30 October, 2007

Leather?


My neighbor asked where I was going a few days ago. "The leather store in Baltimore", I replied. He's been giving me strange looks since. (I was really just going to get buckles for a prototype bag).

In any case, you may have seen this Japanese bike-leather worker's site. We have the opportunity to work with another Japanese leather worker and I've ordered a sample seat bag. I'm throwing this out here to get opinions on the desirability of bags like this. Obviously they will be expensive, but probably less than Berthoud bags. There are some advantages: They will be designed to last almost forever. Leather develops a lovely patina and looks better with age. And they are very very durable and waterproof. On the other hand they are heavier.

In other leather news we are working on importing some high quality, but relatively inexpensive leather handlebar tape; it's like Brooks tape, but cheaper.

55 comments:

Ron said...

Chris,
I live in the Pacific NW where rain is a constant wintertime companion. I have my doubts about the long-term usefulness of any leather bag for a bike. Yes, I know you said it is a waterproof leather. Somehow, that usually translates into a season or two of good protection from water. After that, all bets are off. Cast my vote for a sturdy (and less costly) waxed canvas bag anytime.

Ron

abberdab said...

I had to stifle a gasp when I saw those bags. Love. Ron is right, though. I live in the PNW, too, and there would have to be the option for a rain cover like for the Rivendell Smythe bags.

Supreme Commander said...

Looks nice, but almost certainly too heavy for my preferences. I'm hoping for a V-O interpretation of a TA/Berthoud bag.

Failing that, if Ostrich would make a run of bags that don't look like Army surplus, I'd order today - even if it is a cavernous bag.

K Matthias said...

Beautiful bags, but I too would be worried about rain, living in Portland, OR as I do. Resealing is always possible and care can be taken, but I suspect a canvas bag is what's in my future. For summer days, though, I doubt you could look better than riding with that nice leather bag! Cheers --Karl

Chris Kulczycki said...

I don't know why you guys worry about rain so much. I've gone hiking in leather boots for years without problems. I just take a few minutes to rub Snowseal on them every couple of months. Since bike bags don't suffer from abrasion, treatment would probably last longer.

Also, these are not a substitute for the VO canvas bags that will eventually appear, but a separate product line.

Lesli L said...

Count me in with the rainwise PNW crowd. I'd definitely prefer a lovely waxed cotton over leather.

I've seen Berthoud bags melt in the rain--plastic map area pooling with water. The main thing--bag cannot leak or let water in through vulnerable seams, gaps or openings. I'm optimistic the new Ostrich bag might do the trick.

Anonymous said...

I would prefer waxed canvas too, and if not canvas I'm liable to use something from Jandd, for instance. Hiking boots or belts are a pretty optimal use of leather, but here, not so much. It begins to seem extravagant and ostentatious to me, and I prefer my cycling life to represent simplicity and practicality as much as possible.
All best,
mw

mpetry912 said...

Chris, good point about the boots and using some sno seal or something. Even tho I don't pull under a freeway overpass at the first drop of rain, I seldom take the "good bike" out in a torrential downpour anyway.

They are cool! Reminds me of those Nikon camera bags, back in the day when camera gear was really something special.

Mark Petry
Bainbridge Island, WA

keithwwalker said...

I too live in Portland.

I have to say though that there is no great way to tell if leather is a good quality leather or something cheap that will fall apart in a season or two.

For instance, I have two Vanson motorcycle jackets, one is going on 15 years. After extensive use of riding year round in the Philadelphia area (where I used to live, and they salted the roads in the winter!) the jacket is still water proof and supple. (Check your facts too, Philadelphia gets more rain than Portland)

I would rather have a high quality leather bag that has been tanned correctly for longevity than a waxed cotton bag that will probably get mildewed over time.

Ron said...

Good point, Keith.
Yup, I checked. Philly is slightly rainier than Portland. They do, however have the same number of rainy days per year at 154. Wow, that's 42% of the days!

Chris, you're right about the leather hiking boots comparison. Still, canvas over leather for weight and simplicity of appearance. To each his /her own.

Ron

C said...

