Head to head

Head to Head :: Laptop Messengers

by , April 19, 2012

Timbuk2 Custom Laptop Messenger vs Greenroom136 JunkMonkey Heretic

Before we begin, we need to admit that there are LOTS of messengers we could be reviewing in this space. We’ve picked two good examples of a common format, each with a couple of twists. Our hope is that we’ll work through some likes and not so likes in order to help you understand how to pick a good laptop messenger.

The players are the Timbuk2 laptop messenger we’ve already highlighted in our Backpack vs Messenger post. It’s a custom done up with coated canvas that Timbuk2 generously supplied. We’ll call it the T2.

The other is a JunkMonkey Heretic that is both a new bag and a new brand to our discussions. Greenroom136 is a little startup from Malaysia, making interesting bags that they were kind enough to send a sample of to us. It’s getting labelled the Heretic for this little excursion.

Let’s start with the obvious, which pertains to the sock. The Heretic runs a big sock lining, which adds just a little in weight, not much in bulk, but a lot in confidence. While most early generation messengers were along the lines of the T2 block (think flap on a tub), all the cool cats of late are running more and more flap gusseting and corner covers to avoid the dreaded…

… Gorby Gap (not a real carry term, just one I borrowed from my old days on the ski hill). The single biggest downfall of the T2 is its Gorby Gap either side of the flap, where stuff can get in and out without you wanting it to. On the Heretic, no matter how carelessly you close the flap, you know you’re covered. On the T2, you need to take a bit too much care.

Expandability is the other bonus of radness that the Heretic sock bestows. A good messenger really should grow and shrink with your changing carry needs, and the Heretic does this well. It could run straps a touch longer to allow even more expandability, but you can see it’s already standing pretty tall. The T2 really likes to keep things tighter, so it will struggle if you need to ride home after winning the meat tray at your work break-up bingo.

Pocketing is the next major point, and an area that most messenger bags get very wrong. While actual bike messengers must not carry cameras and batteries and sunnies and deodorant and all those little things we occasionally need, the rest of us do. The place for these is NOT stuck on the centre front layer of the bag. This is the major crush point of any messenger, and everything will fight for space.

Instead, messenger bags need to utilise the side zones that are typically empty. Dear Heretic, well done. While those front side pockets are not as weatherproof as they could be, their placement means you can load clunky items and forget they’re there. My photos don’t do these guys justice. Dear T2, you could actually pull back on the number of really small pockets because they’re all in the wrong spot.

And now our T2 comes back fighting… The single greatest aspect of the T2 is something we covered in our last post about it – the floating laptop sleeve. This is the best example of this we’ve seen, and something others can learn from. Flat laptops should not be placed against curvy bodies. The T2 has a floating mid divider that lets you place jackets or soft things between your laptop and you. It just works.

More protected is not always better. While the Heretic continues the sock theme through to its laptop sleeve, I almost find the quick in and out on the T2 easier.

The T2 has slightly more refined inner lining as well, but then is not removable the way the Heretic is.

With strap pads, more is better. Some of the earliest messenger bags ran with fully padded straps (like, the whole thing). It’s been downhill since, with pads getting smaller and smaller. On the big messengers that wrap around you like a poncho that’s OK, but with mid and small, a bit of extra padding is nice. We like the T2 a touch more between these.

Polyester is boring. While Greenroom136 is doing a few interesting things, fabric ain’t one of them. Standard 800D-ish polyesters with ripstop nylon interiors. It’s the most common look for messengers, so nothing wrong with it, there’s just nothing interesting about it either.

Timbuk2 has some scary fabric options, but some interesting ones as well. While coated canvases do pick up a little more dust, they look much nicer in a work setting.

Buckles matter. If riding, you want to yank your bag up to sit high on your back. That means the main buckle gets a serious workout. The T2 certainly has a chunkier and better buckle than the Heretic, but we think there are better systems to both of these, like the Mission Workshop multi-pull-bit-buckle-assemblage-bit-buckles that we don’t know what to call [Ed: Let's go with D-Pull adjusters].

And all the other bits – Having a grab handle on the T2 is awesome. As is being able to customise your color and fabric set-up. Having little main strap wings on the Heretic helps it wrap around your shoulder better. And you get a little pouch with it. They’re both well made, they both reinforce key areas, and they both play well in a few types of workplaces.

 So is there a winner? Ummm, if we could combine the two of these bags, we’d be on to something better for sure. They both have really strong points, and both have a few bits that let them down. I think in the end it comes down to how often you carry a laptop. If it’s every day, the Timbuk2 is just way more comfy to ride with, but you’ll need to be careful in the rain (Gorby Gaps). If it’s only infrequently, then the Heretic’s sock construction and versatility is really nice to live with. Yep, cop out, but it’s true.

  • BAGMAN

    I know that most people love to have ‘a place for everything, and everything in it’s place’…but I am still very much of the opinion that the safest, and most comfortable way to transport a laptop in any bag which you intend to cycle with, is to have no compartment for it at all.
    From experience, and having tried various locations and techniques, I honestly believe that the best method is to invest in a high quality protective case, and then simply have the laptop ‘free floating’ in your bag.
    One reason being as mentioned above…in that when riding bikes you don’t want the laptop against your back.
    Having it free floating allows you to move it away from your back and sandwich it between things.
    Not all people carry the same things every day…especially if you have a larger messenger bag…so you may find that you often need to move the laptop here and there to work around other things in your bag…this can be difficult if the pocket is centrally placed.
    The other reason is also cycling based…and that is that in the event of a crash, your laptop is actually less likely to be damaged if it has the ability to ‘move’ a little. If you hit the ground and the laptop is held too firmly in place then the impact is greater than if it can be pushed out of the way a little and allowed to move.
    Obviously this requires the main flap of the bag to be secure in the first place.

