Cyclus Manufacturing, the parent company of Crafted Goods, has a fascinating origins story; one that I found increasingly impressive as I spent more and more time delving into their history. It was founded in 2000 in Bogota, Colombia, by two designers focused on making accessories made out of reused inner tubes. In 2011, they were approached by a curious Swiss investor who ended up buying the company and growing it. A year later, in 2012, two Swiss designers in Japan connected with Cyclus and the company decided to split into three; Crafted Goods being one of the offspring.
Now, let’s be clear – the idea of recycling, or for a more proper term upcycling, is not new. It is the idea of taking some abandoned or trashed material and giving it new life. Sometimes this takes the form of scraps of neoprene left over from dive suit production and turns them into laptop sleeves. In another iteration, it’s using old military tarps and tents to give strength and character to a bag. The idea, while novel, can often result in less than optimal products. Meaning, it’s very obvious that the bag is more about saving the environment than it is about design, convenience, or functionality. In Crafted Goods’ case, they are reusing the non-biodegradable inner tubes of truck tires, collected from repair shops and roads all over Colombia. What sets them apart is how the tube is incorporated into the bags, and how the rest of the bag is constructed.
About two months ago, Ralph over at Crafted Goods was generous enough to send me a Carrera for testing. I have been using it as my EDC daily and it currently holds top honors as my favorite messenger bag I’ve ever used. As someone who reviews and uses bags regularly, I realize that’s a bold claim. I hope, in this review, that I can give enough insight into the Carrera to add some weight behind those words.
Materials & Design
The Carrera is a Swiss-designed medium-sized messenger bag, produced in Colombia. The model I received is a beautiful shade of blue, with matching blue accents, buckles and straps. The water-resistant Cordura 600D has a slight sheen to it, though it mostly resembles the texture and appearance of the Cordura you would find in this class of bags. Ironically, the focus point of the Carrera is a feature that the owner rarely sees – the bottom. It is covered with a smooth yet textured piece of recycled inner tube tire. This is really the business end of the Carrera since it’s what touches all manner of rough floors, baggage claims, and crowded car trunks.
The buckles, straps, and latches come courtesy of ITW Nexus which is known for their heavy use in military/tactical bags and accessories. I am in love with the straps because of this slight sheen they have on them. Similarly the buckles have a glossiness which I find appealing. The latches (GTSR Ladderloc Latch) promise easy one-handed adjustment and they deliver. They were easy to operate and either loosened or remained secure when I wanted them to. My only complaint is I feel the buckles snap closed a little too harshly. They are a bit difficult to engage and just like any sort of spring or latch that snaps closed suddenly, it always makes me a little nervous operating it.
The part of the bag that impressed me the most is the shoulder strap. This is the main interface between you and the bag when you’re wearing it, and it’s the part that so many companies seem to get wrong. I am sure I am not alone in thinking many companies never give enough padding for over-the-shoulder wear. When they do, they position it all wrong. I am talking about wearing a messenger bag over one shoulder and having the bag only cover the front half of it. No matter how often you adjust some bags, you still won’t get full coverage. I am happy to report, this is not the case with the Carrera. It features a beefy shoulder pad that is sewn high up, ensuring a comfortable fit. Speaking of the strap, the buckle on this thing is not only huge but really easy to operate. It makes adjusting the strap (for easy removal and securing) a breeze. I also appreciated the strap retention clips which too many companies neglect. It’s such an inexpensive feature that adds so much convenience!
The zippers on the Carrera are another feature that merits some discussion. They are standard YKK zippers but they have some neat features. For example, the zipper chain is molded to the fabric edges and is made with Delrin. From my paintball days, I know that Delrin is a self-lubricating plastic. In practice, this makes for very smooth operation. Additionally, the construction makes them practically weatherproof. Lastly, the pull-tabs are hand-cut and sewn rubber pieces with subtle yet classy stamping.
The Carrera is chock-full of pockets and sleeves which I love. I am all about being organized and sorted and the Carrera helps me achieve that in my EDC. On the front exterior there’s a sizable pocket, about 9 inches, secured with a zipper. The main compartment runs the width of the bag and is sealed with dual non-locking zippers. Spread them apart and you’ll find a generous main pocket with a non-padded laptop compartment. They claim to support 15″ notebooks but the pocket seemed a little too loose and generous for my tastes. I prefer leaner (and light) slips. The upside is it works just fine and it’s even secured with a Velcro strap so your computer doesn’t go shaking about.
The main compartment also hides a few other treats. First, there’s a large mesh pocket on the inside front. I use this to keep loose items such as breath mints, USB keys, etc. There’s also a smaller pocket that’s also secured with a Velcro strap. I found this the perfect place for a small tablet (like my Nexus 7) or a Kindle Paperwhite. It backs up against the laptop compartment, keeping both items flat. Finally, there is a large pen slot (I fit two pens plus a stylus) and a small pocket which I use to store my Field Notes and checkbook.
Behind the main compartment, but still under the main flap, is a padded slot that runs the width of the Carrera. I use this area to store documents or magazines I want to grab quickly. Finally, the messenger bag is flanked by a pair of side compartments that are secured with cleverly hidden magnets. I suppose they are your obligatory water bottle holders but I found, in practice, they were a pretty tight fit. I rarely use them and prefer putting narrower items like sunglasses or a digital camera in there.
Who It Suits
So, who does the Carrera suit? I’d say anyone from a student to a business professional. The bag is just downright classy. At a price point of $240, it may be out of reach for most students attending university but compared to other messenger bags in this class, I’d say the price is quite fair. I am currently using it as my work bag and it doesn’t look out of place at all, despite messenger bags often being too bright or flashy for a corporate environment.
Who It Does Not Suit
I am a little torn on whether or not to recommend the Carrera for bike messengers and commuters. On one hand, I feel like the construction of the main compartment means you have a limit on the size and shape of your cargo. On the other hand, it does come with a cross strap to stabilize things; there’s nothing worse than a bag sliding while you are in the saddle.
Speaking of storage, if you are used to carrying things like large boxes, sports equipment, sneakers, etc., this bag is not for you. Unlike some large bags, this design holds its shape. This means that you mostly want to carry flat items with you.
Lastly, a bag this nice does not make sense for any sort of conditions or scenarios where there is harsh weather, or the threat of a lot of dirt or debris. While the bottom is bombproof, I don’t really consider the bag as weather-resistant as say a bag that used more of a rubber or tarp exterior.
- Great color; matching buckles and straps
- Straps are easy to adjust and stay put, buckles are beefy
- Lots of storage and compartments; cool magnetic closure on sides
- Shoulder pads extend all the way
- Classy zipper tabs and Delrin rails
- The inner tube material on the bottom is awesome. It’s difficult to see unless you are looking for it, but it silently does its job, protecting the bag from whatever nasty bits might be on the ground
- Size is just perfect; not too large, not too small
- No top carry handle – I know I always bring this up but it makes things so much easier
- Buckles are a little too stiff for my taste. They are hard to operate with one hand.
- Laptop compartment has too much room; prefer it to be slimmer
- Side compartments too narrow to easily hold a water bottle
If you can’t already tell, I am a big fan of the Crafted Goods Carrera. I’ve reviewed many bags, including messengers, and I would consider it my favorite messenger bag. It’s the right size for me and has plenty of compartments. It looks great and is very comfortable to wear. I think the price is very reasonable and I would put the bag head to head with anything out there. I feel the Carrera is really showing its Swiss heritage. From a design standpoint, it’s classy and functional in all the right places.
I am excited to see what else Crafted Goods has in store. They’re off to a great start.