We've shipped off bags to a few brave souls who will be putting our latest design to the test!
Our new waterproof backpack / pannier combo (dubbed the "Route Nine Convertible") is going to be the most comfortable pannier you've ever worn. It will also look good, keep your stuff dry and secure easily to your bike rack, making your commute (and your life) that much easier. To make sure of this, we've sent out bags to bike commuters in Portland, San Francisco, Minneapolis, even one chap in London for some solid road testing to help us weed out the problems.
We'll check in with each of these fine folks and post their findings here on our blog (both the good and the bad). In the meantime, here's a closer look at the bag.
$150 thru 2/25
The first run of beta test bags awaiting shipment - the design is based off of our popular Route Seven Pannier, and it shares a lot of the same components and features.
We've added two front pockets with sturdy, waterproof zippers to keep your essentials dry and on hand.
$150 thru 2/25
The pannier hardware is mounted to a flap. The bottom hook secures into the bag, which will prevent the bag from swinging away from the rack.
The pannier flap flips out up to the top of the bag, revealing a padded back and shoulder strap, stowed in a pouch. The strap can flip for left or right shoulder use.
$150 thru 2/25
As of now, it's set up with a sling strap, which wears much like a messenger bag. One of the first bits of feedback we've been hearing is "let's see a two-strap option" So, we're working on one. More details to follow.
Feedback thus far:
We're taking pre-orders right now, and offering 25% off our expected final price for the bag if you buy before 2/25. We expect to start shipping them out in mid to late March. We hope you like it!
$150 thru 2/25
Last summer, my brother Spencer toured across the country by bicycle, following the path of Lewis & Clark through Iowa, the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, Washington, then down into Oregon through the Columbia River Gorge. It was actually a continuation of Spencer's previous tour, which started in Portland, ME in and landed him in St Louis, MO over the summer in 2012. Last year, joined by a friend, he picked up where he left off to complete his cross country adventure.
Check out this video of them trekking through a flood plain. He said his North St. Bags stayed bone dry.
They rode on Surly Cross Check Bikes, and Spencer was outfitted with a complete set of Route Seven Panniers - including a prototype of our new pannier hook setup which he was putting to the test for us. Road testing is a key phase in developing any type of new gear. As a small business owner, I don't personally have the time to take 3 months and tour across the country for testing, but luckily Spencer volunteered. We're confident in our new hook system, because we know that it can withstand the rigors of an extreme tour.
We're currently testing a new bag (using the same pannier system as the Route Seven Panier) - more details to come.
We caught up with Spencer and Grace after the tour - here's debrief with a few photos.
Where did you go?
We started in St Charles, a town outside of St Louis Missouri. The plan was to follow the Lewis & Clark trail along the Missouri river all the way into Montana, then the Snake and Columbia rivers to the Pacific Coast. We detoured in the middle however, so that we could visit national parks like the Badlands, Black Hills, Bighorn Mountains, Yellowstone and Glacier. In all we visited 11 states.
This tour was a continuation of a tour I did by myself last year from Portland Maine to Hannibal Missouri.
How long was your tour?
The last time I counted I figured the total was just over 3300 miles. It's difficult to be accurate, since some days we rode without bike computers or mis-calibrated computers. We started riding on 2 June 2013 and touched the Pacific Ocean on 18 August. That's 78 days, of which we took 1 rest day for every 4 or 5 riding days. We averaged 50-60 miles per day, with the farthest day being 92 miles.
What was the most challenging part of the trip?
Physically? The Columbia River Gorge. Before the tour I assumed the Rocky Mountains would be the worst, but honestly by the time we reached them we were in-shape enough to get over with little trouble. That and my mother supported us through parts of them (by carrying our gear in her car). The Gorge was a different beast though, because it has intense westerly winds, which cut our speed from 15mph to about 6 for a few days. Part of the problem was that we were so close to our finish line that we pushed harder and didn’t take any rest days.
Then consider the fact that parts of the Gorge only have one roadway: US-30, a major interstate. Parts of it had very little shoulder and having constant noise and danger only a few inches away made it very emotionally stressful too.
What advice would you give to friends touring together?
When we started the tour Grace and I were good friends. Over the course of the summer our friendship solidified significantly, but only because we put a lot of work into open and honest communication, patience, and self-awareness. One of the things that stayed near the front of my thoughts was the idea that whether or not I'm annoyed or frustrated with feelings, survival comes first. For instance, if we got into a fight and had to take alone time, we still made sure to stay in contact or at least to tell each other where we'd be and that we'd be safe.
What was the most unusual part of the trip?
One day, as we were trekking through the Black Hills I think, we would see roadside signs from time to time noting the age and epoch of the rock visible in the road cuts. As we got further into the hills the ages kept going up and up. I remember thinking "hundreds of millions of years! wow!" and immediately passing a sign stating "2 billion years old". That amount of scale was mind-blowing.
