Tom Matchak has been working steadily for the last year or so on the creation and refinement of a new kind of decaleur called the Dock-It™. Decaleurs are the mechanisms that have evolved over time as a means of stabiliziing and attaching a front bag to the bike. The earliest were simple straps from the bag that went up and around the handlebar, but more sturdy and user-friendly forms have become standard over the years.
Tom's design streamlines the connection between bag and bike, allowing for less clutter and custom placement of attachment points on both the bag and cockpit of the bike.
Last winter Tom asked if I'd be willing to be a tester for his new design, and of course I was anxious to try it out. I mounted an early prototype to an old bag and began using it through the 2016 riding season, and I'm still using it! I was able to offer a few suggestions for refinements based on use, and the unit is an even better design than it was then, although I'm still using the original with no complaints.
As a bag maker, it made sense for Tom to reach out to me. I've done work to evolve the bag-side arrangment to work with the Dock-It™. Because the design allows for total flexibility, the bag no longer needs to conform to the established conventions that match traditional decaluers--namely a centered wear strip down the back of the bag. The Dock-It™ can be places anywhere on the back of the bag, so the configuration of pockets and lid closure are now free to be rearranged.
I'm confident the Dock-It™ will find a home with both builder's who are excited about new and creative ways to build out their designs, and owners who are interested in a new and effective means of bag attachment.
Tom and I are partnering on this project. I will be the retailer and be making bags as needed that conform to the needs and designs of Dock-It™ customers.
Read more here: www.dockittm.com
I was recently contacted by Jesse Fox of Seneca Cycle Works and we schemed up a saddlebag modeled on the Carradice Nelson. Part of the fun of a custom bag is that you get to make it become a part of the overall bike scheme, and Jesse's bike is red with black accents, so we went with colors that mimicked the bike, but didn't try to compete for attention. We also dispensed with buckles on the pockets since they can be fiddly to open (and close) when you just want to get into them. I also tried to flatten out the wooden support spar on the inside since I find the dowels to be intrusive when you are trying to overfill the bag, although I'm not sure my solution made a significant difference.
As we all know, the downside of large saddlebags is the dreaded thigh-rub, where the bag entends perpendicular to the bicyle behind the saddle and can hit the back of one's thighs when pedalling. To solve this, Jesse and I planned the bag so that it would mount on a custom rack that would both support the bag but also hold it out from the seatpost a few inches. Jesse's progress photos of the rack remind me of a randonneuring front rack turned around, which sort of makes sense when I think about a big saddlebag basically being a tilted box hanging from the saddle.
Rather than try to coordinate sizing and placement we decided I would just finish the bag based on a quick sketch and then Jesse would build the rack to fit the connection points I'd worked into the bag. A strap will run through the leather wear patch to fix the bag from below.
I love projects like this and am grateful to Jesse for his interest in working with me! I hope we get to do it again.
(Middle and bottom photos: courtesy of Jesse Fox)
photo: © Wil Matthews
Waxwing Bag Co. had a successful first outing at the New England Builders' Ball in Thompson, CT on Friday, September 30th. It was a big push to get ready and very exciting to present my work to visitors. Its been a long-time desire of mine to "Attend the Ball" and this year finally felt like the right time and I'm glad I did.
I used Nancy's Tom Machack bicycle as the model display and had a nice set of duel-colored panniers on the front low riders, a new waxed handlebar bag that joined the bike with a custom Dock-ItTM decaleur. On the back of the bike I mounted a smaller set of rear touring panniers in blue with brown leather trim. Additionally, I had an assortment of handlebar bags and various other types for display on the table. Oh yeah, I also had some nifty carved signs a pal of mine created with a CNC machine, adding a nice professional look to my signage.
To my delight I was positioned between Peter Weigle on my right and Brian Chapman on my left, both amazing constructeurs whose work I admire and take great inspiration from.
It was fun chatting with curious onlookers and discussing the finer points of bag construction and the like. A bunch of folks took my card and a few expressed interest in possible projects, which is largely what I expected. Looking ahead to next year I would love to have, say, three bikes, each kitted out with their own specific set of bags--improving upon the little-of-everything approach this year.
It was a great evening and I look forward to being back next year!
This is Mark's cardboard mock up. Note the need to fit the bag within the shifters located on the inside of the handlebar drops. His model also allowed him to check both the height, but also the reach of the decaleur. If I light were affixed to the top of the rack, he'd be able to check that too. (All photos courtesy of Mark G./Flickr)
Deciding on size and color can be challenging. Some folks know without hesitation what they want, others are less certain. Here's the story of one customer who didn't leave anything to chance:
Mark G. of Oregon is an exceptional craftsman, wielding a torch with deft precision and bending a fork radius with exacting care. Not surprisingly, when it came to planning for his bags he made sure he knew exactly where he was going before we started the actual bag making process.
