In the mail

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A kitchen and a mailbox are perhaps the greatest features of living in town.  A bed is overrated, as is multiple bike ownership.  Jobs are alright, for a time.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been lucky to receive many interesting things in the mail, including correspondences from old friends, kind offers from new friends, and a few items ordered from faraway.  Somehow, I’m swimming in stickers.

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From Portland, OR

A friend in Portland sent a handwritten letter with updates.  We talk about new bikes, old bikes, and bike trips, mostly.  Shawn Granton is the illustrative genius behind many notable comix and zines related to bicycles, Portland, and travel.  He’s the guy behind the Urban Adventure League blog, the Zinester’s Guide to Portland, and the Bicycle Touring Primer.  He has also crafted many illustrations for local Portland bicycle events, and is a regular contributor to Bicycle TImes.  His wit ranks alongside his wisdom about bicycles and his craft with the pen.  Included is a self-made sticker which reads “NO, I don’t have a D.U.I. I just like riding my bike”.  Thanks Shawn!

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From Missoula, MT

A friend from the Adventure Cycling Association has been kind enough to send maps of their first bikepacking route.  The Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route (IHSMBR) promises over 500 miles of dirt roads and trails, with over 200 miles of singletrack asides, including access to over fifty hot springs en route.  Secret springs are rumored to also exist along the route, if you can find them.  This route is the the result of much hard work and research, especially by ACA cartographer Casey Greene, who is also an expeditious Montanta bikepacker, packbiker, and photographer.

In contrast to the Great Divide Route, the IHSMBR promises to be a true mountain bike route, complete with epic climbs and descents, and some hike-a-bike.  Knobby tires are necessary and panniers are not advised.  This is my kind of route!

The design of these maps make a great leap beyond those found on other ACA routes.  Due to the non-linear path of this route, it borrows from a broad-scale map format, as used on the Divide maps, but includes many of the features you see on other popular adventure maps, such as those in the National Geographic Adventure series.  Genuine topographic details, relief shading, and a unique font choice carry these guides into the future.  All photos by Casey Greene as well.  The details of the new maps are described in detail on the Adventure Cycling Blog.

Lael and I are looking at ways to include this route into our summer plans.  So many places to go!

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From Minneapolis, MN

Contributors to Bunyan Velo volunteer their time and donate their experiences and images to the magazine.  Occasionally, an envelope will arrive from Minnesota with a couple of stickers and a thank you note from editor Lucas Winzenberg.  I’ve worked with Lucas in some capacity on all four issue this past year, and am grateful for the chance to reach so many new readers, and to share the kind of riding we do.  The whole thing is growing– the riding, the writing, and the readership– tell your friends about Bunyan Velo!  Issue No. 4 is out now.

A few weeks ago, I received this Bunyan Velo stem bag and a wold cap made by Randi Jo Fabrications, which is really just one woman in Oregon named Randi Jo.  In addition, I’ve got enough BV stickers that Lael thought they would a suitable replacement for a broken ziptie on her Mukluk.  The “Get Rad” patch has yet to find a home, but I have an idea.

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From Annapolis, MD

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These Crazy Bars come from Velo Orange, headquartered in Annapolis, MD.  The concept of multi-position handlebars has grown popular over the last few years, as have alternative mountain bars featuring 20-50degree bends (also called alt bars or mountain comfort).  This bar blends the two concepts with a 666mm width at a 45deg angle for the main grip position.  The forward sections are designed to replicate the comfortable semi-aero position on the hoods of a road bar.  The concept on paper, is brilliant.  In person, the bars look a little nutty.  They are so wild looking, in fact, they’ve attached the designers name to the bar.  Casey’s Crazy Bars are described in greater detail on the VO Blog.

I’ve thought about which bike will get these bars first.  It will be either the Surly ECR or the Shogun Prairie Breaker, although I think I prefer a slightly wider bar on the ECR due to the oversize, over-wide wheels (29×3.0″). Additonally, I’ve decided the current position on the Shogun is too upright, as a steel touring bar is currently affixed.  This bar may help, with the option to use the forward position on crosstown sprints to work.

