If you’re looking for a stylish urban bike bag that you’re not ashamed to turn up with at the office, cinema or restaurant then you need look no further. Hill & Ellis have become THE company to go to if you want a smart, beautifully made leather bag that clips onto your bike rack like any other bike pannier. Ask Jon Snow, the Channel 4 newsreader who’s bought four of them but was so excited when he got his first that he tweeted, “I’m thrilled with my bag! Everyone is oggling it…You’ve cracked the bike bag problem!”
Hill & Ellis started when its founder, Catherine Ellis was cycling to work for her job as a freelance TV director at the BBC and ITV. After trawling shops and the internet for years without any luck she decided to start making her own and she launched Hill &Ellis in 2012. The idea was to produce a bike bag that worked “for the cyclists’ destination as well as their journey.” Rather sweetly the name “Hill & Ellis” comes from her grandparents who taught her how to ride a bike.
Starting off with a plain leather satchel, Catherine has expanded her range enormously since those early days to include 10 different styles of satchels, four bags specifically designed for Bromptons, a sumptuous brown lap top bag and a saddle bag, not to mention the handbag bike bag. All the different styles come with their own classically British name: the Bunbury (from “The Importance of Being Ernest”), Duke, Professor and Don (as in Cambridge) being among my favourites.
All of them are made from the highest quality leather in a factory round the corner from Hill & Ellis HQ in Hackney, adding to the British caché that foreign buyers from China and Scandinavia are lapping up at the moment. The detailing on them is exquisite from the straps to the buckles to the specially designed striped lining inside. And of course they all clip on easily to a standard bike rack with its own locking device so it can’t be swiped at the traffic lights.
The designs appeal to both men and women - surprisingly the bright yellow satchel is sold equally between them. While being smart enough for the office in a briefcase kind of way, they’re pretty roomy and you can pack quite a lot in each one. They also include a waterproof cover if you don’t want all that gorgeous leather to be soiled.
For someone who used to be a vegetarian, Catherine is doing a roaring trade with her leather bags, selling between 800 to 1000 each year. While they’re not cheap, you’re paying for something that is incredibly stylish, high quality and beautifully made with painstaking attention to detail. You can even get your own initials embossed onto the front.
While she expands her business to include an upmarket canvas tote bag, a double pannier and ambitions for a range of clothing, Catherine still finds time to ride her bike. She once did London to Paris without sat nav but with a set of hair straighteners and a pair of heels to use on her arrival. She’s a fan of the Dunwich night ride, loving “how you just follow this trail of twinkling lights,” and still enjoys her old commute route from Crouch End to Shepherds Bush – “there’s just such a great cross section of London, through Islington, Regents Park, all the shisha pipes on the Edgware Road…” She leaves us with a top tip for London cyclists: enjoy closed roads along the entire London Marathon route just before the runners set off by getting up early and setting off at 5AM! Great idea – we might well give that a go this coming April.