Threadbare and a shoestring budget

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For me, things wear out more than they break.  Below, a record of things that have broken, worn out, or required attention in the last few months.  Above, the last laundromat we found was in Selestat, France, over a month ago.  Even in France, public laundries are uncommon.  East of Germany, they are nonexistent.  After discovering that we would not find a laundromat for the rest of the summer– except possibly at a hotel or hostel, or in a major city– we selected the old fashioned method of washing clothes by hand.  A one dollar bar of laundry soap, a 64 oz. Kleen Kanteen for ‘agitate’ cycles, and a cold stream get the job done.  Concerned for the health of the stream, we dispose of soapy water in the bushes, although the final rinse happens in the stream.  Surface water quality is Fair in Czech, Slovakia, and Poland, except in the mountains where water is still cold and clear.  The result of our hand washing?– clothes that smell like soap, look a lot less dirty, and feel crisp after drying in the sun.  Every time we go to a grocery store, Lael still wonders if she is the one that smells like ripe meat.  Usually, it is the old man next to us.  Welcome to eastern Europe.   


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We used sil-nylon dry bags to soak the clothes, a 64 oz. Kleen Kanteen to agitate heavily soiled items, and time.  Total procedure from dirty to dry: about 2 1/2 hours. 

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Alcohol stove

Since 2009, I have used a homemade alcohol stove, based upon a design called the Penny Stove.  I have a few qualms about the design– notably, the exposed lip of aluminum is susceptible to damage– although the stove performs well, and it is easy to make along the trail with a pocket knife.  The first stove was made in Tacoma, WA in 2009 with Heineken keg-shaped cans (now discontinued) and specialized tools, including a fresh razor blade and a drill.  The second stove was made exclusively with my Swiss Army knife in Steamboat Springs, CO, out of Ska Brewing Co. cans.  I made this stove last week in Korbielow, Poland from Harnas beer cans.  This time, I used Lael’s new Opinel knife, which is still as sharp as the day we bought it.  With some experience, I can make a functioning stove on the first try.  Total build time: about 15 minutes.

The old stove, shown below, which recently endured the weight of a human exiting the tent to go pee at night.  Names will not be named.

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The carnage of stove-making includes three beer cans.  In Poland, denatured alcohol (90%+ ethanol) is colored blue or purple and is called denaturat.  The purple, or aubergine, Opinel knife is extremely sharp.

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New stove, old penny.  Works great.  Negligible weight.

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Homemade pot stand for our alcohol stove needed some repair.  Baling wire, purchased in an exact length (1/3 meter, for free), holds the supports together, which are made of stainless steel bicycle spokes.

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A pair of wire-bead WTB Exiwolf tires came on my used Raleigh XXIX+G.  I put one on my rear wheel, and the other on Lael’s.  We replaced hers with a Schwalbe Nobby Nic tire in France.  I made it to Ostrave, CZ before replacing it with a 29×2.35″ Schwalbe Hans Dampf that I bought in Germany.  The Hans Dampf only comes in a 2.35″ width for 26″, 650b, and 29″ wheels; it only comes with tubeless ready technology including durable Snakeskin sidewalls (a heavier Super Gravity version is also available).  Mounted in the rear, at appropriate trail pressures, the Hans Dampf sticks like a gecko– it is amazing.  This is one of the biggest tires available without applying for a fatbike permit (have you seen the new Surly ECR!).  

No flats for either of us all summer.  No problems of any kind.  Tubeless touring is the way to go.  Even if I am carrying spare tubes, I’d rather pack them away than tote the weight in the wheels.  I’d also rather not patch tubes.

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Hans Dampf is big, and bites in any direction– uphill, downhill, and sidehill.  I would like to see more tires like this in 29×3.0″.  A 2.35″ Schwalbe Hans Dampf or a 2.4″ Maxxis Ardent on a Velocity Blunt 35 or a Sun MTX33 makes for a voluminous combination, yet will fit in many traditional frames for 29″ wheels.   