From Calgary, AB, Canada

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It has been a few weeks since I received this custom framebag from Scott Felter of Porcelain Rocket.  While the bag is filled with clothing and food on a daily basis, I’ve finally found the opportunity to get out for a multi-day trip.  More details on our ride up Resurrection Pass soon!

Also from Missoula, MT

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I am proud to be the first official customer of Wanderlust Gear, a new project for Paul Hansbarger of Missoula, MT, also an ACA employee.  He has years of experience designing and making gear under the name Hans Bagworks.  This Beargrass top-tube bag is Made in the USA and features a simple, lightweight design.  Removable plastic stiffeners are included to stabilize the side panels of the bag.  I am especially interested in the Rattlesnake stem bag, which claims to hold a standard water bottle and some snacks, a 32oz Nalgene, or even a 40oz. Klean Kanteen.  Remarkably, both bags are priced at $35, a sign that competition in the industry is good for consumers.  Paul also makes custom framebags ($140+) and insulated pogies in his Missoula shop.  More products are to be released as winter fades to spring.

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The all-important MUSA tag.

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From 45NRTH

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These didn’t arrive in the mail, at least not to me personally.  I purchased these from The Bicycle Shop, where I work.  While the Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro is the best bicycle ice tire on the planet (without question), I was curious to try this new offering from 45NRTH,  a new company from Minneapolis, MN, a sibling in the QBP family.  The 29×2.35″ Nicotine tire is a touch wider than the 29×2.25″ Ice Spiker Pro, with more pronounced blocky knobs on the outside.  I was hoping to retain as much flotation at possible on 50mm wide Rabbit Hole rims on the ECR.  Unfortunately, the 222 studs do not inspire confidence in truly icy conditions, and while each stud features a concave design which claims more “edges”, any studded tire that doesn’t make a lot of noise isn’t doing its job.  The result is a decent mountain bike tire with a little extra bite on the ice.  A poor ice tire is an easy habit to kick.  The volume of the tire is notably smaller than the 3.0″ Knard it replaces, as expected.  Hey 45NRTH, how about 400+ studs per tire next year?

The Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro features 402 studs per tire (29″ version), with a similar lightweight folding casing.  The Ice Spiker is also tubeless ready, officially, and the Nicotine warns against tubeless use, although it may be possible.

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Lots of knobs, not a lot of studs.  Each stud is only slightly raised from the tire.  At least, it would be nice to mold extra stud wells into the tire to allow custom studding as needed.  400+ studs please!

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On smooth glare ice, the studs do catch some traction, but not enough to really be safe on off-camber sidewalks and rutted alleyways.  This skid is at 12psi, riding at about 8mph.  Lael has ridden this bike, and has enough bruises to cash in for some Schwalbes, I think.  The Grip Studs on my Mukluk are more effective.  As a result, I ride the Mukluk almost every day.

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The Surly ECR frame features gaping clearances with 29×2.35″ tires, something I like to see, leaving lots of room for mud, and enough room to keep it out of the drivetrain.  While the BB is lowered with the smaller tires, for commuting and normal touring it rides very nicely (lest I be called an internet-arm-chair-engineer).  Still thinking a Krampus is more my style, or a Krampus-inspired 29+ Mukluk.

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From Grand Rapids, MI

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To that end, the 45mm Velocity Dually 29 rims might be just the ticket to turn a Mukluk into a 29+ bikepacking beast.  These high polish USA-made rims feature a doublewall construction, and a tubeless ready design.  They are yet to be built, as I decide which hubs will be used.  The main concern is whether I prefer to ride a rigid 29+ bike or a suspension fork with 2.4-3.0″ tires up front.  One build would use a 135mm fatbike specific hub, while the other would use a 100mm hub, possibly with a 15mm thru-axle on a suspension fork.  A dynamo is also part of the equation.  Knards look awesome on the Duallys.

