Although bicycle-commuting and shoulder bags are becoming more acceptable in North American offices—for example, Mike Ross wears an unidentified but smart-looking shoulder bag in the TV series Suits—, most of these bags aren’t functional enough to be true messenger bags. Either you rock a proper messenger and your office thinks you’re getting a neck tattoo and some wayfarers, or you sport a traditional-looking shoulder bag (a la Mike Ross) that slides all over the place when you’re riding, hurts your shoulders, and rarely carries enough stuff.
Europe, on the other hand, knows a thing or two about bicycle commuting, and when Germany’s Bagjack was kind enough to send over one of their Next Level messenger bags for a Road Test I was excited to see how they’ve addressed these problems.
- Make: Bagjack
- Model: Next Level Messenger
- Price: 499,00 EUR – 639,00 EUR (549,00 EUR as tested)
- Place of Manufacture: Berlin, Germany
- Claims to fame: converts from functional messenger bag to incognito office bag, lots of tech features
The bag has 2 distinct modes, Messenger Mode & Office Mode; it also has the option to be worn as a backpack. The idea is to have the advantages of a true messenger for commuting, errands, and play, but be able to hide all the messenger stuff at the office and go about your work. Their video explains it better than I ever could:
Construction & Materials
The Next Level messenger is made with typical German efficiency and attention to detail. While some might be concerned by the lack of quintuple-stitched everything, my test-bag has been absolutely beaten for the better part of a year with not even a hint of stress.
The bag also sports a unique set of materials. The exterior is covered in a rough fabric dotted with reflective material—a nice touch for those of us who prefer not to be run down in traffic—, and the interior is a very tech-looking water-resistant ripstop. From there, the bag’s modular zip compartments (more on those below) are a waterproof tarpaulin material.
The Next Level is laid out efficiently and simply. One of our biggest complaints with most messenger bags & backpacks is that they put the laptop compartment right next to our back—laptops are flat, our spines are curved, this does not make sense—; Bagjack gets around this by allowing you to reorder the pockets inside via very strong velcro. I ended up running the smaller of the 2 pockets towards the outside of the bag, and that’s where my 13” Macbook Pro fits (snugly); those with bigger computers can just swap the pockets so that the larger one is outside and the smaller one further in.
Other layout highlights include the very handy mesh pocket in the flap for all the things I want quick access to go, a handy bottom pocket for an umbrella or rain shell, and a trick little secret pocket toward the front of the bag for discrete access. [tip: if you’re going to hide stuff in there, replace the large-ish zipper pull with something lower profile]
There is also a great slash pocket on the front of the bag. Instead of having a bunch of pockets of varying size for different tasks, this pocket simply has a dart at its bottom that is held to the bag by a velcro tab which can be released to form a larger pocket when needed. It was low-profile enough that I didn’t really notice it until I needed it, just the way it should be.
Bagjack has been making bags in Berlin for over 17 years, even working with ultra-fashionable, ultra-tech brands like Acronym, so it’s no surprise that their marquee messenger bag nails the details. From the Next Level’s bike lock holders and key ring carabiner loop to its low profile handle, it’s obvious that they’ve thought this bag through.
One of my favourite features (gimmicks?) is the combination of magnetic buckles and pulley-system tension straps. These are so intuitive it’s mindblowing; plus, once tensioned, the straps hold themselves together and don’t flap around. Seriously, these have to be tried in person to be fully appreciated.
The velcro flap closure can be flipped up for silent use. This is great for students or people with quiet offices, and much better than the lose-able velcro silencers used by some other bag companies.
The bag does have a few issues, mostly related to the shoulder strap. First, the buckle closure is somewhat awkward (I’m simply not sure where to put the loop for easy adjustment after tightening).
Second, the shoulder strap is attached to the bag vertically at each end, and then folded on itself at 45° to curve around the wearer’s torso properly. The 45° angle isn’t quite right, making it harder to find a good fit while riding; it’d be nice if they angled the attachment points at the bag the way Chrome, Mission, and other dedicated messenger companies do. That being said, once adjusted properly the bag fits much better than more office-oriented shoulder bags; it stays put and the shoulder strap doesn’t chafe.
While the backpack option does work well for those who want it, I’d prefer to see the bag drop that function and instead get the fit & attachment points perfect instead.
A final note on the bag is that its looks might be divisive. It’s black & techy so it suits me just fine, but I work in a pretty casual office. For those in more formal settings or those who are trying to buy some messenger aesthetic, the Next Level’s functional, strappy looks might not be the ticket.
- Great materials, construction & hardware
- Made in Berlin
- Great layout & pocketing
- Fantastic details
- Hybrid office-messenger is an attractive concept
- Potentially awkward shoulder strap & buckle
- Backpack option superfluous for some users
- Made in Berlin out of quality materials comes at a price
- Aesthetic won’t work in formal offices or at your local fake dive-bar
This bag is best suited to someone who commutes by bicycle, works in a casual office, and appreciates high quality, design, and attention to detail. If that’s you, this bag comes highly recommended.
People needing a more formal bag would be better off looking at more traditional, stylish options like a Tailfeather Peregrine, or maybe something from Bonastre or Propery of…
People looking for a less formal, more dedicated messenger bag that still looks great might consider Taylor’s favourite Barbary messenger or something from old standbys like Mission & Chrome.