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Suitsak: The Key to a Major Increase in White Collar Bicycle Commuters?

| Friday January 28th, 2011 | 9 Comments

ban-startup-friday

In many parts of the world, cities are actively taking steps to increase biking as a daily activity – London’s “bicycle superhighway” is the latest example, generating a staggering 70% increase in bike use in one year, even on regular streets. But there’s a hitch to getting a broader professional segment of the population on two wheels: Their suit.

Riding in your suit to work is a deal breaker for many. Sweat, rain, and wrinkled clothes are too much of a hurdle for people to overcome. An opportunity lost. But what if there was a way to carry your suit, your laptop, all the necessaries, and be able to maintain your expected dress while reducing your weight?

That’s why Vancouver’s Chris Thom, himself an Investment Advisor, decided to create a solution when he couldn’t find one in bike stores: Suitsak. There are other options out there, like the Suit25 from Slicks.

But there’s a crucial difference: How it’s sold.

While Suit25 and the like are clearly aimed at the seasoned bicyclist who is already sold on the value and enjoyment of bicycling, SuitSak aims for those who’ve perhaps not ridden a bike since childhood. Further, it isn’t just aimed at bicyclists. Those who ride a motorcycle, scooter, or even want to walk or run to work are presented with an attractive option that’s much like a suit bag, folded in half, that has storage compartments for shoes, computer, lunch and the miscellaneous bits.

They’ve clearly thought out what would motivate potential customers, with three simple statements in bold at the top:

Saving money.
Staying fit.
Going Green.

The order is right in line with the reality of people’s motivations: Benefit to basic needs, to self, then to the broader world.

This all sounds great, but being a daily bike commuter myself, I know, whether I was wearing a suit or my other clothes, I wouldn’t want a broad, black backpack on me, trapping sweat. Panniers, the bags that clip on to the front or rear rack of bicycles, take both the weight and the resulting sweat off of you. It’s what I see regular business commuters typically choosing, whereas it’s the trendy and students that prefer backpacks and messenger bags.

Is this a wise business move on Suitsak’s part?

When asked about whether they’d be making a pannier, their answer was, “The research we have done shows that panniers are only important to people who are more ‘committed commuters.’  A backpack is something that allows more people to buy it and plan on starting to ride to work.” An interesting perspective, but why not make something for both groups of people?

Readers, what’s your thoughts? Are you considering beginning bike commuting, would you buy a Suitsak? Would you want a Pannier option?

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.


▼▼▼      9 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • dave

    I’m a daily bike commuter. This bag, like a messenger bag, will only trap sweat and make the rider need a shower at work. Garment bags can function in the desired capacity strapped onto a rear rack, more effectively. There’s also the fact that in moderate warm weather one can ride in street clothes (a la Copenhagen Cycle Chic). My Surly Big Dummy is a great commuter with bags for clothes, groceries, and I drop my son off at his school en route since he can ride on the snapdeck platform. Check out ecovelo and bikecommuter.com for more useful info on how to make this healthy transportation mode work for you. The last thing we need is newbies buying impractical gear and getting turned off to the possibility of sustainable choices as a result. Even more, we need a broader cultural societal shift that views cycle commuting and practical versatile clothing (not dry clean only suits) as acceptable normal attire in the work and urban setting!

  • http://onelessindenver.blogspot.com James

    Jandd is doing this better as a pannier. I realize new bike commuters will think a backpack is a good idea but after a few weeks of sweaty back they will be done with it!

    http://www.jandd.com/detail.asp?PRODUCT_ID=FCGBP

  • http://Www.greensmithconsulting.com Paul Smith

    Good points Dave & James. Creating something that’s familiar looking to newbie bike commuters so they can more easily recognize it as something they’d imagine using, but having it be an impedance rather than something better meant for the job, is a disservice to the real possibility of them continuing to bike commute in the name of a sale.

  • Alison Monahan

    Speaking as a “newbie” biker, I’d prefer to have more options, and options that were actually different, rather than the one “best” option, sanctioned by the existing bicycle commuters of the world. Who’s to say my bike has a rack? Maybe I prefer just throwing everything on my back and heading down the road. Maybe I don’t sweat much, or I live in a climate where that’s not an issue. Telling me that there’s only one possible way to commute properly isn’t helpful, and it’s not encouraging. Quite the opposite, really.

    • http://www.greensmithconsulting.com Paul Smith

      I don’t think anybody is declaring a single option as the only one. There’s dozens of choices out there, each working well for different people. Nobody’s making you choose one. Enjoy!

  • dave

    I was not implying there’s only one way to bike commute. In fact I commute on any number of different bikes I own depending on the weather and my mood. Some have fenders, some don’t. Some have a rack, some don’t. It also depends on your distanve. Anything is possible for 10 blocks or so. After riding my 4-5 miles to work, I know what works for me. I always dress for the weather, use a helmet and mirror, wear some rounded safety glasses to protect my eyes from wind and debris, and most of all sport a big smile when I get to my office! I f I had to wear a suit every day i’d probably carry it in once or twice a week and leave it hanging somewhere to change into upon arrival. I normally just use a Lowe hip pack for a daily commuting briefcase. It can hold my lunch, netbook and cable lock. I have a messenger bag that can be slung about as far back if you use the cross-ches strap to prevent load shifting, but really reduces my ability to ventilate in front after I get moving and warmed up. Anyone who commutes by bike gets my appreciation, no matter how far they ride or what they ride, carry or wear.

  • http://bit.ly/neeblog Daniela

    It’s so frustrating that there are so many social habits that get in the way of sustainability. This is a good creative solution to the suit problem but it would be nice if dress formalities were more fluid.

  • Jay Sea

    Better is to leave your suit at work and have less stuff to carry back and forth. Most dry cleaners I use, deliver.

  • theothergeoff

    The other issue about a backpack is that it puts more stress on your back and/or your elbows.