Revisiting Ukraine

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We’ve all been reading about the events in Ukraine.  As a result of my Ukrainian heritage and our recent travels in Ukraine and on the Crimean Peninsula, I have a unique interest in the Ukrainian story.  I have some beautiful images from our time in Ukraine which I haven’t shared.  As I revisit them, I am moved by the experience in contrast to the fiery images streaming through major media channels.  My family (from NY) visited Ukraine with us for ten days, in which time we met long-lost family members in villages on either side of the country, and celebrated 22 years of Ukrainian independence in the central square in Kyiv.  Above, the Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Independence Square, the current site of the protests and violence in Kyiv, quietly buzzing with celebratory energy on August 24, 2013.

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Winter City 50K Urban Randonée

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Above: Clint rides across glare ice and crust on Westchester Lagoon, in the center of Anchorage, AK.  Spring conditions have arrived early this year, making studded tires a necessary tool.

The Winter City 30/50K Urban Randonée celebrates winter cycling in the city of Anchorage.  Organized by the Alaska Randonneurs as a fundraiser for the Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage, it provides an opportunity to ride with others, on routes which usually compose morning commutes or late night rides.  On this morning, well over 100 riders meet at the Trek Bicycle Store to encircle the city on a mix of multi-use greenway trails, signed urban bike routes, and secondary streets.  Given the unusual weather we’ve experienced this past month, the route was largely covered by ice, with alternating sections of dry pavement and hardpacked snow trails.  There is not an ideal bike for this route, although studs and a large-volume tire provide security and comfort.  Fatbikes, especially those with studs, were the bike of choice for many.

I enjoyed the chance to ride with a lot of new people, including some acquaintances from The Bicycle Shop, and even a few co-workers with whom I have never ridden.

We begin in a large group, and slowly disperse into several smaller groups.  We ride south on C Street, onto the Campbell Creek Trail to cross under the Old Seward Highway.

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We choose a shortcut across Taku Lake, passing several groups of ice fishermen.

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A small bottleneck at the first control is the last that we’ll see.  We won’t make the next control before the prescribed cut-off time.  Along the way, we detour onto some urban singletrack; the other half of our group assists another rider with a derailleur malfunction.

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A slice of the Blue Booty trail near APU breaks up the ride.

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Back onto multi-use trail and over Northern Lights Blvd. to Russian Jack Park.

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The next control warrants a few moments indoors to warm fingers and toes.  Back to her old touring habits, Lael indulges in a cup of gas station coffee at the Holiday station.  Does this count as coffeeneuring?

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Onto a network of icy streets in the Mountain View neighborhood.

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To the Ship Creek Trail.  This newer multi-use trail is a crucial link to a traffic-free loop around town, an especially popular summer ride.  

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 The Ship Creek Trail includes features which indicate a big budget, but will be enjoyed for years to come. 

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Downstream from Mountain View, Ship Creek connects to the railroad yards, the port, and downtown Anchorage.  The mouth of the creek is open to salmon fishing.

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While Anchorage does maintain an active port, it is not the largest in the state, measured by value of the product handled.  That honor goes to Valdez, which deals almost exclusively in the export of Alaskan oil, transported from the North Slope by the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System.  However, Anchorage receives most of the commercial goods that enter into the state, typically arriving from Tacoma, WA.  

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Up the hill, leaving the railroad, the port, and Ship Creek behind.

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To 4th Street, the heart of downtown, unusually void of snow and ice in early February.

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For a few moments, studs and fat tires are unnecessary.  For a moment, we’re just a group of over-dressed, over-equipped weekend riders.

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Crossing the Delaney Park Strip, we point our tires towards the Fire Island Bakery.

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Fresh baked bread and pastries draw us in.  I purchase a cup of coffee, a peanut butter cookie sandwich, and a baguette for dinner.  

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The baguette fits nicely in my new Porcelain Rocket framebag, which is custom sized and color-matched to my 19″ red Mukluk.

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Back on the road, Lael parts from the group and rides to work.  Three of us remain to complete the final 20K of the route.  Tailwinds and late afternoon sun help us along.  After all the distractions of the day, we finally settle on a more brisk riding pace.  I’d like to say it is because we’re motivated, but in fact, the next control on our list is the King Street Brewery.  We breeze past several less interesting controls en route to the taproom (Taco King, NOAA, another gas station; we were already hours past the cut-off time).

