This is the bag style that just about everyone is familiar with. It’s the one that just about all bicycle courier, no matter what city they work in, carry slung across their backs or at their sides.
Originally they were conceived for bike couriers in New York City, guys that regularly carried legal documents and architectural plans; large envelopes and long, awkward tubes, too big for most backpacks & baskets. These were based on utility lineman bags that were designed in the 1950’s. They originally allowed lineman to carry necessary tools within easy reach while climbing utility poles. Generally, the Manhattan style is very wide, usually wide enough to be slung diagonally, from one shoulder to the opposite hip.
The riders that these were made for rode stripped-down bikes that had modified, very thin handlebars for weaving between buses and cars. Therefore, the Manhattan messenger bag needed straps that could be slung across the chest, and then be easily released in a split second. Or, the same strap could be worn on a shoulder, with the bag under the opposite arm. The point was so that the courier could slide it around for easy access.
Also for easy access, the designers coupled the convertible straps with a large flap closure. Sometimes the flap also had clips, so the rider could keep it secure, but between stops the flap could stay down, covering the main compartment.
Materials were very important to the users of the original design. Originally they were made from sailcloth, or thick cotton “duck” canvas, which was durable, and could withstand stresses. Over the years, though, different designers, and the wants and needs of the users, began using other materials, and even lining the bags.
Heavy ballistic nylon, with its characteristic basket weave, was an even tougher alternative that also offered a degree of water resistance. Using leather at edges and stress points gave a great look, but an even stronger wear. Some really forward-thinking designers even began using waterproof PVC, rubber, or nylon liner materials, for an even greater degree of protection on Manhattan messenger bags. Wet deliveries are not acceptable to the clients of messengers.
Over the years, the Manhattan messenger bag has become a fashion accessory, albeit a very functional one. Hipsters of every gender, profession, and style carry them, and many different companies design and produce them. They are offered in every color of the rainbow, with different sizes and shapes, as well, giving the user another way to express his or her individuality.
Many high school and college students carry messenger totes, today, especially ones that ride bicycles. When compared to a backpack, it is much easier to remove textbooks and notebooks, as well as laptops, from a Manhattan bag. It can be easily shifted, to lie on the side of the body, granting the wearer greater accessibility.
Over the years, Manhattan messenger bags have gone from a simple, functional tool for bike delivery riders, to colorful hipster fashion accessory.
Before we go into my specific experience with my brand-new Tucker & Bloom bag, it’s important that I give you a little bit of background history so that you understand why I have always loved traditional messenger bags and why I have literally searched high and low for the very best possible option offered in the United States.
Way back in (what seems like lifetimes ago) the early 1980s, I myself was a Manhattan messenger. Flying around on my trusty fixed speed bicycle, I zoomed in and out of traffic up and down those modern-day canyons delivering all kinds of packages, parcels, and more than a few deliveries that seemed suspect at the time to offices throughout New York City.
And every single day, right after lacing up my Redwing boots, I grab the exact same one that I had been issued – the same kind of Manhattan messenger bag I have been searching for ever since.
That bag was ridiculously simple and straightforward, which I’m sure was on purpose because my boss was more than a little bit “cheap” to put it friendly. He was probably looking for a fantastic deal on pieces of work equipment that he wouldn’t have to replace on an annual basis, but he definitely wasn’t looking to outfit us with some sort of expensive designer one – if they even existed in those days.
No, he was looking to provide us with a piece of equipment that would allow us to be better at our jobs – not only making our clients and customers happy, but guaranteeing that his business got as few complaints because of damaged or lost packages as possible.
It was absolutely everything I’ve ever wanted in a tote and though I’m certain that some of those feelings are due to nostalgia and my memory creeping up on me I’ve always searched for a Manhattan messenger bag that could compete with my first one.
I’ve been discussing exactly this kind of dilemma with my nephew (now a Manhattan bicycle messenger himself), and asking him to keep an eye out on different websites to see if he could spot one that offered the same kind of “magic” that my old bag did.
Obviously, I never really expected that he’d be able to deliver the goods (part the pun – but I had to sneak that one in there), but was pleasantly surprised when he told me that he had in fact track down a manufacturer that seemed to fit the bill.
You directed me to the Tucker and Bloom website, and from the moment that I longed in until I had my brand-new Tucker and Bloom bag in my hands I knew I had struck gold.
Not only are these bags designed right here in the good old United States of America, they also are crafted in a classical style – with form and functionality perfectly blended together. Real craftsman focus on each and every single bag, and produce them in such small batches as to be laughable by most modern manufacturing standards – but that’s exactly what I was looking for.
I cannot tell you how overjoyed I am with my new courier bag, and how much it has meant to me to have a bag of this caliber in quality back in my life. I refuse to carry a briefcase into the office ever again, and I’ve also purchased another Tucker and Bloom bag to give to my nephew as a thank you for tracking this down.
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