Back or Rack: Timbuk2 Shift Pannier Messenger Bag review

A pannier that you can wear? A messenger bag that you don’t have to carry on your back while riding? The Timbuk2 Shift Pannier Messenger Bag is both. It’s a versatile, convertible bag that has discrete pannier clips and a hook to fit it to a rack, as well as a detachable wide strap so it can be worn as a messenger-style bag.

The Shift Pannier Messenger Bag’s key feature is its versatility. Good quality dedicated panniers and messenger bags are expensive and one doesn’t do the job of the other; the Shift does both. Load up the Shift Bag, hang it on your rack, and reach your destination without worrying about having to carry panniers or secure them on your bike. Slide in those two books, cut lunch and phone and strap it on your shoulder. It’s stylish enough to walk the halls of business or education, and capable enough of carrying what you need. This takes the Shift Bag from simply being another bag, to a useful addition to a commuters arsenal. Your choice of ‘back or rack’ won’t require two sets of luggage.

The Shift is made from ballistic nylon, with a TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) liner for waterproofing. Like any typical messenger bag, this bag has a comfortably wide shoulder/chest strap. The flap is lined all the way around, and held down with both Velcro (inside) and clips (outside). Inside, the main pocket has an elastic divider, purpose built for laptops. There are four zippered pockets and one open pocket on the front part of the bag. Topping it off, small reflective loops on each end hold a light plus there is large light loop on the front flap.

Timbuk2 Shift Pannier Messenger Bag Open

The Timbuk2 Shift in Action
This bag is aimed specifically at transporting your laptop (up to 15”, say Timbuk2), so it has a rigid back. This is a good thing for carrying hardware, but even if it’s not loaded with a laptop, the bag won’t fold or curve to the shape of your back like other bags. It doesn’t slide around if the strap is adjusted properly to fit, but it can feel a little bulky. The wide strap is comfortable with a load though it’s not a long-haul bag by any means. At the end of my 20km commute, the solid back was just beginning to get uncomfortable against my spine. A more upright rider however may not have this problem when using it as a messenger bag. Of course, using it on a rack avoids this altogether.

Like the Goody Box, Timbuk2 says the Shift Bag is watertight. The flap certainly folds over to cover a lot, but there’s no internal zipper to close the main compartment so I believe it would be inevitable that some water would find a way in. Light showers wouldn’t be a problem, but get caught in a heavy downpour and you might want to think about other means of keeping things safely dry.

The large front flap light loop is quite thick, but seems to handle a blinky light well. Lights with shorter clips seem to struggle to stay on, but an elastic band keeps them in place.

Timbuk2 Shift Pannier Mounting

To hang it on a rack, just undo the Velcro straps, turn the clips out, and pull the hook down on its elastic cord. As this is meant to be a multi-purpose bag, it may take some fine-tuning with the clips and hook to position the bag on a rack. It sits high compared to some dedicated panniers, so the weight may take some getting used to as it affects the handling of the bike. In my testing, the Shift Bag sat far enough away to prevent heel-strike, though you may want to shorten the front straps or tuck them in to avoid them flapping around while on the road.

I didn’t find the pannier clips or hook overly intrusive when using it as a messenger bag, but you can get a jersey pocket hooked up as you take it off. Aside from the stiffness of the bag, there’s no padding or other protection for the contents. So dropping it, or dropping the bike while its in place, could create problems for your hardware.

Timbuk2 Shift Pannier Rear

The Shift Bag does have the same issue many messenger style bags do, in that the main compartment is one big space. Smaller things can get lost towards the bottom, and you may have to dig around to find just what you want once you stop. The zippered front pockets are expandable, ideal for those smaller important items, and remain readily accessible. The strap is adjustable with a one-handed clip, which makes it very easy to swing it around your body or take it off.

Timbuk2 Shift Messenger Bag

Those looking at quality messenger bags will easily find themselves looking at price tags beyond the $120 mark. Those looking at panniers can spend $60 for a water-resistant pair, and beyond $100 for a quality, waterproof pair. At $159.95, the Shift Bag is a viable alternative for those who require the versatility of both, along with a bit of style.

If you’re never going to use this on a rack, a dedicated messenger bag or backpack is probably a better choice in terms of space and waterproofing. If you’ve no need for a wearable bag during your ride, panniers are a better choice for the money. The Shift Bag comes into its own when you have to switch modes. It’s perfect if you ride to work and then need to carry your gear to a meeting without looking out of place.

Do you or don’t you?
Consider buying the Shift Bag if:

• you want a jack-of-all-trades bag
• you have a rack and need a more stylish, portable bag for when you reach your destination
• you carry a smaller laptop and find laptop backpacks too bulky or uncomfortable

The Timbuk2 Shift Pannier Messenger Bag retails for $159.95 and you can pickup Timbuk2 gear at all good bike stores.

If your local bicycle shop doesn’t carry Timbuk2 yet, give the importer a call Phoenix Leisure Group on 02 9552 6900 or send them an email: [email protected]



Product Details:

Timbuk2 Shift Pannier Messenger Bag (RRP $ 159.95)

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James Hutchison
About The Author

is a road rider, a social rider (is there such a genre as serious social?) and cycle commuter.

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