Road Tests :: Timbuk2 Especial Tres
Over a quarter century ago, long before hipsters discovered their grandma’s sewing machines, Timbuk2 was born in San Francisco. With such a large head start, it was not long until the name became synonymous with messenger bags and backpacks in the US. T2 has become one of the biggest players in bike bags, building both a large library of styles, as well as an impressive customization program. So what has been missing…?
Put simply, a top end. With the major focus split between their mainstream styles that focus on value, and their impressive customisation options, T2 has perhaps been missing those showpiece bags that focus more on features than purely price or fabrics.
Enter the Especial line, from which they’ve been kind enough to send us the Tres to test.
The Especial line was created specifically for urban cyclists and features three bags: the Dos, Cuatro, and Tres (in increasing size). Upon first receipt of the Tres, it was clear that this was a large bag. It measures 14.2 x 19.7 x 6.3 inches (w x h x d). I have a torso measurement of 19.5 inches and you can see that it covers my entire back.
The Tres weighs 4.3 lbs. empty, so when you pick up a loaded bag by the carry handle you are aware of the weight. The bag is constructed of Ripstop Cordura and feels very substantial. All the straps and panels are thick and have a degree of heft to them, luckily, this weight is well distributed across the shoulder straps. The straps themselves are just under three inches wide and they are great in spreading the load.
The back panel is a flexible foam that bends and contours to your back, highlighted by an interesting X pattern to just hit the pressure points on your back but not cover a large surface. In other words – reduced sweaty back syndrome. The bottom of the pad is textured with raised dots which create a grip so the bag doesn’t go sliding as you round corners.
The bag owes its rigidity to a plastic frame sheet that sits in the rear most pocket. It’s added after initial construction and the sheet sits in a Velcro pouch closest to your back. It serves to add some stiffness to the bag as well as protect your bag against anything pointy (like the corner of a book) that might stick out. Additionally, a user can remove the board if they want to save some weight.
In my opinion, straps are one of the most important features of a bag, luckily, the Tres has a great assortment of them. The chest strap is narrow and unobtrusive, while still being completely functional. You have the option of removing it if you don’t feel the need for it. The hip-belt rounds out the adjustments with the strap actually cut short (a good thing). One of my biggest bag-peeves is designers put way too much slack in the straps so they end up flapping around. With that said, we are looking at at run of the mill nylon strap here, with no padding of any sort. Quite frankly, I have been forgoing the use of the hip-belt, except if I know I am going to be really pushing it on a ride.
Unfortunately with the Especial Tres, it’s not removable. Update: I decided to take a closer look at the hip belt and gave it a good yank and it is indeed removable. What’s interesting is they put a piece of velcro on the belt plus the mating strip on the inside (hidden), so when you put the belt back, it catches and perfectly centers. Mind blown!
The rest of the straps are on front and all four act to secure the bag. The first pair are on top and keep the top closed, they both have quite a long length to them which allows for maximum expandability (35L to 45L). When carrying smaller (thinner) loads, the straps have Velcro retainers to keep the slack in check. An interesting thing to note about the top flap: you can roll it down for wet days or just velcro it shut and fold it in half. The latter is what I do most days since the weather here is pretty nice.
Similarly, the bottom of the bag employs an identical pair of straps and buckles and it too can expand for bulky items. This came in handy when I threw my SLR bag in there and the straps were able to accommodate the bulk after some quick loosening.
Lastly, the all too important top strap, I get really frustrated with bag makers who omit a top carry strap. It’s essential, especially in backpack configurations when you need to get the bag from the floor to your shoulders. The Tres sports a run of the mill strap here except it’s twice as thick! I think it could use a bit more padding but I do appreciate the detail.
You’ve waded through the rest of the review and now here’s the heart of it. This is what you came here for. What can the Especial Tres carry and how does it carry it? The quick answers are: a lot and well.
As I noted earlier, the main compartment is 35 L and can expand an additional ten to 45 L. That’s quite large, considering most daypacks are around the 20 L mark. When fully opened, the roll-top bag measures 27 inches from the bottom of the bag to the top of the collar. Two zippers that run about 12 inches vertically can be opened, on each side, to expand the main compartment. It is absolutely cavernous! Let’s briefly refer to a Drive-by of the bag by reader Mike Gadd:
I stuffed 6 pairs of socks, 4 tshirts, pants, a hoodie, an insulated m65 jacket, a 15? macbook pro, laptop charger, helmet, thermal, midlayer Patagonia Nanopuff jacket, gloves and 2 pairs of goggles in it. With room to spare. Incredible.