Not a fan. Way too over the top - you might as well stamp a Chanel or Coach logo on it. Even the Berthoud bags with the leather trim are bit too much for me. Much prefer the simpler look of the Ostrich.

Yeah, they may last forever but so what. Call me crazy, I don't see the point in having a bag that will last longer than I will.

abberdab said...

If I have assurances from folks that the leather would stand up with proper care, I'm all for it. I'd rather have a bag whose appearance evolves and deepens over time than something that just looks shabby once the "newness" is gone. I've been looking at the Brooks Holdalls, but can't bring myself to spend that kind of money on vinyl. Ugh. I like how structured leather is, cloth can be so shapeless. Weight isn't a big deal for me - I'm already commuting on a steel 3-speed - but it would be nice if the design was still mindful of keeping weight to a reasonable minimum.

Andrew said...

Too heavy and twee for me. I have a Berthoud and it's pretty much on the limit for both weight and tweeness.

david_nj said...

The leather worker site is amazing. I was hoping maybe someone could make up a couple of those bottle holder liners. Also, it'd be rather insane if someone troubled to make up leather covers for Ergo levers.

I am sure the water wouldn't be an issue. My motorcycle leathers and my baseball glove have seen lots and lots of rain over the years and they're fine. I just think an all-leather bag might be unnecessarily heavy.

Agree about the tweeness of the Berthoud bag. I have one and it's okay but it's frankly a little light in the loafers. I mean, come on.

Phillip Franklin said...

I really want to get some of the new Brooks leather handlebar wrap. I like the newer perforated version. However it does seem a little too expensive considering it's just two leather strips. But I would imagine they used a very high quality to make it hold up. I saw some of their end grips recently and was impressed by the quality. But them seemed a little to pricey for my budget right now.

Those Japanese leather grips on the Japanese web site looked like a nice alternative to the cork if they are reasonably priced.

It seems the English have perfected crafting things in leather to a high degree. Italians seem to do a good job too with leather. Even American companies have figured out how to craft quality long lasting products out of this material. However I'm not always impressed by some of the leather goods I've seen come out other countries over the years.

Just because it's real leather doesn't mean it will of a high enough quality built to last.

I too have had plenty of high quality leather shoes and boots that are at home in the rain and wet conditions. So good quality products constructed of leather should be able handle even the wettest climates. However I'm not sure it's the ideal material for all bags and such. I'm always told not to ride my bikes with the Brooks saddles in the rain. And as rule I don't.

However cows seems to handle the rain quit well. Go figure.

Joel said...

Chris,

The leather bag is sharp looking, but looks like a bit of overkill. I think that the Ostrich bag would be perfect if only it were produced in waxed canvas. Elegant, light, easy to maintain.

Joel

Anonymous said...

I've had the same leather ski boots since 1988, I just sno-seal them every year, so I'm not worried about rain. I'd buy that h-bar bag if it costs less than a Berthoud AND if it opens the right way. I don't know if I'd use the saddlebag, however. Maybe a small "banana bag" size one.

Anonymous said...

The Japanese site is really impressive. I think that the English style under-saddle bags look like they belong in those classic Brooks ads. The French style handlebar bags on the other hand look overdone because that's not the classic look on a randonneur bike. The Mafac brake handle leather covers are on the Japanese site are wonderful. Great bikes there, too.

Anonymous said...

That Japanese site was interesting. I have often thought about making up leather hoods for my non-aero levers--like most of you I am sure, I have a bunch of great levers with missing or damaged hoods. I am sure some pre-cut ones for the most popular sizes would sell--perhaps something for you in your ample spare time, Chris....
M Burdge

Anonymous said...

The leather bags are beautiful, and obviously not for everyone. I think if you thought about pooling water on top (maybe it's not a flat top) and the seams (pocket flaps could work like flashing and not create a space for water to seep in). Either way, really nice idea for a small group of customers. Which, will likely turn into a large group of customers when they see how nice they turn out ;)

and, totally off subject (sort of)... check out these bars

http://www.shorpy.com/node/1868

-Andy

Jack Fortune said...

