A Saddle Bag for Downton Abbey from Kaufman Mercantile

Karen Voyer-CaravonaKaren Voyer-Caravona is an admitted bicycle dilettante in Flagstaff, Arizona, who blogs about her adventures on two wheels, vélo envy, her husband’s cooking, and cross country skiing at www.sheridesabike.com. Visit her Website for her endless opinions on the most stylish shoes for pedaling, critiques of bike parking, and the best bike date dining destinations.

I am a practical consumer. I do not purchase what I do not need. And in a soft economy, my needs are considered carefully.

My ultimate decision to buy further rests on a number of factors beyond need: quality, durability over time, functionality and attractive presentation.

Kaufman Mercantile Water Resistant Canvas Bike Saddle BagMy ego tries to tell me that emotion plays no role in my decision to buy. But the truth is that nearly all consumers can be pushed over the edge by a marketer with a clever story to tell, one that reinforces every fantasy we have about ourselves. Kaufmann Mercantile knows how to tell a story.

The Kaufmann Mercantile’s excellent Website promises that their handsome Bike Saddle Bag will “tell the silent story of where you’ve been.” Masculine, weathered in appearance, and classic in style, the Bike Saddle Bag conveys romance, a hint of adventure and a definite sense of history.

Fans of the Downton Abbey, the Masterpiece Theater Edwardian costume drama, can doubtlessly picture this waxed canvas luggage (yes, it qualifies as luggage) attached to the vintage, English bicycle that the future Earl of Grantham, Matthew Crawley pedals in pursuit of his love, Mary.

Kaufmann Mercantile priced their Bike Saddle Bag at a lip-biting $95. However, the price can be overcome if one considers the saddle bag as a long-term investment in quality that will not be soon replaced but eventually handed down to a child or grandchild, along with tales of journeys past.

According to the Kaufmann Website, the Bike Saddle Bag, hand-crafted by Frost River Reliable Softgoods, was inspired by Echo Trail in the Boundary Waters Region between Northern Minnesota and Ontario.

Kaufman Mercantile Water Resistant Canvas Bike Saddle Bag
Interior Slit Pocket and 'Made in U.S.A.' Label

The staff of the Frost River Shop, well-versed in the rigors required of the outdoor lifestyle, traces patterns and hand-cuts the leather and canvas themselves. The result is a sturdy, well-sewn, water resistant piece of bike luggage that attaches to the underside of the saddle and the seat post with brass-buckled leather straps. Synthetic materials, such as nylon and Velcroâ„¢, might be fine for traveling to the digital age but this product is about heritage and the “everyday object… seen as art.”

The Kaufman Mercantile Bike Saddle Bag will not withstand the soaking rain that one expects in an Ortlieb product but its waxed canvas surface is designed to protect the bag’s contents from rain, mud, slush, and the “rigors of riding.”

Kaufman Mercantile Water Resistant Canvas Bike Saddle Bag

The interior is roomier than many saddle bags on the market and can easily store a map, wallet, an extra bike tube and Allen wrench and a snack. A sleeve pocket, also interior, would be a perfect location for an ID, debit card or some cash if one preferred not to carry and entire wallet.

The saddle bag measures 8.5 (h) by 10.5 (top w) by 3.5 (bottom w) inches, rendering it too large to attach to a saddle that is not raised sufficiently high enough over the fender or rear wheel. Since I often ride a Dahon with 20-inch wheels, I had enough space between the underside of the saddle and my rear bike rack to comfortably attach all the buckles. Unfortunately, I could not attach the bag to either my or my husband’s Breezer Uptown 8’s.

The problem lies in the height of the rider rather than the bag itself, so I don’t know that Kaufmann Mercantile can do anything to correct for this issue. Not to dismiss the bag’s utility, I found that it attaches just fine on the side of any bike rack just as one would a pannier.

Kaufman Mercantile Water Resistant Canvas Bike Saddle Bag
Pannier Mode

That solution made me curious to know whether or not Kaufmann also produced a pannier but after a search of their Website I found that they do not. Too bad. I’d probably be more inclined to purchase a pannier of a similar style and quality.

I can’t find much to complain about respecting the Kaufmann Mercantile Bike Saddle Bag, a handsome marriage of form and function. The product seems very representative of the company’s commitment to selling everyday items created to last, and perhaps treasured, for generations, rather than to be discarded and replaced. A very refreshing stance for a retailer to take given our consumer culture that has for too long depended on a throw-away mentality.

Perhaps it’s all an illusion, as company founder Sebastian Kaufmann is a 10-year veteran of the film and music production and probably knows a thing or two about creating a mood. Regardless, the company’s message certainly touches something that I and many others have been feeling since the Great Recession, something I hope to keep alive in my own life as a consumer: a greater appreciation for experiences over “stuff”, of quality over quantity, and personal over the mass produced.

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