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Thread: My Love/Hate Duality Of Tom Bihn Bags

  1. #1
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    My Love/Hate Duality Of Tom Bihn Bags

    I've heard of Tom Bihn for a while and only purchased my first bag one year ago. A Brain Bag with a braincell for my laptop. It's by far the best backpack I've ever owned and I love it. I recently started traveling on a weekly basis for work and have investigated my options for expanding my Tom Bihn collection. Three weeks of constant research, deliberating, and planning have left me more frustrated than ever and I'm considering going with a different brand for my current and future needs.

    My problems first lie in what appears to be stealth redesigns of existing bags. I found out that a few weeks after I bought my Brain Bag, a redesign went into effect that added the Cache pouch functionality. While I understand and expect product designs to change over time, it left a sour taste in my mouth and it's adding a high level of caution in any new purchase from Tom Bihn. For example, I really like the Western Flyer from the pictures of it. More than that, I LOVE it. It seems absolutely perfect for my needs. But, it also looks outdated compared to the rest of the product lineup.

    I'm afraid to purchase a Western Flyer and then a week later the model that adds the Cache functionality gets released. I'm also afraid that I might hold off for a cache-compatible Western Flyer and wind up waiting indefinitely and having my current needs go unmet. It's a lot like a problem many of us experience with Apple products, except there's much more predictability with Apple. You can be reasonably assured a new model "X" will come out at a certain point within a few months time frame. With Tom Bihn, it seems like I can't make that cost-benefit analysis to buy versus wait.

    My second problem comes in the form of colors and designs. With RedOxx, my current carryon bag company, you can literally have any of their products in any of their color combinations. With Tom Bihn, it appears as though someone arbitrarily rolled a dice and decided which to allow for which products. With RedOxx the downside is that they can't possibly stock everything so there's a 3 week waiting period. And in theory, by consolidating product lines down to a few options for each model, you could actually stock them. But the reality is half of the Tom Bihn bags I'm considering are backordered for 2 months.

    So not only am I limited in options of colors, but I'm waiting even longer than RedOxx (who can make me anything in any color) to make them. That seems like I'm getting shafted twice.

    My third problem is a combination of problems one and two. It appears that Tom Bihn arbitrarily decides to make special runs of certain products in certain colors/patterns and then they run out and they change their minds again. So it leaves me wondering "if Tom Bihn Product X isn't available in Color Y, should I buy another color, enjoy it a little less, but get it because I need to use it, or should I wait for my preferred color to be made? And if I have to wait, will I be waiting forever and suffering the whole time?"

    I'm a management consultant (which is why I travel weekly for work), so I can't help but wonder if the root cause of these issues isn't one of the two:

    1) Tom Bihn intentionally does this to increase demand and make products more exclusive. So when a certain color comes out, people immediately buy it, even if they don't quite need/want it, because they are afraid it won't be available anymore and thus this loss-aversion effect increases sales.

    2) Tom Bihn has a horribly inefficient supply chain and can't figure out how to increase capacity and maintain acceptable profit margins.

    Or maybe I'm just an a-hole that's spoiled by RedOxx's ability to make me anything in any color at any time, given an exact waiting period, and RedOxx's failure to innovate (because their product line hasn't changed at all in a few years since I've been watching) is a benefit to me because I know my product won't become obsolete immediately.

    I'm not price sensitive and it's no big deal for me to drop $1,000 on various bags and pouches and accessories, especially because I'll use them weekly. The problem is I can't seem to get that from Tom Bihn at this time.

  2. #2
    Volunteer Moderator tpnl's Avatar
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    bohnfan87

    I agree that it is frustrating to order something and then find out you get a version that was just before a new version or update. While I cannot speak to the reason for what the TB company does, I do know that they usually do give some indication of any changes in the forum beforehand (e.g. price changes, zippers being flipped, new materials and products coming up). This is why the forum is so good. Most companies do not say anything - e.g. car companies are notorious for updating their cars with fixes and not telling people until they complain.

    Before any purchase, I would call / email the TB crew and ask them if an update is on the horizon and you can then make a determination as to whether to wait or not to get your Western Flyer. Also, I find that the TB crew usually does any updates quicker than most and I find that when an update is announced (e.g. the new Cache with rails), it is already being retrofitted to other bags (tristar, brain bag, etc).

