Thursday, June 23, 2011

Po Campo Loop Pannier: a Ladylike Briefcase to Fit Any Bike

Po Campo is a small Chicago-based company that has been making a variety of bicycle-compatible women's handbags since 2009. This year they introduced a larger, briefcase-like pannier to their lineup and I acquired one in trade a couple of months ago. The Loop Pannier is available in several floral patterns, but I opted for the more subdued waxed canvas version. It is umber with tan straps, metal buckles, and honey leather trim. At 14"x10"x3.5" the size is small enough so that there is no heel strike on bikes with short chainstays, but large enough so as to fit some laptops. These bags are designed to be used on the bike as panniers, off the bike as shoulder bags, and as luggage attachments while traveling.

The Po Campo attachment system consists of leather straps with sturdy metal clasps. When I saw this, it was one of those "why did no one else think of this earlier?" moments. The benefit of this design is that it can fit bicycle racks with any tubing diameter. Other quick-release systems max out at 16mm tops, which means that they will not fit some heavy-duty Dutch and Roadster racks. None of our other panniers are compatible with the monstrous tubing on this Pilen rack - but the Po Campo straps have plenty of room to spare.

While using the clasps is not quite as instantaneous as the sort of quick release where you lift up the handle and the hooks open up, it is still easy and quick.

Since the straps are soft and flexible, they also offer the benefit of being adaptable to the rack's layout. Some racks have complicated rat-trap setups that can interfere with typical pannier hooks. The Po Campo straps can simply be looped around them. The more I used this system, the more I began to appreciate the design. Those who dislike plastic hooks will also rejoice at the complete lack of plastic here; it's all metal.

There are two short straps integrated into the pannier, and a longer detachable shoulder strap. While initially managing the system of straps seems complicated, it ends up being very intuitive.

The long shoulder strap folds over the top of the bag. Then, the second of the short straps gets tucked into the leather handle attached to the first, which closes with velcro. This keeps all three straps neatly tucked in and away from the spokes.

When the bag is off the bike, it can either be handheld, or used as a shoulder or messenger bag. I prefer the latter, especially since adjusting the shoulder strap on the go is very easy - the adjustment buckle slides freely.

I have walked around with the bag as pictured for a couple of miles and it felt fine. I've also shortened the strap and have worn it over one shoulder, like a handbag. Either way is pretty comfortable and the clasps absolutely do not catch on my clothing. It basically feels like a normal bag to carry, not like a bicycle-specific pannier.

Another feature of the Po Campo I appreciate is the way it is organised inside. There is a large main compartment, and a side compartment that they refer to as a "file/lock pocket." However, I use it for my laptop, which is a MacBook Air and is the perfect size for it. I use the main compartment for clothing, books, notebooks and my DSLR camera.

There are also three elasticised interior pockets that will each fit a wallet, phone, writing instruments, or even a small bottle of water.

The exterior pocket is quite roomy. It is especially useful for those times you need to remove a sweater or grab some water in traffic.

I tend to overpack whenever I leave the house, so this pannier is always bulging with stuff when I use it. Still, the structured design keeps it all looking neat and presentable.

The reflective strip along the back is nice for extra visibility.

I have tried the Po Campo pannier on five different bikes with different types of racks, and it works well on all of them. I cannot imagine a rack design with which this bag will be incompatible, and in my view that is one of its most valuable features. Other strong points include the durable construction, the professional look, and the ease with which the bag can be used off the bike. This is a small pannier and you will not be able to fit groceries in it; it is really meant as a briefcase/ professional bag and will accommodate only the smaller laptop models. But the compact size has the added benefit of preventing heel strike on bicycles with shorter chainstays.

All things considered, I only have one critical suggestion for Po Campo: Think about making a version for men. When I ordered the waxed canvas finish, I was hoping that the Co-Habitant could use it too. He was delighted that the bag fit the unusually fat tubing of his Pashley Roadster rack (no other quick-release pannier we've tried will fit it), but he thinks its shape is too feminine. While Po Campo designs their products with women in mind, I think the versatile attachment system and the elegant briefcase construction of this pannier is too good not to share with the menfolk.

39 comments:

  1. I was just thinking, that would make awesome carry-on luggage for a short trip to Europe - carry a change of clothes, toiletries, etc. Get off plane, take train into town, rent bike, off you go.

    And yes, make a version for men. If I ever need a laptop bag again, this is exactly the kind of thing I'd look for.

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  2. One question: Would it work with a rear rack basket? It looks as though it ought to, and my basket does leave some room for the loops to go on the rack, but figured I should ask anyway :-)

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  3. I wish Po Campo had more masculine products in general, but I don't see how the cangas pannier is too feminine. Honestly, how would you make it more masculine? Maybe a black canvas color, but the earth tones in this one are fine.

    Either way, this looks like a super well designed/built product.

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  4. What is so feminine about umber? What color would make this a "man's" bag?
    All it really needs is a trip down a dirty road, scuff it up a bit, and voila!

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  5. I like the cotton construction and that the bag seems to fit the bike like an afterthought, which will suit lots of fashion conscious commuters.