All,

I own one of the leather bags made by the gentleman whose site you link to:

http://tinyurl.com/39qapw

My sense is that smaller leather bags would work well, have a market, and probably could be priced well below the comparable Brooks offerings.

I really don't think that large front leather bags to be particularly viable, though. If you really want to go high end, what about custom canvas and leather-trimmed bags?

regards,

Jack Fortune
Eugene, Oregon

C said...

"However cows seems to handle the rain quit well. Go figure."

Ummm...that's because they're still alive. Once you kill them they deteriorate quite quickly.

this one guy said...

wow. and heck yes! I am vegan and I like these bags...bit of a contradiction in terms? leather is a by product of an industry i don't support (for several reasons); making use of it is honorable as opposed to burying it in a refuse pile and my head in the sand. super durable and a natural product, so bring on the bags that last longer than me and are bequeathable! also- oregonians, lighten up, tighten up, and stiffen upper lip.

Anonymous said...

A vegan who likes leather when it is used to make something that pleases him aesthetically. Interesting. Fur coats have kept people warm for millenia. Meat has nourished people since before the wheel. Leather furniture is comfortable and lasts longer than fabric covered furniture thus saving trees.

Admittedly, the bike luggage is beautiful whether or not it withstands the elements. So, if that beauty justifies the leather, just when is it not cool to use animal products? Is it for jackets, shoes, baseball gloves that vegans object?

Let's not be hypocritical.

I say if it's cool to use leather for an exquisite bike bag, then it's also legit to use it for Mike Lowell's mit, Bruce Springsteen's biker jacket, and my boots.

I am dumbfounded as to how it is possible to create and sell such luggage for less than a Berthoud - or am I just at a loss for why a Berthoud costs so much - or maybe I simply wonder why we can't get a US made waxed canvas handelabr bag with structure and leather trim for under $100?

ARCHIE

this one guy said...

well, archie/anon...i opened this can of meatworms, so: i got no problem with the use of leather for bruce's jacket or even your mouth. it's none of my beeswax. just sayin' leather IS legitimate, even though the murder for profit meat industry is inhumane and ecologically unsound, period. if you like bacon, put some in your facehole, it tastes better than words like hypocrite. i am poking fun at labels- vegan, for example. we can be reasonable (insofar as that is possible) and recognize use ,and even beauty, where we find it. using leather beats using oil-based synthetics for eco-soundness and waxed cotton for durability. it's there, it works, it should be used- not sneered at so anon. interwebbers won't call me names...like "jack vegan". what happened to the Delta i used to know? who's with me?

jonah said...

I have written to you about this before, but I would be so very pleased if you were to make those leather hoods for the MAFAC levers.

Fran├žoise Hardy said...

I've lost interest in finding a truly waterproof bag for a recreational use.
A lighter bag made using a water resistant canvas with a well designed top flap (box lid), simple waterproof nylon lining under the top and a properly designed rain cover (that works with the decailleur) would work just fine. Ideally properly designed rain covers would be available for your Ostrich pannier bags as well.
Waxed canvas can be bulky and too heavy and the synthetics make me want to poke my eyes out.

Gunner Berg said...

I would buy a leather bag if it is less $ than the Berthoud

Anonymous said...

What would be REALLY cool would be to make a leather version of the little zipper top bag that T.A. used to make to fit a watter bottle cage....

Anonymous said...

I think the leather bags look great. I don't really understand why people are so concerned about the weight. (I mean, if you're going to be using a bag, isn't it going to have stuff in it, probably weighing several times what the bag weighs?)

For waterproofness, I guess I'd just spray some scotchgard on there and try to avoid torrential downpours. In FL if I get caught out in a storm I'm much more worried about lightning than the complete dryness of my bag's interior.

Considering the reasonable velo orange prices, I am very interested in where this goes. I like both the saddle bags and the bar bag.

-Dave

nv said...

No leather. Canvas is where it's at.

C said...

OK, I'm at a loss as to why you'd want leather brake hoods. I suppose they're great if you look at your bike more than you ride it. I just don't see how a leather hood is going to be more comfortable than a rubber hood.