    While not a solution for your main issue of not being told of any near future bag changes - for your Brain Bag without the cache with rails functionality (I am assuming that this is what you are talking about), the difference is very easy to retrofit yourself. The only change is that the Brain Bag now has 2 rail loops that are 4" apart centre to centre - a local tailor could add these for you. You then need to purchase a cache with rails. This is what I am doing for my 10 year old BB (I have also added other things that have been updated over the years - e.g. O-rings in the 2 main compartments, triangular hook in the front, removable sternum strap, etc). The good thing is that the changes are generally not hard to make and TB has the parts to sell. Alternately, I believe that TB might update your bag if you sent it back to them.

    For the colors question, there are a few TB videos on this - e.g. see the recent one on backorders. I think the reason for some the color issues is with the availability of the HT Ballistic Nylon and how it is harder to dye than Cordura which is easier (Red Oxx is Cordura if I am not mistaken and so may not have this issue). Also, for TB, it is doubly hard as they have 2 colors to accommodate - exterior and interior.

    Call / Email TB to find out their plans /color availability and wait for them to add the rail loops to the Western Flyer (they may already have). I have not seen any forum posts on updates to the Western Flyer other than rail loops.

    Hope this helps

    Cheers!
    Last edited by tpnl; 02-17-2014 at 10:37 PM.
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  3. #3
    Registered User Melissa's Avatar
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    Although there is now a post about the new gun metal zippers, new bags did go out with the new ones before the announcement was made. I do not care for the gun metal. I prefer the black.
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    Wanted to add my two cents. I just wanted to say that I think the TB company is great. I recently ordered a Side Effect and my choice was not avaliable. I chose not to wait for the backorder and instead ordered a suitable alternative color. I can buy from any company but few companies have the quality and stitching of the TB company. I would rather wait 3 months for the best bag than 1 week for a nearly disposable one. TB is a unique and special company and you cannot say that about most of the other companies out there.

    P.S. while I think Red Oxx bags are awesome (one day I hope to own one), they are heavy as sin and many people go Tom Bihn after Red Oxx because of the weight. But that is neither here nor there.
    Last edited by MelissaL; 02-18-2014 at 01:21 PM.
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    Another thing to note is that, although it appears in many ways that Tom's is a regular bag company, he's a lot more like a custom designer. And like many custom designers, when you make a purchase you're getting whatever he made that day. One of my other favorite designers is Chris Reeve (a knife maker). It's known that Chris will tweak his designs from knife to knife -- even knives made just a few weeks apart. The only ones who figure this out are the frequent buyers, or those who monitor the forums, but otherwise each knife is the best he knew how to make when he made it.

    Likewise, I'm sure Tom is often thinking about his bags and what will make him happy to put his name on. That may mean waking up in the middle of the night and saying, "Omg, metal zipper pulls!" And then everyone the next morning starts getting metal zipper pulls. This is what it's like to purchase from a craftsman, rather than a large corporation with a standardized design.

    On the flip side, it means that what you read about in reviews is not necessarily the same thing as what you're going to get; and that can make it hard to assess purchases from the distance of the Internet. I had to do a lot of research before buying my Smart Alec. He may have tweaked it by now, improved it; but I have to ask myself is: do I like what he sent me? If not, sell your purchase and make another; or switch to a manufacturer who gives you predictability in exchange for the little touches that keep us coming back to Tom. :)

