Messenger heroes, number 5: Erik Zo
19.01.08 by Buffalo Bill
As you may have noticed, Moving Target is not a commercial enterprise. I have one paid for ad on the site. All the links and pictures are events that I personally endorse, or the sites of people that I like, respect or think might be of interest to you, dear reader. So if you read something that you think might be wrong, or disagree with, you can be sure that it appears here because it’s my honest opinion.
When it comes to products, I know a little bit about bikes and equipment, but I am not conceited enough to think that my opinion is more worthy of note than anyone else’s. So I don’t review products. Much more interesting to hear what real working messengers think. After all, you lot are actually using the stuff. And the low-tech, plastic-bag-on-the-foot solution is often better than the high-spec, it’s-been-tested-on-the-space-shuttle, top-dollar offering. However, I do know a little more than the average cycle courier about messenger bags. I worked for Timbuk2 in the 90s, spending time in the factory hanging out with the sewers and the designer, Rob Honeycutt, and one of my best friends is Erik Zo, who has been making messenger bags since 1984.
I first met Erik at the 1993 Cycle Messenger Championships in Berlin. I was riding a fixed-wheel, and so was Erik. There were less than 10 people out of 350 on fixies at the CMC, and Erik reckons that they are all in this pic. Erik is on the left, Bob Schiele of Berlin at the back, Eric the Commander and Steve Harlvel of D.C. are on the right. The gormless looking hippy, wearing the horrible red glasses, is yours truly.
There were a lot of people in Berlin that weekend who were larger than life: my mate Andy Capp, of course, Marcus ‘Fur’ Cook of San Francisco, Viktor Veysey (later of London), Achim Beier (the father of CMC), Futura, the green army of De Gronne Bude, Copenhagen. But Erik was a messenger event all by himself.
Haired dyed in World Championships stripes, possessing a Campy tattoo and with chain-ring bolts as ear-tunnels, Erik was quite a sight. A cycle-freak and bike punk, completely committed to the cause of bringing peace and understanding to the world from the saddle of bicycle. Endlessly informative, a walking cycle-opedia, boundlessly creative, thrusting obscure bicycle zines in to willing or otherwise hands, demonstrating inventive ways of carrying unfeasibly large loads on a bicycle, he is a treasure.
He befriended me and the London crew, and the following year came over to London to help out at at the 1994 Cycle Messenger World Championships. He arrived in London with his freight bike, and was the ambassador of CMWC. He was crowned Freight Bike World Champion (and went on to win 2 more crowns in 95 and 96). He rode for Moving Target in 1996, and his house was our headquarters during the San Francisco Worlds.
And he makes bags. It’s Zo, not faux, the SF messengers used to cry, proud of their home-town product. And Zo bags were something to be proud of.
A Zo bag is simple, one-piece bag, with a bear-trap length adjuster. Based on the design of the original messenger bag, Globe Canvas from New York City, Erik’s bags were superior quality. Where the Globe was canvas (De Martini, the makers, were reputedly sail-makers, who designed the bag for telephone line-men), and wore out in under a year, Erik made his bag from Cordura, a Dupont product that’s 10 times tougher. The water-proof lining was (and still is) 15-oz truck tarp, which like-wise out-lasted the Globe liner. Erik also introduced two genuine innovations: a strap sewn on the back of the bag, so the flap closed completely, unlike bags like the T2 where the strap is sewn on the side, and one piece construction. Previously, the flap was sewn on to the bag, which made it more costly to produce, and allowed water to penetrate through the seam.
Compared to much more technical bags, such as Pac, Bag-Jack, Bag-a-Boo, Zo is very basic, and doesn’t have cross-straps or a multitude of pockets, loops, bells or whistles. The only major technical weakness is the strap, which wears out. The original strap on my gravy dog wore out after one year on the road. Erik will replace straps, but if you don’t live in San Francisco, that can mean a long wait for a renewal.
The other major draw-back of Zo bags is that it can be hard, if not completely impossible, to buy one. Last time Erik was here, in 2004, he told me that he was going to stop making bags, and devote himself to other projects. Which is why I have been telling everyone who asks that Erik has stopped making bags.
But good news for Zo fans! The man himself tells me that I am to stop telling all and sundry that he doesn’t make bags. He tells me that he made 140 bags last year, and that if you aren’t able to catch up with him in SF, then if you watch his ebay auctions, you can pick one up. His ebay id is ‘kaiben_v’. Best of luck, and don’t hold your breath.
I guess that this has been a hagiograpy, rather than than an objective appraisal of the man, but the guy is one of my oldest and best friends. I am not ashamed to declare that I admire and like the man, despite his faults (which are not legion). He’ll be at the roller race next week, so you can make up your own minds. But you won’t be able to buy a bag. He hasn’t got any with him to sell…
Rebecca Reilly: Nerves of Steel, Heart of Gold
Mission Workshop Messenger bags launch party Thursday 12th August
'Rare' 2nd hand Zo bag sells for $511
2008 - a useless review
1st ever Cycle Messenger Championships
Marcus Cook Award nominations