Wet gloves, sweaty helmet, sweaty socks, sweaty goggles sat in the main pocket for 6 hours and did NOT get my laptop wet. At all. Very pleased.
In my own experience, the Tres has been able to handle everything I’ve tossed into it including cubic USPS Priority mail boxes, the aforementioned camera bag, and of course mid-layers and jackets. In fact, during a two week stint of wet weather here on the Central Coast, I left a Patagonia rain shell permanently on the bottom of the bag. When you have this much space to work with, there’s always room to spare.
My only complaint about the main compartment is it is large without much internal pocketing. I know what you’re thinking; first I praise it, then I knock it? The bag is so tall that if you want to look for something at the bottom of the bag, say a flash drive, or a CD, it’s quite difficult. What you don’t realize is, with a bag this tall and deep, light can’t get in, so you are staring into darkness. Part of this problem is alleviated with a clever side pocket.
When you face the rear of the bag, there’s a large, waterproof zipper, that runs along the side of the main compartment. This means you have access to items inside, without having to open up the top. In theory this is quite good but in practice I found it a little annoying to have to navigate the zipper under the straps. Additionally, you have to loosen the straps or else you are reaching into a very tight space with all the items bunched together. This entry method is best saved for situations where you are grabbing a large, easily identifiable item, such as a jacket or camera. It’s less useful if you are grabbing a utility bill among a stack of documents.
Although it’s mainly a large compartment, the main area does have some organizational features. The first is a waterproof/sealed laptop area. The compartment is internally welded and holds a laptop up to 15”. Timbuk2 says they guarantee that this compartment is waterproof! I fit my MacBook Pro in there with no issues. It also fit my Ultrabook with a hefty sleeve with no issues. The pouch sits above the bottom of the bag; a clever design element that prevents any accidental shock to your laptop if you put the bag down hard. There’s also a small pouch on the front of the laptop carrier, meant to hold small items such as earbuds or your phone. I found this pocket to be size limited so I don’t use it for anything. I am considering putting items that are delicate but rarely used such as flash drives or maybe a passport if I am traveling. Either way, it’s a nice detail and I am glad they included it.
The front smaller compartment is no slouch either. Secured by a large Velcro strap, it features organizational pockets for a notebook and three pens. The main area is actually quite large, able to easily accommodate a Kindle or thick novel. It can expand quite a bit so bulky items such as digital camera, keys, or bike tools would not present a challenge. The front pocket also has a water-proof zipper which leads to an additional storage area. I use this area to store items that I need to retrieve quickly such as keys and my video camera.
Last but not least, there’s a hidden rear compartment. You won’t be able to fit more than a small wallet or smart phone here, but it’s a nice touch and I am happy to see more bag companies put a space there.
I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that I’ve mentioned waterproofness a few times. This bag rates really well compared to other all-weather gear. Any zippers that open into a compartment are seam sealed and waterproof. All external zips have zip garages, and the pulls are a nice and long with ridges cut for grip. I much prefer them over the standard flat pull tabs.
There are reflective logos on the sides and one of the shoulder straps, and a U-Lock holder that doubles as a water bottle holder. To round out the cycling features, there’s a slot for your light. And yep, there’s the obligatory T2 bottle opener (unfortunately not removable for the weight fiends).
The Bottom Line
Though they haven’t said it, I imagine the Especial line as something akin to the Skunk Works division of Timbuk2. They listened to the bike messengers and commuters, those that spend time on the bike day in and day out, and they made a product that tries to meet all their needs. I am incredibly impressed with that they pulled off and I give them credit for taking this a step above their conventional products and having the courage to not allow customizations. Three sizes, two colors, take it or leave it. Naturally, there are a few minor hiccups which I’ve mentioned but this is coming from a very critical eye. On the product hangtag, Timbuk2 says “…Especial is our very best,” and it shows. They really have something special on their hands here. If you are looking for a roll-top, waterproof bag to haul a lot of gear, you should take a serious look at the Especial Tres.
For additional pictures, click here for a slideshow.