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Brooks :: A History of Bicycle Carry

by , November 11, 2014

Brooks has over a century’s worth of history behind it and has built up a solid reputation in the bike world through creating not only superior quality bike saddles but also a range of durable yet stylish cycle bags. To find out more about this respected British brand we took a journey into the realm of bikes, bags, quality craftsmanship and beautiful materials to gain insight into their design process, inspirations, challenges and what’s on the horizon…

Piccadilly leather knapsack

In recent decades, cycling has helped with lots of exciting innovation in carry. Yet at Brooks, you seem to draw strongly on tradition. Can you talk about how you balance innovation with tradition?

Brooks fuses new designs, like the innovative strap on the Barbican bag, with traditional materials like canvas and leather, to deliver a bag that doesn’t “look” like a cycling bag, yet is comfortable on and off the bike.  For example the bags of our Utility line feature an interesting waterproof polyester material that has the soft look and feel of cotton but is 100% waterproof.  We see this as highly innovative for the technical demands of a lifestyle bag.

Barbican shoulder bag

What’s it like having Brooks’ incredible leather heritage to draw on when designing carry? Are there leather masters in-house? Or do you work closely with suppliers?

We work closely with suppliers, Brooks has never had an in-house tannery.  Our leather is 100% from UK cows, but is tanned in Belgium and Sweden from partners we have worked with on and off for up to 100 years.  Further our bags are made in the UK and Italy.

Brooks

Leather and coated canvas are the building blocks of your carry range. Are there any other materials you’re itching to play with?

The bags of our Utility line feature an interesting waterproof polyester material that has the soft look and feel of cotton but is 100% waterproof.  Likewise we use an incredibly tough PU material for our welded travel panniers

Land's End Rear Panniers

Brooks was originally founded on bike saddles and still makes awesome ones today, are there any crossovers in materials or manufacturing techniques when it comes to your carry?

Yes.  Brooks collaborated recently with the design school at the Royal College of Art in London to produce the first bags made entirely through the same processes used to make our leather saddles.  More on that here.

Brooks B3 Leather Bag

Who are you most trying to stoke with your carry range? Who are you essentially designing for?

Brooks designs bags for those who place a high emphasis on function, materials, workmanship and style.

Do you guys commute by bike? Panniers or backpack or messenger?

Brooks has many employees and agency partners throughout Europe and the USA, many of whom commute by bike.  There is not any one bag for this, and most will use different bags depending on the carry requirements for a particular journey.  Incidentally, this is why we make such a wide range of bags.

Eton satchel

How do you test your gear? And have your testing techniques changed over time?

Our design team and some of our other staff test prototypes, but of course much of the feedback comes from the market as some materials and constructions can only be evaluated after years of use.  We then use this feedback to influence future decisions.  Luckily for us, the Brooks community of users are quite actively involved helping us along with this, and provide feedback regularly.

How has bike carry changed in the last 5-10 years?

Certainly there have been many new entries into this market, and this has brought with it an abundance of creative new designs and options for the user.

Hackney Backpack

What’s been the most notable innovation?

We like to think that our functional modern designs combined with a traditional look have been among the most notable.

What’s one of the biggest challenges Brooks faces in today’s market?

Our biggest challenge has been convincing shops that there is a market for a high-quality, stylish cycle bag.  Even five years ago, this idea was often ridiculed, but today we have hundreds of shops supporting what we do.

Isle of Wight saddle bag

There’s been a lot of talk about the current heritage craze. How do you think Brooks will fare once the trend tapers off?

There has always been a market for high-quality goods, and we don’t expect this to end in the near future.  At any rate, it will not influence what we are doing at Brooks.

And what do you believe will be the next big trend?

We see a lot of interest in cycle touring.

Brooks

What single product are you most proud of from your 2014 collection?

Hmm, that’s hard to say.  The new Isle of Skye and Isle of Wight travel panniers have been particularly well received at the recent industry shows, but we are truly excited about the entire 2014 range.

What mistakes do you see other carry brands making frequently?

Honestly we do not look at other brands so much in this way.

Who else do you respect in Bike Carry? Why?

There are a lot of inspired brands in carry today, too many to list. But it is often rather obvious who is really passionate about what they are doing and who is just making bags.

Brixton Tote and Shoulder Bag

You guys know bikes, what’s your favourite bike route to travel for leisure and why?

Any route with a good surface, nice scenery, and room for cyclists to travel safely is fine by us.

What’s next for Brooks?

Brooks will be on hand in Tuscany for L’Eroica in early October.  

Brooks Tool Roll

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