All photos: Adam Clark Estes/Gizmodo
A pitch recently landed in my inbox that didn't make a lot of sense. Some designers were working with Freitag, a Swiss company that makes bags out of old truck tarps, and they were launching a Kickstarter. The product: the Zippelin, a foldable suitcase with bike tubes that inflated to create a frame. It sounded so weird it just might work. And it does.
The concept is actually quite simple. Most of the bag is constructed of those old truck tarps, an extremely tough polyurethane-coated fabric used to keep cargo dry during transport. Meanwhile, the straps are made of seatbelt webbing, so everything feels very rugged and secure. Sewn into the bag is a bike tube, an axel, and a pocket that stores the wheels. So when you want to store it, the whole bag rolls up into a package the size of three footballs. When you unroll it, you can inflate that bike tube with a standard bike pump, attach the wheels, and suddenly you've got a tremendously huge rolling duffel bag.
This is more or less how the new Freitag Zippelin bag was described to me. Again, I thought it was such a weird idea that I had the company send me a prototype. When it showed up it smelled like rubber and continued to smell like rubber for the handful of days I had it.
That's ok! The smell of rubber feels industrious and somehow tactical. But it's also a clear indicator that Freitag's new inflatable suitcase is not necessarily something you'd want to use for your fancy suits. In my mind, this is the sort of bag you might want to take on your dream trip to Machu Pichu, a voyage that's full of adventure and prone to fuck up your nice things. You need something durable. Who cares how it smells.
What makes the bag special is that bike tube frame. Not to repeat myself, but this idea sounded so weird, I couldn't believe it really worked. It's a standard bike tube squeezed into a rectangular space that's roughly the size of a regular rolling suitcase. To test out the setup, I just unrolled the soft bag, attached my regular bike pump to the valve sticking out the bottom of the bag, and pumped it up to about 100 PSI. The damn thing was stiff as, well, stiff as a suitcase with a metal frame.
As mentioned above, the Freitag Zippelin also comes with wheels. This part of the assembly felt slightly less magical since you have to fish them out of a pouch and then install the wheels on axles that go into the bottom of the bag. Once everything's done — and it took me about four minutes from start to finish — you've got a surprisingly huge, rolling suitcase with an astonishingly stiff bike tube frame.
The Zippelin isn't for everyone, I'll admit. For instance, I wouldn't buy it because, at 85 litres (5,200 cubic inches), it's just too damn big for me. Whenever I go on a trip, I limit myself to one medium-sized duffel and a backpack. What doesn't fit in there, doesn't get to go on the trip. If you enjoy the sturdy walls of some rolling suitcases, you're also not going to like the Freitag. It's stiff enough to roll around, but the tarp shell, however sturdy, is still soft. Finally, those lugging business suits around might be worried about the rubber smell. I don't think bankers on business trips are Freitag's target customer, though.
The Freitag Zippelin is a Kickstarter project. If the Zippelin doesn't hit the €100,000 ($US195,000 ($243,179)) goal, Freitag might decide not to sell the Zippelin at all. These days, some bigger companies use Kickstarter to gauge market interest, and it appears that Freitag might be doing just that with the Zippelin. That said, the company might decide to sell the bag at a later date, regardless of what happens with the Kickstarter project.
But the Kickstarter project might be a way to get a brand new Freitag bag at a killer price. With early bird specials starting at $US380 ($474), you could just get a deal on a very large and very unique bag. A 33-litre (1,150 cubic inches) Freitag Voyager travel bag retails for $US380 ($474), so that would be quite a deal. Plus, showing up at a friend's house with an inflatable suitcase made out of bike tires and old trucks would also be a hell of a conversation starter.