Sunday, 15 May 2011

Custom Leather Pannier by Cristobal &Co

[edited to add: Cristobal &Co was not a sponsor at the time this review was written.]

Since having written my "short chainstay lament" some time ago, I've connected with a number of small manufacturers and artisans who have developed panniers specifically to solve this problem. And yes, I will be reviewing them all to the best of my ability! This month I bring you Cristobal &Co. I am familiar with the owner of Cristobal via bikeforums and obtained this pannier in an equal value trade.

Cristobal panniers are custom-made by hand by traditional artisans in Mexico. They are made of leather and covered with a thin layer of weatherproof and UV-resistant synthetic fabric. Although standard models are available, the nicest thing about Cristobal is the possibility for customisation. I asked for a pannier that would fit my MacBook without inducing heel strike when used on my mixte. I sent measurements of my bike's chainstays and rear rack, we discussed dimensions, and I also indicated how high I wanted the pannier to sit. Shortly thereafter I received the cute, boxy Cristobal with honey leather and removable side-pocket. It fits my MacBook with much room to spare without a hint of heel strike.

Having used a variety of leather satchels in the past, I would describe the Cristobal pannier as exceptionally well made. The leather is of high quality and the stitching is precise. There are no loose threads, no botched edges. 

The underside of the leather is soft to the touch. There is an option to get a flap that will cover the rivets holding up the hooks on the back of the pannier, and I asked for this feature - making the interior completely safe for my laptop and camera equipment. 

The removable pocket can be fitted to either side of the pannier via a built-in attachment system.

It is large enough to fit a mobile phone and a small digital camera at the same time, which is useful.

The extra long leather straps with metal buckles are designed to hold a jacket when closed.

However, I usually just leave mine open, because it takes too long to mess with them (a quick release design could work nicely here). 

The attachment system consists of straps with buckles and two hooks. The open hooks go over the rack's tubing to keep it stable, and the straps are used to secure it. The hooks are standardly sized - similar to those used by Arkel - and will not fit racks with thick tubing, such as heavy duty Dutch bike racks. 

A lower pair of straps attaches to the rack's stays for greater stability. You can see in the pictures that the straps are easily moveable via the slots in the leather, which makes it possible to adjust the pannier to fit different bikes. You could also remove the lower straps altogether if you do not feel them to be necessary.

I found the Cristobal pannier convenient to use in that it makes for a great carry-all. With its rigid boxy shape, it is like a bottomless trunk that I can keep stuffing and stuffing with my personal belongings and groceries. On the other hand, the pannier takes some time to affix and detach, and its hooks are only compatible with some of my bicycle racks. Without a more versatile quick release system, I consider this to be more of a touring pannier than a commuter's pannier. Cristobal is willing to use alternative attachment systems upon customer's request, and I suggest getting something like the R&K Klickfix if you need an easy on-off feature that is compatible with a wide variety of racks (I didn't opt for that, because I was curious what the standard attachment system was like).

It is also worth noting that while leather is more durable than cloth, it is also heavier. If you value durability, waterproofness and craftsmanship over weight, then this shouldn't bother you. But if you are seeking the lightest set-up possible, leather is generally not the way to go. 

Cristobal panniers are starting to appear in bicycle shops across the US, and can be ordered directly from the manufacturer with various degrees of personalisation. Prices vary depending on dimensions and the amount of custom work, so please inquire with them directly. I am impressed with the craftsmanship and design of the pannier, and will consider retrofitting mine with a quick release system. 


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