The Highs: Modular design affords maximum flexibility; Rickshaw’s green philosophy; hip colors, good looks; low cost of entry

 The Lows: No grab handle; bag by itself feels  a bit flimsy

 The Verdict: A modular, flexible alternative to conventional messenger bags at a compelling price

If you find yourself wishing you had several different daily bags or seatside (aircraft”personal item”) bags so you could easily adapt to different types of trips or work assignments, definitely check out Rickshaw Bagworks‘ line of messenger bags. The bags feature spartan designs, low price points, and (generally) inexpensive organizer pouches that can be moved from one bag to another in seconds.

Based in San Francisco, Rickshaw is a relatively new player in the messenger bag market, and there’s more to like about the firm than low prices and the bags’ flexible designs. The company’s green philosophy is reflected in its “Zero” line, indicating zero waste: the bags are manufactured in a manner which minimizes material scrap, and nearly all such material is used as gussets or components for accessories. Moreover, the company is committed to providing products with the highest U.S. content possible.

Most contemporary “messenger bags” are a far cry from the De Martini Globe Canvas Company‘s basic “utility lineman’s” bags  produced in the 1950’s and which serve as the origin of modern messenger or courier bags. The modern “messenger bag” has morphed into a hipster urban briefcase, weighed down with numerous pockets, pen slots, dividers, key retainers, and other space consuming & weight-adding widgets.

Like the spartan utility lineman’s bag of the 50’s, Rickshaw’s bags typically feature one large pocket and and one or two smaller pockets, a simple strap, and not a whole lot more.  As a result, prices are very competitive.  And should you need organizing pockets, they are available, attach via hook and loop strips, and are generally inexpensive.

Before taking a look at the subject bag, the mid-sized Medium Zero, let’s check out its specifications.

Rickshaw Medium Zero Features & Specs

  • Made with machine-washable U.S.-made Cordura nylon
  • Holds a 13” laptop, iPad, or MacBook Air w/ the appropriate optional sleeve
  • Large main compartment and 2 front pockets
  • Quick-adjust cam shoulder strap
  • D-ring for cross strap and other gear
  • Lightweight and forms to your body
  • Velcro strips for accessory system / organizer pouches
  • 11″ H x 12.5″ W base x 18″ W top x 6″D
  • Weight:  1.5 lb
  • Made in San Francisco, CA
  • 30 Day Risk Free Trial; Lifetime Warranty

A close-up look

Rickshaw uses U.S. made Cordura that’s woven with a canvas-like texture that’s pleasing to the touch. The bag is simplicity itself; note that the front flap features no buckles or snaps of any sort, easing entry and closure. Also appearing on the MIA list is a grab handle, especially handy when stowing it in a car, for instance, or beneath an aircraft seat:

A single Velcro strip secures the flap, the soft or “loop” side of the Velcro being attached to the front of the bag; as a result, your clothing or other items won’t get snagged by the front of the bag when it’s open. One could argue that in gaining ease of access, security is compromised a bit; in the final analysis, each prospective user needs to assess how significant a concern this trade-off entails. If you’re on Bus #64 in Rome, or on a crowded subway car, you can always wear the bag cross-body, with the bag swung around in front of you for much more security.

Note also that the body of the bag features two ply Cordura, versus an outer layer of Cordura or ballistic nylon mated to an inner layer of vinyl/tarp material, as used on some bags; Rickshaw avoids PVC due to concerns over outgassing and its recyclability.

As mentioned earlier, the bag couldn’t be much simpler: one main compartment (with Velcro loop strips mounted high on the inside front and rear walls for attaching accessory organizers). The base of this main pocket measures approximately 6″ front to back, and is ~16″ wide at the top:

Up front, there are two open pockets located on either side of the Velcro strip; each is 7½” wide and 8½” deep, perfect for a smartphone, airline boarding passes, snacks, a slender paperback, notepad, and the like. If you secure the front flap so it’s not secured as low (or tight) as possible, you’re able to have partial access to these front pockets, a handy feature.

I’ve been using a couple of accessory organizers available from Rickshaw; below, we look downward inot their “Deluxe Drop Pocket,” which sells for $15 and includes an 8″ wide zippered pocket with key retainer, a few slots, a small open pocket, and a business card window.

