One Week With the Smart Alec : Thoughts, Questions, and General SA/TB Talk
Hi TB community. Some of you may remember me as the overly anxious, first-time Bihn buyer with last week's thread about the Smart Alec and its competitors. I've since received my Black/Black/Steel Dyneema SA along with the upper modular pocket (also black), 11" MBA cache and 3 Gatekeeper Straps. It's been an interesting week, and I wanted to post some thoughts about my ownership, and compare my new SA to the Mission Workshop Rambler it has just replaced.
(Side Note): Since receiving the bag, I have placed an order for a variety of pouches, cases, key straps, grab handles and even a Navy/Iberian Side Effect which I'm extremely excited for. This only further validates my belief in Tom Bihn as a brand. I consider myself a hesitant but knowledgable consumer, and I've already happily paid over $360 on a $160 bag. This is a true testament to the polished modularity options per bag, and the entire product offering throughout the TB shop. Bravo, dudes.
Onto my first week's experience. I had previously mentioned that I work with a travel publication, Off Track Planet, just to offer a brief insight as to the demands that I place on my bags. I'm on the move often, and utilize many different modes of transport. I'm up and down, wet and dry, heavy, light, black and white for a living. My bag needs to keep up–it needs to be everything. This was an exciting week at work, and I was especially excited to have my new TB gear (which literally revived the Christmas morning feeling for me) to test. Our brand is putting together a city guide for Brooklyn, New York, and I had a list of over 100 destinations to set out and photograph. There is no better way than by bike, so–despite rainy conditions–I loaded up the Smart Alec and started pedaling.
The Materials are immediately reassuring from first sight and touch, love that 1050 ballistic nylon. I had heavy expectations coming into this bag, and I would like to outright say that it has met all of them and has even exceeded in certain areas. Having said that, I'm hoping that someone can share some additional insight as the choice in materials, specifically with the side pockets. They obviously feel and appear different than the center and top of the bag, and I had even assumed that they were made with 1000D cordura while the rest of the bag was 1050D ht ballistic. Can someone confirm or deny this? And if it is indeed a different material, can you please explain why? My obvious belief is just so that the pockets have a greater flexibility, which would allow the bag--when stuffed full--to still expand enough to accommodate side-pocket cargo.
Now I want to nitpick on two things (one of which is most certainly not a deal-breaker by any means, and the other being a completely unwarranted worry) in comparison with the MW Rambler. The zippers on the SA are certainly no joke. YKK Aquaguard looks to be the real deal in water-resistant zippers, and I'm fine with using #8s on the sides, I think I trust them equally to the #10s. I've been in a few downpours and nothing has gotten wet on the interior. I must admit, however, that I felt more confident in the Mission Workshop zippers. I'm hoping to just be reassured in these TB zippers with some knowledge, even though–again–absolutely nothing has gone wrong with them. I think there was a sense of reassurance by the shininess to the Mission Workshop zippers. Maybe I'm wrong. On a less technical note, anybody have any experience with this thing picking up a lot of dirt after a bike ride? Yes, the conditions have been wet for the most part, but I feel like every time I'm taking my TB bag out, I end up having to wipe it clean afterward. Comments? This is not a big deal at all, will probably happen infrequently, is super easy to clean, and the last of my nitpicking, I swear.
Functionality has been great, and really where this bag shines (like a great bag should). I've been swinging Alec over my right shoulder to use my keys, store business cards, my Destinations List, pen/Moleskin, clif bar and earbuds. Everything worked beautifully, and I didn't even have any of pouches (can't wait to start zipping everything shut). A drop off the right arm and over the left shoulder gave me quick, secure access to my camera, along with a small tripod (one of those Gorilla things), and spare battery. This was an amazing time-saver, and again, I didn't even have any accessories (I plan on utilizing the Side Effect in there when it's not working as a full-functioning fanny pack). The side pockets on the SA are some of the most useful, spacious secondary pockets on any backpack I have ever used. The inner, two zipped pockets of the main compartment housed my Mac Air charger, as well as a portagle drive and Mini Jambox. The cache is a nice accessory, and even nicer when it's necessary. I had just bought my Air as well and hadn't yet purchased any case or sleeve, so having this as a form of protection is a great double bonus. I'm happy to answer any questions about the 11" cache, but first I have some for you: will an 11" Air with a slim, snap-on hardshell case fit inside the cache? And also, does the cache prevent the computer from touching the bottom of the bag? i.e. is it safe to just slide it in with no worries? It seems so, but every time I try and test this I convince myself that I may be interfering (if it doesn't hit the bottom, it's damn close...which is good). The Upper Modular Pocket has also served me well. Initially, I kept it detached and figured I'd reserve it for trips that needed it. Well, after one trip without it, I deemed that every trip–at least for me–could definitely use it. What a luxury. I suppose you could live without it, but I love having little things ready to go. In here was a pen (for random stuff, like USPS labels), a spare cell-phone battery charger, business stickers (yeah, we go guerrilla over in this jungle), purell and a pair of gloves. Love this accessory, and I'm growing to the look of it on the bag at all times.
Wrap-Up (read this for a brief review of one week with the SA): This bag is sexy. And I'm coming from a bag that received countless compliments. Alec screams adventure, but still has a certain sophistication about how he carries through his journeys. It has held up perfectly against some pretty heavy rain, and always manages to stay organized (even without other accessories, which I think will really take this bag to a new level). Despite picking up some dirt (I'm talking splash-spots), it washes fast and easy with some water and comes out sparkling like new. The bungee cord is good for holding things like an umbrella, or even a bottled drink, and it also helps to cinch the bag (although I much prefer the look of Alec when he's a bit relaxed). The grab handle is like pure beef, I have no complaints about the straps (which is, hands down, the best thing that can be said about straps), and wow does that Tom Bihn logo looks so good on the front corner. I almost can't wait to see that thing in a few years when it's beaten to hell. Great logo, great brand. After one week with my SA, I'm coming to love it more and more with each day, and I have a feeling that with my new toys (most notably the SE) on the way, I'm going to be pleased with this bag for a long long time to come.
Excited to possibly take it to Haiti for a short travel in the coming weeks, and afterward to Santorini for six months! Thanks for reading guys, love you all and the whole the community. Keep traveling, and keep traveling well.
P.S. Below is a fit-pic from the first day I got Alec. I am 6', 180. I'm mainly including this picture to showcase how the bag looks when it is heavily cinched via the bungee cord. I was wondering this prior to purchase, and am pretty satisfied with the overall look of the bag in any form.