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Revelate Gas Tank top tube bag, with damaged zipper.  I frequently stuff, and overstuff, my bags.  This is what happens.  Sent home from France for future repair.  We both have more luggage capacity than we need on our bikes so this is no problem.

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Lael uses a Revelate Viscacha seatpack, and attaches her sleeping pad to the four loops on top of the bag.  Abrasion has worn through one of the loops, while the others show signs of wear.  Some repurposed shoelace makes a solid repair.  Handy to have needle and thread for such projects.  Below, worn loops in front, broken loop in back.  Newer Revelate bags uses a different attachment with more durable plastic hardware and nylon webbing.  Also, Eric has a cool new waterproof seatbag in the works, called the Terrapin, which appears to be modular.

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I sleeved the nylon shoelace over the existing material, and sewed it into place,

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Carradice bags are well made, although I have repaired the stitching on many of the leather straps over time.  Needle and thread save the day again.  A simple fix, although a bit tedious to mend leather and canvas with a standard gauge needle.  

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The same shoestring used to repair the Revelate seatbag also serves to replace the broken retention cord on the skirt of the Carradice Camper.

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Early in the summer, I was dissatisfied with the way my front load obscured my headlight.  A spare tube strapped under the stem shims the front load out of the way– an easy fix, and another good use for nylon gear straps.

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Brake pads

Brake pads wear out.  We replaced Lael’s rear pads and my front pads recently.  A wet, muddy day on the trail can lead to rapid pad wear.  I always carry spare pads on a longer tour– they are tiny, and light.

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Bottom bracket

This one is unusual.  When I purchased the bike secondhand from Tim in Santa Fe, he mentioned something like, “the bottom bracket cups are a little damaged, but they tighten into the frame just fine”.  I took his word and rode away.  Several months later, after hearing the occasional creak from the bike’s nether regions, the drive-side cup was loose, stripped entirely of threads.  I diagnosed the problem, removed the crank, wrapped the damaged threads in duct tape to reduce damage to the BB shell, and reinstalled the crank.  I rode it for another day or two,  When I found the opportunity to replace it, I discovered that the steel BB threads were undamaged, although the BB cups were stripped entirely, made of aluminum.  This is another (unexpected) reason to ride steel bikes.  

Hard to see, but the BB shows a gap between the cup and the shell.

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Aluminum threads on the BB cup are toast.

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Steel BB threads look fine, despite grinding for several days in the mountains.  Steel is harder than aluminum.

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As both cups were loose, I removed them by hand and installed the new SRAM GXP cups by hand.  I rolled the bike into the shop to borrow the driver to tighten them.  The crank is easily reinstalled with my multitool.  I imprint the shape of the tool into my hand trying to tighten it appropriately.  Loose crank bolts can be fatal to a crank.

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All better.

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All work done outside a sporting goods store with a well-stocked bike department.  Total cost, 31€.

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Lael also rides a lot.  Her bottom bracket had developed significant ‘play’, as the bearings have worn over the past year.  We replaced it in Germany for an inexpensive Shimano model.  RaceFace cranks use the Shimano BB standard.  Also riding a Raleigh XXIX, her frame is mostly like mine, although it has an eccentric bottom bracket as it was designed as a singlespeed model.

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After weeks of mud and rain on the GR5, preceded by several months of work in New Mexico, these Merrel boots are toast.  They were holding together pretty well, and had a little rubber left on the sole, but they were no good for foot hygiene.  With sunny skies in the forecast, it was a good time to invest in a new pair of shoes.  I found my favorites– Salomon XA Pro 3D Mid GTX— on sale for a good price.  Salomon originates from Annecy, France, although the company has been bought and sold a few times in recent decades, and is now part of a conglomerate including Mavic.  I don’t use clipless systems, but it seems the two companies should collaborate to make a genuine touring shoe for those that do. 

