Recycled Bike Messenger Bags


Where do old billboards go when they die? Defy Bags of Chicago answers that question with its line of custom-stitched messenger bags: Company founder Chris Tag takes used billboard material, which is a reinforced vinyl, and cuts swaths from the 14 × 48-foot sheets to prepare the base fabric for his unique line of upcycled urban bags.

Procured, stitched and designed in the United States, Defy Bags have a raw, artsy aesthetic. Each bag is custom made in Chicago, where sewers use industrial-strength threads and double layers of the billboard vinyl to make stout, one-of-a-kind bags in three sizes. A flatbed printer finishes the job by inking each bag with a custom motif. You can upload a digital file and have Defy make a bag with your original design.

Defy Bags Medium Messenger model

Defy Bags ( come in small, medium and large. The vinyl is waterproof. Defy sewers add internal pockets to accommodate a laptop and small extras.

I tried out the medium messenger bag model. My particular test bag came from an old Range Rover billboard hung about a mile from Chicago’s Wrigley Field, Tag said. The bag measures about 13.5 × 15 inches. It is a square design — as opposed to traditional rectangle messengers — and it has an adjustable strap with a metal buckle.

Defy bags include industrial-strength stitching and double layers of vinyl

The medium messenger, which costs $120, is not a performance product. It is made more for walking than biking. Its construction is clean and stout. It holds a fair capacity of books, a computer, and items from a store.

But there are no zippered pockets to secure your valuables. Its strap pad is small, and the vinyl fabric is so slick that the messenger slides around on your back when biking.

Mock-up of custom bag designed for Gear Junkie

As a casual product — and a stand-out piece of portable art — Defy has a neat idea. If you’re looking for an everyday commuter bag, I would search other companies who stress function first, and then form.

But if you want to make a statement — eco, artsy, or otherwise — Defy has a quality product that is easily among the most original in its category on the market today.

—Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at

Stephen Regenold

Stephen Regenold is Founder of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of five, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.