Rogue Panda Designs and Flagstaff, AZ

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Nick Smolinske is Rogue Panda Designs, in Flagstaff, AZ.  Check out the Rogue Panda website for product and ordering information, or the Rogue Panda Facebook page for news and monthly deals.  Don’t forget, I keep a fairly accurate list of all known bikepacking bag makers from around the world.  Please send corrections and submissions!

I once wrote that I thought every town should have a baker, a brewer, a framebuilder, and a bag maker.  Flagstaff has all of these, in addition to a nice slice of the Arizona Trail and some of the most pleasant fall weather in the country.

Nick Smolinske is Rogue Panda Designs.  Nick has been designing and making bikepacking equipment for years, and blends his passion for lightweight backpacking and bicycling at the helm of his sewing machine.  His business recently outgrew his bedroom, his spare room, and his Etsy retail space.  Earlier this year, Nick quit his job to invest in full-time bag manufacturing and design.  He moved his equipment into a rented garage across town, a building which once acted as a horse stable with a few dusty corners to prove it.  Rogue Panda Designs debuted a full-featured website at the same time with an active retail portal featuring in-stock products and a custom ordering process.

Rogue Panda offers most of the now-standard bikepacking designs, but a few products stand out from the rest.  The Picketpost seatbag is designed to maximize the space behind the seatpost on a hardtail bike, preferring a more vertical orientation that also serves to stabilize the bag on technical trails.  Several companies are working to improve the stability of the modern seatbag, with varied approaches to solving the problem.  

The Oracle downtube bag is a small zippered pouch meant to hold tools, tube, or other dense items which don’t need to be in a framebag.  It attaches to the downtube or any other part of the bicycle via non-slip straps, with an integrated compression strap.  

Lastly, Rogue Panda’s custom framebags stand out for the detailed and bold designs which are offered.  Nick is most proud of the radiant Arizona state flag designs, yet regularly offers bags with the New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming state flag logos.  If you live in a state or country with a simple and preferably geometric flag, you could wave it proudly on you bike.  I’m thinking Israel, South Africa, Sweden, and Macedonia would be great candidates for a country flag.  Texans, you know you need Texas themed bikepacking kit.  Check out the time-lapse video of an Arizona flag framebag in production.

Most Rogue Panda products are named after sections of the Arizona Trail.

The name Rogue Panda originates from a local prank in which an electronic traffic sign was hacked, and the banner was modified to warn motorists of a “ROGUE PANDA ON RAMPAGE”.  Nick is not responsible for the prank, I don’t think.

Every town should have a friendly bike shop like Flag Bike Revolution.  The bike shop shares an old industrial building with an artisan Neopolitan-style pizzeria with a subtle bike theme called Pizzicleta, and the Mother Road Brewery, named for the famous Route 66.

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Our friend James manages Pizzicleta and bakes the best bread in Flagstaff, as a way to use remnant heat from the previous night’s fire. The bread bakes each morning while James preps for the day.  In the evening, the tiny eatery is packed with guests who share a single large table.  We gave Lael’s blue Raleigh XXIX to James while in Flagstaff.  We also gave Lael’s old green Surly Long Haul Trucker to his girlfriend Deja several years ago.  Since, Deja has traveled to Italy with the LHT.  

James reports that the rusty blue hardtail has been repaired– he discovered a hole in the frame while preparing for paint– and the frame now wears a new coat of white paint with metal flake.  A brand new RockShox Reba fork rounds out the build, along with a new framebag and seatbag.

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Building and customizing Lael’s Specialized Era at Flag Bike Rev.  She will be moving to a new hardtail in the coming months.  Anyone looking for a great full-suspension cross-country and bikepacking rig?

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A visit to Rogue Panda headquarters reveals a colorful array of bikepacking gear, and a few innovative designs.

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The Picketpost seatbag, mocked up on my Meriwether hardtail.  The two lower plastic loops are used to connect the bag to the seatstays for added stability.  This design also maximizes the total volume of the bag, without forcing a load beyond the rear axle.

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Nick has prepared a drawer full of Arizona flag panels, awaiting fabrication into complete framebags.  All framebags are custom and pricing starts at $125 for state flag bags, or $95 for single color and single compartment bags.

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This custom two-compatment bag is headed on tour in New Zealand on Brian’s Surly Cross Check.  Logos represent local businesses who have helped him prepare for his trip, and the text at the bottom is in memory of his parents.  James gave this bike to Brian, we gave a bike to James, the world is a better place.  Nick prefers a photograph of the bicycle with a measuring tape or meter stick in the image, rather than a hand-drawn pattern.

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Once the bag has been ordered and a pattern provided, the star is located on the drive-side panel.

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Handlebar bags are mostly standard designs, including sealed seams and a multi-purpose daisy chain which enables secure attachment to Jones Loop bars.

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Later, Nick joins us for a ride on the Flagstaff Loop Trail and a brief section of the AZT.  Our friends Lucas and Monica, once of Anchorage, Alaska, also roll through town while we are in Flagstaff.