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We ride across Taku Lake a second time towards the brewery.  This is my first time visiting the King Street Brewery.  Now I know it is only a block off the trail– good news!

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Only a few miles from the end of the ride, Clint, Paul and I settle in for a fresh pint.  A pink Fatback and a white Pugsley are resting outside when we arrive.  Clint is riding a carbon 9zero7 Whiteout frame with Dillinger tires set-up tubeless on Rolling Darryl rims, while Paul is on an aluminum 9zero7 frame with 100mm wide Clownshoe rims.  Paul uses a variety of tires based upon conditions, including some 5″ Bud and Lou tires when the snow piles up.  Both 9zero7 frames easily swallow 100mm rims and 5″ tires thanks to a 190mm rear spacing.

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Back to the Trek Store, to finish the day.  Thanks to Clint and Paul for a great day of riding!  Let’s do it again sometime.  Next time we can make our own route, connecting greenway trails and singletrack from bakery to brewery and beyond.

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Nouvelle Belgique

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Belgium is a good place to ride a bike.  The GR trails have been a better host than we could have even imagined.

Thanks to Jo (of the circus), Matthieu and Annelise for welcoming us back into the country.  Thanks to Scott for the fine bikepacking equipment; each day my framebag fits more 75cl beers than the last.  Between Bruxelles and the border of Luxembourg, Lael and I found some hills, soon to become mountains.  Real mountain biking, plus the usual European diversions, coming soon.

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Knards at NAHBS

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It was the year of the 29×3.0″ Surly Knard tire at NAHBS 2013, most certainly.

AM Peirce

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Andy Peirce waves the 29 inch flag proudly, riding single and tandem models around southern Colorado’s rugged dirt roads and trails.  Born out of a converted potato barn in the San Luis Valley near Del Norte, CO, his bikes are trail tested and approved by some of the most discerning riders around.  Here, butted, curved and ovalized tubes– sometimes all at once– build upon the experience that Andy and his wife Tammy have on their previous 29″ mountain tandem.  They were happily riding on voluminous 29×2.4″ Maxxis Ardent tires and Velocity P35 rims, until the 29×3.0″ Surly Knard tire was released.  At that moment, Andy began work on a new bike.  This flagship tandem model on display at NAHBS is the result.  For dirt road adventures, the bike wears a suspension-corrected steel truss fork.  For more rugged singletrack treks, a suspension fork will take its place.  Curved tubes abound.  Note: custom titanium handlebars and stems, Rohloff Speedhub, and Black Cat swinging dropouts, all on an oversized 29″ wheelset.  This is a full-featured mountain tandem.  Nothing like this is available off-the-shelf.

Curves.

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Cutouts.

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Custom features, including a Rohloff hub, big tires, and Black Cat dropouts.

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Black Sheep

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Black Sheep bikes deserve to be shipped with blue ribbons.  Founder James Bleakely produces the most innovative titanium bikes in the country, showcasing challenging new designs for fat tires and tandems, or both.  This tandem features a titanium truss fork, custom titanium handlebar stem combinations, and a curvaceous frame.  A lightweight parts kit and I9 wheels complete this dirt road bomber.  This bike is proof that NAHBS is a showcase for real designs.  I visited Black Sheep last summer and experienced tubeless fatbike tires for the first time.  Thanks for the inspiration James!

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 Moots

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Moots makes nice titanium bikes in Steamboat Springs, CO, and you already knew that.  Considering the association with founder Kent Erickson, their passion for innovative titanium designs is no surprise.  This fully-equipped IMBA trail bike is ready to cut new singletrack, camp out for a few nights, and carry enough beer and whiskey for the whole crew.  With 29×3.0″ tires, this bike is ready for a full week of work, singletrack rides, and a weekend of fun.  The custom framebag is crafted by Scott Felter of Porcelain Rocket, and integrated titanium racks allow potentially massive cargo loads.  The orange rim tape complements the Stihl chainsaw.  The bell doubles as a shot glass, made by King Cage in Durango, CO.  The handlebar is absurdly wide.  The chainsaw guard is custom-made of titanium.  Details are important.

