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  1. #1
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    How does your Empire Builder stand up?

    I have been trying to complete my long-overdue review of my Empire Builder and the stellar service I have received from Tom Bihn. While trying to think of negatives about the EB (I had to think pretty hard), I realized one thing that has bothered my from the beginning: the bag doesn't really do a great job of standing up on its own. It will sit upright most of the time, and it does a far better job than previous bags I've used (especially messenger-type bags). But it definitely has a tendency to fall forward onto the flap side.

    It only falls in one direction. In fact, getting it to tip over on it's back side (side with the large open pocket) requires a good deal of force - you literally have to push it over. But getting it to fall on it's front side sometimes requires little more than a cough from the other room. By that I mean, it often just falls over on its own.

    From what I can tell, this is partly due to the bottom of front pocket (under the buckle) and it's rounded shape. My EB seems to be slightly pitched forward when I set it down. I have gotten in the habit of setting it down very carefully or leaning it again something facing inward. But this is sometimes inconvenient - not only do I have to find something to lean it up against, but I have to turn it around - back side out. So the front pockets aren't accessible.

    Note that the bag does not ALWAYS fall over. It's just very prone to fall over, and it will always fall over to one side. It doesn't seem to matter if it's setting on carpet on flat tile or concrete. It just sits there "wanting" to tip over onto it's buckle.

    My question is: what are other people's experience with their EBs? Is mine just an anomaly? Is it possible that the bottom was manufactured at a slant??

    This is really my only gripe with the bag. If it's just how it is, I can certainly live with it - I have so far (since February). I guess I'm just wondering if this is a characteristic of a soft-sided bag, or is my particular EB slightly off?

    I have considered attaching some material or something to the bottom of the front pocket to help stabilize the bag. But this idea just seems like it would be U-G-L-Y... And I love the look of the Empire Builder.

  2. #2
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    Unhappy

    This is so weird...

    After posting earlier and thinking about this some more I have been looking at my Empire Builder in a new light. I asked my wife to look at it as well and she agrees that it looks slanted. I guess I've been so enamored with everything else about this bag that I never really took the time to look at it this way.

    I am beginning to think that I do, in fact, have a slightly "off" bag...

    If l look directly at the side of the bag as it is standing up, you can see it leaning toward the buckle side. The front pocket (under the flap), which is designed to swallow lots of stuff, has a very rounded bottom and it's also fairly soft. Not like the "real" bottom of the bag at all.

    From what I can tell, the true bottom of the bag - what is supposed to keep it upright, is the flat area that is slightly stiffened, about 5.25" across running the length of the bag. On my EB, the tilt actually puts the bottom of the soft front pocket in contact with the ground, and this is why it's so easily tipped in that direction - that soft round pocket isn't designed to keep the bag upright!

    I am going to try to post some pictures tomorrow. But I'm really curious to hear what other EB owners have to say about this. Any problems with the bag easily tipping over?

  3. #3
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    Both of my EBs exhibit exactly the same behavior that you describe. So I don't think that it is just yours. I have two EBs, with very different loads, but the exact same problem.

    As you note, everything else is SO GOOD that I'm reluctant to complain.
    Jim Hall
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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by jehingr
    Both of my EBs exhibit exactly the same behavior that you describe. So I don't think that it is just yours. I have two EBs, with very different loads, but the exact same problem.
    Hmm.. OK, maybe I'm just being paranoid/picky. If you look at the images on the Empire Builder page (the roll-over images), do your EBs look the same from the side? When you mouse-over the 'Side View' see how both sides of the bag cant outward in the photo? If I set up my bag for that picture, the back side would be pretty much straight up and down and the front of the bag would be canting forward.

    As you note, everything else is SO GOOD that I'm reluctant to complain.
    I agree. This isn't what I would describe as a "deal-breaker" by any means. I've been so impressed with this bag, it hardly detracts from my overall experience (and Tom Bihn's customer service is outstanding in every respect). The fact that you have two bags exhibiting the same behavior makes me think that it just may be how the bags are designed.

    Still, now that I've really taken notice of it, of course it's bugging me...

    When did you purchase your bags? I wonder if the behavior is the same across different production runs. Also curious what your comparison to the website photo yields.

  5. #5
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    I have an EB that I don't use so I did this test with an empty one and the bag stood just fine. It definitely tends to lean to the buckle side but that's got to be because of all of the material on that side of the bag, right?

    I think that the tipping is from the weight of gadgets in those front pockets with nothing on the other side as ballast. Do you get the same tipping when you have a laptop in there?

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Falfa
    I have an EB that I don't use so I did this test with an empty one and the bag stood just fine. It definitely tends to lean to the buckle side but that's got to be because of all of the material on that side of the bag, right?
    I thought that too. But it's definitely a structural thing - more so than ballast. I don't think the weight of material used for the pocket, buckle, etc. has much to do with how the bag sits. It sits in relation to the slope of the bottom of the bag. In my case, I am proposing that this slope is not exactly perpendicular to the rest of the bag.

