean Turbo Transit pack had proven itself inadequate against hard winter precipitation. I was working 10 hours of overtime a week to be able to afford not hating every second I wasn't at work: the winter had begun with me treating myself to the then-new Chinese Democracy, which I could barely afford. —I knew I needed the bro price on whatever I tried to buy, so I just asked a then-popular social networking Web site if anybody knew about a strongly weatherproof bag option for bike riding they could help hook me up with.
My pal Mike came through. Didn't get to choose a color, but I did get to specify "biggest available", and one day in what I remember as early April of 2010 (but was actually 14may2009), I got the package, and took it to Bushrod Park in Berkeley to drink sunshine beer after work and open it up.
I've used it daily, with a couple of breaks here and there, since. The bag is a Jandd Hurricane Iniki. It's in a colorway approximating blue/beige, which is probably described as "thick ocean/mushroom" or "sex iris/olive" on the site. (I looked it up: midnight/bark.) It's still holding up well, still in daily use. It's got some significant cosmetic defects at this point, and at least some functional wear that indicates that, while it's lasted 5+ years to this point, it's not going to last another five. Or anyway suggests it won't. The thing has surprised me before.
This review is of a messenger bag, judged from the point of view of a bike rider. I ride exclusively: my concerns are how the bag works when I'm no the bike, when I'm carrying the bike (up stairs, say), when I'm locking up the bike. My uses for the bag are carrying things to and from work (office job) or my girlfriend's house, or the grocery store, or a ride to the beach for a picnic, or the bar, or the coffee shop, or wherever. The bag's performance outdoors is all I really care about, not its appearance indoors. It's worth noting that I carry a lot of shit on a day-to-day basis. Including but not limited to: shaving kit; Nalgene; coffee thermos; notebook/pens; book or kindle plus the new LRB or Harper's; phone charger; walkman; U-lock and cable lock; spare handkerchief and chamois; sunglasses; hat; next day's socks/underwear/work shirt; lights/gloves/pants clip; lunch; layer against the weather. I mention all this because it's a specific perspective on a specific set of requirements: most bag reviews I see seem to site the bag in the passenger seat of a car, or on a bus, and in an office; these reviews thus don't speak at all to my concerns. This review is also based on a quantity of experience most reviews don't have.
The bag is big. It holds a lot.
It's not too uncomfortable to carry heavy loads. I do my grocery runs with it, which means a lot of canned goods (beans) and beer (I like beer), and it's fine. (Those heavy loads are starting to pull the strap through the body of the bag, and that's what killed the Timbuktu.)
It's fairly waterproof. When the rain really comes down, the seam across the top, holding the rain flap to the body of the bag, leaks. There's a drawstring inside the body of the bag that's meant to close the bag against rain, but it's unfortunately prone to capillary action, which draws water into the bag. The rain flap and the body also aren't fitted to each other that well: there's often a gap open at each end, which is another rain problem.
The lining is thick and black and helps ensure that the bag is waterproof—or at least -resistant. But I will say that the white lining I see on my friends' bags is awesome, and I'm jealous, because it's easier for them to find shit in their bags than it is for me in mine, particularly in low-light conditions. (If you don't think I care about finding things in low-light conditions, you don't know me—and you don't know Mike Watt:
The pattern of pocket fabric should be at a 45-degree angle from the shirt's front pattern so you can find them in low-light conditions. Also mandatory, dual pockets and button-down flaps — dropping stuff out of my pocket and plumber's crack are my most embarrassing things on stage.
The lining on the storm flap is peeling badly. This is a very minor functional issue, so far at least, but it is a quite significant aesthetic issue.
There are thin leather discs sewn over the four bottom corners. They don't look great, but they are great. A wonderful idea that probably adds a year to the bag's life all by itself.
1. Some Minor Flaws
Most of the design elements are good. It's sound against the sky-wet; it's strong with the heavy; it's made out of phenomenally, ridiculously durable materials. But it also lags behind more modern bags in some important ways. I suspect it wasn't designed by somebody who actually uses a bag like this. It's heavy, but it's floppy, not stiff: it won't stand up on its own, and it doesn't really hold its shape very well. The bottom of the bag is square: just square enough to beg for things to fall all around it, but not square enough to be a platform for the bag and its contents to stand up. This matters because it makes the bag much harder to use. With a light load, you have to strap the bag very tightly to your body to keep things from moving around. (I.e., your thermos or bike lock ending up pushing directly into your kidneys or back.) This means that the bag's too tight to get into in the intended way: swinging it around your body and opening up the flap. Instead, you have to loosen the bag a bunch, which lets the contents shift around—hello again, bike lock! How pleasing it is to feel you jabbing my trunk again. Also when things shift around, they snag each other when you try to pull one or another thing out of the bag: your lock will snag your book, and it will fall on the ground, and you will curse.
