I purchased an Empire Builder in November of 2006. I have used it nearly every work day since then. My initial review is here:
My first 2 weeks with the Empire Builder
Long story short: The bag is amazing!
The bag looks almost the same as the day it arrived.
Not a single bit of fabric wear, and Iíve been carrying the bag on my shoulder every work day for the past 2+ years. There are a couple spots on the metal strap attachment points where the black paint has worn off. The Absolute Strap has metal hooks, so the paint wore away quickly at the contact points then started chipping a little. But this is not noticeable and does not affect the function at all. I'm amazed that the fabric has not worn at the corners of the bag, which are subject to a lot of abuse getting in and out of the car 20+ times a day. Even the underside of the bag is still in perfect shape.
When I first got the bag, I removed the Tom Bihn logo from the front, as Iíve done before with my laptop bags. But as the months went by, I found myself talking to a lot of people about the bag, how great it is, and also have had a few people ask me about it. So I decided to sew the logo back on! It was a pain, but I suppose I got what I deserved. :) I can safely say Iíve never done THAT with any other bag Iíve ever bought! My stitching is not great, but hopefully good enough.
With the bag loaded up day after day, it started to take a bit of a permanent lean to the back. What I mean is that the bag is now curved a bit, and when fully loaded it won't stand up on its own anymore. You can sort of see the curve in this picture:
And the backwards lean in this picture.
Iím still debating whether or not to buy the ZephyrÖ.the EB really is huge, and I find myself having to completely empty it out and repack it weekly so as not to carry too much. Its just fine when Iíve got a laptop inside, but without the laptop there is a LOT of room in there. I suppose I've made up my mind to keep using the EB, after all, it has been 2 years!
- Pockets on the main compartment interior: it would be nice if there were a couple small pockets on the wall of the bagís main compartment. A place to stash an extra pen without having to get under the front flap.
- Dedicated pen pocket on the front or back: I made this suggestion in my initial review, and it still holds. I canít put a pen in the rear pockets because I carry the EB at hip level and the pen clip catches on my pants when I walk.
- Ultrasuede pocket: I often walk from my car to a building with my sunglasses on, and then stash them in one of the EBís pockets. Usually itís the front airline ticket pocket. Itís not really necessary, but it would be great if this pocket were lined with ultrasuede to give my sunglasses a little extra protection.
- A snap ring or two on the inside of the main compartment would be nice. If you put them in the upper inside corners of the bag, they would never be in the way but would still allow me to attach an organizer pocket or two.
I would heartily recommend this bag to any road warrior, and in fact I do just that as often as possible. When you are a driving or flying type of road warrior, this bag will take every punishment you can dish out for many years.