I also have used Rickshaw’s MacBook Air sleeve: nicely padded, it features a plush interior and Cordura nylon exterior.  Like the Drop Pocket shown above, the rear of the sleeve features a strip of Velcro “hook” material which mates with either of the loop strips in the bag’s main compartment. Although Rickshaw sells a 13″ laptop sleeve for $20, the 11″ MacBook Air sleeve is $40. I assume the difference has to do with country of origin; some of the accessories are made in China, while others are manufactured in San Francisco – I’m guessing that the MB Air sleeves originate in SF.

Here’s a shot of my normal day to day work “stuff” in the Medium Zero; everything fits easily. You can see my Canon S90 in the Deluxe Drop Pocket; there’s a Field Notes notebook in the open front left pocket, and an energy bar in its right counterpart:

Although this is a very light bag, the quality of the materials is nevertheless high. In order to release extra shoulder strap material for wearing the bag cross-body, you just yank on a locking cam’s pull. It’s not nearly as robust as what you’ll find on a Timbuk2 bag, but it serves the purpose just fine, and appears to be durable enough for regular use. The strap itself is lighter and less rigid than those used on some other bags, letting it conform more comfortably to your shoulder.

Stitching is uniform throughout; key attachments feature box stitching. The D rings (there are four on the Medium Zero) can be used for an optional cross strap ($5) or perhaps for a caribiner, or for locating an electronic badge/ID holder:

The bag’s shoulder strap is included in its price; the shoulder strap pad shown below is a $10 option. It adds an extra measure of comfort; my only quibble is that the strap occasionally became twisted within the pad.  As noted earlier, the standard strap is very comfortable; the pad is only necessary if you tend to really load up the bag.

A final note before we move on: as with Timbuk2 and others, you can customize your Rickshaw to exactly suit your tastes. A stunning variety of materials and colors are available, with shipment requiring 7-10 days:

Positioning, Pricing, and where it fits

The Rickshaw Medium Zero is very similar in terms of overall size to the Timbuk2 Small Custom Messenger bag. That’s the T2 bag that I use; as I spec’d it, it includes a “Love Glove” laptop sleeve, grab handle, and a “Tough-Tek” shoulder strap pad. Equipped thusly, and made with heavy, 1680 ballistic nylon by T2 in San Francisco, it cost $155.

The Medium Zero shown here sells for $70.  Fantastic, right? Not so fast, bag breath. Shop the Rickshaw Accessories page while in full “bag lust” mode, and you’ll quickly find yourself suffering from an acute case of price creep. The MB Air sleeve is $40, the Deluxe Drop Pocket is $15, and the shoulder strap pad costs $10, bringing the price as shown here to $135. Suddenly the price-value equation gets muddied. Your mileage may vary, of course, if you don’t require a laptop or iPad sleeve.

As spec’d, however, a mere Andrew Jackson separates the two, begging the question, “Is the Rickshaw worth it?”  As is the case with much in life, “it depends.”

It depends upon your priorities. One of the most appealing things about the Rickshaw bags is that they’re very light, super comfortable, and easy to adjust to different orientations (shoulder or cross-body).  If you ever need to stow your seatside bag inside your main bag, the Rickshaws are flexible enough when empty to fold in half for easy storage; even when loaded, they can be compressed in a larger bag’s side pocket (think Air Boss, for instance). Additionally, I don’t think you can ignore the Rickshaw ethos, with its admirable emphasis on sustainability, the use of easily recyclable materials, and commitment to minimizing waste; these are good things, and they matter.

It depends upon your needs. If your travel needs and work assignments vary from week to week, the Rickshaw line offers remarkable flexibility at very reasonable prices.

Working a trade show this week? Opt for a Small Zero so you can move and groove on a crowded convention floor with ease.  Meeting customers next week in their offices? A Medium Zero or Computer Laptop in subdued colors would be perfect.

You invest in the Rickshaw accessory pockets once, and use them in multiple bags (I’ll add a few photos of  a couple of other models below); swapping them from bag to bag in seconds. Bottom line: the Rickshaw bags are very ergonomic, and extremely adaptable.

You can check them out here: Rickshaw Bagworks.  The Medium Zero is $70 to $90. Made in San Francisco, CA, USA. Lifetime Warranty, 30 Day No Risk Trial (shipping covered both ways; expedited shipping excluded).

Quick look: a couple of other models

Rickshaw Dogpatch Studio “Mash” (Limited Edition)

This is a limited edition Rickshaw bag that I absolutely love. It’s ideal for working a trade show – it can handle an iPad (or MB Air), a notebook, digital camera, and a few odds and ends. Approximate dimensions: 11″ wide @ base, 9-3/4″ high, 3″ deep (front to back), ~14″ wide @ top; ~13.5 oz.

