Chrome Bags, going big with a signature shoe.
I get messenger style. Back in the day I flirted with poser-like tendencies, not out of some weird self-loathing but because messengers just looked so free. And underpaid, and prone to dangerous behavior, but the trimmed pants, the simplified bikes, everything about the style was ready to move, encumbered by as little as humanly possible. The message they broadcast to the world was, why do you carry around all that crap? Why do you stick yourselves in cars and endure all the hassles of driving and parking in a city? It resonated with me, and if I wasn't prepared to hang out with actual messengers (and vice versa, I'm sure) or to fling my Very Expensive Bianchi ($500!) off of curbs, well, I could at least streamline my clothes and find a proper bag.
Nowadays it gets easier, and better, as real fashion companies and gearmakers are threading the needle between cycling-ready and good-looking. San Francisco-based Chrome Industries got into the game early, making pedal-friendly shoes as well as messenger-ready bags. The Truk has been one of the brand's mainstays, a mid-point between an SPD shoe (one you can screw a cleat to) and one you can wear around town. Low-cut and slim, the Truk was designed for people who really do ride their bikes, with durable tops and gum soles to meet the demands of people on bikes. It was slimmer than the Pro line (built for clipping in), and a lot slimmer than the all-city line, which isn't really aimed at cyclists.
As of today, the Truk just went Pro. Without beefing up the upper, the Truk now features the Pro elements: the recessed SPD plate and a rigid flex-plate sole, so when you push down on your pedals something good will happen to your drive train. It's all things to all biker people! Right?
Well, kind of yeah. Here's what I know -- I rode the Truks to work, clipped in, about 35 minutes each way, and felt like I was wearing a bike shoe. It's not my Sidis, I'm not going to race in them, but mostly because I don't want that attention and don't want them to get as filthy as my race shoes. Clipped in, they work. Wearing around, they work. The comfort was excellent. The plate takes some getting used to, but that's not a problem. For me, the Truk Pro is a home run, the exact balance of factors they were going for.
Chrome also sent me a couple versions of their bread-and-butter, the messenger bags, to do a little comparison. These were the Citizen, the classic Chrome nails-tough black messenger bag, and the Cardiel ORP, the lightest weight option for a bike gear sack you'll find.
First, the Citizen -- this bag is very heavy on style. It uses an actual seatbelt mechanism and strap, emblazoned with the Chrome winged lion. As a biking gear sack, it's pretty good. The top shoulder strap is padded for comfort, the cross strap holds it reasonably fast, and the material is really as good as it gets. I plan to subject it to the rest of the Seattle winter/spring (same thing) just to be sure.
I wasn't completely sold in the seat belt as a function. Yes, it looks super cool, but if you pop the belt while something is on your back, the bag will either drop or swing over your shoulder with the cross-strap underneath. But that's the only meh for the Citizen. The velcro enclosures are really strong, and the whole thing is built to last and repel the elements for a long time. And off the bike, well, I took it to Portland today on a short plane trip. As a work bag, it's beefy and easy on the eye. Remember, this was a post about fashion.
Don't like the weight of a steel belt buckle? On the other end of the performance spectrum is the Cardiel, a top-loading ultralight backpack-style bag that is all utility. Weighing less than a pound (not a typo), the Cardiel repels water, fits snug and comfortably on your back, holds plenty of gear, and is loaded with ways to tune the fit. I really couldn't believe, after 12 years of lugging a Timbuk2 around, that a gear sack could be so light and comfy. I've been avoiding the backpack-harness bags for years, but this is a different animal. Between this and the Citizen, I'll take the Citizen wherever I plan to go, but for just commuting on my bike, I prefer the Cardiel.
In truth, Chrome's backpack selection is pretty awesome. There's the Citizen/backpack hybrid, the District. The boxy Yalta. The truly, truly awesome concept of the Sherman Pro, a portable bike shop on your back. The many variations on the Citizen. The full line of laptop carriers. As usual, when I do gear reviews, I may not be able to critique this against everything else on the market -- and there are lots of choices on the market. But Chrome Industries is bringing the quality materials we all demand, be we dedicated bikers of one tribe or another, or people who just want to look good. There's a lot of assurance in knowing a company is committed to basic quality in this manner. And the range of ways they put their concept to work is impressive, to say the least. I can only recommend the items I've tried, but I would hazard a guess that that quality doesn't stop at the Citizen, the Cardiel and the Truk Pro shoes.