Saturday, December 5, 2009

Our Satchels: a Review of Two

The Co-Habitant and I are often asked about our satchels. And as they are bike related (we use them to transport our laptops while cycling), I thought I'd review them here.

Mine is a brown leather satchel from Scaramanga. His is a black leather satchel from the Cambridge Satchel Co. Both are from the UK and both were purchased last summer.

The bag from the Cambridge Satchel Co. is technically not a satchel, but what they call a "batchel" - a satchel with a handle on top, so that you can carry it like a briefcase in addition to messenger style. The Cambridge Satchel Company offers traditionally made satchels, batchels and music bags in a variety of colours ranging from classic black, dark brown and navy blue, to eye popping red, yellow and purple. Their logo is a very cute bicycle, which is appropriate, as Cambridge is one of the few towns in England where bicycles rule the roads. The bags are handmade by skilled artisans in the North of England using traditional methods. I have to admit that I am biased in favour of this company, because the owner and I have a common alma mater and she generally seems like such a nice person. I wish her all the best, and definitely see a batchel of my own in the future once I have a smaller laptop.

This bag is the 15" size, measured on the outside. They come in a variety of sizes, but this is the largest. It accommodates a laptop that is 13" across (such as the smaller MacBooks) but will not fit a larger laptop. All satchels and batchels are available messenger style or backpack style, which I think is great. And notice the cute bicycle logo at the bottom!

Our favourite thing about this batchel aside from its beauty, is that it is structured. The leather is thick and stiff and retains its shape perfectly when the bag is empty. You can place the batchel down on a flat surface, and it will stand up on its own. This is great for carrying a laptop, because it provides support. The bags are unlined, but given the way they are made, I feel that lining is not necessary.

Closure is via the beautiful chrome coloured buckles you see in the photos. Everything is very sturdy; very well made, with beautiful forms and stitching.

Here is what the batchel looks like from the front, worn messenger-style. If you are male, the 15" size is really the only one that will fit your proportions, unless you are very short. If you are female, the smaller ones can be worn as a purse. And of course for children the smaller sizes are ideal and absolutely adorable in the red, yellow and purple colours.

I do not have any photos of the Co-Habitant wearing this bag while cycling, but he says it's great. The one alteration we had to make (to this and to my Scaramanga satchel as well), was to punch extra holes in the strap to allow us to shorten it - otherwise it is too long for cycling. Everything else was marvelous and perfect out of the box.

Now for my satchel! I do not know as much about Scaramanga Co. as I do about the Cambridge Satchel Co., but they sure make beautiful and comfortable bags. Available in a variety of sizes and styles, they offer purse-sized bags, laptop-sized bags, and enormous travel bags, in a choice of messenger style (the front flap is longer and has no buckles) or satchel style (shown in these photos). The natural, slightly distressed leather of my bag is the only material/colour available. It is a similar colour to Brooks "Honey", but perhaps with more tonal variation.

I love the way this bag is made - from the natural look of the leather to all the beautiful hardware, such as the rivets around the handle and closures. My bag is the "large, wide satchel" model, with handle (which is an optional add-on). It accommodates my 15" MacBookPro with room to spare. This is a very different bag from the Co-Habitant's batchel. The leather is soft and slouchy and the bag does not retain its shape when empty. Also, the leather does not provide enough thickness to support or cushion a laptop. If this is an issue for you, you will need to keep your laptop in a protective sleeve.

The sea green lining is beautiful! Inside, the satchel has two main compartments - each of them large enough to fit a 15"+ laptop or some books. There is an additional, smaller zipped up compartment in the front. However, as with the Co-Habitant's batchel, there are no small inner pockets for a mobile phone or camera, no pen loops, etc. For me that kind of stuff is actually important, but the overall quality of the bag nonetheless won over other bags that did have the small inner compartments. Perhaps some day I will make some pockets in it myself.

View from the front. As I have mentioned, we had to punch extra holes in the straps of both bags in order to make them short enough for cycling. So this is why you see the excessively long folded-over strap here. It is not entirely convenient, but not uncomfortable either. My only problem with this bag is that when I put my laptop and books in it, the overall weight is too much on my shoulder and back for cycling in the summer when I am wearing no extra padding over my skin: I get sores if I cycle with any bag other than Chrome worn over my bare skin. So if I am carrying something heavy, I can only wear satchels like this one once Fall begins and I have a sweater or a jacket on. However, with a smaller and lighter laptop this would not be a problem.

You can see some photos of me cycling with this bag here and here. I keep it either in the front basket or wear it, depending on the bike. Hope these reviews were useful - satchels are such wonderful things!

25 comments:

  1. I like the black bag but LOVE the brown, which will only get better looking as it picks up stains and wear, much like the seats on an old Bentley. Black is, however, a snap to redye if it needs to look brand new for some reason.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Steve - I love it how you relate everything to classic cars : )
    I agree that the Scaramanga leather is very forgiving to age and mistreatment. However, the Cambridge batchel looks brand new after over 4 months of use, which I think is pretty amazing.

    ReplyDelete
  3. oohhh i love these! they are so chic and perfect for bike-riding.

    ReplyDelete
  4. mmmm. I am in search of a new bag. Now that I am diaper free I want a real, good bag to last a lifetime. I love the softness of the brown. Although I tend to like bright colors instead of browns....

    ( mamavee)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great links - thank you! I bigtime love the CSC but somehow had never heard of Scaramanga, despite the fact that not only do I live in the UK, but I spent 4 years at university in St. Andrews which is only a few miles away from the town their shop is in! I *love* their bags - the leather on yours is just beautiful and they have so many stylish designs.
    I just had to punch extra holes in a bag of mine in order to make it cycle-suitable, glad to hear I'm not the only one doing this :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Vee - The Cambridge bags do come in some very bright colours. In fact I just noticed that Miss Sarah from Girls and Bicycles owns a red one and posted a review of it at the same time - have a look!

