Words and photos by Ben Brashear
“That machine there, it’s a bar-tacker and it’ll blast 42 stitches per second through anything,” says Andrew Wracher, co-owner and proprietor of Bedrock Bikepacking Bags. He takes a moment to pause and run his hand through his silver and black hair. “We’ve named it the Honey Badger.” He laughs and holds out a small piece of black webbing that has been tacked with red polyester thread. From the front of the room Joey Ernst, co-owner, says over the top of a walking-foot sewing machine and a pile of seat bags, “Because Honey Badger don’t care whether it’s stitching through webbing or your finger.”
There is a phenomena happening in the current bike market. It is nothing new, but it is the notable resurgence of the cottage industry. It could be said that much of the innovation and even the foundation of the bike market rests upon the heritage of independent builders. Now more than ever it is the independent builder that shapes much of the current industry. And Bedrock Bikepacking Bags is just one of the innovators shaping the current face of the bikepacking world.
Located in Durango, Colorado, Bedrock has been in operation since 2010 and has been helping more and more cyclists approach multi-day rides, tours and endurance races such as the Colorado Trail Race, Arizona Trail Race or the Continental Divide Race. Wracher originally set out to design a frame bag for his personal touring bike and found that there was very little “how-to” information available. He took it upon himself to design his own frame bag and after having good results he chose to share his experience on YouTube.
“The video had a huge number of hits and I realized then that there was potential here. That a lot of people were looking for frame bags and that really was the start of Bedrock Bags,” he said.
From its humble beginnings of YouTube notoriety however, it was the merger between business partners and self-proclaimed “dirtbags,” Ernst and Wracher in 2015 that Bedrock has come into its fullest recognition. The pair also gained exposure when Ernst’s made-to-order 27.5+ built by well-known builder, Todd Ingermanson of Black Cat Cycles, won “Best in Show” at the 2016 National Handmade Bicycle Show.
“It was the perfect partnership. I was designing bags and Joey could go out and be the guinea pig and test each prototype in the field,” Wracher says. “He could give me feedback and suggestions. And, though we don’t use 3D CAD to design our patterns, he is someone whose brain can visualize in 3D like I can.”
In an industry where everything looks basically the same, it really comes down to the minutia, the gritty details, and the “why?” behind any product that distinguishes one company from the next. For Wracher it’s individuation that drives his product design. He says much of which comes down to addressing inherent problems in the current market of bikepacking bags— wagging, sagging, high wear zones, and mounting brackets that are often prone to failure in a crash. He argues that this often requires taking the basic idea of any product into oncoming traffic and turning 180 degrees.
“There is a lot of copying in the industry right now. Take for example the little round stem bags. There are literally, without exaggeration, 25 companies making the exact same thing. Using that as a specific example, we set out to design a bag that would do everything that those bags weren’t or couldn’t do and we came up with a bag that looks nothing like the competition,” Wracher says. “Sometimes I think that we haven’t been copied because people don’t know what to make of what we put out. In a way we have escaped replication by heading in the complete opposite direction.”
It’s not easy driving into oncoming traffic. Take their seat bag for example. According to Ernst it was nine months in the making from its first stages as a working prototype to a finished product. “We started out like a lot of other companies and were utilizing a seat post bracket to stabilize our seat bags but then we realized that if that thing were to break, you’d be toast,” Ernst says, leaning far back into his chair spinning one of the large black plugs in his ear. “So we partnered with Ska Fabrication here in town and came up with an aluminum seatrail bracket that is virtually indestructible.”
It seems theirs is a silent revolution and largely unnoticed by their customers. And frankly, that’s what Wracher and Ernst are shooting for. “We were joking the other day, we like it when customers don’t notice our bags. That means the product works and they don’t have to worry about it,” Wracher says.
Wracher continues the tour of the 200-square-foot production room. With three people it’s crowded if you’re not seated at one of the several workstations and so we side-step one after the other down the length of the shop. There are a variety of Juki sewing machines, a large cutting table, endless custom patterns, and rolls of fabric that line the walls—everything that it takes to produce a host of custom bags. “I think we even have a pattern for a 1987 Specialized Rockhopper over here somewhere,” he says over his shoulder to Ernst.
“Yeah, I’ve been collecting frame patterns since the beginning. There are thousands of ’em upstairs,” Ernst says from underneath his flat brimmed ball cap.
Everything appears to have its place— scissors, rotary cutting wheels, logos waiting to be applied. Even the cuttings of red and black X-Pac ripstop sitting next to a finished frame bag for a Cannondale seem to have been deliberately placed. Ostensibly this is the work of the patient and organized geologist and teacher that Wracher once was. “I’m like any Durangoan really. You know, work 57 careers until you find what’s right,” he says.
Ernst on the other hand has, arguably, lived a lifetime in the cycling industry, with more than 20 years of experience having grown up racing cross country and working in bike shops. One day though, he decided that he had finally had enough of all the travel and hustle. “I wanted to settle down. Racing wasn’t doing it anymore for me and my rides kept getting longer,” he said. “I wanted to be out on the trail more and more and it turned from big day rides to racing multi-day rides and that’s when I decided I needed to open Veloution Cycles.”
Ernst is handing over the reigns of his bike shop in order to pour his full attention into growing Bedrock with a new marketing plan and several new partnerships with hand-selected cycling shops around the country. “We used to be six months out for product and we’d run a waiting list and that grew into hundreds of people waiting for our product. We’d finally catch up and have enough product for them and then we’d go live for sales and within hours we’d be sold out again,” Ernst says. “Maybe this year we can have something to sell year-round.”
Though the demand for product is outpacing production capacity and the team is still discerning their plan to keep up, Wracher and Ernst are proud of the high-end product that they are offering and that they can play a role in bolstering, albeit a small portion, the economy. They have employed two military veterans, which Wracher says has been a godsend since sewing and inspection demand so much attention and discipline. “It takes a special type of person to take on that kind of pressure and our two sewers are those type of people. I don’t even have to crack the whip,” Wracher laughs, “they do it themselves.”
It’s hard to foresee the fate of bikepacking beyond the trending upswing that has the market booming but, Ernst and Wracher are not worried. They have a solid understanding that trends will come and go dependent upon how much money the “giants” are willing to spend on advertising dollars. They are confident that there will always be a dedicated niche of distance and touring riders.
“We were here before the sport blew up and with any luck, we’ll be here after the boom dies off. I can see the big corporations being in this for a couple of years and then moving on to the next big thing,” Ernst says. “It’s a basic product and frame designs will always be changing. What will really drive innovation for us is trying to adapt to advancing bike technology.”
That’s the future. Wracher and Ernst say that the immediate goal is to hide out in the dark of the production room with noses to the sewing table this winter and with any luck will be able to emerge into the light. “We’ve sponsored record-setting riders on the CT [Colorado Trail] and tours of New Zealand, Iceland and Alaska,” Ernst says. “And it’ll be nice once we get out for a big ride ourselves.”