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Hailing from Sydney, Australia, the company STM (Standard Technical Merchandise) has the somewhat singular goal of creating laptop bags (they do make bags for iPads as well) that protect your gear without making you look like every other worker bee. That means form and function. Their stylish bags don’t skimp on materials or construction, and they pack each one with plenty of features, reinforcing the fact that they’re designed by people who rely on them every day. It’s worth noting as well that their website proudly lists their efforts at sustainability.
After seeing their Velo messenger-style bag at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, I had to have one. You can read the preview here, where I expressed a bit of impatience, as it was expected to be a week or two before they started shipping. As luck would have it, one showed up on my doorstep last week, so this review is based on roughly five work days worth of use.
Covering all the features in one article is a daunting task, but we’ll start at the top and work our way down. The strap is durable, easily adjusted, and has a nicely padded contact point. There are heavy duty plastic swivels where the strap meets the bag. Wear out or damage the strap? No worries, just order a replacement. The lower section of the strap goes through the bag and has heavy duty stitching at multiple points. If you can break the strap or the stitching, you are carrying way too much beer. There’s a nicely padded carry handle, with a D ring for attaching things like an ID tag. That zipper below the handle opens to reveal a lined pocket for glasses or other fragile items that you might want quick access to. At each end, there is a tall compartment with a small gusset sewn across the bottom to add support while keeping your stuff from dropping out at your feet.
Time to get inside it. Undo the buckles and you’ve got access to some open pockets as well as zippered compartments. The front one is just right for passport and plane ticket-sized items. The next one in has faux black leather with a nice contrasting red stitching, and a band of elasticized material divided up to hold a phone, iPod/MP3 player, and some pens, or similarly sized items. Within that section is a full length zippered pocket, with a mostly see through mesh which makes it easier to find that spare change, flash drive, and pack of chewing gum. There’s also a place to clip your keys. Between that and the main compartment (protected by a zipper under that flap) are the generously-sized open pockets. Unzip the zipper and you’ve got access to another pair of large pockets, a cavity big enough for a couple of college-sized textbooks, a full length pocket that would hold your daily newspaper if you were totally old school, and then a lined pocket for your iPad, Nook, Kindle, tablet, or reader.
Where’s the laptop go? Well, you could put it inside, but there’s a zipper on the outside that opens to reveal a laptop sleeve line with extremely wide wale corduroy, which covers some firm and dense padding. And it looks sharp while providing easy access. The very back is covered in aero-mesh to keep you cool, and the back pocket has a zipper on the bottom, which when opened, allows you to hang your Velo from the handle of your rolling suitcase.
So what’s it like to use one? Well, it’s designed for cyclists and commuters. While I am a cyclist, my commute is generally done by motorcycle. To that end, it needs to carry everything I require for a day at work, and do it comfortably. I found that it accommodated my laptop, thermos with coffee, cold water bottle, (at 24oz, both were snug, but they fit) lunch, work papers, phone, iPod, Skull Candy DJ-sized headphones, allergy meds, and all the other little odds and ends we drag around with us, even though they rarely get used. And it handled them all with ease and comfort. Everything has a logical place, with room to spare. A few short bike rides confirmed that once adjusted to the proper height, it doesn’t shift much, and the mesh in the back helps a bit with airflow. I’ll give it some time to see if I can find anything to complain about, but so far, it’s been about the best piece of gear I’ve seen in quite some time.
Technical specs and pricing:
The STM Velo comes in two sizes – a small for notebooks up to 13.3 inches, and a medium for notebooks up to 15.5 inches. Internal laptop compartments measure 33.5×24.5x4cm / 13.2×9.6×1.6 inches for the small, and 37.5x25x4 cm / 14.8×9.8×1.6 inches for the medium. External dimensions are 47x35x17cm / 18.5×13.8×6.7 inches and 50x37x19cm / 19.7×14.6×7.5 inches. The exterior is 300D water resistant micro ripstop polyester, available in black or mushroom, and the modest $99.95 retail price includes a lifetime warranty.