    Jane - Ooh I would love to visit their shop; they seem to have so many nice things!

    ReplyDelete
  7. yep, love the brown one to bits. looks like it would be much classier for me to have one of these on the weekends than using my "work" pannier. i'll have to check cambridge satchel co out!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I thought I'd mention another "batchel" i saw recently that is made right in Damariscotta, Maine.

    What a beauty -- thanks for the writeup.

    http://www.narragansettleathers.com/brief.html

    ReplyDelete
  9. Narragansett Leathers in Damariscotta - How did I not know about them! Thanks for posting; will check it out.

    ReplyDelete
  10. What synchronicity - my stepdaughter was telling me three or four days ago about the Cambridge satchels and I was drooling over a purple one on their website over the weekend. Having read your review I'm now even more tempted. Does the Cambridge Batchel have any compartments inside or is it one big space?

    ReplyDelete
  11. Gosh if I were in the market for satchels these two would be up for consideration. I'm so lucky at buying vintage that I have a vintage find that is a real beauty, with a fine and gorgeous patina, which I adore. Still what a great review!!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Carinthia - It is one large space inside, and a pocket on the outside.

    Riding Pretty - Thanks! I love vintage as well, but I have not had any luck finding a vintage satchel that will fit my laptop. That was not the goal of the designs back then : )

    ReplyDelete
  13. First, I must say that the composition of your pictures with you and Co-Habitant modeling the bags is awesome. Looking at Cambridge Satchel's website alone, I would not have been that impressed, but seeing the black one here - me want! I would get the purple (nevermind that I have too. many. leather. bags. already).

    ReplyDelete
  14. To chime in on the black Cambridge Satchel Co bag:

    It's a great post Filigree and I certainly enjoy using my satchel. You described it so well that I am not sure what else I could add. The leather is very stiff and structured and will remain this way for the life of the bag, which is great for me, but make sure you like this idea before getting the satchel. Have you ever had a structured leather article, like a holster for a tool or something like that made of very stiff work leather? Yeah, the satchel kind of reminds me of that. Very old school quality and a pleasure to use. It's not ideal for today's huge laptops that feel fragile and require nonsensical neoprene sleeves, but I just keep my Macbook Air in it commando-style and so far--so good, knock on wood. The insides are basically the other side of the leather, so there is nothing to rip and nothing to look bad with wear. All the buckles and important bits are metal and the stitching is well-done in a thick thread. It does not look like a particularly luxurious or expensive bag, however, but it does look a bit ostentatious. You won't score any points with the veggie crowd wearing this. :)

    ReplyDelete
  15. Dottie - Thanks : ) I would love to see a purple one. Also, I think that the bright colours are useful, because they would make the cyclist more visible to traffic.

    MDI - I like the idea of the MacBook Air going "commando" inside a bag. Evocative. That laptop will fit anywhere and is practically impossible to damage. Personally, I love structured bags that retain a crisp form, and I love thick stiff leather, because it offers more protection to the objects inside. But I understand that some prefer the softer, slouchy bags.

    ReplyDelete
  16. those are lovely-
    and quite reasonably priced for the quality.
    I'm drawn to the unconstructed style of the Scaramunga, but I have established that I need smaller pockets or else I drive myself to distraction finding my keys within the larger volume of a bag.
    One issue I have with my satchel/ pannier conversion is that although it's more constructed and rigid than your scarmunga looks, it sometimes bends around the corner of the skirt guard and ticks against the spokes. I could put another brass bar in the bottom to keep it straighter. Something stiff like the CSC bag would avoid that completely, and since I don't carry a laptop in my bag, I wouldn't have to worry about it being "commando"....

    ReplyDelete
  17. Lovely Bicycle...
    Regarding the size of my satchel and the goal of the designs back then, you're assuming. Actually my satchel is rather large, and more than enough room to fit my laptop ;) Viva Vintage!

    ReplyDelete
  18. I love both bags, too, and the way you and the co-habitant photographed them. The black bag is timeless; the brown one is ageless. You can't go wrong either way. Me, I'd take the brown bag, simply because, well, it's a match (or darned close) to my Brooks honey saddles. Who said our bags have to match our shoes?

    ReplyDelete
  19. RidingPretty - really? That would be great to find one; will keep looking then!

    Justine - matching your bag to your saddle is the new matching your bag to your shoes!

    ReplyDelete
  20. That Cambridge Batchel makes me drool. Unfortunately, I contacted the company and they said it wasn't really large enough for a 15" laptop. Bummer.

    If they had a smaller version, it would be great as a day bag, given that I now carry around prescription glasses, sunglasses, an iPad, a wallet and an iPhone. Yes, I need a man purse (aka 'murse').

    ReplyDelete
  21. The Cambridge Satchel Company has a great following because they've targeted that niche really well and produce excellent quality products.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Would the 15" batchel from The Cambridge Satchel Company look too large on females?

    ReplyDelete
  23. Anon - Not at all, it's quite small. Smaller than a standard American style satchel or laptop carry case.

    ReplyDelete
  24. For loads more satchels, check out Retro Satchels, loads of different colours and sizes. I am a satchel convert, so comfortable!

    ReplyDelete
  25. My Husband's leather satchel is almost 60 years old and still going strong (new straps every so often). So the CSC batchel would be a bargain if it lasts as long as that. He used it every day at school and then every day at work.

    ReplyDelete