Monday, May 16, 2011

Custom Leather Pannier by Cristobal &Co

Since having written my "short chainstay lament" some time ago, I've connected with a number of small manufacturers and artisans who have developed panniers specifically to solve this problem. And yes, I will be reviewing them all to the best of my ability! This month I bring you Cristobal &Co. I am familiar with the owner of Cristobal via bikeforums and obtained this pannier in an equal value trade.

Cristobal panniers are custom-made by hand by traditional artisans in Mexico. They are made of leather and covered with a thin layer of weatherproof and UV-resistant synthetic fabric. Although standard models are available, the nicest thing about Cristobal is the possibility for customisation. I asked for a pannier that would fit my MacBook without inducing heel strike when used on my mixte. I sent measurements of my bike's chainstays and rear rack, we discussed dimensions, and I also indicated how high I wanted the pannier to sit. Shortly thereafter I received the cute, boxy Cristobal with honey leather and removable side-pocket. It fits my MacBook with much room to spare without a hint of heel strike.

Having used a variety of leather satchels in the past, I would describe the Cristobal pannier as exceptionally well made. The leather is of high quality and the stitching is precise. There are no loose threads, no botched edges. 

The underside of the leather is soft to the touch. There is an option to get a flap that will cover the rivets holding up the hooks on the back of the pannier, and I asked for this feature - making the interior completely safe for my laptop and camera equipment. 

The removable pocket can be fitted to either side of the pannier via a built-in attachment system.

It is large enough to fit a mobile phone and a small digital camera at the same time, which is useful.

The extra long leather straps with metal buckles are designed to hold a jacket when closed.

However, I usually just leave mine open, because it takes too long to mess with them (a quick release design could work nicely here). 

The attachment system consists of straps with buckles and two hooks. The open hooks go over the rack's tubing to keep it stable, and the straps are used to secure it. The hooks are standardly sized - similar to those used by Arkel - and will not fit racks with thick tubing, such as heavy duty Dutch bike racks. 

A lower pair of straps attaches to the rack's stays for greater stability. You can see in the pictures that the straps are easily moveable via the slots in the leather, which makes it possible to adjust the pannier to fit different bikes. You could also remove the lower straps altogether if you do not feel them to be necessary.

I found the Cristobal pannier convenient to use in that it makes for a great carry-all. With its rigid boxy shape, it is like a bottomless trunk that I can keep stuffing and stuffing with my personal belongings and groceries. On the other hand, the pannier takes some time to affix and detach, and its hooks are only compatible with some of my bicycle racks. Without a more versatile quick release system, I consider this to be more of a touring pannier than a commuter's pannier. Cristobal is willing to use alternative attachment systems upon customer's request, and I suggest getting something like the R&K Klickfix if you need an easy on-off feature that is compatible with a wide variety of racks (I didn't opt for that, because I was curious what the standard attachment system was like).

It is also worth noting that while leather is more durable than cloth, it is also heavier. If you value durability, waterproofness and craftsmanship over weight, then this shouldn't bother you. But if you are seeking the lightest set-up possible, leather is generally not the way to go. 

Cristobal panniers are starting to appear in bicycle shops across the US, and can be ordered directly from the manufacturer with various degrees of personalisation. Prices vary depending on dimensions and the amount of custom work, so please inquire with them directly. I am impressed with the craftsmanship and design of the pannier, and will consider retrofitting mine with a quick release system. 

36 comments:

  1. Holy cow, but that thing is gorgeous! What a knock-out. I have seen these on BF too, and I don't know... just sort of assumed that they can't be that beautiful in "real life." Well, push me over and call me Daisy. That is one of the prettiest bike accessories I've ever seen. It fits your bike perfectly.

    Very, very impressive.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow, I agree with #1. Those are drop dead gorgeous (just like the blogger, of course.)

    I've never heard of the Co. I wish them great penetration into the U.S. LBS marketplace. I'd love to see more of those floating by on "The Bicycles of Oakland." Perhaps on one of mine.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Drop dead gorgeous is right! I'd kill someone to have one of these.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Another accessory I "need"! (ha, ha, ha)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Didn't expect such emotional reactions! : )

    ReplyDelete
  6. Honestly, this bag very much reminds me of the satchel my parents picked for me when I started elementary school in the mid-Seventies. Even the color scheme is almost identical, as is the fastening. I remember rarely ever closing the bag because operating the buckles was very inconvenient. Your bag is missing the orange reflectors, though.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Am I seeing the bottom connection correctly? You need to fasten two buckles? How do you do this? Reach through the spokes from the other side? Seems really awkward, and not very convenient, and depending upon the rack, offers little to no resistance to up and down movement, so potentially the bag's hooks could disengage after a big jolt. Very odd.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I've been reading your blog for awhile now as I hem and haw about what kind of bike is best for me. I was continuing my quest at Harris Cyclery this weekend and thought I might have seen this bike, your bike there in the back. Was it there? I thought it's funny to recognize someone's bike when you don't even know them. Love the blog. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I think that's some snazzy luggage right there, but it borders on the "too nice" side of things; I think I'd be afraid that the weather and my hamfisted cycling bravado would damage them in short order. I see that they are hecho en Mexico, but it still looks expensive.