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This mural by Cosmic Ray, now on display at Cosmic Cycles, depicts the local trail system.  The text in the bottom right reads “Copycats will ride Huffys in Hell… (Full Wald Gruppo!).

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Lael on her first dirt ride on the Specialized Era, also her first ride with a backpack.  She successfully used this Osprey Raptor 14 pack to haul her bike through the Grand Canyon. 

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Nick is proud of his dirt cheap custom bikepacking rig.  The frame is a Bikes Direct freebie from around town, a simple coil suspension fork, custom luggage, Thudbuster seatpost, with platform pedals.

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An early prototype of the Oracle downtube bag.

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Fresh bread!  Thanks Deja.

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Route 66 lives in Flagstaff.

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Pizzicleta is highly regarded for thin crust pizza, although I just like knowing that the pizza man rides a bike.  James treated us to an exceptional meal at “Pizzi”, as he calls it.  

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To come: A series of posts about the rest of the Arizona Trail, and some more insight into Lael’s AZT ITT and her future with ultra-endurance racing.  Lastly, in the next few weeks I plan to roll out a series of posts from our time in the Middle East this spring, including time spent in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine riding with Julian, Christina, and Klaus.  Lots of fresh stories coming soon.  

We will be in the Phoenix area over the next few days, then back to New York State to visit my family.  We will be in Northern and Central New York, NYC, and even the Washington D.C. area in the next few weeks if anyone wants to meet for a beer or a ride.

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20 thoughts on “Rogue Panda Designs and Flagstaff, AZ

  1. Nick’s bags are the best! You forgot to mention he’ll custom fit your frame bag from an emailed photo of the bikes front triangle.

  2. Oh, joy! I have been putting off buying a frame bag until Imsaw a custom design that I really loved. This just might be it! I spied the Cascadia flag patch in one pic. Do you think he could make a Cascadia ctricolored bag? Blue, white, green, panelsmwith a geometric Cascadia tree? Oh, hoy, I hope so…would look awesome on my Salsa El Mar! Jo

  3. I have a great 50ish mile loop that’s 40 miles of singletrack and can include an overnighter on the C&O (between Great Falls and White’s Ferry) if you guys are interested. It’s based off the Moco Epic South loop. The canal is so peaceful in November, it’s a great time to have an overnighter.

    Of course Frederick MD, has the super technical trails in the Frederick Watershed. Lots of really rocky sweet singletrack.

    If any of that sounds fun, I’d be happy to put a small group ride together.

  4. I would love to grab a beer with you guys in DC! Let me know if you need a place to stay or anything like that.

    Also, I second Jeffy’s comment on the canal. It’s great this time of year.

  5. Cool bags indeed. As of now I’m firmly engrained in Revelate stuff, but when it is time for a new set I will for sure give RPD a shout out. I envison a super bad ass Texas Lone Star bag. Maybe find the 6 Flags of Texas patches and sew them on.
    Dreaming…

    • Revelate offers the best designs and the best quality on the market, and I’ve been happy to introduce customers and sales staff to a growing range of Revelate equipment through the bike shop where I sometimes work in Alaska. Lael and I are also lucky to be able to work directly with Eric and Dusty to produce original designs that meet our needs, some of which have influenced current stock offerings, others which may never see production.

      But since bike frames will continue to require custom frame bags, it is great to see people like Nick filling orders in a timely, professional manner, for a good price. Further, he is developing and testing some new designs, rather than reproducing the same old stuff like so many others.

      Lone Star bag sounds rad!

  6. It’s always fun when celebrities come to your home town. Glad you enjoy Flagstaff as much as the locals do. We’ve got a good spot here in snowy Arizona.

  7. James!!! I met James on my cross country tour in 2012, I was loaded up with everything and the kitchen sink (WalMart tent and sleeping bag and all). I was amazed at his superlight bikepacking setup on his LHT. He introduced me to this whole whacky thing. I was bummed to miss James when I passed through Flagstaff over the summer.

    My girlfriend and I had the best breakfast there at MartAnne’s Breakfast Place. Vegan chilaquilles!!!

  8. Thanks for this post. After several emails and a trip to my storage shed in the dark to take a pic of my bike, I have officially ordered a frame bag kit! He had exactly what I have been waiting for! I can’t wait to get the bags!

  9. Shoot…one of my favorite bikepacking bloggers is coming to town right when I’ll be out of town! If you guys ever need a place to stop in Tempe, you would be more than welcome to stay at my place.

  10. I have had great customer service with Nick regarding a custom bag for my Krampus. Great price, super quick turnaround, high quality.

  11. I’d also like to add to this post, that Pizzacletta makes the best pizza I’ve ever had outside of Italy. So if you’re stopping through Flag make sure you eat there!

    And honestly, it’s probably just as good as the stuff I had in Napoli, it’s just been a few years so I can’t really compare.

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