    Last night I realized that my original idea to fix the slant by attaching "feet" to the bottom of the front pocket was the wrong way to go. The front pocket bottom really isn't designed to help keep the bag upright. It just looks that way because it's touching the ground. But the front pocket is too soft and too rounded to provide any real stability.

    I think I could put something on the front edge of the bag bottom. Doing some testing last night, I cut two square rubber feet from an portable DVD case and just placed them beneath the EB's bottom front edge. This seemed to help stability against forward tipping without affecting stability in the other direction.

    So if I can't get this satisfactorily resolved, I may just bust out the glue......


    I think that the tipping is from the weight of gadgets in those front pockets with nothing on the other side as ballast. Do you get the same tipping when you have a laptop in there?
    Loading the bag does change things. If there is a lot of stuff in it, the tendency to fall over slightly decreases. But just loading the back side (i.e. just putting a laptop/Brain Cell in) doesn't seem to help. In fact, the lighter the load in the main compartment, the more likely the bag is to tip.

    I think this speaks to my point above - that it's the bag's shape rather than ballast that we're dealing with. I'm guessing that a fuller bag compresses everything a little bit, enough to slightly change the geometry of the bag.

    Now if I load up the *front* compartment (under the buckle), this will most definitely increase the bag's tendency to tip over. But again, if the bag is fully loaded down, this has a much less effect.

    I hope that explains what I'm talking about.

    I've sent Darcy a note asking her about this. I'm really curious what the Tom Bihn folks have to say - if this has ever been noticed before, were certain production runs affected, it's just the nature of this type of bag, etc.

    I think it's important to note that some of this is simply perspective. I am 100% confident that the bottom of my EB is not fully perpendicular to a straight line dissecting the bag when upright. However, this may be by design. It's also something I've dealt with since February and really only started thinking this much about yesterday, when I started organizing my thoughts for a review of my bag.

    In other words, right now, this problem *seems* like a much bigger deal than it truly is because I've been focusing on it intently the last 24 hours.

    Like I said earlier, the bag doesn't *always* fall over - just that when it does, it *always* falls over in one direction. One could argue that this is an additional laptop protection feature - the EB is designed to tip so that it falls on the non-laptop side.

  7. #7
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    Relative to the Side View photo that you linked too, my EBs look slightly more pregnant. That is the back side seems to me to be more vertical, while the front pouch "pooches" out more.

    Reading this thread, I had to do some testing. Empty or loaded doesn't seem to make much difference. Empty they have a slightly lower tendency to tip - but when they do tip it is always forward - onto the "pouched out pouch." Semi-loaded (with the PowerBook and mouse removed, but most other stuff still in the bag, the tendency to tip is VERY pronounced - not really a surprise since now all of the weight in the bag is towards the front, while the back is empty. Fully loaded, the tendency to tip is slightly more pronounced than empty - and nowhere near as likely as the semi-loaded state.

    I actually carry very little in the front "pooched pouch" - partly because of this issue, but mostly because the VAST majority of my vast quantities of "stuff" fit very nicely and well organized in the main compartment in a couple of Snake Charmers and a Freudian Slip.

    And to be totally fair here, I did perform minor surgery on both of my EBs - I cut a slit in the bottom of the back magazine pocket and put in a heavy zipper to create an over-the-handle option to ride on-top of my roll-along luggage. If memory servers me correctly, it didn't really change the tip-over factor at all - but I do want to be fair here.

    I bought my second EB in February or March of '05 and my first one some time before that.

    And I do want to be certain to say that I totally love my EBs and would highly recommend this bag to anybody considering one.

    OBTW - I love the idea that this is an intentional safety feature (always landing computer side up). It really wouldn't surprise me - just more of the TB magic that makes this bag so wonderful.
    Last edited by jehingr; 08-18-2006 at 10:46 PM. Reason: Added the OBTW
    Jim Hall
    Check out the dogs in need at http://www.saveoursetters.org
    Check out my blog at http://jehingr.wordpress.com/
    Check out our videos at www.marqueewrestling.com
    My TB bags: 2 - Empire Builder 1 - Checkpoint Flyer

  8. #8
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    Regarding the front "pooched pouch" .... if I put something in the very bottom that is relatively heavy and flat, like books or a 3-D pouch I use for carrying AC adapter and cords, and I make sure that whatever is in there is pushed down to the very bottom - it actually *helps* the tip-over problem.

    Basically, the bottom of the front "pooched pouch" is now acting as sort of a training wheel helping the bag not tip over. I'm not sure if this is by design, but if items in there move around and aren't pushed firmly to the bottom, then it has the opposite effect: now the softness and roundness of the front pouch make tip-over much more likely. And by putting items in there, there is now weight created off-center that again makes tip-over more likely.

