As you’ve likely noticed from reading this magazine and elsewhere, bikepacking and rackless touring has reenergized the bike touring market. What began as a niche sport supported by products from a few boutique brands has now hit the mainstream and the major players are getting involved.
No stranger to bike touring, Blackburn is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, having been dedicated to open road adventures since day one. The Outpost seat bag and handlebar roll are its foray into the lightweight touring scene and offer classic features with some unique twists. The seat pack ($120) attaches to your saddle rails and seatpost and consists of two pieces: an outer sling and a removable, roll-top stuff sack.
Rated at 10.5 liters it is more than enough to swallow a sleeping bag and a small tent, and the extra lash points on the back let you strap even more on. The buckles have locking adjusters, which makes it really handy to overstuff as well, as you can tuck in a jacket or other loose items and keep them secure. The included dry bag is a separate piece that you can pull out and take in your tent with you. The sling works best if the dry bag is filled at least half way to fill it out and prevent it from sagging.
In use, the Seat Pack offers a ton of storage capacity, but it does wag a bit from side to side. It’s largely out-of-sight-out-of-mind, though, and I’m willing to put up with it. I had no complaints about the build quality but, compared to the boutique seat packs on the market, the material used is thicker and heavier.
The Handlebar roll ($100) uses a similar modular layout consisting of a harness that holds a dry bag. This bag is open on both ends so you don’t have to unpack the whole thing if your jacket is at the one end. It also make it easier to pack. Inside the sling harness is a Velcro patch to keep the dry bag in place. The harness attaches to the handlebars with a quick release mechanism so it protrudes a good bit out and doesn’t interfere with shifters or brakes.
The extra lash points here are also handy for overflow storage and the red security strap keeps the whole setup from rotating downward on your handlebars should you hit a big bump. I appreciated the Handlebar Roll’s equally large storage capacity but feel the plastic quick release system is largely superfluous. Because it is so easy to unbuckle the stuff sack, I don’t see the need for a second means of removing it. I would trade that convenience for a simpler, lighter design.
Worth noting is proper installation to make it function well. The bracket has been updated for fall 2016 with a wire safety support instead of the plastic one on the first version (pictured here). The red strap is also important as a secondary method of keeping the whole setup from rotating down into your front tire (see the green arrow above).
The Blackburn bags offer a good compromise of cost and features if you don’t need the lightest handmade gear. The Seat Pack especially is a good way to haul a lot of stuff without adding a rear rack.
A flat tire in the middle of a ride can be one of the more annoying aspects of cycling, but have you ever pondered what happens to the waste created by a spent tube? If that tube makes its way to Green Guru in Boulder, Colorado, it could become a beautiful backpack, cycling bag or wallet.
You know you’re approaching Green Guru headquarters when you see spare bicycle parts attached to an exterior building that sits almost directly on top of a bike path (and across the street from a distillery). In the parking lot is a shipping container full of used bicycle tubes, wet suits, camping tents, spent climbing ropes, old billboard wraps, scraps from waterproof Jeep tops, used event banners and even leftover clippings from the state factory that makes reflective street signs.
The tubes make up some of the most-recognized products, including the small wallets carried by almost everyone who works in the bicycle industry. They arrive in large bins collected from about 50 bike shops across Colorado. Each bin overflows with about 60 pounds of dusty rubber from 120-150 tubes. It takes a shop 1-2 months to fill a bin, depending on the season. The tubes are refreshed in a battered old washing machine housed in the office. A light detergent paired with Simple Green and followed by a homemade mix of olive oil and lemon juice cleans and shines the rubber. Every resulting item is designed and prototyped in Boulder and produced in either Longmont or Louisville, two nearby cities.
Green Guru was founded in 2007 by Davidson Lewis and Justin Daugherty. Lewis said he was a scavenger as a child, regularly salvaging half-broken bikes to pick parts from and eventually end up with whole bikes to sell. His father was an artist and provided space in the garage to work on the frames and components he collected on trash day. From there, Lewis ended up fixing flats and emptying trash cans in a bike shop before heading to the Virginia Tech School of Architecture Major Industrial Design.
It was at Virginia Tech that Lewis began to understand the environmentally disruptive nature of man-made materials, particularly plastics. It hit him that he didn’t just want to design “more landfill fodder.” When he was assigned a project that required an environmentally friendly design, Lewis came up with the idea to turn old bicycle tubes into consumer goods. He began experimenting with his first tube messenger bags, wallets and backpacks in 1999.
For a while after college, Lewis worked on designing everything from housewares to skateboards, but never gave up the idea of recycled bicycle goods. In 2005, he began working with a backpack designer helping to repair old gear before finally launching Green Guru two years later. He started with backpacks, which was the biggest and broadest market. Four years ago, Green Guru began expanding to bike-specific bags. Now, special items such as panniers, saddlebags and a handlebar cooler are some of the best sellers. There’s even a line of women-focused products, like a clutch that attaches to bike handlebars, called Green Goddess.
Making the products in the U.S. is extremely important to the company. The design process revolves largely around user feedback. Green Guru is present at bike expos across the country specifically for that reason, including the Five Boro Bike Tour in New York City, a favorite of Lewis’. There, he listens for product improvement ideas and feedback from “normal people, real people and a general audience.”
Lewis also said it’s not easy to regularly dream up new designs that haven’t been done before, which is why the company focuses on having fun and being creative. The public feedback is why Green Guru products generally work off the bike as well as on, and is why small, new touches appear regularly, such as metal grommets on bike bags that can accept locks.
