A number of years ago, I got a Specialized messenger bag that I carried back and forth to work. This bag seemed to be one of the magical bags of holding, capable of carrying much more than one would ever expect. My wife has a tendency to forget that I ride my bike into work and will occasionally send me to the store on my way home for various things. One day, I had to pick up some ice cream, milk, a loaf of garlic bread and some other odds and ends. The bag swallowed it all.
However, the bag was showing its age. The cell phone pouch was designed for a traditional cell phone and not the current crop of smartphones.The nylon wasn’t acting particularly waterproof anymore. The hook-and-loop fabric on the top flap was getting pretty weak. Did it really need to be replaced? No, not really. But when Christmas rolls around, the difference between “want” and “need” gets all fuzzy and you end up opening up a package containing a Kona Project 2 Messenger Bag. And you grin like a maniac, because you just got an awesome new bag. How awesome?
I had searched for reviews of this bag before putting on the Wishlist and was somewhat disheartened. Not with regards to their impressions of the bag itself, but simply that they all focused on the more inane things. They enumerate every pocket and produce laundry lists of things they can shove in there. There are never any impressions of what it’s like to wear the bag or ride with the bag. Now that I’ve been using it for two months, it’s time for some thoughts.
The bag has a variety of closures. The zipper on the flap pocket is of the waterproof variety. There are two hook-and-loop fasteners that keep the flap closed as well as two bright orange buckles. The buckles actually border on the ornamental. They need to be adjusted every time you repack the bag or they fall off. The marketing always makes a big deal out of the magnetic Hydro FlapsTM which are honestly pretty cool. They normally attach themselves automatically, but occasionally require a little manual adjustment. The waterproof laptop bag folds on the top and is secured closed by hook-and-loop as well as secured to the inside of the bag with the same.
Pockets and Stuff
There are lots. They vary in size. Some close with zippers, some with hook-and-loop, some just have mesh with an elastic band at the top. There are more pockets than I know what to do with.
There are two main straps. Obviously, there’s the thick shoulder strap, which is nicely padded everywhere it matters, and is intended to go over your left shoulder. There is also a stabilization strap that connects between the bottom of the bag and the main strap. Both are easily adjustable, but I find that you have to cinch them down incredibly tight to get the bag secure when you’re actually riding. All of the straps have a nice elastic sleeve to keep the tag end from flapping in the breeze (too much).
Actual Usage Impressions
The bag rides a little higher on my back than my old Specialized bag. That one rode down on my hips; the P2 bag rides on my ribcage. Time will tell if this is going to get hot and uncomfortable in the summer. For the winter, it isn’t bothersome. I’ve ridden in slushy nastiness, heavy snow and some rain and everything comes out of the bag dry. Whether it’s a function of the material or some kind of topical treatment, water beads up quite nicely on the surface. The pocket on the top flap has been excellent for those times when you’re carrying a bill to the post office or a check to the bank. It’s secure, yet within relatively easy reach.
It took me a while to get used to putting the bag on my left shoulder. I had been a right-shoulder carrier of my old bag. I’ve found this to be a better setup though. During these winter months, I shoulder my bike cyclocross-style to hoof it up 5 flights of stairs to my office (and a few other places too). That puts the bag on my left shoulder and the bike on my right and they don’t interfere with each other.
Kona advertises the built-in safety light, which is very cool in theory. I’ve lost a few blinky lights that slipped off my bag during my commute in the past and there’s just no way this one is falling off. There are three things that keep it from being great. First, it’s not really very bright compared with other alternatives. Second, it’s relatively hard to operate. You often need two hands to actually click the thing. Finally, my position on my commuter bike (a singlespeed cyclocross bike) points the light a little too far up and not enough back. If you have a more upright position on your commuter, you won’t have this last problem.
As I mentioned above, it’s taken me a while to get the hang of the straps. You really have to pull the chest strap tight or the bag flops around when you ride. The orange buckles that attach to the front strap need to be adjusted for every new load — even the difference between a full and empty lunch bag. It’s not a huge time suck, but I almost never adjusted those straps on my old bag.
The cell phone pocket on the strap is perfect for me. It seems ideally sized to hold an iPhone, though I cannot get the iPhone in with its silicone case. Taking the case on and off is also a little annoying, but it’s not that bad. And in the end, you can actually hear and feel the phone while you’re riding and then answer it without much difficulty. This is a lot better than my old “phone in the jeans pocket” option.
It’s definitely capacious, yet rides on your body well. My normal load is a 15″ MacBook Pro, iPad, pair of shoes and lunch. The P2 bag swallows this without batting its metaphoric eye. I haven’t had to carry it for a long distance yet, but imagine it will be fine. I’ll learn soon enough, as I’ll take it on a conference trip to San Diego in the beginning of March. I think it will handle airport security better than my old bag, because taking the laptop and iPad out really meant repacking the entire bag to get them back in. There’s enough structure to the P2 bag that taking things out should require the same repacking.
After riding through some of the most ridiculous winter weather, I can definitely say the bag holds everything you need it to and will keep things nice and secure. The only last hurdle is whether or not the bag rides well during hot summer days. Having a hot backpack was the reason I moved to a messenger bag in the first place. There’s no doubt it’s pricey — $150 — but so far it has been worth it and the bag is backed up by a Lifetime Warranty from Brenthaven. So far, I would highly recommend the P2 Messenger Bag from Kona.