SheCyclesInStyle: HandbagsSheCyclesInStyle: Handbags

27 Sep

On weekends I use back packs, that, I have to admit are more practical for longer rides and carrying purchases when making a super market stop over. But the sweat patch in the Dec-March heat is unsightly when you arrive at your destination. I have a collection of three packs; Small, smaller smallest.

The assortment of back packs that just won’t cut it in this heat of Nairobi. Also they don’t transition well into the work place… I am tired of being the “weird bike chick” who lags a back pack even in exec dress.

At this point I should mention that I don’t wear specialized cycling clothes, just regular cotton tees and pants rolled up or long regular shorts. When I started cycling to and from work, I discovered that my choice of handbags was narrow in relation to my new lifestyle. All my handbags were short-strapped and best hand-held or carried in the crook of my arm 50s style. Note that though comfy to carry when riding, back packs, if not properly weighted can be a danger.

So I went out looking and paid a local wardrobe stockist called Closet 49 on Ngong Road, Nairobi a visit and found some cool bag options for female cyclists.

In pictures (Closet 49):

Closet 49: This one’s good for quick runs that don’t require a change of clothes.

Closet 49: Lovely leather trimmed vintage, good for non-clothes changing trip. Although a more sporty look is best.

Closet 49: This one can take an iPad, phone some cash… again to a destination that won’t need you to change clothes.

Closet 49: Now this one is a carry all. The trouble with it is the shape. Not ideal for when you hop off and onto the saddle at traffic stops. Especially when loaded, even with the long adjustable strap.

I should go back there see if they have any cycle-friendly handbags now.

My sister happened to have a lovely cross-body messenger-style handbag, with a long adjustable strap, that could carry all – a pair of heels to change, my wash cloth, a fresh top or dress, moisturiser, deodorant and basic make-up… I quickly appropriated it.

After a couple of months of using it daily use, the poor pleather (fake leather) bag became visibly worn, especially along the strap where the buckle grazed along during the multiple adjustments. I got a great leather bag maker to take the good parts and refurbish it in leather; he recycled the zips, the buckle, and the great lining onto new leather.

While he worked on the new bag, I got a rear carrier installed so that I could strap down my hand-held bags with a piece of car tire inner tube (bladder). It worked, but the vulnerability I felt, knowing all my valuables were in the bag behind me left me an easy, and unable to concentrate on cycling safely. I kept glancing over behind me to see if it was still secured, which is bad especially in slow traffic in case a pedestrian crosses between the cars, or the car in front suddenly stops.

Now, all girls reading this know that your handbag is only “safe” (relatively so) when it is next to your body, preferably hooked over your shoulder and tightly clutched by the strap in one hand.

I dug into my travel bag & suitcase, that are in storage, and found my passport holder that hangs from an adjustable strap. For sometime, this worked well as it could hold my phone, money, and bank cards while my bag was strapped to the rear carrier holding less valuable stuff. On weekend riding trips I hooked the camera case to the passport holder strap for easy and quick access when taking photos as I cycled.

Until…

One early morning, on my commute to work, the long-suffering passport holder strap gave way as I cycled between cars in traffic along the highway, making my way to the head of the traffic at a roundabout between the left and the second from left lanes. I watched it slip over the crossbar, tangle briefly on the pedal arm and crush onto the tarmac in what seemed like in slow motion. The traffic cop had just let the traffic on my side of the roundabout through. It had dropped just past the broken line and I hoped the motorists behind me were not changing lanes.

I glanced back in panic. The traffic cop saw my hesitation and yelled, “Proceed!” The driver to my left had seen what had happened and looked out his window waving at me frantically, probably thinking I was unaware. I quickly cut in front of the slow-to-take-off trailer on the left lane and hopped onto the pedestrian walk at the traffic lights. Watching to see if my phone in the passport holder would be crashed.

After what seemed like an eternity the traffic cop stopped the flow of traffic and I dashed in to pick it up. Inside the phone was crashed to near-pulp. The plastic all cracked and stuck together.