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Engin

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Engin Cycles of Philadelphia, PA displayed a third mountain tandem featuring the new Surly Knard 29×3.0″ tire.  Additionally, this bike features new product from Paragon Machine Works, including a new multi-purpose dropout system, a tapered steerer tube, and a prototype chainstay yoke designed to clear the new 3.0″ tire.  This is a rugged travel touring tandem with S&S couples and a stout wheelset with cutout Kris Holm rims.  The bike utilizes a slight offset in the rear to accomplish a full triple drivetrain with a 3.0″ tire and a 73mm bottom bracket.

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Retrotec

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Another blue ribbon mountain bike from Curt Inglis.  It looks like a Schwinn Excelsior, and rides like nothing else.  This bike features the new Paragon chainstay yoke, as on the Engin tandem above.

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Funk

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This is either half-fat or double-fat.  This frame from Funk Cycles wears a “normal” 29×3.0″ front wheel and a 3.8″ Surly Larry tire on a 47mm Schlick Northpaw rim in the rear.  The outside diameter of both wheels is similar, but the rear wheel allows maximal traction and flotation at low pressure.

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Appleman

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Full carbon 29+ from Appleman Bicycles.  Somebody had to do it.  Check out the one-piece bar and stem combination with the wood inlay.

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Don’t forget, many existing fatbikes will accept the new 29×3.0″ tire, including my Pugsley and newer Salsa Mukluks with Alternator dropouts.  The tire will also fit many rigid suspension-corrected 29er forks.

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Rick Hunter Longtail Fatbike, for Scott Felter

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Rick Hunter is the genius behind this custom concoction, as well as the camouflaged Super Scrambler featured a few weeks ago.

It’s hard to call a longtail fatbike ‘understated’, especially with the accoutrements of stark white framebags, but many attendees at NAHBS simple walked past thinking this was another funky show bike to explore the limits of tire size, wheelbase and custom luggage.  In fact, this bike is an exercise in real world problem solving.  Scott Felter, best known by his super-stitching Porcelain Rocket alter-ego, will embark upon an epic cross-continental desert adventure this summer.  Joined by Tom Walwyn, they intend to ride Australia’s Canning Stock Route, a 1150mi abandoned stock route through the arid outback, made possible by several remnant wells along the historic cattle route.  The route is classically epic, first traversed by 4WD motor vehicle in 1968; in 2005, Jakub Postrzygacz was the first to travel the route by bicycle, self-supported on his first-generation purple Surly Pugsley with custom fat-tire Extrawheel trailer.  In adventure cycling circles, Jacob’s crossing was the equivalent of a first-ascent.  One other rider has completed the route since, also with a trailer.  Tom Walwyn has recently received a custom Twenty2 titanium fatbike, and is expecting a custom trailer.  Between Rick Hunter‘s metal wizardry, and his own stitching solutions, Scott plans to ride the route without a trailer, carrying food for the month-long crossing and water for several days at a time, all on two wheels.

Notable features include a custom longtail assembly with a stout removable rear rack; custom chainstay yoke and fork crown to accommodate a maximum 100mm rim and 4.8″ tire (shown with 82mm Rolling Darryl and 4.7″ Big Fat Larry tires); and custom framebags installed directly to the frame via threaded braze-ons and standard M5 bolts.  Rick has detailed the frame with stunning curves at the back end, and a squared-off bluntness at the front, a juxtaposition not unlike his own style.  The bike manages an immense luggage capacity by way of Scott’s integrated systems, including two capacious panniers– each more than double the size of the standard Ortlieb Backroller– and several frambags which make the most of underutilized space within the frame.  A front rack may be added for additional capacity.  Arkel attachments were used to complete the panniers.

