Arkel Briefcase

I’ve been using an Arkel Bug as my primary commuting bag for the past couple of years. It’s a convertible pannier/backpack that works well for multi-modal commuting, particularly when a long walk and a lot of weight are involved. While the Bug is not a bad looking bag, visually it’s more of a student’s daypack than a professional’s briefcase. I’m fortunate that my workplace environment is fairly casual, but there are times when I need to dress more professionally for client meetings, and on those days, the Arkel Briefcase fits the bill better than the Bug.

The design of the Arkel Briefcase is similar to other soft-sided briefcases. It has two main compartments that fold down on each side, a front organizer pocket with slots for pens, pencils, etc., and a small key pocket on the outer flap. One of the main compartments has organizer pockets that work well for power adapters, cords, iPods, cell phones, etc., and the other contains a removable, suspended laptop pocket that will easily hold a 15″ notebook. The main body is reinforced on both sides with hard plates to protect your laptop in case of an accident. The center of the bag expands out to make room for books, papers, lunch, or a change of clothes. The padded should strap is on rotating hooks to prevent twisting, and the heavily-reinforced top handle should outlast the bag.

While the design of the Briefcase is similar to garden-variety soft-sided briefcases you’ll find at office supply stores, the construction is more robust. The materials used in its construction are similar to those used in Arkel’s touring panniers, with heavy-duty Cordura nylon, beefy YYK zippers, and National Moulding buckles used throughout. The mounting hardware is also borrowed from their touring panniers. I really like Arkel’s mounting system; the bags are securely held in place while being very easy to install and remove, and in all of the years using their panniers, I’ve never had a failure. An additional feature that’s not included on their touring panniers is a flap that folds down to hide the hardware when the bag is off of the bike.

My commute is unusual in that I carry an above average amount of weight and employ at least three modes, one of which is a fairly long walk. Consequently, a convertible backpack/pannier like the Bug works well for me. But, if I had a more typical point-to-point bike commute in which I didn’t need to carry a heavy bag long distances on foot, I’d prefer the Briefcase because of its organizational pockets, suspended laptop pouch, and more business-friendly appearance.

Specifications
Width: 17″
Height: 12″
Depth: 7″
Volume: 1500 cu. in.
Weight: 4.3 lbs.
Made in Canada
MSRP: $214.95

Arkel

Disclosure: Arkel is a sponsor of this website. You can view our review policy here.

16 Responses to “Arkel Briefcase”

  • Crosius says:

    My commuting bike folds, so most panniers are too tall for the tiny wheels. Needing something smaller, I was able to easily install Arkel’s 8″ Cam-Lock hook on an old laptop bag I have been using for carrying lunch & a clean shirt.

    I think the result is probably the best attache case Arkel doesn’t make (yet). Arkel’s locking hooks work perfectly and that bag may as well be bolted to the bike until I pull the release.

  • Tom Stahl says:

    Alan,

    Have you had a chance to experience the weather-proofing on this bag? Is there a rain cover or anything that is designed for it (or even better, built in)?

    I can sometimes carry up to two laptops back and forth for work (a personal MacBook Pro, and a corporate issue Dell PC), so my approach thus far has been to stuff them in padded sleeves next to each other in a standard pannier. I carry my lunch and extra clothes in a PAC Designs messenger bag. For me, it is the easiest, most comfortable solution. I have access to a shower at work, though, so I don’t mind the sweaty back the mess bag causes, and it transitions the best from riding to my cubical and all my personal, every-day stuff can stay in one bag.

    The only complaint I have about my current pannier solution is that I need to transfer all my computer junk into a nicer bag if I need to be presentable, as you mentioned. This bag looks like it would be perfect for what I need, if it was waterproof. It’s Indiana here. Spring and summer thunderstorms roll in with less than a moments notice sometimes!

    Thanks for the review. I will start saving my pennies for one of these!

  • Tamia Nelson says:

    This is a well written review of what appears to be an excellent product, Alan — Thanks. My fabric briefcase (from L.L. Bean) has been going strong for well over 10 years, but it’s not bicycle-friendly, so I’ve been keeping my eye open for a replacement. This Arkel looks like it might be just the right bag.

    One caution about those swivel hooks: The ones on my LLB briefcase looked very similar to the ones on the Arkel. The rivet holding the swivel to the D-ring snapped through without warning. Luckily I was placing my heavily loaded briefcase on the floor so it didn’t drop far. If I’d had it slung across my back the landing would have been much harder. The moral? Inspect fasteners occasionally, whatever the maker, because any could fail. (I used climber’s webbing to lash the strap to the D-ring.)

  • brad says:

    Arkel came out with a few new models this season, including the Messenger Briefcase, which is basically a messenger bag that doubles as a pannier. Different styling than the regular Briefcase, it’s designed to hold a laptop and a fair amount of gear.

    They also came out with a new pack called the Switchback, which I think is an improvement on the Bug in many ways (although it’s a bit smaller). I checked out both of these packs yesterday in our local bike shop — the Switchback has an improved and faster system for switching from pannier to daypack, and it does away with the bottom stabilizing hook, which is the only part of the Bug that has been problematic for me (the fabric that holds the hook in place is fraying, and the hook sometimes disengages from the various places where you can stow it (e.g, under the shoulder straps) while you’re using it as a daypack).

