The past couple of seasons have seen bikepacking explode in popularity. I can speak from personal experience, as it seems many of my friends have caught the bug. My favorite local shop, Loose Nuts, has been doing a brisk business selling Salsa’s line of adventure bikes and related gear.
Some of the friends I mentioned above are into the race side of bikepacking, which isn’t of much interest to me. Do I want to ride a 300-mile loop in Florida, as in the case of the Huracan 300? Uh, no, not really. At least not yet. What I am into is long days in the saddle, building fires, and drinking whiskey. Of course, I’ll need somewhere to stash all that whiskey, and maybe a little food too, which is where the Bike Bag Dude (BBD) comes in.
BBD is a husband and wife team (Kedan and Kath) working out of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. Their specialty is custom, lightweight, and waterproof frame bags. The process for getting a bag made is pretty simple. Just get in touch with BBD, trace your frame, pick your colors, and wait.
Making the Pattern
Tracing the frame isn’t difficult to do, but it’s important to take your time and do a good job of it. After all, this is the pattern that will be used to make your bag. Any mistakes here mean a bag that may not fit properly. I took a piece of cardboard that was large enough to cover the entire front triangle with a bit of overlap. After trimming it to roughly the shape of the triangle, I taped it to the frame. Then, I took a marker and traced the inside of the front triangle, being careful to get as close as possible to the frame. It probably wasn’t necessary, but I also marked the bosses where the bottle cages mount, just to be safe.
Since BBD is in Australia, I had to mail him the pattern for the frame bag, and sending a big ass piece of cardboard was out of the question. So, I copied it over to an easier-to-mail sheet of paper, and threw that in an envelope with an international stamp.
The exterior of the bags are made from X Pac, which is a waterproof laminate fabric used to make sails. For the interior of the bags, BBD uses another waterproof fabric, but it’s a lighter material used to make kites. Then, these layers are taped at the seams and sewn together. Kedan is all about making these bags as waterproof as possible, which translates into how he goes about sewing them. If you look at the BBD bags closely, you’ll notice that the seams are on the outside of the bags. As Kedan puts it:
I look at it like this: where does rain collect, in the valleys or on the ridges? So I make all my seams ridges, whilst everyone else creates valleys.
There are numerous color options, and since the bags are fully custom, you can go as nutty as you’d like with yours. BBD has 11 colors of X Pac for the exterior, 10 colors for the interior, seven thread colors, and six label colors. If I’ve done my math correctly, there are over one million possible combinations!
These bags are going on the excellent Zen TRAIL, which has a very dark green paint job and an overall utilitarian look. To keep in step with that theme, I opted for a simple camo and black scheme.
The Bags Arrive
After a few weeks, a big envelope with a dozen or so Australian stamps on it showed up at the office. The first thing I noticed was a certain lack of heft. Was Kedan sending the bags separately? Like a kid on Christmas morning, I anxiously ripped open the package, and found a full set of bags: frame, bar roll, top tube, and two chaff bags.
Kedan has a background in tailoring and has trained his wife Kath as well. It’s no surprise, then, that the attention to detail here is comparable to what you’d find on a hand-tailored suit. All the stitching is even and tight, the seams are flawless, and there wasn’t a dangling thread to be found. No doubt, these are high-quality pieces of kit. From Kedan:
My whole aim is to make better products for the industry before big business takes over and squeezes us all out.
Mounting the Bags
In an effort to prevent the bags from rubbing the paint off the frame, I put some tape at all mounting points. I found some Gorilla brand Clear Repair Tape at Home Depot. It was around $8 for a 27-foot roll of 1.88-inch wide tape. The tape has a bit of stretchiness to it, and is fairly thick, so it should last a long time.
My time tracing the frame was well-spent, as the bag fit perfectly. There is very little wiggle room, which means I can make the most of that space for packing gear. The bag attaches to the frame via strips of Velcro One-Wrap. There are three mounting points at the top of the bag for attaching it to the top tube, three for the down tube, and two for the seat tube. At the very bottom corner of the frame bag there is a small strip of Velcro that can be used to taper the profile, which prevents bag/crank interference.
All of the other bags mount to at least three points and with most of them, you can adjust the location of the straps. That’s a nice feature to have so all your bags will play nice with one another when mounted to your bike. It took a bit of trial and error to get all the bags situated, but once I got them on, they felt very secure.
Changes to the Bike
Since the Zen is going to weigh a considerable amount more when it’s fully loaded, I swapped out the front 32-tooth chainring for Wolf Tooth Components‘ new stainless steel 30-tooth. That should help make climbing a bit more manageable, and the stainless steel should prove to be very durable in the long run.
One other change I made in preparation for bikepacking was to swap out my SPDs for a set of flat pedals. There are a couple reasons for this. One reason is that with a heavy rig, there will inevitably be some hike-a-bike action. That will be easier to tackle in a set of flat pedal shoes. Another reason is that flat pedal shoes will be more comfortable sitting around the camp in the evening–no need to bring a second pair of shoes for lounging.
If you’re in the market for a set of bags, now is a good time to buy them from the Bike Bag Dude. With the US dollar currently going strong, the exchange rate is in your favor–assuming, of course, that you live in the US. A basic BBD frame bag starts at $240 AUD, which equates to just $173 USD at the current exchange rate. That puts them in line with off-the-shelf options from other manufacturers like Revelate Designs.
I have little doubt that these bags will be anything less than excellent out on the trail. They’ve already been proven in the toughest bikepacking events across the globe, such as the 2,700+ mile Tour Divide, the Iditarod Trail Invitational in Alaska, and the Arrowhead 135 winter ultra race.
With all the bags mounted up, I have to say the Zen looks bad ass! I can’t wait to get this thing out in the woods. Stay tuned for a full review after I’ve had some time to use the bags this fall.
Thanks to Bike Bag Dude for providing these bags for review.