The bag has a main compartment (you can see my MB Air sleeve poking out) and a single front pocket. It weighs less than a pound, and is a delight to use.

The sample I’ve used features a “Performance Tweed” material that’s handsome and doesn’t seem to show dirt at all. The strap is the same type that’s used on the Medium Zero, but is a bit narrower.

As with the Zero line, the Mash’s shoulder strap is attached to the bag via small gussets, enabling the bag to fall at a comfortable angle, whether the bag is worn over the shoulder, or cross-body:

Here’s a quick shot of the bag fully loaded – a magazine in the front pocket, several manila folders and a spiral notepad plus the MacBook Air in its sleeve. Now for the bad news: although Rickshaw’s “iPad 2” bag is quite similar to the Mash, its dimensions are a bit different, and the Mash itself appears to be no longer available. Perhaps someone from Rickshaw can comment, but I can’t find this little gem on the Rickshaw site.

Rickshaw Small Zero

The baby brother to the Medium Zero. Same concept, smaller size (10″H x 10W” base x 13″W top x 6″D), same exact shoulder strap as the medium. The MB Air sleeve just fits in the Small Zero.  With the Air on board, there’s not a lot of real estate left over.

Dynamite color combo: (waterproof) Royal Blue X-Pac exterior, Saffron Cordura interior, Barn Red Cordura trim. Two front pockets as with the Medium Zero. Less than 1.5 lb.  $55  Same Trial Offer, same Lifetime Warranty.

There are a number of other bag sizes and styles available from Rickshaw; see them at the firm’s website:  Rickshaw Bagworks

Many thanks to reader & Practical Hacks contributor Michael W. for alerting me to Rickshaw & contributing to this review.


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5 Comments on Review: Rickshaw Bagworks Medium Zero Messenger bag

  1. et says:

    What are “low price points” and how does this differ from low price?


    Kevin Reply:

    Sorry, Marketing speak.

    Price Point


    The price for which something is sold on the retail market, especially in relation to a range of competitive prices: We can’t go below the $100 price point for this printer.


  2. Michael W. says:

    I really like the fact that the Small, Medium, and Large editions of the Zero Messenger are laid out exactly the same way. When I move from size to size, for reasons similar to those you describe, all my stuff migrates easily just like changing one sport coat for another. Imagine if the location and number and size of pockets widely varied from sport coat to sport coat and you had to re-figure where stuff should go each time you changed jackets! Then remember the new locations when you hunt for stuff! Problem avoided with the identical lay-outs of the Zero Messenger line.

    Basically the Small is my new summer EDC bag, the Medium is my “fleece season” EDC bag, and the Large – well the large won’t see use until I travel and need a carryon bag. But they all organize the same and while the accessory items add a little cost, you don’t have to buy a new set for each bag. Also you can simply use Ziploc bags for the ultimately cheap organization.

    Note that there is a simple “pouch with only zipper” that can only costs $5. The fancy pouch you got is one of the China accessories and has all the bells and whistles like transparent business card holder, LOL.

    I clip a Photon Light on one of the exterior “D” rings. Handy, and often I don’t even have to remove it to use it for some quick light.

    Wish there was a “D” ring somewhere inside the bag to clip an Eagle Creek accessory pouch to (or to clip one of those “valuables” pockets that come with Rick Steves BackDoor Packs). But so far the accessory pouch has been enough.

    For security on a crowded bus or subway, there are two approaches. The quickest is to rotate the bag to the front. The other is to flip the bag around so the flap is body-side instead of far side. For generally more secure closing, during the custom build process Rickshaw can install buckle straps – the problem I have with straps, besides having to actually open and close them, is that they can dangle and catch on stuff or in cracks and crevices. I have found the Velcro closure to be more than enough.

    The Xpac material is not only waterproof, it is lighter and cuts a few ounces off an already amazingly light bag. As an exterior material, it won’t pick up stains from a dirty floor (you can always damp wipe it off). As an INTERIOR material (special no charge request) it works great as a swim gear or damp item gym bag – it won’t get damp and yucky.

    These are somewhat unimpressive bags when you “see” them. They become awesome bags when you use them.


  3. Jeff Mac says:

    Nice job on this! I really appreciate the Small/Medium size comparison.


  4. White Glossy says:

    So we both love Rickshaw already… did you know that you can now fully customize (design too) your bags and sleeves? Siiick right! We just received our iPad sleeve and dig it. Check it –


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