A few words from Scott Felter:

The idea was to have space for about 150L of capacity on the bike.  So the rear panniers are about 40L each, and there will be 20L panniers on the front + the framebags and the rack-top bag (whatever that ends up looking like).  The rear panniers will likely be full of food.  The framebags and front panniers will be kit storage.  There are bladder sleeves in the sides of the rear panniers, in order to keep the weight close to the rack and low-ish.  There is a 4-day stretch on the route without access to water.  So, at 10L a day, that’s 40L of water to carry.

The challenges are basically the terrain, which is sandy.  So, sometimes hardpacked, but more than likely soft in most places.  Hence the fatbike.  There are no resupply spots on route, so we will mostly be eating dehydrated food.  There are, if I’m not mistaken, 50-ish wells along the route, so that is the water source.  Some of the wells are no longer flowing, and some have been tainted by animals falling into them and dying.

We are going in winter, so the temps will be in the mid-80’s during the day and about freezing at night.  We are planning to share a tent, and only carry a tarp in case of precipitation, which is unlikely.  For me, the landscape is a bit daunting, mentally.  While I’ve lived in the desert of NM, this is a whole different sort of world.  Like being on Mars.  I’m looking forward to it, for sure.

This bike did not go entirely unnoticed by the bicycling community.  Below, Rick is interviewed by Josh Patterson of BikeRadar.com.WPBlog001 293

Custom fork crown.

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And a matching custom chainstay yoke.

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Custom panel-loading framebag.

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Big Fat Larry tires on 82mm Rolling Darryls.  Rims without cutouts were selected for durability.

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170mm Fatback hubs front and rear allow wheels to be swapped in the event of a freehub failure.  These hubs are manufactured by Hadley.

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Seriously, no shortage of attention, although the casual attendees still don’t know what to make of these monster bikes.  Cass Gilbert photographs the Hunter.

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Receiving a bike at NAHBS is a real honor.

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Getting your feet wet a few moments later is a privilege.

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Scott’s first ride aboard the fattie in five inches of fresh snow.  This is much more than a show bike, and much more than a snow bike.

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More features from NAHBS coming soon!

Homegrown bike bags

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Updated 11/13/2013.

Oveja Negra Threadworks; Lane Condell and Monty Wilson (Leadville, CO)

Bedrock Bags and Packs: Andrew Wracher (Durango, CO)

Bolder Bikepacking Gear; Greg Wheelwright (Boulder, CO)

Wanderlust Gear; Paul Hansberger (Missoula, MT)

Randi Jo Fabrications; Randi Jo and Eric (Cottage Grove, OR)

Revelate Designs; Eric Parsons (Anchorage, AK)

Porcelain Rocket; Scott Felter (Victoria, B.C., Canada)

Hamilton Threadworks; Sarah Hamilton (Victor, Idaho)

Cleaveland Mountaineering; Jeremy Cleaveland (Grand Junction, CO)

Apidura; (UK)

WIldcat Gear; Beth Barrington (Brecon, Wales, UK)

Crater Packs; Rich Shoup (Telluride, CO)

Phantom Pack Systems: Tim O’Brien (Canada)

J Paks; Joe Tonsager (Denver, CO)

Becker Sewing and Design; (Fairbanks, AK)

Nuclear Sunrise Stitchworks; (El Paso, TX)

Barking Bear Bagworks; (Michigan)

Lone Mountain Innovations; Torin Browning, (Rathdrum, ID)

Bike-BAG; (UK)

Bike Bag Dude; (AU)

Shift Bikepacking; (Switzerland)

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The list of lightweight bag makers is growing.  Inspired by their own lightweight bicycle travels and the growing bikepacking and endurance racing scene, these craftsman are making ultralight bags for rack-lite or rackless touring.  Lael recently picked up an Oveja Negra front accessory bag called the “Lunch Box” at SubCulture Cyclery in Salida, CO.  The bag is made locally in Leadville by a promising upstart comprised of a seamstress with a riding habit and a rider with a sewing itch. Constructed of the now standard Dimension-Polyant VX-series sailcloth, the bag holds a paperback Gogol novel as well as a windbreaker and small personal items for easy access during the day.  Made in Durango, the Bedrock “Chinle compression panel” pictured below was spotted on the Colorado Trail.  As every town should have a brewer and baker, a framebuilder and a bag maker would also populate my ideal town.

