(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.
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
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
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
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.