21 07 2013

Make your own gear. I don’t have any qualms about modifying components if I have the ability to do it well and I believe it will make the part better. The most successful modifications I have made were to my XTR M985 trail pedals and to combine several chainguides to allow for a wider chainline on the Maul. Rewarding, educational, absorbing.

Recently, I have been bikepacking a bit more and – as is my want – I have been messing around with my set up to get it as functional and light as possible. As important as ‘light and functional’ is, encumbrance must be considered if you are tackling rough trails. If you need to pick up/carry the bike, or drop a loose rocky descent, the balance of the bike needs to be as unaffected as possible by your kit, in addition to it being lashed solidly so it does not swing around or come loose at a critical moment.

There are many brands of bikepacking bags on the market now. My very first bikepacking bag came from Wildfire Designs, Alaska, in about 2005 if memory serves. A simple frame bag. I augmented this with some Epic Designs (as they were named at the time) custom Old Man Mountain rack top bags that Eric christened ‘trunk turtles’. Those bags served me well for a number of trips, but as I became both braver and more organised, I needed to pare everything down and the OMM racks in themselves are heavy.

By this time, Specialized had thrown their toys out of the pram about somebody using a word for their company name that they felt they had trademarked or some such rubbish, so Eric’s Epic Designs became Revelate Designs and his highly evolved products were again top of the shopping list.

If you need to carry a full bikepacking set up I strongly recommend checking out Revelate kit, now available at Backcountry Biking, or Scott Felter’s excellent Porcelain Rocket bags. Incidentally, Scott is on the Canning Stock Route in Australia – talk about product testing!

However, what I lack is slightly smaller bags that allow me to carry the kit needed for variable weather, 12-ish hour, backcountry riding. Keeping weight off my back is a priority.

As I looked around, assessed others’ set ups and tried to work out what I might want, it became clear that the bags would need to be highly personalised to the bike I ride and the kit I carry. The next step was a small one, but it felt like a light bulb had been lit – I needed to learn to make my own bags.

I did a *lot* of reading around. The internet gives easy access to a lot of information. Specifically the backpackinglight.com community are incredibly forthcoming with their experiences and advice.

My wife, Trina’s, sewing machine has been pressed into action and I have used various shops (I will do a supplementary post soon, with a list of links and resources I have used) for materials. I have made a total of 5 items so far. The first was an iPhone bag made of waterproof, ripstop, nylon. Then I made a camera bag from the same stuff. The iPhone bag was poorly made and I decided to re-make it with improved seams and more durable routing for the elastic closure.

The next bag was made from X-pac VX07 – the white sail cloth that is waterproof, light, abrasion resistant and has a slight stiffness that keeps a shape well. I had thought of making a smaller ‘sweet roll’ double-ended roll top bag which could fit tubes, extra clothing and perhaps some tools and or a mug/mini stove. Unfortunately, I made a bona fide school boy error and, when cutting the material, I didn’t let Pi get in the way of my calculations, thus the roll came out just a wee bit on the small side. Still, I learned a lot and the bag fits a tube, a waterproof, a midge net and a mini tool easily, so it will be used.

The latest bag is an UL feedbag. It was a struggle to think through the placement of the velcro and I am still not giving myself enough material overlap, but sewing the oval bottom panel in was less horrendous than I thought it might be and the 160D cordura baffle worked well. Overall, I am learning fast and I am really enjoying the process.

I have also had excellent guidance from my wife, my mother and mother in law and Kris at 44 Bikes. I have wholesale copied Eric at Revelate Designs bags where I have been able (if you are going to learn, copying a master craftsman is a pretty good start) and it has given me an entirely different perspective on just how cool his (and others) bags are.

More on this as it happens.