Then again, I don't understand the appeal of cloth tape either. Never understood why I'd want tape that doesn't have any cushioning AND will transmit cold more than cork/plastic/leather.

I know leather hoods might look nicer on certain bikes but when you're actually riding it's not exactly a part you're going to see very often.

Anonymous said...

I hate the feel of rubber, it's sort of like a fingernails-on-the-chalkboard thing to me, so leather hoods would be an improvement. Nice to look at, nice to touch, what could be better?

Justin said...

I imagine that there is a market for leather handlebar bags, but it does not include me. I would prefer to see a waterproof version of the Ostrich.

Anonymous said...

C, there are plenty of people who do far more looking at their bikes than riding, especially in Japan! I don't think those Herse replicas actually do more than a few kilometres a year.

Phillip Franklin said...

<"However cows seems to handle the rain quit well. Go figure."

Ummm...that's because they're still alive. Once you kill them they deteriorate quite quickly.>

Good observation ... so it must also mean that leather hides properly tanned and prepared for the intended use such as hiking boots or all weather jackets and even bicycle bags should stand up to the rain and moisture in the climate. And I guess that is the key.

Still I'm advised not to ride the Brooks saddles in the rain which I try to avoid (since we don't get that much rain in sunny Southern California ... just wild fires as of late).

Maybe a bicycle that would stand up to all the elements including fire and a set of lungs that could withstand the smoke and ash ... riding in that stuff is pretty tough ... however I did spot a few cyclists with those cool fire fighter oxygen masks ... maybe that might be my next major purchase ...

Chris do you plan on carrying some Rene Herse styled oxygen masks for this global warming thing?

mpetry912 said...

a repro of the little zipper top bag to fit a bottle cage ? Yeah baybee, now that would be cool.

I agree on the meat industry, I don't eat meat, but I do have 5 Ideale saddles, one Brooks (titanium limited edition Swallow) and leather boat shoes that held up fine in the salt spray of a bermuda race.

So I say use the material that works best for the application, and argue later about the ethical or philosophical aspects of your choice.

Heck, I even have (horrors) a carbon fiber bottle cage made by TA. Is it the only one in the US?

Mark Petry
Bainbridge Island, WA

Ernesto Garcia said...

Anonyme said...

"C, there are plenty of people who do far more looking at their bikes than riding, especially in Japan! I don't think those Herse replicas actually do more than a few kilometres a year."

Umm... Sorry, C, but - with deep respect - I think yer talking out of yer back end. I live in Japan, and I can guarantee you that we ride - long, if not always hard - those beautiful bikes. Well before your lot discovered 650B bikes (and I am talking decades ago), builders and *users* in Japan have been quietly singing their praises. I have friends and acquaintences who have tens of thousands of kilometers on their beautiful "Herse replicas" (Toei, Alps, Cherubim, Watanabe, Pegasus, etc.). If you don't know what you are talking about, fair enough...but why not keep your lack of knowledge to yourself?

Pax...and matta,
garu

Adam said...

I have a semi-related question:

I'm looking for a really large front bag. I have a Nitto M12 front rack (20cm platform length) and about 29cm from the top of the platform to the top of my bars. I'll be using it for grocery shopping, and also as a sort of briefcase. I'd like to use a decaleur, and of course I'd like something aesthetically appealing. I do like the Berthoud bags, but something with more depth would be great. And something taller than the stocked Ostrich, and maybe with leather trim :) Chris has mentioned his huge ALPS bag, which is out of production. Any ideas for something I can get now?

Anonymous said...

Thick deerhide or elkhide hoods that stitch on the bottom would be great.

They'll confrom to shape, can be treated with non-toxic oils and waxes and will be like good gloves or shoes.

Might be slick when wet, though.
But so is rubber at a point.
Any thoughts on the FULL (#38) toe clip cover?

See: http://velo-orange.blogspot.com/2006/05/more-on-toe-clip-covers.html

I like cotton tape, I like the feel and don't really mind the bar shock.
But I also don't wear gloves, and risk bad scrapes.

Any padding over a certain thickness causes numbness for my hands.

I guess I just got used to it, and I have a desk job, so I've not got well-developed hand musculature.

Anonymous said...