    -rob

    ReplyDelete
  10. I...um...want that...very much (creepy voice). It would be great with detachable backpack straps!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hmm,..clearly it draws attention to itself!

    It's not really my cup of tea and the buckles would drive me crazy..They seem impractical for both touring and commuting, I guess it would work if one were to leave the pack on the bike much like a fixed basket.

    Anyway, to each his own....that's the beauty of this blog :)

    ReplyDelete
  12. Jules - The bag's hooks can't disengage, because there are two other straps with buckles on top, next to the hooks. Yes, the bottom straps are awkward. You can get to them from the sides of the bag, but I found it time consuming. They an also be removed altogether.

    dukebecky - Yes, I was at Harris a couple of days ago. Riding this bike, with this bag attached. : )

    Screech - I doubt that either the weather or hamfistedness can damage this bag; it is not a delicate item by any means.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Now that's sharp looking bag! I like the way the leather come to arrows at the top. It makes me think of the older Dooney and Burke handbags (it must just be the black and tan. Classy and a bit equine).

    I was just checking out their website. Like you, I was thinking that it needed a quick release system. For someone like me, what is in place would be fine, since I tend to just leave my panniers attached to the bikes all the time, but I gather most commuters don't.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I actually bought one of these from a bike shop in L.A. about two months ago and almost immediately gave it away. Yes, it is stunning. Yes, it is exceptionally well made. But the lack of quick release both in mounting and in accessing was ultimately a deal-breaker for me. (It's beauty made me ignore what my head was telling me in the bike shop.)

    Veloria, you didn't mention this, but mine also had the problem that the attachment hooks were too narrow for the wide tubes of my Gazelle rack. So it never sat flush the way it was supposed to. And because the hooks are extremely heavy-duty, I couldn't pry them wider or manipulate them in any way.

    But yes, they are GORGEOUS.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I'll be pleased to hear about bags that have a classic look and can hold my laptop.

    This one I'm not so crazy about, mostly just the color scheme though. As a non-football fan living in Bronco country, anything navy and organge makes me shiver.

    ReplyDelete
  16. "mine also had the problem that the attachment hooks were too narrow for the wide tubes of my Gazelle rack."

    Yes, good point and I will add this to the text. The hooks are too narrow for heavy duty Dutch rack tubing. If getting custom, that's another reason to opt for a different attachment system; R&K will fit a Dutch rack (but not Arkel).

    ReplyDelete
  17. This could easily be modified to make it quick release. Just remove the straps which attach it to the rack and insert some stretchy cord with a hook. It would help secure the bag and allow for easy pop-off.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Excellent! Most excellent indeed!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Anon - True; you could also use a carabiner system. The existing hooks may get in the way if the rack's tubing doesn't fit them though. It really depends on the rack/bike combo.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I was updating photos from the San Diego Bike Show and Googled 'Cristobal.' You're everywhere, Velouria!

    Materials, craftsmanship, design, attention to detail... it's all there. I got a photo of a Muse city bike with a pannier and small saddlebag from Cristobal. After reading your post, I'm wishing I got more. The pannier looks great on your bike! And so nice to not have to worry about heel clearance.

    ReplyDelete
  21. This blog has an odd resemblance to the 'This Old House' television show. First it started out as a reminder that old is both usable and beautiful--worth preserving. We shouldn't feel the need to go out and buy new things in order to have a happy and fulfilling life. Learn how to adapt and repair. It was lovely. Then it seemed to be invaded with venders, folks who specialized in various aspects of restoration. Then those who advocated new technologies. Soon the show was only for those with enough income who could take advantage of each new idea. I stopped watching a decade ago. When you advocated for re-using the old and making bicycling a simple activity, available to all, I was all for it. Now I read your blogs and see custom this and custom that and am disenchanted. It's left the realm of the 'every person' and entered that boutique place of fashion only available to those who know the difference between the real deal and a knock-off. I rather liked the grocery bags...

    ReplyDelete
  22. Nice review. Those look a lot better than my Hood™ milk crate which I've zip tied to the rear rack of my 'utility Frankenbike'.

    I'm trying to come up with something a little more elegant for my Jamis Aurora and these bags are giving me some ideas.

    ReplyDelete
  23. By looking at their website, it looks like the existing hooks are bolted in place. These should allow for simple removal and replace them with a different mounting system like R&K Klickflix, Ortlieb, etc. Not very difficult at all. Mounting systems are a very personal thing. Some people swear by Ortlieb, others love Arkel while others prefer R&K. I personally would choose Ortlieb , for example. That’s the mounting hardware serious bicycle tourists use and they're not expensive. The current hooks look really functional (and sturdy!) to me for most racks and purposes. I wouldn’t mess with them unless I needed them for an oversized rack or if I was planning some serious touring. I think this is perhaps the most beautiful pannier I've ever seen. Love at first sight! I know a bit about leather craftsmanship and looks like a lot of work goes into making these. Is the inside some sort of beige synthetic fabric or leather?