    I suspect that the original design of the EB intended for most/all of the "balancing" to be done on the flat bottom part of the bag. That's the only thing that really makes sense to me. The bottom of the bag is designed for that. It's firmer, flat, and not likely to be influenced by the load of the bag. Unfortunately, the geometry of the bag itself (mine, at least) favors the pouch side so much, the flatness and sturdiness of the bag bottom can only do so much to prevent tipping.

    I've e-mailed Darcy and she said Tom was sent a link to this thread. I'm eagerly awaiting an "official" explanation to all of this.

  9. #9
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    Why do I keep thinking of Weebles? Remember: Weebles wobble but they don't fall down?
    Seriously though, to let you all in on the design process that resulted in the Empire Builder, and hence this discussion, it went sort of like this:
    First, I figured out a cool way to make a briefcase that had a lot of body, yet was not too terribly rigid. And hey cool, it STANDS UP too!
    But then when we added a Brain Cell with a laptop inside, it didn't stand up so well, as all the weight was on one side.
    I added a front pouch, as everyone asked for that feature, plus I hoped that it might counter-balance the laptop.
    Did it? Well yea, in a general sort of way, most of the time. But at that point the standing up thing was just a cool bonus.
    What I've learned from all this discussion is that y'all really like the fact that the Empire Builder stands up, and I need to take that more seriously as I look ahead at re-designing the front pouch of the Empire Builder. (More on that later.)
    In the mean time, my best guess is that the problem lies both in the shape of the pouch AND what is loaded into it.
    Did that help?
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  10. #10
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    Not sure how much that really helped, though the Weebles photo was priceless. And yes, I remember the Weebles.

    To be honest, I'm really suprised that the design of the EB's front pouch was thought of as a counter-balance to a Brain Cell with laptop at the back. With My EB, having nothing at all in the bag but a Brain Cell clipped to the back produces a pretty tippy bag. For me, it's not *where* the weight is, but how much weight there is in it. And even then, I suspect it's the by-product of the weight that is changing the geometry of the bag (compressing the bottom portion) that really makes a difference in tip-pronicity. <-- look that one up.

    If my EB is loaded down, it's not very prone to tipping. With just the Brain Cell and laptop, it will fall over quite easily - onto the side without the Brain Cell.

    Again, I want to stress that this isn't a weight issue, but a geometry/slant issue - affected by weight. (damn, that doesn't sound very clear at all!)

    I think ultimately, the issue with my bag is the relative slope of the bottom in relation to an imaginary line drawn perpendicular from the floor up through the bag. Put another way, if I put only a Brain Cell in my EB, and inside the Brain Cell was the heaviest laptop in the world (or perhaps hundreds of lead Weebles), I would bet my EB would still be easier to tip onto it's front (flap pocket) than it's back. It's as if the weight of the Brain Cell isn't close to the tipping edge at all.

    I've been trying to explain all along that I don't think this is really a weight/ballast issue, that it is more structural and geometry-based. That's why I was surprised your response talked about weight and counter-balance.

    Oh well. It's something I can live with, although after spending so much time thinking about it, it's sure to bother me more than ever. I may end up gluing some kind of feet to the front edge of the bottom to see how that works. The irony is that I only started writing about this "problem" when I started planning my glowing review of the EB and other Tom Bihn products I've purchased in the last few months. (the only thing that surpasses Tom Bihn quality is Tom Bihn service, by the way)

    I checked the EB product page, and nowhere does it promise the bag will stand up on its own (though I could have sworn it did). And my bag *does* stand up on its on most of the time - especially when fully loaded down. The "problem" has grown (in my head) to outlandish proportions...

    The only reason I'm spending so much time and energy on this "problem" is because of how great the bag is. In a way, you might say that the quality of your product is *so* good, it creates an unnatural sense of perfectionism.

  11. #11
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    Mr. Bihn,

    I'm already bummed that you've added that very COOL back ride-along thingie to the EB. It looks so much cooler than my hacked in zipper. Now if you are going to improve the EB even more I may be forced to buy two more of them! Drat it!

    And yes, I loved the Weeble reference.
    Jim Hall
    Check out the dogs in need at http://www.saveoursetters.org
    Check out my blog at http://jehingr.wordpress.com/
    Check out our videos at www.marqueewrestling.com
    My TB bags: 2 - Empire Builder 1 - Checkpoint Flyer

  12. #12
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    The tippy Empire Builder problem: Solved!

    Current Carry: Skookum Dog Citizen Canine prototype, Founder's Briefcase (every day carry), Small Cafe Bag (every day carry), Shop Bags (groceries, extra random stuff), Aeronaut 45 (travel), Synapse 19 (day hikes), Smart Alec (longer day hikes), Skookum Dog Road Duffel (Medium) (travel), Clear Organizer Wallet, Travel Stuff Sacks, Organizer Cubes


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