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.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

NBA Forecast 2015-16: Western Conference

OKC Sonics: Massive season topped by birth of Westbrook's first child courtside during playoffs. Min. projection: WCF.
Buffalo Clippers: Chris Paul will continue to not win playoff series.
Chandler Parsons Winter Offensive: Second round exit. Harden possibly godfather to Westbrook's child in feel good story of the season.
Roman Empire Never Ended Spurs: Title contender if they are allowed to play 8 players on court at same time.
Syracuse Warriors: 50-10 start. Late season tilt with OKC will be highest rated regular season game of all time. Bonus lighting round question: does Klay get better? Min. projection: WCF
KC Kings: Karl rolls ball out and hork pizzas and tallboys while Rondo creates easy dunks for Cousins and Gay. Min projection West semis.
Cuban Mavericks: Deron Williams has won more playoff series than C.Paul, and went to the WCF under Jerry Sloan. Dallas has a sorta institutional/cult-like feel so maybe Williams has a run left in him? Min projection: Deron William has contract-year season.
BC Grizzlies: Most likely to lose player to injury-by-Della.
Your Pelicans.  I wish the best for Anthony Davis but this franchise is still in honeymoon/happy-to-be-here mode. Min projection: first round exit after taking 2-1 series lead.

Fortune cookie: The east was yesterday.

Great Urinals of the Pacific Northwest

Highway 6 gas station

Monday, September 07, 2015

NBA Forecast 2015-16: Eastern Conference

Baltimore Bullets: It’s a guard's league with guard's rules. Min. Projection: ECF.

Lebron James Low APR Mortgage Co.: If Cleveland got to the Finals with Lebron running 95% of possessions, can they really do that much better with him in the pilot seat less? Min. Projection: East semis and Della seriously injures someone.

A Taqueria in Chicago: My favorite thing about Chicago is you can go to a taqueria and ask for grilled onions to be added to anything. Min projection: lettuce everywhere, 5th seed.

Miami: Wade's healthy again so he can have one last go at running into people head first to draw fouls and increase win total by +10 games to make the playoffs. Min projection: 4th seed.

Atlanta Hawks: Big year for Teague. See Washington projection.

Philly: Keep trying to catch lightning in a bottle! No projection.

Boston: Keep trying to catch lightning in a bottle! No projection.

James Dolan's Cablevision Money: Maybe it'll work out? What I see is a lot of plug-n-play guys on the roster all cabled to the Carmelo-cube. Projection: long form apologia for JAX.

Fortune cookie: The west tomorrow.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

U-Turn Audio makes a terrible product and has terrible customer service

Last year around this time, I started to feel a major bite: I no longer had a working turntable, and that's not how I like to spin roll. I looked around a little bit, asked some friends, and decided to try the U-Turn Orbit. Big mistake.

The first day I had it, I sent the following email to my pals:

I took a flyer on a hipster turntable and there's some shit they did that makes it kinda frustrating:

  • no autoreturn, meaning I can't pass out to a record
  • switch between 33 & 45 by means of touching the belt, meaning a nacho enthusiast like me will inevitably fuck up the belt and platter with filth
    [Ed. Note: I didn't tell these guys that I am also really really ineptly frustratingly bad at changing between 33 & 45 and that when I try it, the belt invariably falls off a couple times before I can get everything lined up correctly]
  • needs a preamp (because I have a second-rate amp), and the one they sell can't be turned on and off, meaning an incredibly bright blue LED burning at my eyeballs, and meaning...uh, shit, I guess I got to unplug it when I go to bed??
  • dust cover isn't counterbalanced, so it is either down or up at a 90-degree

Keep an eye on that preamp. It figures in the next email I had to send about this turntable—this email, I sent to the manufacturer.

Hi --

I am extremely frustrated with your product. I bought it, used it maybe twice, and then put it on the shelf for a while, unplugging the preamp, because it has no power switch and I

  1. didn't see why it should be sucking electricity all the time
  2. didn't want to see the god damned LED all the time
  3. thought it might overheat/burn out if I left it plugged in

I tried to use the turntable tonight, and the preamp is apparently dead. I tried plugging the AC adaptor into multiple different outlets to zero effect. The turntable itself appears to work as well as it ever did -- no auto-return, and the belt falls off all the god damned time, but the platter spins. Again: I am extremely frustrated. And disappointed. And angry.