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This Salomon mid-height boot is lightweight and layered with Gore-Tex.  Built like a running shoe for comfort, the outsole is designed like a good mountain bike tire for traction in the rough.  The Velo Orange Sabot pedal features a generous platform, sealed cartridge bearings, an array of replaceable pins, and a slight concavity to hold the foot in place without the need for clips or straps.  The broad platform distributes pedaling forces evenly across the foot, eliminating the hot spots experienced on quill-style pedals.  It is an excellent touring and bikepacking pedal.

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Cork extraction

Without a way to remove a cork, properly, I utilize the hobo method all through France.  Credit to Chris Harne for describing this to me one winter in Florida a long time ago.

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I bought a gold-plated wing corkscrew for Lael in Switzerland at a junk sale.  Andi tests the acquisition.

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Lael now carries two shades of glasses.  Her primary glasses are Ray-Ban knock-offs for sunny weather.  But in the evening when the bugs come out, she frequently gets gnats and no-see-ums in her eyes.  These bright lenses cost 5€, and keep the bugs out.  They make everything look really bright.

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Brake lever

Lael broke a brake lever several months ago, shown below with pink tape.  We replaced it with a new Avid lever gifted by Ricky and Andi in Germany.  I made the swap while waiting for a train in Munich.

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Tents and zippers

We have used a Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 tent since 2008, exclusively.  At one point, we lost part of the tent in a windstorm.  Later, I tore the rainfly in a midnight zipper mishap, and eventually both zipper sliders on the mesh tent body began to fail.  As a result, I now have some refurbished tent parts in NY, replaced by some new parts from Big Agnes.  However, the current tent (composed of newer parts) has seen heavy use this summer and is also having some zipper issues.  Sliders– the parts that engage the teeth with one another– are known to wear out, and can be replaced several times in the life of the zipper, much like bicycle chains and cassettes.  I tried to repair one slider by compressing the channels together, but it broke.  The other slider now works better.   

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Tent stakes get lost, or are broken, especially when hammering them with rocks into tough soil.  On a stormy night, I tied the tent to a tree on the windward side– you ain’t goin nowhere.

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Reflective vest

For years, Lael and I have shared one reflective vest which we received for free in France, mostly reserved for tense situations on the road.  It fits me like a loose shirt, while it hangs off her frame.  We finally found a vest to fit Lael, intended for 3-6 years olds.  Now we have two brightly colored reflective vests for busy roads and riding at night.  We bought her a juice box in celebration.   

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Sometimes it is too hot to wear a shirt underneath.

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Personal hygiene

People look at me like I am homeless in Poland, which is true, although I am happy to avoid the attention.  At least in this part of the country, only bums wear beards.  Time to shave, in a stream.

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Lael’s Google Nexus 7 tablet makes a great mirror.

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Derailleur hanger

Oh shit!  A log snags my derailleur, cleanly breaking the aluminum derailleur hanger.  A spare hanger makes an easy fix.  Unfortunately, no more spare hanger.

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Threadbare and a shoestring budget

Mostly, everything works just fine, although leaving on a trip with used equipment requires more care and maintenance.  By the end of our travels this summer, additional equipment will require attention or replacement.  Even though such equipment can seem expensive when purchased all at once, with some care, it enables many months and thousands of miles on the road.  Life on the road is inexpensive.  Time on the road is irreplaceable. 

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Many thanks to Ricky and Andi for the new brake lever; Big Agnes for timely tent repairs and replacement over the years; Scott Felter of Porcelain Rocket for durable goods; Eric Parsons of Revelate Designs for similarly durable goods, and great designs;  Priscilla at Carradice, who stitched my bag (really, the tag has her handwritten signature); and my parents, for constantly shipping and recieving things for us.

General thanks and appreciation to whomever is responsible for the existence of the 29×2.4″ Maxxis Ardent tires, Brooks B17 saddles, Ergon GP1 grips, steel bicycles, reflective materials, sealed cartridge bearings, Gore-Tex, cotton duck canvas, VX-series textiles, dynamo lighting, wide comfortable handlebars, and bicycles.  Seriously.