Similarly, the act of biking across the entire country lent this huge sense of scale to it. It takes less than 6 hours to fly from coast to coast, and I've known people who've driven across it in a week or less. It’s so easy to travel that people don’t notice all of the little places in between. As a society we’re so used to consuming the beauty in a landscape in a few minutes of driving by it. It seems rare to me that people ever spend hours, let alone days, staring at the same distant mountain range.
How did the bags hold up?
The bags were great. I had two prototypes of a Route Seven Large and a Route Seven Medium from last year's tour, as well as a prototype of a more recent Route Seven. From day one I put these bags to the test. The first week alone we rode through downed trees and floodwater. The bags also suffered countless brushes with gravel, dirt, hurricane-strength storms, mud, pavement and truck beds. Aside from one rip in the liner of the red prototype, these bags held up against any and all water (that rip occurred due to a construction flaw which was fixed after the bag was constructed).
Grace had 4 Arkel panniers, which as I recall had zippers down the sides so she could quickly get at stuff packed at the bottom. I didn't mind that my panniers didn't have this feature, especially since zippers aren't completely waterproof and I would often stuff gear inside, which would have strained any side zippers.
I was lucky enough to join the team for the very last stretch from Portland to Seaside, OR.
Our new website is up! New goodies include:
A million thanks to friend & photographer George Barberis. His skills with the lens have helped transform North St. Bags into what it is today. Check out more of his work here.
Thanks also to web wizard (and my brother) Spencer for fixing some bugs on our new color picker - try it out - select "choose colors"
Are your New Years Resolutions already forgotten? This year, simply focus on Kaizen.
A Japanese term meaning “good change”, kaizen is one key concepts of Lean Manufacturing. The basic premise is that there is always room for improvement, even in the most routine or trivial task. The result? savings!
We use these methods in our production line, as well as other areas of our business, but they apply to almost anything. I catch myself thinking Lean while doing the dishes - who wouldn’t want to save time there, right?
By taking extra time to reflect on every step of the process, we’ve saved time and money in our production line. Problems, such as missing parts or a defective seam, are opportunities to learn, and are actually seen as a good thing. We’re more worried when there are no problems, because it means that we’re just not seeing them.
It might be 55 degrees and dry as a bone out there, but it's still winter! Remember those two days of "real" winter that we had here in Portland a few weeks back?
This shot is of Clinton, our hardware specialist (as well as a co-owner at A Better Cycle) with his winter rig in the "snow".
Rack - Axiom Journey
Jacket - 02
Panniers - Route Sevens in Safety Orange
Trailer - Burley Tail Wagon for hauling “Dude” the shop dog
We may not need all this waterproof gear for the moment, but the rain is coming and Summer is still a long way off.
P.S. No offense to Portland, but being from Vermont, I say these "winters" get quotes around them. Am I right?
It’s been nearly 5 years since I made the move to Portland to start my business, and we just wrapped up our best year ever.
North St. Bags started in 2009 with little more than a sewing machine found on craigslist, a few small rolls of Cordura and the simple desire to make some bags. I’ve learned a lot about manufacturing since my days in that basement studio. What started as a tiny custom bag shop has grown into a mini production line, outputting 60-80 units per week (at last count) and shipping all over the world.
This achievement has come mostly from learning-by-doing (with a fair share of re-doing), with a little help along the way. I’ve had the great fortune and privilege to connect with other amazing entrepreneurs such as Sara Tunstall, - founder of Spooltown, designer /manufacturers Leah & Avery Bloom of Make it Good, and Mark Dwight - owner of Rickshaw Bagworks in San Francisco.
I’ve also been enrolled in a class through the Small Business Development Center here in Portland. This has been a fantastic resource for helping to develop the business side of North St. Bags. I highly recommend it for anyone who is building or starting a small business in the Portland area.
One of the biggest building blocks of the North St. Bags production line is a method called Lean Manufacturing (aka the Toyota Production System). These practices have helped us to eliminate waste such as extra inventory, excess movement, and over-production, as well as streamline production in order to save time and money. We build sub-assemblies (shoulder straps, liners, belts, etc.) in small batches to save time, but we still run bags through assembly one at a time to ensure quality, and reduce the over-all lead time. This means we can turn out stock bags in 3-5 days (start to finish) and custom bags in just 7-10 days.
Lean practices are useful in other areas of the business as well. Interested in Lean? Check out this article by friend & mentor Kjell van Zoen, owner of Plywerk here in Portland.
Stay tuned to our blog over the next few weeks for more posts on our manufacturing process, materials and business practices.
founder / designer, North St Bags
We showed off our new convertible design at BikeCraft this past weekend, and we think it's a winner! We're still tinkering with it to make sure it's worth our label, and we can use your help! We're looking for a handful of bad-ass bike commuters to test it out and help smooth out the kinks.
If selected, you'll have a chance to KEEP THE BAG for your heroic efforts, or get a GREAT DEAL on any of our fine products.
We're still dialing in the details, but here's some more info on the bag.
Route Nine Convertible
Interested? Sign up HERE, or contact us at info [at] northstbags [dot] com.
Submissions will be accepted through 12/20/2013.
Test bags will go out in mid to late January 2014. We'll touch base with all the details.