    The Switchback lacks the Bug’s helmet holder, but I don’t see that as a big loss because the helmet holder can only really hold a helmet when the bag is empty or nearly so. The Switchback is a little smaller in terms of vertical length, but it feels like it could hold about as much as the Bug and it zips all the way open for packing.

    It’s interesting that Arkel’s new commuter/urban models all do away with the stabilizing hook: Arkel says they did a lot of testing and found that the hook made no difference in preventing lateral sway, regardless of whether the pack was full or empty. The result is a simpler, cleaner pack that works even better when off the bike and on your shoulder or back.

  • AdamM says:

    I use an older version of the Arkel Commuter pannier for my commute. I originally bought it when I was carrying a laptop to/from work regularly and it does the job really well for that. I don’t carry a laptop very often any more, but the pannier still works very well and I can’t see any real reason for buying something new.

    Having said that, the hooks on my Arkel are unlined alumnium so they can make a right mess of your rack. That alone might lead me to replace it in the not too distant future and the Arkel Briefcase looks like it might work well for my needs.

    Nice write up as usual, thanks Alan.

  • Jonathan says:

    Very organized interior. I have been using the left-sided Jandd Communter Pannier for 10 years. It has held up perfectly, but the contents seem to be strewn about its compartments compared to those in your pictures. Thanks for the review. Your earlier Arkel reviews put me on the to the company. If I ever wear out my bag, I’ll be considering them.

  • RI SWamp Yankee says:

    There’s a guy around my digs in Providence that rides what looks like a Rivendell Atlantis. He’s in a suit and tie, and on one side of his rack is a folding wald wire pannier in chrome, and the other he has an Arkel briefcase. The combo looks pretty darn sleek compared to my dumpy Detours Uptown/Generic cordura grocery folder combo.

    I’m still more in love with the Carradice Bike Bureau, tho.

  • Alan says:

    @Tom

    “Have you had a chance to experience the weather-proofing on this bag? Is there a rain cover or anything that is designed for it (or even better, built in)?”

    Arkel neglected to send one, but yes, there is an optional rain fly available for the Briefcase (I should have mentioned that in the review). When not in use, the rain cover is meant to be stored in a small pocket on the underside of the flap that covers the hardware. It appears to be a good set-up, but I wish I would’ve had an opportunity to actually try it in person before publishing the review.

    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @Tamia

    “The ones on my LLB briefcase looked very similar to the ones on the Arkel. The rivet holding the swivel to the D-ring snapped through without warning. Luckily I was placing my heavily loaded briefcase on the floor so it didn’t drop far. “

    It’s important to suspend a laptop above the bottom of a bag so that there is some shock absorption in case of an accident. The Arkel Briefcase has about 2-3 inches of airspace between the bottom of the laptop insert and the bottom of the outer briefcase wall. I also place a second InCase neoprene sleeve on the laptop before inserting into the Arkel sleeve. It all sounds a little overkill, but if the bike topples over or a strap breaks, I want to know I’ve done all I can to protect an expensive computer.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Tal Danzig says:

    @Alan: I have this same bag, albeit a slightly older version from 2008. The only difference as far as I know is that they’ve tweaked the mounting system on newer models. I’ve used the rain fly in everything from slight spray to heavy downpour, and it has worked well with no leakage in 30-40min of heavy rain. Plus, the added benefit of a separate rain fly vs. a waterproof bag, is that once the rain fly is removed, the bag is still clean and presentable with the bag avoiding any grimy rain spray.

  • Alan says:

    Thanks a bunch, Tal.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • AdamM says:

    Ah yes, the rain cover. This is the one thing about Arkel panniers that annoys me somewhat. Arkel make a quality product and charge a reasonable price for it, but why not include the rain cover with the panner rather than making people pay extra for it? All panniers need to be able to deal with rain, after all.

  • virr says:

    I have quite a bit older version (2004) and didn’t start commuting daily until a few years after, so I probably have over 7000 miles commuting with my briefcase.
    The bag has held up very well. I should have upgraded to the new rail system sooner. Someone says they have the older bare aluminum hooks, go order the newer rails. The newer spring loaded cams are _far_ more convenient, hold as well or better, and the lined hooks don’t tear up a rack as much. Year after upgrading a cam spring broke, emailed them, and they sent a replacement rail no cost before I even asked.
    I’ve had so minor leakage through the rain cover, but only if it was raining quite a bit. I have a Bacchetta Giro 26 recumbent and carry it on an under seat rack. The only time I really had problems was when it rained hard enough for the storm drains and gutters to get deep enough for the bag to get wet from the bottom. No damage (luckily), but lesson learned being take shelter when the rain really hurts when only going 10 mph and wait for it to let up. Also have a dry bag or ziplock if you are going to need to continue in such conditions. Thankfully rain like that in So Cal is very rare.
    I’m very happy with my Arkel Briefcase pannier. Held up well, has carried my laptop safely, and attaches securely to my rack. Whenever I’ve ordered or talked to them through email they have been prompt and very helpful. It was money well spent.

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  • Wayne Tarken says:

    For those looking for more of an office-focused briefcase, many of our members have recommended the kenneth cole http://www.ceowomensclub.com/articles/Kenneth-Cole-Briefcase reaction bag

 
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