Review: Timbuk2 Shift Messenger

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 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.

My seemingly endless obsession with bike bags and panniers is due to my deeply-held belief that there exists a single perfect bag for all my biking needs. I want to be able to carry it comfortably once I arrive at my destination and attach it to my rear bike rack as I would a traditional but sometimes awkward-to-carry pannier.

My personal preference is not to pedal with a backpack or messenger bag strapped across my back because it makes me feel physically weighed down. I already have a Timbuk2 messenger bag that I like very well and use for out-of-town trips but it doesn’t have clips so I don’t usually carry it with me when I’m traveling by bike. The Shift Pannier Messenger, as the name implies, is a happy combination of both carrying methods.

Timbuk2 Shift Pannier MessengerAs a messenger bag, the Shift is slightly smaller than my Timbuk2 Classic Messenger. The Shift measures 14.17 (w) x 10.24 (h) x 5.12 (d) inches, and the accompanying marketing material indicates that most 15-inch laptop computers will fit inside the internal stretch pocket.

Five pockets are located beneath the exterior flap, three of which are zipped. Like other Timbuk2 bags the Shift secures shut with a abundance of Velcro and two buckles, and is constructed to be waterproof with the same ballistic nylon and rubberized material.

Timbuk2 Shift Pannier Messenger - Interior

The Shift adds small weather flaps, also sealed down with Velcro to the inside of bag where it opens into the main compartment, protecting the contents further from rain and snow.

Timbuk2 Shift Pannier Messenger - Shoulder Strap
Shoulder Strap

The detachable shoulder strap can be easily retracted for a close fit and extended with an unlocking buckle so that the wearer can quickly remove the Shift without having to remove a bike helmet.

In order to convert the Shift to a pannier, Timbuk2 resolved an issue that always frustrates my husband and me when we have to carry our traditional panniers after removing them from our bicycles. The hooks on the panniers always, always, always snag clothing (especially sweaters) or catch things they brush up against–a potentially costly problem when we’re shopping.

The hooks on the Shift Pannier Messenger, on the other hand, collapse and tuck neatly under Velcro straps. (Why didn’t my dad think of Velcro?) So catching fabric, becoming ensnared on a shopping cart, or delivering a nasty scratch to a stranger’s arm are never a problem.

Timbuk2 Shift Pannier Messenger - Side View
Side View

The Shift can then be worn like a messenger bag or carried briefcase-style using the nylon handle since the rigid interior construction of the back of the bag maintains its shape. I found myself carrying the Shift in this manner on the day I tested it, rather than stopping to reattach the shoulder strap. Finally, the sides of the pannier each have a loop for attaching a blinky light.

And test the Shift, I did.

I carried it on my bike for several hours one day for numerous shopping errands I needed to knock out. As mentioned previously, the interior stretch pocket is designed to fit most 15-inch laptop computers so I tried to slide in my Dell Studio laptop. My computer fit into the main compartment of the Shift but the stretch pocket was too tight to accommodate my laptop.   This possibly could be due to the laptop’s thickness. New, slimmer laptops might certainly be able to fit inside.

The stretch pocket was a perfect fit for my husband’s 10.5 x 9 inch laptop, so obviously e-readers or iPads would be fine, as well. Along with my husband’s laptop, I also carried with me an overstuffed wallet, a small makeup bag, my eyeglass case, a set of keys, a small digital camera, my u-lock and mobile phone.

Timbuk2 Shift Pannier Messenger - Back View
Back view showing the Velcro retainer strap

In the course of the trip, I added a box of overpriced, perfumed soap; some prescription medicine; a medium-sized tin can of dark roast coffee beans; and a brownie.

Another reviewer on the Timbuk2 Website mentioned that he found the zip pockets a bit too tight, but I wasn’t particularly troubled by this. They aren’t any tighter or smaller than the pockets of my Classic Messenger, and I used them to store the small stuff I’d otherwise lose in the main compartment area–keys, camera and brownie.

As alluded to earlier, I am occasionally prone to irrational thoughts. Among those pertaining to panniers are that (a) the pannier will take 20 minutes to attach or remove while impatient cyclists wait around the bike rack for their turn to lock up, and (b) that the pannier will detach from my bike as I pedal over a rut in the pavement spilling all the contents on to the road during busy traffic.

Worry wort or not, it did take me two or three times to elegantly attach and remove the pannier because I kept folding the Velcro back over the clips after they were attached to the carrying rack.