To help facilitate new designs, Green Guru has teamed up with Metropolitan State University of Denver to work on semester-long projects with industrial design classes and to host design competitions that ask the students for their take on bicycle products. Two Green Guru items—the Freerider Pannier and Hauler Bike Pack—both came from university students. Green Guru donated money to the classes, then hosted Kickstarter campaigns to get each of the winning products off the ground. It also gave a percentage of the money back to the student designers.
Green Guru doesn’t just make products; they’re also very involved in cycling culture and the business of being environmentally friendly. In the warmer months, you can join regular cruiser bike parties that leave the office after work and casually roam Boulder’s large network of paved bike paths. The company’s current expansion into the space next door will include a spot for a micro-brewer to operate.
Green Guru also donates a percentage of its profits to PeopleForBikes. It earned a “gold leader” designation from the Colorado Environmental Leadership Program and is a certified B Corporation, meaning the company has met standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
If you want to donate tires, you’re welcome to via the website, but most of Green Guru’s materials come from partnerships with major manufacturers and local bike shops. Of note, it does not work with old bicycle tires, which are extremely tough to deal with at scale and present logistical problems with transportation and storage. But, the company is always on the lookout for new materials to work with and Lewis is a man full of ideas who can talk a mile a minute. Look for new and unique, made-in-the-USA items to come from Green Guru at any time.
It’s a quiet time of year for the bicycle industry, in general, but a few smaller companies are sneaking out some product upgrades and new additions to their lines. Check out some of these items that recently came across our radar.
Funky Monkey Cable Hanger
The Funky Monkey is a simple, hanging housing stop for center pull and cantilever brakes. The front comes in a 1 1/8” and 1” sizes, the rear is 27.2mm and is meant for mounting on a seatpost. The front arm sticks out far enough to clear most headsets. The rear arm is hinged to self-align for the proper cable angle. Both have a barrel adjuster to make brake cable adjustments quick and painless.
Price: $49 (each)
More info: paulcomp.com
Thumbies Shifter Adapters
Miss thumb shifters? Converting a drop bar bike to flat bars? These easily transform bar end (aka barcon or TT) shifters into thumb shifters. Thumbies have a hinged clamp for an easy installation and fit handlebars with a diameter of 22.2mm or 31.8mm and are rasied enough to allow clearance for disk brake levers. Currently only compatible with Shimano.
Price: $74 (pair); $39 (right or left)
More info: paulcomp.com
BROOKS England Metropolitan Collection
The Rivington is a deep rucksack with considerable carrying capacity, made from water-resistant organic cotton textile. It features an extended roll-top closure in an accent colored fabric. Two outer pockets are found on the front of the bag, the uppermost with a zip closure, the lower with a protective flap. On the back, there is a concealed 15-inch laptop pocket with a long vertical zip closure, revealing the yellow quilted lining. The adjustable shoulder straps feature a chest strap for maximum stability.
Price: 295 Euros
More info: brooksengland.com
Mott Large Weekender Holdall
A stylish and voluminous bag made from treated organic cotton textile with two riveted carry straps made in vulcanized rubber. The inside is finished with a quilted lining in contrasting yellow tone for easy visibility of its contents. With one external zippered pocket, and a detachable shoulder strap which may be adjusted for length.
Price: 370 Euros
More info: brooksengland.com
Outpost Frame Bag
This frame bag includes adjustable mounting systems and Velcro straps that can be fastened to multiple lash points to allow it to fit to all bikes. The water-resistant pack features an expandable bottom compartment, water bladder tube port and multiple exterior pockets. It weighs in at 402 grams (less than a pound).
Price: $60 (medium); $65 (large)
More info: blackburndesign.com
Years ago Alchemy Goods founder, Eli Reich, after losing his messenger bag to a thief, sewed himself a bag from a material abundant in any serious cyclist’s home, used inner tubes. Soon after Reich’s friends demanded their own bags, and soon local bike shops took notice. Alchemy Goods was born soon after, and is now sold far and wide, including national retailers such as REI.
We received two bags for review some months back, the Jefferson messenger bag, and the Brooklyn backpack.
Jefferson Messenger Bag – $156
Alchemy lists the upcycled material content of each of its products, and the Jefferson weighs in at 52 percent reused content. The rubber inner tube exterior is matched with a cordura back that doubles as an external document pocket, and a nylon interior with a padded sleeve that fits up to a 15-inch laptop. A few smaller interior pockets keep pens, cords and electronics organized and easily accessible. The unpadded shoulder strap has a simple metal bucket to adjust for length. Since the bag isn’t that large, I never missed a padded strap.
As a bag for riding, I would recommend this to more casual cyclists riding shorter distances. Without a cross-body stabilizing strap the Jefferson could easily twist off my back. But for everyday use on short rides and in the car, the Jefferson is a fine companion. In fact, on days I drove into work, this was a first choice, even over my favorite backpack.
Brooklyn Backpack – $148
This bag is 45 percent upcycled, with a similar padded sleeve for a 15-inch laptop. Two zippered exterior pockets are big enough for a small tablet, power supplies, and other bigger things. An organizing panel on the inside keeps smaller items close at hand.
Basic padded straps are well matched to the size of the bag, but when loaded down on the bike, I wished for a sternum strap to take some of the load off my shoulders. Much like the Jefferson, this bag strikes me as fine everyday bag that works on the bike, rather than a bag designed specifically for cycling. My son took a particular shine to this bag, and has been happily using it at school, where it is the only type of its kind in his homeroom.
Construction of both bags is top notch, and pricing is inline with similar U.S.A. made bags using upcycled materials. For those looking for a more bike specific bag, Alchemy offers the Dravus messenger bag, with a padded strap, quick adjust buckle, and reflective material on the front flap. In addition, Alchemy Goods offers a range of bags and other goods, from inner tube belts and wallets, to billboards refashioned into tote bags.