Tom Bihn Super Ego Messenger Bag

I needed a new messenger bag. Happily, I was able to get the one I wanted from the get-go a Tom Bihn SuperEgo bag. This is a new bag from Tom, and it seemed to have everything I wanted.

Or pretty close anyway. In some good ways, it's much more than I required. In one very small way it doesn't do what I want. But that's mostly my fault, as I'll explain later. Plus, it's fixable.

Do you care about this at all? If so, then read on. But be warned this review is long, and it's full of pictures.

A Big Ego

This bag is big. Significantly bigger than the old Tom Bihn Super Musette I've been using for the past 2 years. If you're under 5'10" or under 150 lbs, I don't think I can recommend this bag, because it will just look ridiculous hanging off your shoulder. Even if it isn't red and yellow, like mine.

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How big? You can see the specs on Tom's site, but here are a few examples of things I've managed to carry in its main compartment:

A liter bottle of wine, a relatively bulky spring jacket, a loaf of crusty bread and 3 bananas.

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An iBook in its Brain Cell and what felt like 40 but was probably only 18 lbs. of architecture books.

Looking into the main compartment with the empty Brain Cell installed. That blue thing is the Size 4 Brain Cell, and it is almost lost inside the compartment. Size 4 means it holds widescreen laptops like the TiBook and Aluminum Powerbook.mainCompartment.jpg

The front compartment loaded up with my junk. Those are DVD cases in the large central area. Maybe that gives a sense of scale.

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In addition to these things listed above, the various small pockets also carried my wallet, my Olympus PowerShot digital Elph, my Moto v60 cell phone, my Palm III VX, 2 sets of keys, my Swiss Army Cybertool, my off-brand Kryptonite bike lock, a pair of reading glasses, business card holder and a pen.

The most notable thing here is that there are enough pockets inside the compartment that none of my stuff has to bounce around loose. Also, since the pockets are inside a compartment, there's very little chance of them falling out when the bag flap is open.

I wanted a bag that would hold my TiBook, work out clothes and my lunch bag. I've got room to spare.

Unanticipated Glee: The Zipper Pockets

Ok, I'm sure it sounds dorky, but the front side zipper pockets are the best thing about this bag. Except maybe that it isn't all black.

These pockets are several important things at once: inobvious, convenient, roomy and spill-proof.

Here's the left side pocket, where a right-hander's wallet belongs.

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Either of these are more than roomy enough for the critical stuff that should never spill out, get wet or get swiped.

The pockets are so discreet that as much as I had studied the product pictures before ordering, I didn't realize they were there. In fact, it took me a few hours to notice them once I had the bag!

This is very important, because it makes it much less likely that a casual thief will find them while pawing through your stuff.

These pockets are also really easy to get to even when the bag is all closed up. Another reason why they're so convenient for your wallet, camera, phone and such like.

Brain Cell Connections

The SuperEgo by itself doesn't have real laptop protection, though the bottom and back are padded. To really protect your laptop, you need a Brain Cell. (Don't we all.)

My old Brain Cell connected with metal snaps. I seem to recall that some customers worried that the metal would scratch bag contents, so Tom switched to a different snap some years ago. Here are some close ups of them.

First, the bag snapped into place and secure.

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Now, here's the snap open and the loop of the Brain Cell behind it. The snap grabs that loop.

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Buckled Downer

Thinking it would be cool, I specified the seat belt buckle instead of the standard, perfectly serviceable plastic squeeze buckle I was already familiar with from my Musette. And here is the only real annoyance that the SuperEgo gives me. The seat belt buckle has several drawbacks. Here they are from least to most annoying:

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#1 It's heavy

Not such a big deal, but the tongue end is a honkin' piece of metal that increases the weight of the bag. This becomes more of an issue combined with #3, below.

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#2 It's loud

The tongue end of the buckle is two pieces of metal that rattle around unless the strap is buckled tightly, and rattles even more if you're carrying it unbuckled. This is annoying, but considering the next problem that annoyance is probably good, like the way the door ajar chime on your car is annoying but good.

#3 It could kill someone if you don't keep it buckled.

Annoyance #1 combines with #4 to create a modern, stylish morningstar flipping around about a foot below the bottom of your bag. Casually swing it up onto your shoulder from the ground, and that metal weight goes all over the place--whipping across a table, perhaps into your monitor, maybe into your girlfriend. Bad bad bad.

#4 It doesn't stay adjusted unless it's closed.

Since the seat belt buckle is a friction adjuster, (or whatever you call it) when unbuckled it only takes a few moments of being jostled around before it slides to the end of the strap.

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And there's one thing that I hope isn't true of a replacement buckle: It has a long dangly strap with no keeper loop.

The good news about this strap and buckle combo is twofold: It's optional and it's replaceable. The SuperEgo strap system lets you customize very thoroughly, and you have to pay extra for the seat belt buckle. So don't. I'm getting a replacement buckle. (For the amazing details of that, see below.) Tom can have the other one back.

Service and Warranty

Simply put, I've never had better of either from anyone, in any business, ever. Tom and his staff return communication quickly, they're thorough, and they go the extra mile. I have complete confidence of their ability to do things like " measure to see if a Newton 2000 which is this size will fit in Y bag, and include one in my order if it does."

Out of the blue, Tom once sent me a replacement buckle for my Super Musette bag over a year after I bought it, because some other customers had complained that the original buckles tended to slip. I had never complained about this. But Tom sent new buckles to everyone who had a Super Musette. When Tom says "Lifetime Warranty" that's what he means.

When I wrote yesterday to Darcy about my problems with the buckle, she wrote back almost immediately, saying in essence "We agree with the problems of the seat belt buckle you mentioned, but some people want them anyway." I asked if I could return the buckle for an even trade of the plastic kind (which costs less.) She wrote back offering me two of the plastic buckle/strap combos to make up the difference, and is including a prepaid mailer to send the seat belt buckle back.

And when I mentioned that what I really wanted was a reflective strip (since this was a messenger bag, after all and I do ride a bike at night) she offered to send me one as soon as they found and manufactured one they like.

Amazing. Tom Bihn is the only brand I love more than Apple.