The pockets play into this issue. Inside the body of the bag, there's a panel on which are mounted two pen pockets, a glasses case pocket, and two trade-paperback (slash bike lock) pockets. I use one of the trade paperback pockets as a bike lock pocket, but gravity and the bag's floppiness makes the lock weigh the bag's opening shut: the whole bag just collapses in on itself. (This also more or less happens if you throw a nice, heavy book into one or more of those bigger pockets, which you will want to do, because putting a book naked into the gaping maw of a bike bag is a good way to Beat That Book Absolutely To Shit.) This makes the bag harder to load, unload, use, etc.
Outside the body of the bag, there are two more pockets. One has a bunch of pen slots, which is good. I love pen slots. This one is good for your walkman, cigs, lighter, tampons, sundries. On that pocket's face is a zippered pocket. The zipper comes with a "stealth pull"—a strip of fabric, instead of a rattly-jangly metal tab to yank upon. This is pretty great! It's light and it's quiet. But it's also long enough to reach, and stick upon, and get torn up by, the hook side of the hook-and-loop closure stuff. Frustrating! Slightly bad design: who wants one part of their bag to get stuck on another? Who wants one part of their bag to fray another? Also: putting stuff in this zippered pocket will make it hard to put things into the pen slots. This is annoying.
Another problem involves the reflective strip. It's designed to reflect headlights and to be a mounting point for a flashy light. But if the bag is on the back of a human on a bike, the strip, or a light attached to, will point to the sky. Completely useless. I have actually had cars stop and stop me to tell me they couldn't see my light or reflectors.
2. Accessories Are Fun
There are a lot of accessories available and I've used a bunch of them.
- Computer Sleeve
Sleeve for a laptop. It works well! For a long time, I kept it in my bag to add Structure, and to protect reading materials, (like my precious magazines) and to free up the front internal pockets: with this thing in there, you can tuck your bike locks in between the sleeve and your back, and they don't snag the rest of the bag's contents. But it's heavy, and it's bulk, so I quit carrying it when I wasn't carrying a laptop.
- Reflective Strips
Essentially a necessity, given the reflective strip's problematic (useless) placement. They mostly work okay, though mounting them on the bag's compression straps adds some moving parts to the mechanism of locking down the rain flap and seems to make the buckles looser. I've lost at least one buckle, and at least one of the reflective strips.
- Stuff Sack
I use these to keep my work shirts clean and wrinkly when I ride to work. They're thick and stout and they keep coffee drips off of my plaids.
- Pant Cuff Savior
I didn't really want to buy this: my preferred way to keep my jeans off of my chain is this beautiful stainless steel C that I picked up in Portland and am terrified of losing, but that C isn't actually big and strong enough to handle both thick books and thick expensive denim, which combination I deploy kind of a lot. It's weird to call out something like this as particularly good, but this ankle strap is basically perfect. Ugly as sin and twice as strong, perfect for its function.
- Seat Bag
This is how I know some of Jandd's design deserves to be held to a higher standard: while this is heavy and arguably overbuilt, it's got a light-colored lining, unlike the bags. I don't use it often, because leaving things attached to your bike is a good way to get them stolen, but it's great for what it is. (A fun alternative review is here.)
- Strap Pouch
Just picked this up, and it's good. It's hot here, often, and I like to ride with a walkman in—this lets me put that walkman someplace besides a shirt with a pocket, saving me a layer and some sweat. Not sure it's waterproof, but otherwise it's smart: well built, well designed. Works.
3. Conclusionary Expansions
Every Jandd product I've bought shows up with a little card attached. One of the things the card says is:
At Jandd Mountaineering our primary objectives are in this order: functional, strength and design, and aesthetic appearance. Endless craftsmanship and attention to detail can be seen throughout each product. We are proud to say that we have the finest packs around.
I think Jandd mostly hits the marks they're aiming for. Mostly. The craftsmanship is more than evident: the materials they use and the techniques for assembling those materials are matchless. The aesthetics take a back seat, but the colors are quiet and attractive, the lines well-suited for the purpose. All this means that the durability and most of the functionality is off the charts.
But the day-to-day use is often marked with frustration, and this is because some of the design is amateurish. Small bonuses, like a white lining, are nowhere to be found. Errors persist that testing or experience would have revealed, like the useless reflective strip. Actual usability is sometimes lacking, as in the shapeless bag and the problem of hoisting out one and only one item.
I spend a lot of time looking at and for other bags. I have used this one, and used it hard, for around 1,500 days, and I have often been very frustrated with it. That said, I have a deep reservoir of affection for it: around the edges of this bag lurk the sloppy brushstrokes of amateurism, to be sure, but the center of the object is strong and full-hearted and incredibly well-intentioned. It's a bag I think about, but it's a bag I never have to worry about. My next bike bag is probably a year or more away, and it will almost certainly be another Jandd Hurricane Iniki, as it is, I judge, impossible to get a bag of higher quality for anything close to the price. Why would I buy anything else?