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There are several other supposed bag makers, but they have been excluded if their websites indicate inactivity.  Carousel Design Works is a notable exception.  Please share any additional leads so that I may update the list.

About framebags

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(Since receiving responses from Eric, Scott, Sarah, Beth and Jeremy, I have edited some content regarding product details and ordering.)

St. Valentine’s Day– not the occasion for me to dine in an expensive restaurant or support the trade of imported flowers. Rather, Lael wins the prize of a Revelate Viscacha seatpack packed with 5 lbs. of oranges and a bunch of bananas. Like a Carradice bag it sits below the saddle, although is suspended from the seatrails and is strapped around the seatpost with a rugged Velcro-backed webbing and the base of the bag is stiffened by a Rhinotec exterior. (Edit: I mistakenly identified this material as Hypalon, another synthetic textured rubber.  Eric, of Revelate, says that Rhinotec holds up better in use). The bag claims a 14L capacity, like my smaller Carradice Lowsaddle Longflap, and minimizes in size like a rolltop drybag when even smaller loads are carried so that the contents are never tossed about and the bag rides securely over uneven terrain. The bag is mainly constructed of a rigid laminated sailcloth– the Dimension Polyant X-Pac series– which is a composition of familiar materials designed to maximize abrasion and UV resistance, water resistance, and rigidity. This fabric is becoming common in high performance outdoor equipment and was originally designed for use in sails.

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The Dimension Polyant X-Pac VX series (numbered 7, 21, and 42) is comprised of multiple layers of fibers, laminated for maximal benefit. Outer nylon fibers resist abrasion while the X-pattern ripstop prevents the proliferation of tears and resists stretching; a layer of polyester fabric lends seam strength and UV resistance. PET waterproof coating is sandwiched between the layers to limit the passage of water, and is less vulnerable to puncture and abrasion than externally coated or impregnated fabrics such as urethane coated nylon or silicone impregnated nylon. The sum of these features is a lightweight, durable, all-weather material which resists sagging and stretching, and lends rigidity without stiffeners or hardware. A great source for DIY outdoor fabric– Rockywoods– supplies X-Pac VX series fabrics under the name “X-Pac laminated ripstop” and also supplies Dyneema, Cordura, silnylon, illuminite reflective nylon, waterproof zippers and other materials to the adventurous home stitcher.

Given multiplicitous frame dimensions and shapes, custom frame bags are almost always required for a good fit. As a result, homemade framebags are becoming quite popular and the confidence to stitch a bag can be found in a few hours trolling the internet. With a standard home sewing machine, some material ordered from the internet or scavenged from alternative sources (used backpacks or tents, etc.), and a few hours or more, one could be on their way to “bikepacking”.

Bikepacking, for the uninitiated, is the practice of bike touring with the mentality of lightweight backpacking which allows a hybrid or mountain bike to explore more rugged terrain, more easily. It’s a sub-genre of a sub-culture, and there’s a website. Bikepacking.net is a place that’ll recommend you sleep on a car windshield sunshade; cook over a beer can, or not at all; and travel fast, light, and happy over hill and dale. Here’s a neat video that summarizes the process of stitching a framebag:

A list of custom and semi-custom frame bag manufacturers for rackless or rack-lite touring:

