The Bike List

Brooks Barbican shoulder bag (large) £231

Tested by Ped Baker, tester for The Bike List

I have a confession to make, I'm a big fan of Brooks products. Probably not the first line you want to read in a unbiased product review, but I need you to know this information before you read any further.

I need to tell you that all of my cycles have Brooks saddles. I love the style of the company, the designs, the heritage, even the website. I love the fact that many of their products are still made using the same techniques and materials that they've been using for the last 100 years. In short, I'm pleased, proud even, that Brooks is still around.

So, it's with a slightly heavy heart, I inform you that the Barbican bag is not Brooks' finest hour.

The Barbican is a large, heavy cotton (think very thick denim) shoulder bag with one large, flapped compartment, a zipped pocket for valuables, and slots for pens, phone and wallet. The main pocket is lined in soft cotton and fastened with a small leather clasp. The large outer flap then folds over the top and is secured with a magnetic catch. On the rear of the bag, two large, padded leather panels help keep the bag in place and comfortable. The strap is made from heavyweight honey-coloured cotton webbing and features a hefty leather shoulder pad. The bag I tested was the larger, 16 litre model which is big enough for a lap top, a couple of A4 folders and a packed lunch.

Strap adjustment is by metal buckles and slots. The combined shoulder and waist strap secures around the midriff by means of metal studs which push through holes in the opposite end of the strap. It takes a little time to work out and adjust the strapping, but once you've sussed it the bag is comfortable and very stable while peddling.

The finish and quality of the materials used is exceptional. The leather shoulder pad is glossy, oozes class and features an embossed Brooks logo. The metal buckles are pleasingly finished in a satin effect and the heavy cotton material has a nicely subtle fake patina added to it. Everything is expertly and neatly stitched together. On face value, the Barbican looks every penny of its two hundred and thirty quid.

I know from using Brooks saddles that sometimes you need to persevere with a product, breaking it in before both the product and owner finally gel together. But, I'm sad to say, with the Barbican, it's never going to happen. It's the bag equivalent of a footballers wife, all show and little substance.

The first problem is the combined shoulder and waist strap. If you've stumbled across this review because you've bought a Barbican, got it home and are now desperately searching the Internet trying to find some instruction on how you're supposed to wear and adjust it, I sympathise with you. That's exactly what I did when the Barbican arrived in the post. The Barbican doesn't come with any kind of instruction or diagram and it's not altogether obvious which strap goes where. But as you can see from the photos, it's a neat system that enables some of the weight to be supported around your waist, giving the shoulder an easier time.

Being quite tall (6' 4"), I need to have the strap adjusted to it's maximum length otherwise the bag sits too high on my back. The strap could do with an extra six inches for an ideal fit. If you're tall with a bit of a beer belly you'll probably struggle to make the Barbican fit comfortably as your waist size directly reduces the length of the shoulder strap.

The Barbican's biggest problem is the way the main compartment fastens with it's small leather clasp, flap and magnetic catch. There is no way to tighten or constrict the compartments opening and unless the bag is full the sides gape outwards past the edges of the main flap creating holes that are open to the air. I admit, it's unlikely anything is going to come out unless the bag is tipped up, but it's not that secure either, plus rain can get in. If I'm going to wear a bag on my back I want to know it's impossible for anything to fall out. I'd be a little more confident if the flap was fastened with a buckle or clip rather than a magnet. For this reason I've taken to squeezing as much as I can into the zipped pocket that lies under the flap and only using the main compartment for much bigger items such as my laptop, notebook and packed lunch.

If you're not tall or fat (or both) and love the build quality and style, it's feasible you could put up with the Barbican's shortcomings, even the high price. There's no doubt it's a beautifully made bag, but there are better, if not as hip, courier-style bags on the market (also made in China) for half the price that don't suffer the same fit-and-fastening pitfalls.

Buy from

Brooks says:

In 1910 John Boultbee and his son Wilfred Mason Brooks filed two patents related to improvements in satchels, knapsacks and the like. Both these patents guaranteed more equal distribution of the load over the straps and more stability of the bag whilst cycling. With this in mind we developed our new BARBICAN Shoulder Bag, featuring a shoulder belt which can be easily secured around the waist during the ride.

The belt is the innovative part of this bag. Once adjusted to the desired length, depending on the height and waist of the cyclist, the belt can be kept loose to carry the bag over or across the shoulder while walking. For increased stability during the ride, the belt can be easily fastened around the waist simply pulling the two ends of the belt and locking them at the center with the "Sam Brown" fixing.

  • Water Resistant Cotton Fabric and Vegetable Tanned Leather from Europe
  • MEDIUM - Volume 13L, Width 39cm, Height 28cm, Depth 12cm, Weight 1450g.
  • LARGE - Volume 16L, Width 42cm, Height 28cm, Depth 13cm, Weight 1550g.
  • Made in China

Find out more

At a glance

Verdict Textile shoulderbag for the uber chic (but fairweather) townie. Beautifully made but lacks durability.