What do you recommend I do? Will you make this right and at the very least replace the preamp for free? Please let me know.

yours, a person who really wanted to listen to some records tonight, and can't,

And here is the response I got.

Sorry to hear you are experiencing some difficulties. Please note that we are not the manufacturers of the ART brand DJ preamp. I also agree that the LED is irritating, although it is worth mentioning that it does consume very little power, so I wouldn't worry about (1) or (3) - most preamps are designed to be left on. If you ship us back the preamp we can take a look at it and will send you a replacement (pre-owned) if necessary. This is a courtesy, as we are not the manufacturers of this item. [Ed. Note: you sold me the item, dude.]

Alternatively, I imagine that this might be a power adapter issue. Can you try quickly using the Orbit's adapter to connect the preamp and see if that gives it power? If it's just the adapter we can send a new one.

The Orbit is a fully manual turntable so there is no auto-return. [Ed. Note: yes, this is what I'm complaining about.]

There is an auto-lift device called the Q UP that you can purchase and install if you would like similar functionality: [Ed. Note: sweet upsell. Exactly what a disappointed, frustrated customer is most interested in.]

Can you please describe the belt falling off - when exactly does it fall off (during play or installation)? This should not be happening and if you provide more information we would be happy to look into this for you.

I didn't get back to him, because I know when I've been blown off. U-Turn Audio never followed up, presumably because they know when they're not going to be able to upsell their way out of their "stupid, pretentious instance[s] of 'design' as a noun overwhelming the verb-process of designing something". They wanted to have something "minimal", so they sell a turntable that doesn't have autoreturn, or a dust cover that's functional, a turntable that makes you handle the stretchable, finger-oil sensitive drive belt every time you want to change the speed. And they back it up with the commitment to customer service that says "Hey, man, sure, the thing we sold you broke after a week of minimal use, but we didn't make it, so if you want it to be replaced...we'll send you a used one and act like we're doing you a favor while we do it." So fuck them; fuck U-Turn Audio. If you see a product by U-Turn Audio, do yourself a favor: do a U-Turn. Walk away and find something you will enjoy using, made by people who do not loathe you.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

ANNOUNCING: I Don't Even Own a Television, a podcast

Further to our notes of the other week, it is incumbent upon us to note that our Reviewieran ways continue to spill out into the world, beyond the high walls of our beloved home and land. Yes, I continue to pound the Reviewiera drum, hollering away that SOME STUFF IS BETTER THAN SOME OTHER STUFF—this time, via a podcast, over at the I Don't Even Own a Television podcast.

Every two weeks, the ridiculously talented J. W. Friedman and I get together and riff on one or another really really crummy book. J. founded the podcast in early 2014, and it was on my radar from the first episode, a book from a romance-novel publishing house's action imprint, Harlequin Intrigue (!), an erotic (?) thriller (?) called Pregnesia (!). Episodes that stood out to me from that time:

Somewhere in the run of excellent episodes with excellent guests, I managed to con J. into letting me guest on an episode. (I think I told him something like "I'm local, I always prefer to yes-and somebody when they make a joke, and I'll show up with beer".) It went well—I sure had a good time—and BOY did we read a lousy book, Brian Lumley's Necroscope. A few episodes later, it seemed to make sense to J. to offer me a gig as co-host, which I accepted the hell right out of, and since then, we've been reading every garbage book we can get our minds around. It's been a lot of fun, and it's a terrifically good fit with everything we've always tried to do here, so if you like hour-long sojourns in the land of abysmal writing, please give I Don't Even Own a Television a shot!

ALSO IT IS EXCITING AND IMPORTANT THAT WE ARE TAKING OUR SHOW ON THE ROAD! We will be guesting on fellow podcast champions The F Plus' live show ONE NIGHT ONLY, October 4, 2015, at Grumpy's in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota! It's gonna rule.