    Similarly, I have been reusing many sturdy thrift store bags by adding leather buckle straps that wrap over any size tubing or handlebars.

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  6. I would love one of these! If only they made one large enough for a 15" laptop :( but I love everything about it! Especially, "no plastic"

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  7. Feminine not b/c of colour but because small and shaped like purse, with purse-like handles. :)

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  8. QQ - As long as there are openings for the leather straps to go through. Do you have a picture of your setup?


    Michael - I think you misunderstood: I was saying that the umber finish is in itself unisex (unlike the floral versions you'll see if you follow the Loop Pannier link in the review). But even with the unisex finish, the shape of the bag is feminine.

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  9. Hmm, it makes me want to exchange my commute purse for the commute shoulder bag I've got but have not yet used. One of those "made in Canada" types.

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  10. Mmm... another lovely pannier and this one looks extremely well thought-out and useful. Love the leather straps and hooks - even with a thick Plescher rack there's no problem with securing it.

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  11. My problem with the Canadian brand is that the hooks are too small for many of our racks. Ortlieb and R&K have larger hooks, but still won't accommodate tubing over 16mm.

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  12. Oh yes, now that's a clever attachment system.

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  13. I like the looks of that bag. My current laptop won't fit into it, but perhaps the next one I buy will.

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  14. Velouria, thanks for this, and for all the well written content. My comment is out of context but I cannot find a contact link for you; take a look at the Nuvinci hub from fallbrooktech.com. You might be interested by this ingenious item of American engineering.
    A bicycle so equipped would make an excellent road test.

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  15. Richard - You can reach me at filigreevelo-at-yahoo, but I have a 2 week+ email backlog at the moment, so it may take me some time to get back.

    It is not easy for me to review components that need to have entire bikes built up around them, but any suggestions for how to procure a bike fitted with one of these are welcome. Also, I think Alan a ecovelo will be doing a review of this hub soon.

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  16. My problem with those kind of panniers designed to be used off the bike as well, is how dirty a pannier quickly become. I commute all year long and my panniers are pretty grim. I'd rather keep them on the bike all the time and put my bags/briefcase, whatever, in them, protected from rain and dirt. I also wouldn't want to carry them too close to my clothes...
    The campo bag is a nice one, and looks like a smart design, but it doesn't seem too convenient for a real life daily use. I can see how it could be a great option for an occasional use though.

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  17. I don't see a bottom attachment. What keeps it from flapping against the rack when you hit a pothole? I would not want my MB Aire getting beaten that way.

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  18. It is a mistake to assume that all things men come in basic black only.

    This bag is just a bag. No more or less.

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  19. Love the bag! I really want this briefcase version, but I'm exercising restraint. :) It would fit my macbook perfectly, although I don't ever actually bring it anywhere.

    Phillippe, I find that my Po Campo bag is totally convenient for real life daily use. After 2 years of use, I've never actually cleaned it and it looks perfectly fine (even after getting caught in several rainstorms). Something about the material they use helps with this, although maybe cleanliness would be more of an issue for the type of bag here that hangs on the edge of the rack, versus the type I have that perches atop the rack.

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  20. My problem with those kind of panniers designed to be used off the bike as well, is how dirty a pannier quickly become. I commute all year long and my panniers are pretty grim. I'd rather keep them on the bike all the time and put my bags/briefcase, whatever, in them, protected from rain and dirt.

    This is my preference as well. I dislike "quick-release" style panniers because I haven't found one that mounts securely without rattling or lots of movement around the rack (I'm a stickler for tight fitting bike parts, and I don't tolerate rattles or squeaks). And if it's raining, why would I want to carry around a sopping wet bag? Like Philippe, I prefer to have a waterproof pannier permanently mounted on my daily commuter bike, and be able to just throw my briefcase/laptop case/whatever into it.

    Obviously, if you have a fleet of bikes to choose from each day, it might make more sense to have a removable pannier. But for my daily commuter, I much prefer to have a permanently mounted pannier set.

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  21. I want one. There's also this one but it doesn't look as nice or well thought out.
    http://publicbikes.com/p/Basil-dAzur-Messenger-Bag-Pannier

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  22. I like the look of that bag too, but suspect it would be too small for my use. Let us know if Po Campo decides to market a larger "men's" version. I use my Basil Karavan II panniers on a regular basis, biggest issue is that they are huge at 41 litres and not designed to be taken on and off.

    Aaron

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  23. I live in Chicago and have met both of the women behind Po Campo. They really are attuned to the needs of bicyclists and they are both real bicyclists, as well as just nice people. Every time I see them (albeit rarely), I do gently push for some products for men, as I would buy their products in an instant.

    Dan.