Porcelain Rocket- Scott Felter offers full custom framebags, handlebars systems, seatbags, accessory bags, a new Anything bag for the Salsa Anything cage and Big Dummy-specific bags. He seems to have found his stride in recent years and is open to new projects. This summer, a friend had a zipper malfunction on a PR framebag– likely the result of trail dust and mud– Scott replaced the bag in good faith for a bag with a more rugged zipper, shipping to a remote location. Greg, Cass and Nancy adorned their Surly Trolls with Porcelain Rocket bags this summer; all smiles and good words about Scott. Quality is superb, wait-times are reasonable and the products are constantly evolving. Top-notch customer service. –Victoria, B.C., CA
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Revelate Designs- Eric Parsons offers a full line of framebags, Viscacha and Pika seatbags, handlebar systems, gas tanks, and mountain feed bags. Bringing Alaskan ruggedness and custom-quality bags to the masses, Revelate is now supplying bags to QBP to fit Pugsley and Mukluk frames. Speedway Cycles also stocks bags to fit the full range of Fatback bikes.  As a result, expect to see a lot more Revelate bags out on the road and trail.  While framebags are custom made to frame dimensions, any bike shop with a QBP account can now order the Viscacha seat bag, a top tube bag, or a mountain feed bag, which are likely to fit every bike in your stable. Rumors suggest that bags may be available on a production basis for other touring oriented models from Surly and Salsa, such as the Fargo and the Troll. Quality is excellent and customer-service is excellent.  (Edit: Eric responded quickly to my e-mail, and has verified that these rumors are true.  More Salsa and Surly bikes with framebags, coming soon.  He says, “And I’m working on a bunch of new stuff for this spring that is going to kick ass.)  No custom option. –Anchorage, AK, USA

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Hamilton Threadworks- Sarah Hamilton began stitching custom bags this past year and one of her first bags rested between Jay Petervary’s spinning legs over the course of his record-setting Great Divide ITT this fall. A zipper failed the second day out, but a safety pin held things together for the remaining 15 days, 9 hours. These days her zippers are holding together and she’s developed some new features. Elastic panels allow versatility when packing odd sized objects, and lessens stress on the zippers. Sarah’s clients include other bike elite in the Teton/Jackson region and currently, the purchase of a snowbike from Fitzgerald’s Bicycles in Victor, ID includes a free Hamilton Threadworks custom bag. Keep your eye on her work. –Victor, ID, USA

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Carousel Design Works- Jeff Boatman offers the full range of framebags, seatpacks, and accessory bags. Most products are available from a list of current offerings listed in a pdf file published every few months. It’s hard to ignore the numerous complaints of poor communication and long wait times. Inspiring bags; uninspiring service. Quality appears to be excellent, if you can get a hold of it. –Sonora, CA, USA

Cleaveland Mountaineering- Jeremy Cleaveland has only recently begun selling custom bags for bike adventures, but has been exploring the mountains and making his own gear for ten years. Currently earning a second bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in Grand Junction, CO, his work looks promising and his approach is novel: make bags, ride bikes, make better bags, ride bikes, etc. He is his own critic and seems to be evolving the product at a rapid pace, all while attending school. Jeremy’s mantra, “better suffering through engineering” is dark praise for the physical challenges that we engage, or endure, for recreation and pleasure, but it may be more truth than many of us realize. Prices are good. –Grand Junction, CO

Wildcat Gear- Beth Barrington began this Wales-based company this past year to serve the burgeoning UK bikepacking and adventure racing scene, offering handlebar systems and framebags, with other products due out soon. Looks nice, and a good option for those on the islands.  The associated blog from Ian Barrington, “Middle Ring All the Way”, serves some superlight bike adventures (e.g. 34lb Welsh Divide adventure race bike, with sleep system, food and water). –Wales

Phantom Pack Systems- Nicely made framebags, handlebar systems, accessory bags, and seatbags with built in fenders. –Canada

Carradice saddlebags offer an alternative to the modern seatbag and are best mounted to saddles with bag loops, such as most leather saddles have. Simple and ruggedly constructed for over 75 years, the cotton duck construction is ideal for carrying soft goods such as clothing, sleeping gear, tent, or food. Models range from less than 10L to 24L, while “longflap” models offer flexibility when overpacking with extra food or when removing layers. No custom options. Quality is good and materials are rugged. –Nelson, Lancashire, England

Seattle Fabrics also supplies outdoor fabrics; consider Dyneema, a ripstop nylon, and Cordura, an ultra-abrasion resistant nylon for bags and packs.

Check out Justin’s framebag project and Scotty’s bag.20120223-000430.jpg

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