Adam,
THIS is the bag you want!
http://www.guu-watanabe.com/mr.nj.html

if/when I get a custom bike , I'm getting a bag like this to go with it!

adam said...

AAH! That IS the bag I want! While strange happenings in the currency market make this cheaper for a Canadian such as myself than for an American, 59400 yen still comes in at just under $500. If it were $250, or even $300...

Anonymous said...

Garu, there was no offense intended, but I've spent some considerable time in Japan myself, and seen quite a few Toei's first hand that have hardly turned a wheel, with the only dust visible being that from the polishing cloth.

Some of them get a workout, including my own, but there are plenty of garage queens....

Joel said...

https://www.secured-url.co.uk/carradiceshop/ccp51/cgi-bin/cp-app.cgi?&pg=prod&ref=brompton-bureau

Here's an interesting bag on the Carradice website.

Joel

adam said...

Thanks for the link, Joel. The dimensions are just about perfect! I wonder if the rear pocket placement leaves a gap for the rack (and if there's a rack attachment.) And I wonder if it's decaleur-able...

Anonymous said...

Chris-I'd be interested in brake lever hoods too-for the old campy and mafac levers. The bags are almost too much for me

Ernesto Garcia said...

Anonyme said...

"Garu, there was no offense intended, but I've spent some considerable time in Japan myself, and seen quite a few Toei's first hand that have hardly turned a wheel, with the only dust visible being that from the polishing cloth.

Some of them get a workout, including my own, but there are plenty of garage queens...."


Anonyme, that's a shame... Next time you are back in Japan for any length of time, please let me know - I'll do what I can to keep you away from the garage queens and point you towards the kings of the road...

garu

Mike Myers said...

The Brompton Bureau looks like the Carradice Kendal, panniers that Carradice has made for decades---except in green. It's a shame Carradice doesn't offer the Kendal in green, but I don't think they like to change the way they do things. :-)

Anonymous said...

Chris K:

Is it possible to craft a waxed cotton handlbar bag, with or w/o leather trim, the design of which rests between the Berthoud and the RBW Boxy bag (i.e. not necessarily as tailored and pretty as the Berthoud but having enough stucture to not look like a deflated sack when empty) IN THE USA, for about $100?

ACF

Chris Kulczycki said...

I'm surprised by how many people feel strongly about bags.

Having any bag made in the US is very difficult, at least for us. We are still trying to get the TA-style bag I announced over a year ago into production. What happens is that a company says they are interested and after a month or so we agree on specs and I order a prototype. Them after several months of delays the company decides it's too complicated for their staff or there is not enough profit in it. So we try to find another company and it all happens again.

The thing with these leather bags is that they are a happy accident. An associate mentions to my agent that he has worked with this Japanese leather worker, who is US based, and he specializes in small runs of bags for various industries, including the fashion industry. And, I'm told, he offers good pricing and fairly fast delivery. So we've send him samples and drawings knowing he has the skill and experience to either make them or quickly decide he can't. It's nice when something is simple for a change.

As for leather brake lever hoods, we fooled around with those and I decided that the amount of time and money I'd have to invest in having them made is simply not worth the bother. Sorry, but there are projects that would appeal to a broader audience that deserve the attention.

adam said...

I asked Carradice about the Brompton Bureau, and they said it only mounts to Brompton bikes. I asked for a photo of the rear of the bag.

Yann said...

I am surprised no one else mentioned this (or maybe i missed a post)

what about those rollers (for centerpull or canti brakes i assume)... I know you said some time ago you were working on getting some made, but i havnt heard an update in a while.

why not order a big box of those rollers and a bunch of those leather hoods from this guy...

Richard J said...

Chris,

Those bags are beautiful! I'll definitely budget for a set of those bags in the near future if you decide to stock them. Will you be getting both the black and the tan models?

Thanks,
Richard

beth h said...

This is about as luxurious as I would hope a bicycle bag could possible get. Amazing craftsmanship. A thing of beauty. And yet totally insane at the same time. It screams Coach, or maybe even Tumi.

My head is spinning.

Anonymous said...

I love the handlebag, where did you get it?