NAHBS 2017; bikepacking bags

Towards the end of 2011, when I was putting this series together, there were only three established bike bag makers: Carousel Design Works, Revelate (then Epic) Designs, and Porcelain Rocket. (Bedrock, and likely a few others I overlooked, were getting off the ground.)  Carousel, who invented the category as we know it, is no more.  Revelate has grown substantially, and continues to be the category leader in innovation and volume.  Porcelain has stayed small(ish), and recently solved the growth, volume, and lead time problem of being both small and sought after by moving out of the framebag business entirely, to focus almost exclusively on seat bags.

Though making them on a large scale is surely a pain, custom full framebags remain the heart of a bikepacking setup, as well as the most visually arresting of bike bags.  Little wonder then that they were the most profligate and prominent bag to be found at this years North American Handmade Bicycle Show.  There were plenty of technical as well as aesthetic innovations on display, and for softgoods oriented folks like Luke and I they made for fun viewing.
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Revelate had a minimal presence at the show, with the most noteworthy example being Nick Carmen’s personal Meriwether 650b plus.  Visually it’s a great bike, putting all the innovations I discussed yesterday to good use, and with a framebag to match.  Zippers on frame bags have always been a weak link, with even #10 YKKs not holding up to frequent use.  Part of this is often user error; as Andrew from Bedrock Bags told us, strapping an empty bag tight, stuffing it full, and then expecting the zipper to close is a invitation to disaster.  But part of it is also the frequent and egregious grit in which framebags are saturated.  On my Mukluk I went through three zippers in five years on the same framebag, the last being a fancy #10 Aquaguard.  Revelate’s solution is towfold; go to molded plastic zippers from Paskal, and build panels of waterproof stretch fabric on either side of the zipper, to relieve stress.
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By all accounts it is working well, and certainly makes for a smooth and easy to operate zipper.

Porcelain may not be in the framebag business anymore, but they had quite a few nice ones on display, my favorite being the inverted X33 kit at the Oddity Cycles booth.  Flipping the fabric and putting the PET film on the outside solves any issues associated with water saturation after the factory DWR wears off.  In theory it should shorten service life, as the waterproofing layer is exposed to abrasion and UV, but I’ve yet to speak with anyone who has enough time on such a rig to provide meaningful comment.  Scott?

It’s worth noting the continued dominance of Dimension-Polyant laminates in the bikepacking world, due to both style and pragmatism.  No doubt the grassroots development of the category has driven this, making the bikepacking world more consistently performance oriented than the backpacking one.

In the less practical, but cool looking, category are these two framebags.  The right bag, at the WH Bradford booth, was made from genuine Danish Flecktarn uniform fabric, which felt like a poly-cotton blend.  I think I could actually put a framebag mounted shell holder to good use, as riding a bike along logging roads and ground sluicing from 30+ yards was back in Montana one of the better ways to put grouse on the table.

Rogue Panda was at the show in force, leading the way in branding with their heat transfer decals.  This framebag, made for a gorgeous Blaze Bicycles steel hardtail, has a rolltop main compartment and a zippered side pocket, a pragmatic blend of convenience and durability which makes enough sense to me I used the same combo in the new framebag I made for my Mukluk a few weeks ago.  I’m not sure who first thought up the rolltop framebag, but folks using a framebag for what I would argue is it’s best application, namely storing heavy and infrequently used things like the next three days wood, and bike tools, low and stable, a rolltop has few downsides.  It can even be easily to sew than a standard job.

More Panda.  If NAHBS (and material culture generally) is at its best about melding aesthetics and function into something as synonymous as possible, Panda was bringing a strong game.  Contrasting stitching costs nothing but time, and adds nothing but style.

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Andrew from Bedrock Bags snuck up on us in the Meriwether booth, where I was thoroughly preoccupied admiring the fantastic frames, builds, and bags, all three in equal measure.  I was sufficiently enthralled he probably could have subdued me with a butter knife had he been so inclined.  Understated and super functional was the watchword with this version of Mike Curiak’s elevated chainstay 26×5.1 and 27.5×4.5 compatible steamroller. With a custom rear rack, because sometimes seatbags are just too small.

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Huge.

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As someone with serious, entrenched, ideological objections to using the underbag area as a dumping ground for ones packing excesses, Bedrocks sleek and minimal and light bar bags get my stamp of approval.

I also like the trend of using bottle bosses, or in many cases, dedicated bolts, to make framebags that attach without straps or velcro, and very securely.  I made my Mukluk framebag this way, and with sufficiently stiff  plastic reinforcements I see no downside, other than the lack of easy removability in the field and the slightly more fiddly install.

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More Paskal zippers on Bedrock stuff.

Just what the ceiling for bikepacking bags, especially custom bags, is was much discussed both at the show and driving to and from.  Andrew made the point that genuine bikepacking is hard, or at least making it not too hard requires a fair dose of both experience and discipline.  I pointed out that a similar thing could be said about ski touring, whose growth hasn’t seemed to slow down much lately.  In retrospect I’m not sure this is the best analogy, especially insofar as one of the big growth areas in ski touring is apparently in bounds fitness uphilling.  Maybe a change in nomenclature is needed, as non-overnight bikepacking is intractably oxymoronic, and the way framebags and seatbags and so forth will I estimate continue to grow, for years to come, is by providing handy storage for day riders, especially pack-phobic day riders.  With the market being what it is today, those folks have lots of good options.

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Rather than using a rolltop, Defiant Pack uses a big flap to close their framebags without zippers.

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When the flap is opened the non-drive side has three slot pockets for organization, which seems handy.  On both of the above bags the flap arrangement seemed a little slack and floppy, an issue that would presumably be fixed by a full bag.  Construction was a good notch below Bedrock or Panda, but better than the many sketchy one-man garage shops that have popped up in recent years.

Their ski carry rig is well done and worth a look.

Andrew the Maker was all over the show.  Strong color palates and his signature top tube lacing attachment are easy to spot from three booths over.

Andrew’s personal rig, from Oddity Cycles, had a big framebag that took full advantage of twin top tubes, a designated whiskey bottle holster, and a front bag built on a detatchable plastic bracket.  It looks like the same one M had on a basket and liked a lot before she destroyed it (the bracket) in a crash.  Not I would imagine the lightest, strongest, or most backcountry worthy component, but very pragmatic for a midwesterner like Mr. Maker whose most frequent task is navigating the urban jungle.

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A nearly fully bolt-on frame bag from JPaks, on a gorgeous Breadwinner hardtail.

My biggest takeaway from the bag side of NAHBS was that bikepacking bags are alive and well.  Lots of great and well built stuff, to suit many different needs.  My second biggest takeaway was the specialization, or compartmentalization, that will continue to take place.  Dropper compatible bags are available from Porcelain and Bedrock, for folks who do what is in my mind the purest form of bikepacking, technical multiday singletrack thru-riding.  But for every such rider, there are would guess 3-5 who just want a Viscacha to hold their rain gear, tools, and snacks, as well as (let us be honest) provide a cool accessory with cachet.  Specialized, Blackburn, and others are getting in on this side of the game, and will I would guess not so much steal business from the companies discussed here as expand the market for bike bags generally.  Which will in turn expand the quantity and range of stuff available for consumers, and push companies to source ever better materials.  It should be fun to watch.

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