    For me though I consider it the safest and most adaptable way to carry them. Good quality, well padded laptop case…completely free floating.

    • Taylor

      ^ Totally agree, man. Spot on.

  • http://www.kevindern.com Kevin

    Nice article! I’m ready for a new laptop messenger soon and am having a hard time deciding. Wish you could do a comparison like this on every bag I am considering! :)

  • http://www.dropslash.com Kyle

    This is a great Head to Head article.

    One note about the “Gorby Gap” though. Timbuk2 likes to stay true to their courier roots with their bag designs, so the gap is actually on purpose to accommodate the dreaded poster/blueprint tube that a lot of couriers have to deliver.

    • http://www.bellroy.com ando

      You can still run a tube in the Heretic, you just have the fabric squash around it. The Gorby Gap sucks. They should get rid of it. Or at least that’s what we think :)

  • Nathan

    One point that has become nascent in my carry/commuting lifestyle is posture. In the photo showing the messenger bag contour to the fellow hunched over in what I’m assuming is a cycling position – he actually has incorrect posture. I got a fit on my bike recently and was chided for having a hunched/curved back which I partially developed when riding with a messenger bag. Although it’s not completely ideal to have a laptop flat against your back, in my mind it’s not an issue when one’s posture should be flatter anyway.

    • http://www.bellroy.com ando

      I think ‘flat’ is a relative term there though isn’t it? Take a look at any of the greatest cyclists ever (eg: http://www.haveuheard.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/lance-armstrong.jpg) and you’ll see significant curve in their back. Combine this curve with the angle that a messenger bag sits on (wrapping both around your body horizontally as well as along it vertically), and you can see why having a dead flat laptop against your back is not sensible, as it creates ‘hot spots’ of pressure and rubbing. Even when walking, a healthy spine has curve.
      Have we convinced you? Or do you enjoy the constant reminder to not arch as much as Lance?

  • BAGMAN

    The person in the picture doesn’t appear to be on a bike, they merely seem to be leaning forward to demonstrate the point.
    If you’re riding your bike with your back fixed in a completely flat, rigid position then you’re doing something very wrong.
    Your back shape will change depending on whether you’re holding the hook of your drop bar, or sitting up on the tops, or turning to check behind you, or even mounting and dismounting the bike.
    If you even watch a professional bike race you’ll see some shots where riders backs are curved, and some where the same riders back is flatter.
    You need only look at the shape of your back from behind to see that as soon as you move your arms forward your shoulders move downwards and your back becomes curved.

    As I mentioned in my other post…there is also the issue of potential accidents. I would say it’s a pretty safe bet that if you are involved in a crash on your bike, the last place you would want your laptop is pressed against your spine.

    Each to their own though.

  • BAGMAN

    Damn…Ando beat me to it! :]

  • http://www.timbuk2.com Timbuk2

    As always, we are stoked to see a Carryology review of a Timbuk2 classic. We appreciate you feedback and have addressed all your concerns below. If you’d run this comparison with our D-Lux Messenger (http://www.timbuk2.com/tb2/products/d-lux-laptop-messenger-bondage) instead of custom Laptop Messenger, it would have been a very tight race.

    Gorby Gap – Our custom Laptop Messenger doesn’t have the Velcro gusseted corners of our D-Lux Laptop Messenger (http://www.timbuk2.com/tb2/products/d-lux-laptop-messenger-bondage). So you’ve got us here, but having ridden with a classic messenger for years in San Francisco and never filling up with water, proper flap closure by the user combined with our waterproof TPU liner can take care of this concern.

    Pocketing – Agreed! In 2013 we’re launching a vastly simplified internal organizer that contains fewer, larger pockets to give the user less choice, but more flexibility and utility. Nice call-out on internal pocketing on the notoriously empty sides of the messenger.

    Expandability – Fair point again. However, we have the option to add compression straps to the bottom of all custom messengers and our D-Lux messenger come with compression straps, so those could be a good option for you to carry unexpected items.

    Floating Laptop Sleeve – Hooray! Our designers worked long/hard on getting this right and were super stoked to see they’ve met the mark. The space created at the back of the back by the float is nice to use for additional organized (i.e. folder, magazines, etc) too.

    Strap Pad & Grab Strap – Amen to full coverage and quick/easy access. If it’s slow or uncomfortable, we don’t want anything to do with it.

    Waxed canvas was a good call and we must – apologies – gush with pride that the custom laptop messenger you reviewed was made with love in San Francisco. Great feedback guys. Cheers!

  • Chugo

    After seeing the waxed canvas T2 classic for a second time here (prior article was backpack vs messenger), I couldn’t help myself and ordered a custom black waxed version yesterday. In your pics, can you confirm if the shoulder pad is made of a matching black waxed canvas? This fabric wasn’t available for the shoulder pad when I built mine =(.

    • http://www.carryology.com/ ando

      Yeah, it is matching. A nice touch…

  • andy

    woh….can’t belive Greenroom136 brand is from Malaysia!!!!!
    support them!!!!

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