Warning: This is a pretty long article. You've been warned.
I've been on the search for the perfect EDC messenger / briefcase for quite some time now. And before you get too excited, I'll let you know that no, this isn't it. But it's close. Very, very close.
Rickshaw Bagworks has been pumping out superbly-made bags from their San Francisco manufacturing facility for years. In the past, I have passed on their bags because I'm not really a messenger bag guy. I look for a few things in a bag, which I talked about when I reviewed my Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase and messenger bags almost never meet my requirements. To refresh from that review 2.5 years ago, my requirements are (gently revised):
- Sturdy fabric for durability and easy cleanup (definitely no leather)
- Computer slot large enough to handle a 13" MacBook Pro
- A roomy front pocket separate from the main compartment for quick access
- Division for small items (pens, notebooks, earbuds, etc.)
- Removable shoulder strap with handles at the top of the bag
- Zippered or Clasped Closure (no Velcro)
- Must hold it's shape well when resting and being carried
However, Rickshaw recently announced a new bag: Say hello to Cosmo. This handsome little briefcase just ticked a lot of boxes for me, even more so than my former favorite bag (the Topo Mountain Briefcase) and it trumps without question my most recent bag, the Tom Bihn Pilot. Where these bags failed, Cosmo shines. Read on...
Rickshaw offers most of their products in custom configurations. You can pick everything from the exterior and interior fabrics to the binding and logo color. The options for Cosmo are a little fewer, but still offer up some variety and give each buyer the ability to make a bag that is uniquely theirs. For my Cosmo, I chose a Performance Tweed in Tuxedo Herringbone exterior. This is a black and slightly off-gray herringbone that is gorgeous and looks light gray at a distance, and, in my opinion, is accented nicely by the black accents on the bag.
Perhaps the best part of this material is that it's an upholstery-grade fabric that is made specifically for Rickshaw from 100% post-consumer plastic (water bottles) and is water and stain resistant with a special "eco-shield" coating. Not only is the fabric beautiful, but it's durable and environmentally responsible. Kudos to Mark and his team for this one. I accented the herringbone exterior with a Mariner Blue interior for a fun pop of color that makes things easy to see and retrieve. And I made my own zipper pulls from some fun paracord because I'm not completely an adult and I just love the little contrasting pop of color on the outside of the bag.
The construction and stitching on this bag is really well done. I've found a few little spots inside where some stray stitching sticks up from the binding material, but it's minute and almost not worth mentioning. If you're a perfectionist, just don't look that closely. But on the outside, where it counts, they got the herringbone pattern perfectly vertical, which looks really nice and is a clean presentation.
Inside the bag, you'll find a set of two velcro rails on the front and back panels. These serve as attachment points for laptop sleeves and organizers, both of which were included in this "early bird" pricing (I got in at the $99 level which is an absolute steal for this bag), but are available at about $20 each on the Rickshaw website. I think once the bag hits full retail at $160, these $40 add-ons make this a little less compelling option. I'd like to see one included with the retail price (a laptop sleeve in either 13 or 15" is almost a given these days for a bag like this).
The laptop sleeve offers some padding and the organizer features a large zippered pocket with a bright red removable key keeper, three generously-sized pen slots, a notebook pocket, ID pocket and thicker pocket that holds a 2.5" external hard drive absolutely perfectly. The space left in the middle of the bag is generous enough to stuff a light jacket, a couple of books, an iPad, small bluetooth keyboard or a small camera. My bag came with a 15" laptop insert, which is too large for my 13" MacBook Pro so I purchased a 13" insert separately. I wish I had been given the option to at checkout as I find it a little wasteful that I have a 15" laptop sleeve laying around that I can't really use.
The exterior of the bag provides generous storage options with a large, full-panel zippered pocket on the back side and two large, full-width zippered pockets on the front. I really like that they went the route of zippered pockets all around rather than a magazine pocket seen on a lot of bags as it's still usable for documents, but keeps them safe and dry. The two stacked pockets aren't full-length, but they cover the width of the bag and are very useful for smaller items like keys, phones, wallets, passports or boarding documents, headphones, adapters and chargers. I keep some little pouches in mine with various electronic nicknacks that I need throughout the day (wireless headphones, an extra set of wired headphones, a spare phone charger, laptop charger, etc.). There's no shortage of storage options on this bag and I think the inclusion of tiered pockets was thoughtful.
Rickshaw chose a very sturdy plastic double-bar d-ring for their strap attachment points on this bag. This makes it so the rings don't "capsize" or twist around. WELL. DONE. The strap attaches via two very sturdy clips and it features a double-adjustment system. First, a standard loop that allows you to set the overall length and then a quick adjust tab that allows you to fine-tune the length once it's on your body. Want it over one shoulder, maybe draw it out some. Want it high up on your back messenger style for riding through town? Zip that baby up once you have it on. The very comfortable shoulder pad slides easily to wherever you want it and is also removable if you want to pack super light or need to wash it.
Rickshaw really took the time to think through this bag. It combines the best parts of a good messenger bag (sturdy strap, quick adjust feature, comfy shoulder pad) with the best parts of a good briefcase (organization, pockets, sturdy build, grab handles). The YKK zippers are sized just right so that they are easy to use, smooth and fairly quiet.
A couple of areas where the Cosmo suffers for me:
- The overall shape of the bag: It's nice from the front, but the bag has a sort of trapezoidal shape from the side where it gets a bit smaller towards the top. I think this restricts access to the bag a bit and I'd have rather it been uniform top-to-bottom. Maybe this makes it sit a little more comfortably when carrying it messenger-style (across your body and high on your back), but as a briefcase, I don't see the benefit of the shape.
- I don't like that with the retail version, you'll have to pay for all of your organization options separately. I think including a laptop compartment in the customer's choice of size would be a nice addition and would set this bag apart from Tom Bihn and Topo (to be fair, Topo includes a compartment, but it's made into the bag and not able to be sized for a specific device which means that you have to have a computer that fits their pocket).
- Rickshaw should include some sort of zipper pulls. Paracord or nylon wouldn't be a terribly expensive add-on and would really go a long way to finishing the bag. It would also quiet down the zippers considerably as out of the box, they rattle and jingle more than I'd like.
- There are too many zippers. I get that double zippers on the main compartment is ideal, but I'd prefer just a single zipper on the front and back pockets. I know that the double zippers make it ambidextrous so you can access it from either end despite your carry side, but I think this many zippers is overkill on a bag this size.
- I'd have liked one more set of D-Rings on the sides of the back of the bag so that you could fasten the strap down low and really have it nestle against your back when carrying it messenger style.
Despite the few areas where I think this bag could be improved, there's an awful lot to love. I love that the bag is customizable, I love that the tweed material is post-consumer, I love that they put an over-the-top ridiculously good shoulder strap on this bag, I love that they over-engineered the hell out of the D-Rings, I love that the organization pockets are user-serviceable and swappable and I love that this bag is made in the USA. Mark and his team are doing great things over at Rickshaw. Please pay them a visit. They've got everything from backpacks and briefcases to notebook holders and pen sleeves. And the combinations afforded by their customization system are nearly endless.
I'm excited to carry this bag and make it an integral part of my EDC gear. In the words of Mark himself, GO COSMO, GO!
Thanks for reading,