Rogue Panda Designs and Flagstaff, AZ

Nicholas Carman1 14

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.

Nicholas Carman1 16

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.

Nicholas Carman1 15

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?

Nicholas Carman1 17

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

Nicholas Carman1 6

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.

Nicholas Carman1 7

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.

Nicholas Carman1 10

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.

Nicholas Carman1 11

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

Nicholas Carman1 19

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

Nicholas Carman1 13

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.

Nicholas Carman1 4

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!).

Nicholas Carman1 3

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. 

Nicholas Carman1 5344

Nicholas Carman1 5

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.

Nicholas Carman1 5345

An early prototype of the Oracle downtube bag.

Nicholas Carman1 5346

Fresh bread!  Thanks Deja.

Nicholas Carman1 5351

Route 66 lives in Flagstaff.

Nicholas Carman1 5347

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.  

Nicholas Carman1 5349

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.

 Nicholas Carman1 2

Advertisements

GR5: Genk to Stavelot

WPBlog001 1147

In the Netherlands, the GR5 was an interesting ramble through town and country.  In northern Belgium, the route frequently follows managed forest tracks and local mountain bike routes, often abandoned doubletrack.  Passing near Maastricht and Liège, the routes enters the famed Ardennes Mountains, famed for being the only mountains in Belgium.  If this were Pennsylvania, which is how it looks from squinted eyes atop a hill, we would joke that these are mere hills.  But the same is true both here and there, these are steep hills approaching 1000ft in elevation range, and after riding up and over a couple I am happy to regard them as mountains.  Finally, this is real mountain biking.  The diversity of the trail has not diminished, simply more time is spent off-pavement and even off-road– yes, there is a distinction.  Some hiking required, and many challenging ascents and technical descents, but mostly pleasant riding.  ‘Bikepacking the Ardennes’ may be a ready made route, and an instant classic.

These images are from the last three days, as hills turn to mountains.  Only 1550km to Nice.  Not sure if we are going there.  Always passing through tunnels.  

WPBlog001 1124

WPBlog001 1144

WPBlog001 1138

WPBlog001 1135

We never leave at first light, but we ride until the last hour almost every night.  The sun retires past 10PM, lingering below the horizon for another hour.  As the days get warmer, evening becomes a nice time to ride.  

WPBlog001 1159

WPBlog001 1160

WPBlog001 1161

WPBlog001 1162

WPBlog001 1136

WPBlog001 1137

WPBlog001 1165

Mornings are equally nice– cool and full of excitement for the day.  Change is the essence of this route, and scouting the next turn keeps us busy all day.  Shopping for food, picnicking, and swimming revive our muscles and our interests in riding.  Belgian beer, chocolate, and waffles keep our energy levels high for the next climb.   More than a few locals have been interested in our curious ‘touring bikes’.

WPBlog001 1142

WPBlog001 1133

WPBlog001 1145

WPBlog001 1170

WPBlog001 1151

WPBlog001 1152

WPBlog001 1153

WPBlog001 1154

WPBlog001 1155

WPBlog001 1156

WPBlog001 1171

WPBlog001 1158

WPBlog001 1167

We share the route with a few others, including farmers, cattle, cars, hikers; nettles, raspberry brambles, deer ticks, tall grasses, overgrown trees, mud, rock, roots; and very infrequently, other cyclists.

WPBlog001 1168

WPBlog001 1173

WPBlog001 1187

WPBlog001 1175

WPBlog001 1179

WPBlog001 1176

WPBlog001 1185

WPBlog001 1186

WPBlog001 1193

WPBlog001 1189

WPBlog001 1190

WPBlog001 1192

The Ardennes are wonderful.  Growing up in rural New York, I hunger for these kinds of landscapes.  Touring in the Rockies the past few summers and living in New Mexico, I had forgotten about humidity altogether.  Mud and nettles; rocks and steeps; cities and steps all got together. 

WPBlog001 1196

WPBlog001 1197

WPBlog001 1177

Many stone buildings do not have provisions for exterior plumbing, which can make it hard to find unattended water sources.  Cemeteries are a safe bet.  In the mountains, streams are always found in the valleys.

WPBlog001 1199

WPBlog001 1201

WPBlog001 1202

WPBlog001 1203

WPBlog001 1207

WPBlog001 1204

WPBlog001 1216

WPBlog001 1210

Camping has almost never been easier.  Much of the trail passes through public forests.  A bench, like a picnic table, is a nice feature.

WPBlog001 1211

In 2009, the GR5 marked its 50th anniversary.  

WPBlog001 1213

Here, our descent to Stavelot–  a half-day in the life of a GR5 thru-biker.

WPBlog001 1212

WPBlog001 1215

WPBlog001 1218

WPBlog001 1220

WPBlog001 1222

WPBlog001 1126

WPBlog001 1224

 A tunnel completes the route to town.  Both natural and manufactured features make the GR routes exceptional.  The footpath shares this tunnel with a small stream.

WPBlog001 1226

Riding south, hoping to reach Luxembourg City this weekend.  A friend from Tacoma performs with The Paperboys at midnight on Saturday.  

WPBlog001 1205