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  24. Thanks for the great review and thank you everyone for your comments. The desire for more masculine bags is heard loud and clear! I'm afraid we have some ideas for more girly bags that we need to get out of our system first though. ;)

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  25. @phillipe and Somervillian,

    I try not to commute in pouring rain or snow, but ride year round, including in light rain and on wet roads. My repurposed leather satchel-pannier with ortlieb clip on hardware rarely seems to get grimy or wet. I supposed a cloth bag might be different, but with fenders and chain case, I just don't see a lot of road grime on the the bag

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  26. Dagmara - The basil D'Azure is a large bag and will need an extra long rack with a lot of setback to be used on anything but a roadster/Dutch type of bike. See this post; you can see how it practically swallows my mixte. Also, I am a little uncomfortable with Basil's hooks - though I know that many, many people enjoy their bags.

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  27. philippe / somervillain - As has already been pointed out, for people who use multiple bikes for commuting a quick release system is essential. But also, not everyone feels comfortable leaving panniers on the bike when the bike is parked outside; in some areas it could invite theft or vandalism.

    I ride in the rain all the time and have not had grime problems with any of the panniers I've used, though of course YMMV.

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  28. My Basil D'Azur Messenger is showing very substantial wear after one year of daily use. I'm not sure how much longer it will last. One of the metal reinforcing elements is poking out through the fabric now; not good.

    Dan.

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  29. Oh, the hooks on the Basil are holding up well, and I like the instant-on/instant-off quickness of the setup. If I find a nice leather bag that could serve as a pannier, I might salvage the mounting the system from the Basil and use it on a replacement bag.

    Dan.

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  30. @Somervillain: I agree. It was a huge thing for me to pick out a pannier for my bike(s)and I used this blog for reference quite a bit. I really, REALLY wanted to buy the Fastrider or the Basil D'Azur because they were asthetically pleasing and would have looked oh-so-lovely on the DL-1, but ended up going with the Banjo Bros. expandable shopper in black. Why? Largely because it is waterproof, fits a full sized bag of groceries when expanded, and blends into the bike enough that it isn't something I feel compelled to bring with me everywehere to prevent theft (as I would with the PoCampo or Fastrider).

    So, I guess the bottom line is that, for under $50, I have a waterproof, practical, easily removable pannier which serves as a way to hold my more attractive looking possessions inside of it (purse, laptop, etc) and does everything I need it to, even if it isn't as lovely as the other options out there. ;)

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  31. I'm glad I don't have gender issues! I have one of these and I love it and I'm a real man!

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  32. Velouria : some panniers, like those huge double Basil or Clarjis PVC bags, are such PITA to attach to the rack that a theft is very unlikely. That's what Mrs Philippe uses. And they're quite cheap too.
    There is also the option of cheap cable to secure a quick release pannier.
    But I can understand the need for a easily removable bag. i own a laptop dedicated bag from Agu that I use when I need it. It's quite dirty now, by the way...
    Sommervillain : The Agu pannier has Klickfix hooks and it's very tight on a large variety of tubing. much tighter than the ortlieb system.

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  33. You can add this "attachment system" to almost any briefcase. If you've got sewing skills, it's an easy DIY. Otherwise, a luggage repair shop can help.

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  34. Sunshine - Yes! So why hasn't anybody else done it?

    It's easy to say in retrospect that something is simple. But it's inventive to be the one to discover that simplicity.

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  35. I've been using this bag along with a Po Campo Logan tote for just over a month now. It holds my laptop (I've had two different ones in it: a Toshiba Portege and a Lenovo ThinkPad) along with everything I need for a typical business meeting (cell phone, notebook etc.).

    I've made a couple of stops at farmers' markets and have been amazed at how much I can stuff into the two on top of my usual daily load.

    I also have their wristlet, which I use as the wallet I tuck inside one of these; to make more room inside these you can either hook the wristlet onto the front handlebars or hang it on the outside of one of these.

    I got mine in one of the more feminine prints and get compliments daily on my "cute purses". I love that--I was tired of carrying two big black manly panniers that swallowed up all my stuff with no interior organizational system and that had metal hooks that dug into my sides when I carried them off the bike.

    I almost never leave my panniers unless I'm staying right by the bike so being able to detach and carry comfortably is really important.

    My "preview" review didn't have all the great pictures yours does so I'm adding a link to this review to the one I wrote: http://bikestylespokane.com/2011/05/17/the-search-for-the-perfect-purse-it-may-just-be-a-bike-bag/

    @BarbChamberlain

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  36. Thanks for the link to your review Barb!

    and I think that this...

    "was tired of carrying two big black manly panniers that swallowed up all my stuff with no interior organizational system and that had metal hooks that dug into my sides when I carried them off the bike."

    ...is a flaw of many panniers available on the market today. They are designed either for touring or grocery getting, but not as a professional on/off the bike briefcase. Po Campo did a great job in filling this niche.

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  37. The umber color of the bag looks very different here than on their site. I've been interested in the Po Campo bags, but I didn't care for any of their patterns or colors. I'd love to order one of these bags, but I'd want the color you have here, not the dark brown one on the website.

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  38. Sarah - I am very certain that my pictures are closer to the real-life look. Waxed canvas has a scuffed, faded look to it - it can never really be a solid dark brown.

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  39. ^ Oh, here is a post from their own blog that shows it off under natural lighting.

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