    John

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    Hey Bohnfan, I can agree with you regarding some your points. I don't love that sometimes there are stealth redesigns or that TB's color choices are added and taken away at some points. You should watch the back order TB video on the website to get a better idea of why they are out of stock on certain items, they really do their best to keep up with demand but TB chooses to do the right thing and not compromise quality to meet demand. Good things are worth waiting for. My Tri-Star color choice was on back order for 2 months and TB actually cut that time in half. I think they like to under-promise and over-deliver. Oh, regarding Red Oxx bags, IMHO, they don't hold a candle to TB bags, in terms of looks, build quality, materials or price. I could take my Steel Tri-Star bag into a business meeting after a long trip and not get any strange looks, I definitely could not say the same for any of the Red Oxx bags, they look like gym bags at best. Not to bash them too much but one of their bags has a plastic tube over the nylon handle for durability, ridiculous. I'm pretty sure you would never see that on a TB bag.
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  7. #7
    smj
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    I'd liken the "stealth redesign" to buying a computer. You can't wait forever to buy a computer just because an upgrade is inevitable to come along soon after you buy it. You just have to pull the trigger and realize that at the moment you got it it was great, and actually will serve you just fine for years to come.
    That said, I hear you on color availability - because these bags will last effectively forever, you want one that you'll like. But, if you are not cost sensitive, maybe you can order one that isn't the "perfect" color and then get on the wait list for the color you really want. Then sell the old bag - they tend to hold their value fairly well.
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    Quote Originally Posted by ykang2375 View Post
    Oh, regarding Red Oxx bags, IMHO, they don't hold a candle to TB bags, in terms of looks, build quality, materials or price. I could take my Steel Tri-Star bag into a business meeting after a long trip and not get any strange looks, I definitely could not say the same for any of the Red Oxx bags, they look like gym bags at best. Not to bash them too much but one of their bags has a plastic tube over the nylon handle for durability, ridiculous. I'm pretty sure you would never see that on a TB bag.
    I don't think the criticism of Red Oxx bags is fair. I own quite a few Tom Bihn bags and several Red Oxx bags as well, and both represent the best of breed for their type of bags. Their esthetic sensibility is quite different, but both makers put out top quality bags which will serve their owners for many, many years. Yes, TB bags are generally more refined looking with more flair than their RO counterparts (I agree that the tubing on the RO Sky Train handle is an unfortunate, if functional, design element) and there is more of a continuous improvement approach to refining the appearance and functionality of TB bags. That being said, both are highly functional and the more rugged look of Red Oxx garners plenty of compliments. I work as a management consultant in the banking industry and have never felt out of place bringing a Red Oxx or Tom Bihn bag into a meeting with my C suite clients. Red Oxx, like TB and even (I hesitate to say) Tumi, convey that you are a frequent traveler and place function above form. If you need an ego boost from your bags consider Lotuff, Asprey or JW Hulme... they make gorgeous bags with $1,000+ price tags to match.

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    Quote Originally Posted by giantsteve View Post
    If you need an ego boost from your bags consider Lotuff, Asprey or JW Hulme... they make gorgeous bags with $1,000+ price tags to match.
    But leather is the devil, as far as I'm concerned. Why break your back when ballistic nylon conveys style and is lightweight. My leather days are over, I don't need arthritis. LOL.
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by giantsteve View Post
    I don't think the criticism of Red Oxx bags is fair. I own quite a few Tom Bihn bags and several Red Oxx bags as well, and both represent the best of breed for their type of bags. Their esthetic sensibility is quite different, but both makers put out top quality bags which will serve their owners for many, many years. Yes, TB bags are generally more refined looking with more flair than their RO counterparts (I agree that the tubing on the RO Sky Train handle is an unfortunate, if functional, design element) and there is more of a continuous improvement approach to refining the appearance and functionality of TB bags. That being said, both are highly functional and the more rugged look of Red Oxx garners plenty of compliments. I work as a management consultant in the banking industry and have never felt out of place bringing a Red Oxx or Tom Bihn bag into a meeting with my C suite clients. Red Oxx, like TB and even (I hesitate to say) Tumi, convey that you are a frequent traveler and place function above form. If you need an ego boost from your bags consider Lotuff, Asprey or JW Hulme... they make gorgeous bags with $1,000+ price tags to match.
    Easy Giant, no need to be a forum tough guy. I definitely don't need an ego boost, besides I'm not a fan of Tumi bags. Geez, some people really get too serious. I stand by my opinion, of course everyone is entitled to their opinion regarding TB vs Red Oxx bags.

  11. #11
    Volunteer Moderator Badger's Avatar
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    I think giantsteve was using "you" in the general second person sense.

    Regardless, I think that this thread has outlived its usefulness and I hope we can agree to move on to other topics.


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