    ReplyDelete
  24. Nice to see all the nice comments on our panniers. We will take note of the positive and negative criticism to continue making a better product.

    In regard to fitting on racks, the standard panniers come with non-scratch heavy duty hooks (as someone else mentioned) that fit 8 mm and 10 mm racks. This system of hooks and adjustable straps will keep the pannier in place on the rack. I am a bicycle commuter myself and use these panniers pretty much everyday, everywhere I go. They have never come lose from the racks. I have designed a product that is pleasing to the eye, sturdy, simple and 100% functional using quality materials locally available.

    We are one of those few companies that do custom orders. Should you prefer a different size pannier, mounting system, we will work with you in creating a pannier that meets all your needs. For instance, designing a pannier to be used with another mounting system such as Rixen & Kaul, Ortlieb and Cam-Lock. The bicycle world is full of choices so it’s hard to please everyone with a standard product, hence our custom option.

    Thank you again for all your comments, feedback and encouragement.

    Cris

    ReplyDelete
  25. Anon 2:48 - Your comment says more about your preferences than about the nature of this blog. If you go back and look through my earliest posts, you will find that I focused on manufacturer comparisons, industry analysis, product reviews and bicycle reviews from the very start. A heavy focus on framebuilders and artisans was always an inherent part of the content as well. While vintage and restoration are a part of what I write about, they were never the dominant or defining themes.

    There are many fine websites that focus specifically on vintage and restoration. If you are interested in those topics exclusively, I recommend: the Classic & Vintage subforum on BikeForums, the Old Bike Blog, The Three Speed Gallery, oldbike.eu and Classic Rendezvouz.

    ReplyDelete
  26. A very impressive looking set of bags, though a bit flashy for my taste. Like some of the traditional bags I have looked at, the leather straps would make them difficult to attach and remove. I would not feel comfortable leaving such attention getting bags unattended for very long.

    Do any of the traditional options for front or rear seat bags allow easy removal. When I say traditional, think the likes of Nigel Smythe, Zimbale, etc. I have seen Klikfix on a modern front bag; it allowed very easy bag removal.

    ReplyDelete
  27. wonderful, my wife's heels keep banging her existing panniers that we had to extend the rear rack to the point where it looks lopsided.
    I'll definately look into cristobal.

    thanks for sharing

    ReplyDelete
  28. Cris - Thanks for chiming in!

    The Dutch bicycle racks and similar have tubing that is 15mm in diameter. So if you're going to adapt an existing quick release mounting system as a standard option, I recommend either Ortlieb or R&K - they are the only ones whose hooks will fit that tubing. Arkel and Jandd hooks will not.

    ReplyDelete
  29. those are amazing. do they ship to the UK?

    ReplyDelete
  30. Beautiful looking pannier and I suspect it's a real TARDIS in that you can fit a lot more in it than you expected. The lack of quick-release tabs and the weight would put me off a bit should this lovely item become available in Australia. I tend to use Basil bags and take them into the supermarket and fill 'em up then reattach them.

    Good objective and well-thought-out review (as always).

    ReplyDelete
  31. That pannier shows real crafstmanship (crafspersonship?).

    I bought a pair of large TransIt panniers over three years ago. They were on sale, and I needed some waterproof bags right quick, having just moved to a snowy place. They're ugly. Very ugly. But the darn things won't wear out, and I refuse to buy new ones when the ones I have are so effective. They attach and detach easily (two hooks and a bottom hook on elastic, and rarely used velcro fasteners) -- yet they've only fallen off once, and I ride fast and hard over bumps. They've lugged thousands of pounds of groceries, they've been on two multi-week tours and several more overnighters, and they're my daily commute bags. After the first month, they started to look like they'd fall apart -- but then they kept on looking exactly the same ever since. They're practically bottomless, and they have a wide opening, making searching for stuff easy.

    I think the moral of the story is: be careful what you decide to go cheap on, because it might just be with you for a long, long time.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Aaron - So true... Hence the garbage bag saddle cover on my Gazelle : )

    ReplyDelete
  33. Nicely Done Veloria!

    Those are stunning Cris.I've been admiring them for awhile now and didn't relize you did custom orders.
    ~MK

    Hmm http://i219.photobucket.com/albums/cc219/walkingfloor198/InternetExplorerWallpaper.jpg

    ReplyDelete
  34. It's a shame those panniers don't fit on a Dutch bike rack. They are very much Dutch bike precious.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Just to answer a few questions that have gone unanswered:

    - "do they ship to the UK?"
    Yes, we ship internationally.

    - "Is the inside some sort of beige synthetic fabric or leather?"
    That's leather inside.

    - "It's a shame those panniers don't fit on a Dutch bike rack."
    We have solutions for that, too. Contact me.

    If you have additional questions, please go to our website cristobalco.com for contact info.

    Thank you,
    Cris

    ReplyDelete
  36. I am not a huge fan of the style but they look well constructed. I prefer these for simplicity's sake: Lane Leather Bicycle Pannier and Messenger Bag http://www.lanebags.com

    ReplyDelete