Timbuk2 wants to power your commute

If you've ever wondered how Timbuk2's famous bags get made, we scored a tour of the San Francisco factory floor to show you.

Timbuk2 started in 1989 when San Francisco bicycle messenger Rob Honeycutt decided he needed a bag that better suited his needs. He bought a sewing machine and fabric, and the rest was more or less in the bag.

More than 20 years later, Timbuk2's current CEO, Mike Wallenfels, shows off the latest evolution of the company's bag tech, the Power Commute Messenger bag. The bag is Timbuk2's standard Commute Messenger, with one major difference: it comes with a unique rechargeable power pack called the Joey T1, as indicated by the removable orange sticker. It will be available for purchase October 15 from the Timbuk2 Web site.

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Power on the go

Wallenfels shows off the Joey T1 power pack, a thin, lightweight box with rounded corners and a clever charging cable that works with most devices that charge off of micro-USB, as well iPhones, iPads, and iPods.

The Joey power pack, which houses a lithium polymer battery and firmware to automatically detect the proper discharge output to power up your device, lives in a specially designed pouch in the Power Commute bag. Because of the charging cable's long reach to almost any corner of the bag, you won't have to remove the power pack itself.

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Joey and its pouch

Inside the Power Commute, the Joey's pouch keeps the Joey secure and minimizes its exposure outside of the bag. Nevertheless, it's designed to be water-resistant against spills.
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Power reach

The charging cable is designed to both charge the Joey and charge your devices. The included micro-USB cable can be used to power up the Joey, or to send power to your phone, tablet, Bluetooth headset, or other micro USB-using device. LED lights on the pod at the end of the cable indicate when the Joey has a full charge. It's compatible with outputs from 500 milliamperes to 2,500 mA, and can quick charge most phones to around 50 percent in 20 minutes.

It's not hard to imagine the Power Commute becoming a tech junkie's favorite accessory. The Joey T1 is apparently only available to manufacturers by its parent company, and is not sold separately by Timbuk2. Timbuk2 sells it for $199 as part of the Power Commute Messenger bag, or for the same price in the Power Q backpack.

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Custom-made in San Francisco

When you walk in through the front door of the Timbuk2 headquarters at 583 Shotwell St. in San Francisco's Mission District, you're faced with what looks like a standard tech start-up. The cavernous room has bicycle racks in the front, a meeting room, showroom, dining area, and kitchen on the left, and a handful of desks for employees on the right. It's only when you walk toward the back of the building that you enter the manufacturing room, shown here.

Timbuk2 makes its custom bags by hand here, while its ready-made bags are produced in China, Korea, Indonesia, and Vietnam. According to the company's Web site, Timbuk2's factories "have the highest ethical standards, production expertise and are accredited by the CSC, Bureau Veritas, Level works, and numerous top US retailers. In addition to regularly visiting our factories, Timbuk2 employs two full-time people who work on-site at our factories in Asia."

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A little goes a long way

A custom Timbuk2 bag starts as a bolt of fabric off to the side of the sewing room. Wallenfels explained that the company has gotten adept at gauging how much fabric it uses, so it rarely orders too much fabric.
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Speciality samples

Timbuk2 does a brisk business from its Web site, where customers can design their own bags like CNET did with this week's Crave giveaway Timbuk2 bag. In addition to standard fabrics, you can upgrade to specialty fabrics for a few extra bucks. These include more highly reflective and waterproof materials, as well as limited-edition ones like Woolrich wool patterns.

And for browser-standards obsessives, Timbuk2 plans to relaunch its Web store fully in HTML5 "soon," according to Wallenfels.

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Almost fabric overload

The fabric is precut into panels that are then sewn together to create Timbuk2's distinctive three-panel flap. But before that, they sit organized on shelves, waiting for a customer order.
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Sewing stalwarts

None of Timbuk2's bag designers or Web workers -- or even its CEO -- have at the company as long as its sewers, all of whom have more than 10 years under their belts. It's not hard to understand why, either. Wallenfels reports that they have excellent benefits, stable hours, and regular vacation and sick time. There aren't many sewing jobs left in American cities like that anymore.
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One panel at a time

When an order comes in, the sewers get a printout with the bag's requirements. It starts with choosing the appropriate fabric and panels for the body of the bag.
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Side panels for style

A bag's side panels give customers a chance to customize the look and feel of a bag, choosing not just colors but fabric, patterns, and even the color of the Timbuk2 logo.
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Inside-out, for now

The bags are put together inside-out to make it easier to attach pockets, mesh, and other internal accessories.
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Custom binding

Wallenfels lamented the fact that despite the plethora of choices Timbuk2 offers, most people go with black bags that have been accented in some small way, such as the orange binding on this one.
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Strap and flip

Once the strap has been attached, the bag is placed over this highly technical device made of two large wooden dowels to help turn it right-side out.
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Wikipedia's finished

This custom bag was one of a large order for another company based in San Francisco: Wikipedia.
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Proudly local

All Timbuk2 bags ship in protective bags decorated with a map of San Francisco. But it wouldn't be a Timbuk2 map without some modification, says Wallenfels, pointing out the Timbuk2-recommended points of interest on the map legend, such as the Timbuk2 offices, sporting-goods stores like Sports Basement and Lombardi's, and Four Barrel Coffee, a favored hangout for the bike messengers that fueled Timbuk2's early years.
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