So much for keeping my valuables safe eh? Got this BlackBerry Curve 9320, it takes great photos so I no longer need the little point and shoot camera. Depending on the distance and what I am going to do at the destination,  my new bag (below) holds my phone, a change of clothes (bottoms, jacket and tee or a dress and jacket), some fresh undies, a wash cloth, a pair of flats, basic make-up and my net book + charger.

Other bags that have come in handy are those small purses that come with a very long strap, sometimes with a strong chain interwoven with the fake leather. I use one of those on days that I am wearing shoes that work for work and for cycling, on cute-flats-day, as I won’t need to carry a change of shoes. I am slowly collecting those in different colours and shapes.

If your bag strap is adjustable, adjust it to the last buckle hole so that it’s close to your body and does not touch your lower body. If it’s a small cross-body purse without the adjustment option, tie a knot at the top of the strap to a length that suits you. This works best with the bags that have a chain interwoven with the strap as they bounce back to normal when you untie the knot.

In the cool of June and July the back pack is tolerable. It gets less hot and sweaty on your back, and you can carry everything without worrying too much. Only trouble is the cyclist reflector body cross won’t fit over the back pack, you may have to wear the sleeveless reflector jacket instead which goes over your back and back pack, keeping you visible to motorists.

Some inspiration from far, far away:

I would love to get one of these. Works well and is waterproof. This blog has some interesting shots of how women on bikes handle their handbags. These guys thought like a thousand women on bikes to create this bag. But these ones are after my own heart with women’s leather bike hand bags wow!!

With this design below, the closer to your upper body the bag is, the more comfortable you will be while riding. It’s better than risking having it snatched off your rear carrier.

The build of the new bag (below) with an adjustable strap allows it to sit on the small of your back while still keeping you cool, unlike the back pack. Being a cross-body type, the weight is distributed diagonally across, and the size limits the amount of stuff you carry to make for a comfortable ride. You must make sure the weight in your back is properly distributed to keep the bag behind you and the strap is adjusted short enough so that it does not bump on your saddle when you hop of the bike at the traffic stops.

Real Leather: The long strap with lot’s of eyelets makes for ease of adjustment from shoulder bag to cross-body bag. Extra pockets for small items. It can hold my net book, a rain hood, a light change of clothes – usually a fresh tee, undies, pants and a jacket/ a simple dress. Stiff base keeps bag’s form regular and keeps stuff from shifting inside.

Happy cycling in Nairobi!!  ❤ Cycling! ❤ Nairobi!

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5 Responses to “SheCyclesInStyle: HandbagsSheCyclesInStyle: Handbags”

  1. mmnjug September 27, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

    Maybe you should have put a front basket…..which can also be used to carry shopping stuff……. you have your stuff on sight always. That dropping of the cellphone is gut wrenching!! Pole.

    • shecyclesnairobi September 27, 2012 at 6:43 pm #

      I plan to get one. I found these guys next to Daystar on Ngong road who make wicker items; baskets, arm chair and such. I might call back my product design skills and work with them to produce some. Not sure it works on the speedster mtb though. The headset build doesn’t look like it can accommodate any front attachments- it’s built for perfomance, especially now that virtually every Nairobi road is a construction site. Perhaps on those townie bikes it can work. I got over the loss of the phone and love the simple BB :)

      • mmnjug September 27, 2012 at 6:49 pm #

        You can still have it made in such a way that you can detach it when you don’t need to use it……it can be done….

  2. Nana October 1, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    Wow love the bag ideas, your blog makes cycling so trendy I plan to buy a bike soon. Christina Hamilton’s bag options are pretty cool. I hope you plan on replacing your sister’s bags since you recycled the old parts :-) I’m just saying.

    • shecyclesnairobi October 3, 2012 at 7:10 am #

      Hey Nana, Good on you for getting a bike… Make sure to get the safety gear that goes with it; reflective body cross/vest, he;met and gloves to protect your hands in the event of a fall (happens a lot when you start out). Yes, I did get her an all new bag – the one with her old bag parts is now hers – I get to borrow it sometimes to :)

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