Ride to work... and bring your lunch.
“Ride To Work” means more to me than the name of special day, it’s a personal motto. So, whenever the wacky Wisconsin conditions allow, I make it a point to make my half hour commute through snaky township roads, over a county trunk, and down a stretch of four lane on the bike. In the morning, the concentration needed to slalom through deer, sand piles left over from winter, and sleepy drivers on their phones is a great wake-me-up; I usually hit the parking lot exhilarated, but at the same time, curiously calm. The ride home at the end of the day is something to look forward to, kind of a reward for a day’s work, and with no urgency to make time, I’m free to take a detour or two down some twisty country lanes.
Rather than messing around with side cases or a trunk, I’ve used an Aerostich Courier messenger bag for years as a convenient way to tote my daily essentials. Park the bike, peel off the helmet, and I’m ready for the walk to my office. I’ve also used it as a carry-on when flying, frequently getting the knowing wink or nod from fellow riders who recognize the Aerostich logo. However, the Courier bag is pretty big, and while drooling my way through the newest Aerostich catalogue, the recently introduced waxed cotton version caught my eye, and so I ordered a new bag in the smaller “Dispatch” size.
Aerostich’s waxed cotton bags are softer and suppler than their Cordura models and seem to develop more of what the company calls a “uniquely experienced patina” with use. I found the waxed cotton does tend to show grime and smudges more than the Cordura (though I did order mine in bright orange, which of course tends to show wear more than black), but, you know, I kind of like that “broken in” look. I also opted to have Aerostich install their new “quick release buckle,” which makes donning or doffing the bag a bit easier since I don’t have to raise the strap over my head. The new dual release tab buckle can be operated with one gloved hand, yet seems very secure.
Aerostich has been producing and steadily tweaking their messenger bag design for almost 30 years, and the waxed cotton Dispatch shares all the best features of the line, including a seamless bottom, a bright yellow PVC waterproof lining, a comfy shoulder pad, a large inside pocket, and a clip-on key loop inside. Also, like all the other size messenger bags, the Dispatch has the wide, 3M Scotchlight reflective strip, a carrying handle, and a cam lock adjuster for the strap. I included in my order the optional pocket organizer, which I would recommend. The organizer attaches to the back wall of the bag with hook and loop and is generously outfitted with zippered and elastic sleeves and compartments for all your smaller stuff. I’d also recommend the optional “Stabilizer Strap,” which buckles around the waist to prevent the bag from sliding around, particularly suited for sport riders who may be in more of a tuck position.
I’d describe the construction of the Aerostich Dispatch as “made-to-last (and last).” Instead of simply stitching binding around the edges of the flap, for instance, Aerostich first sews the flap inside-out, then turns the bag right-side out and edge-stiches the flap, just like the way a shirt collar is made. The fastex buckles look sturdy, and I can’t imagine the nylon straps ever wearing out. The waterproof liner is thick but flexible PVC, which should resist all but the sharpest of objects.
One feature of the Dispatch I’m not a fan of is the wide hook and loop strip that holds the flap down. Though this arrangement does allow the user to close the bag securely without using the two front buckles, it makes opening the bag a pretty noisy, two-handed affair. However, like other owners, I’ve found that simply cutting a two inch strip of hoop and loop and slapping it on the inside of the flap remedies this hitch. Another sort of caveat: if you opt for the installation of the quick release buckle, it may limit which shoulder you’ll use for the bag.
Besides the features and quality construction of the Dispatch bag, its functionality is what made me favor it over a backpack. On the road, the bag can be swung around to rest on the small of my back, the bottom just touching the pillion seat. Stopped or off the bike, the bag can be swung around in front of my chest to pull out my sunglasses, phone, or whatever gadget I need. The bag rides comfortably at my side when I’m hoofing it. Though not a storage system I’d recommend for touring, it’s a great ride-to-work solution for commuting and for short hopping, where you don’t want to worry about gear left on your bike.
The Dispatch, though the second to smallest in the messenger bag line-up (12”x7”x12”x12”/18”), can hold a ton of stuff. It easily swallows a typical-sized laptop with room to spare for a lunch, a binder or books, and lots of doodads. The bag is designed to be waterproof, though it’s possible some water could seep in at the top corners in a downpour.
Like all Aerostich messenger bags, the Dispatch is made in the USA (apparently by the same guy for the last 15 years!). It carries a two year warranty and is available in black, brown, yellow, orange, and green.
Aerostich Waxed Cotton Dispatch Bag: $97
Optional Pocket Organizer: $30
Optional Stabilizer Strap: $10
Pros: Life of the user construction, good solution for commuting Cons: Hook and loop band on flap may be overkill, not absolutely waterproof