Timbuk2 Shift Pannier Messenger - Hook
Extra long hooks

Later, trying to squeeze my fingers between the pannier and the rack to unfold the Velcro was a bear. Eventually, it dawned on me that the Shift’s pannier clips are much deeper than those on any of my other pannier. Coupled with the Shift’s bungee cord hook, this made for a just snug enough fit.

Short of flipping my bike, I don’t see how the clips could pop off. In fact, I didn’t hear the Shift rattle or move during any part of my trip. That lesson learned, I also had to train myself to remember to both remove the shoulder strap and fold down the Velcro against the back of the bag before reattaching it on my bike so they wouldn’t get caught in the spokes or anything that I rode past.

I don’t yet know if the Shift Pannier Messenger is the bag to meet all my biking needs but it certainly covers a lot of ground. It won’t replace larger, boxy panniers that we use for heavy duty grocery shopping trips but for $100 it doubles, no triples, as a fairly room pannier, a messenger bag and a briefcase. The Shift is the same high quality that I’ve come to expect in Timbuk2 products so I am pretty confident we’ll be using this bag for a long time. It only comes in two colors, black and red/black. Currently, the Shift is only available in medium size.

Timbuk2 Shift Pannier Messenger - On Rack
On Rack

The Timbuk2 Shift Messenger sells retail for $100.

Editor’s Note: A reader suggested that we review this product. If you’ve got your eye on a bike commuting product, and you’d like to see it reviewed here, tell us about it using our contact form.


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8 thoughts on “Review: Timbuk2 Shift Messenger”

  1. Rob E. says:

    Ooo, I like the hooks. I’ve been trying to DIY my own satchel/pannier, and the issue of what happens to the hooks when you take it off the bike keeps coming up. That is a nice solution.

  2. Alice says:

    You just sold me one of these bags 😉 I have been looking for something with this level of versatility– that actually looked like a bag you would carry, not a pannier, and was waterproof. Thank you for the extensive review!

  3. Kenny says:

    It’s a great bag but please make sure you secure it when riding in an urban environment. My bag lasted 1 day. As impossible as it might seem my bag was stolen by somebody quietly walking behind me at a stoplight and lifting the bag. I had the smaller Bullitt version and it does not come w/ the bungee. Just the hooks and velcro that as mentioned is difficult to apply/remove due to space constraints.

  4. Sarah Murphy says:

    I’d love to see you do a review of this bag: Leather Bicycle Pannier Messenger

    I just discovered it and I’d love to see an impartial review before I spend the money.

  5. Jed says:

    The Shift looks pretty neat. I commuted with a Classic on my shoulder for a full year, snow and rain, and I often wanted to find a way to put it on the bike like a handlebar bag. I should have invested in a front basket.

    Looking at the Shift, I’m not sure I would enjoy having the pannier clips digging into me, but I don’t know off-hand a better way to design it. I love the pockets of the Classic, I used pretty much every pocket on it, so that aspect of the Shift I bet I’d enjoy just fine.

  6. Pete says:

    Another good option is the Rixen Kaul Office pannier. It doesn’t get talked-about much, probably because it’s expensive, but the hook system is the excellent Klick-Fix and it removes completely in seconds. It looks more “professional” (or dorky, depending upon your perspective!) than a messenger bag. I’ve been using one for almost a year and it’s fantastic.
    Available in the US from Velo Fred:
    The only “con” I can think of is that the material itself is not fully waterproof, so for serious rain you need to use the included bright yellow rain cover…

  7. VeloFred says:


    Thank you for placing a reference to

    Rixen and Kaul bags are supplied with rain covers, and they provide decent rain protection.

  8. Pat says:

    I bought this bag about two months ago as my school commute bag. It works perfect. I don’t worry about it coming off my bike and it is a snap to throw on. The transition from pannier to messenger bag is great.
    My only complaint is the size. In pretty much every respect it is tighter than I’d like it to be. I have a 5 year old 15″ MacBook Pro that barely fits into the laptop sleeve. I normally carry my laptop, power cord, headphones, water bottle, a casebook or two and a binder. This is about max capacity, and as one reviewer noted the zippered pockets are tight, specially when you have the large pocket filled to capacity. Adding an external water bottle pocket would add another feature and remove one sizable thing from the main compartment. Giving the whole bag a roomy a feel.
    Good bag and worth the money. Just know that is isn’t going to be able to carry everything like the larger Timbuk2 bags.

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