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Gear Sale

Updated 4/18– The VO Campeur is still for sale for $800, or $875 with two VO Pass Hunter mini racks.  The bags are sold.  More listings soon.  

Leaving town, cleaning house, selling stuff.  I only need one of everything.  The Gear Sale page is accessible from the pages above and will house all items for sale.  It will be updated as new items are added to the list.  Check back soon for a purple 18″ Surly Pugsley and Lael’s Cannondale Hooligan.

The following items are currently listed, including a complete VO Campeur touring and commuting bike.  The complete bike is available for $800.

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I’ll be long gone

Trying and trying to leave town, although I’ve put off making fenders and wiring my rear light for several days while I tend the lists I’ve scribbled onto the back of receipts and napkins.  Planning to be on the road for several months, a few extra days of preparation and planning will help to ensure a reliable bicycle and a smooth trip.  I’m planning to ride the Denali Park Road and the Denali Highway on my way out of the state.  The Park Road is a 90 mile dirt road into the heart of the park to the settlement of Kantishna.  Private motor vehicle traffic is extremely limited as most visitors are required to travel in Aramark-operated school buses, which reduce traffic volume to several dozen vehicles a day on the only road in the park.  The unpaved park road offers some of the best dirt road riding and scenery in the entire state, and free wilderness camping permits are issued to hikers and cyclists, who are required to hide their bikes from view of the road and make camp a short walk further.  It’s a highly regulated system, but it effectively preserves and simulates the kind of wilderness experience most visitors expect.

The Denali Highway, not to be confused with the Denali Park Road, is a 135 mile connector between the Parks Highway at Cantwell and the Richardson Highway in Paxson.  Most of the surrounding land is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, including several official campgrounds, which makes this another favorite Alaskan ride.  Before the (George) Parks Highway was built in 1971, the Denali Highway was the main automobile route to Mt McKinley National Park (since renamed Denali).  The Denali Highway was built as recently as 1957.

I have a short shopping list including a 1L drink bottle for my fuel, some scrap metal to complete a custom taillight bracket, and bear spray.  I’ve made a 4″ wide rear fender out of an $8 piece of aluminum from Lowe’s, some coruplast signage promoting Joe Miller’s Senate bid in 2010, and salvaged stays from a Planet Bike fender and an old chrome balloon tire fender.  In short supply of the proper tools, I managed to piece the whole thing together with the leather punch on my Swiss Army knife and a Park multitool.  The front fender will make for some conversation, as it features Joe Miller’s campaign slogan in four-inch tall lettering. It’s nice to have lights and fenders again.  The bike is finished, finally.  It’s ugly, and purple and excessively practical, but it’s done.

By now, I’m gone.

Boz Scagg’s song “I’ll Be Long Gone” is a classic from his eponymous 1969 Atlantic release.  The album was recorded in Muscle Shoals, AL with the usual cast of Swampers, and features Duane Allman on guitar.  Check out the guitar solo on “Loan Me a Dime”, from the same album.

Little guns

I might ride this, although it changes every day. Large Marge and Marge Lite with Holy Rollers for now. I wish I had some Schwalbe Fat Franks or Big Apples in 26 x 2.35. The creme colored Franks are nice.  If I roll on 559-65mm rims, all I need are two fat tires to be riding full fat again.  Holy Roller, Big Apples, Fat Franks– baby fat.

For now, road levers paired to Avid BB7 Mountain calipers work fine and offer powerful braking with featherlight one-finger operation.  Stopping power is exceptional although the feel is unfamiliar.  The cable pull is improperly matched and the levers feel squishy.  I’ll experiment with some V-brake compatible road levers soon.

From full fat to half-fat, then baby fat. I call it Little Guns. One of you knows a bike that has had the same name, but that bike has since passed on.

About framebags


(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. 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.

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