You can see here Mark was thinking about typical stuff that he'd be carrying in his bag that he needed to account for.
Using cardboard, he mocked up his bag and was able to mount it atop his rack and make sure it fit where he wanted it to. A front bag sits within a virtual box defined by the decaleur, the rack, the handlebars and the brake levers. (Were a light mounted at the front of the rack he’d have been able to make sure there was no issues there either.) In addition to the functional concerns, his mock-up allowed him to look at the overall proportions in relationship to the bike. Too tall? Too narrow? Cardboard is cheap and easy to modify and takes a good amount of guessing out of the process.
(Its worth mentioning here that 90% of the bags I make tend to fall within a reasonably narrow range of dimensions, so even if you aren’t interested in going through the work that Mark did, we’ll have a good sense of what’s appropriate for your bag. Any unusual measurements would be thought through before proceeding.)
In the meantime I sent Mark a small package of canvas swatches with leather trim options. This facilitated choosing the colors he wanted and I was then able to send him a test panel that he could affix to his bag-box. This allowed him to get a feel for the color choices in relationship to the frame and components. There’s nothing like being able to see all the elements together to know if your ideas are going to work the way you’d like.
Here Mark has fixed the sample panel I made for him to the side of his text bag, allowing him to step back and take in the overall impression with the entirety of the bike. This Mark character is a wise man...
See that light mounted on the front of the rack? The box and the light aren't exactly getting along here. It's time to get out that box cutter and resize the bag (or relocate the light if you need a bag this big).
I do my best to make color suggestions, but I’m learning as I go and sometimes combinations that wouldn’t occur to me look great, while other times what I would think seems like a logical pairing isn’t quite as strong as I would hope.
I you want to leave nothing to chance, do as Mark has done, but if you want to just talk it through and rely on our mutual ability to sort it out, that works too!
I recently was presented with a fun and new challenge. A customer wanted a bag built without leather--a vegan bag.
(You can read a blog post from Norther Cycles in Portland, OR about how this bag was mounted with a custom alloy stiffener and decaleur here.)
Glad to comply, I started looking into materials that would approximate the look and feel of leather but meet the vegan mandate. Since the decision was to go with a waxed rust brown canvas and black trim my material selection was guided by the idea of using EPDM as my "leather". EPDM is rubber roofing membrane that you'd see in vast acreage atop any flat roofed big-box type store. It's tough and durable and seems to come in one color: black.
Having decided on the material, and happening to have a handy supply on hand from an old construction project, my task was to find a way to buff it up a bit and give it the polish we associate with leather. A quick look on the interwebs and I found the suggestion to use silicone as a polishing agent. I should have run down town and bought a can of silicone spray, but since I had a tube of silicone caulk, I glommed some of that out on my material and let it set. Later I came back, rubbed off the dry material and found that the rubber underneath was smooth and shiny. It was a bit of work, but it did the trick. I also experimented with using petroleum jelly but it's shine wasn't quite as good as the silicone.
Typically with leather I thin it when I need a different thickness than what I have on hand. With the EPDM I did the opposite; I layered up as much material as I needed and laminated the layers together. It worked great.
Looking at the finished bag, I wouldn't know its not leather trim. I am really pleased with how it came out. Had the customer wanted brown, that would have added a degree of challenge to the project. In the looking around I found rolls of what seemed to be bamboo fabric that look great and seemed like it might work, but also cost a kings ransom. I'll be keeping an eye out for possibilities when the next project comes along.
Mark is doing a really amazing job reworking a Raleigh International into a low-trail 650B randonneuring bike. Among the work he's done is re-raked the fork, rebuilt the seat stay bridge, new cantilever brake posts, various braze-ons, cable guides, building some clever custom racks, etc... It's impressive to see his work and we've been going back and forth about his handlebar bag that will join this great bike. Theres plenty to work out: size, color of fabric, trim and details, attachments, and so on. Whats fun is how much he has taken the task in hand modeling the bag in cardboard and altering it until it is just right. His work helps insure that the final product will be just right, without any unanticipated issues.
We've also done a lot to sus out a color scheme, with me sending him swatches and him trying them out against the bike. We've landed on a cream color called "wheat" with darkend brown leather and a small touch of red to compliment the fine red details on the frame. I'm excited to see it all assembled as one.
Additionally, Mark makes some pretty sharp decaleurs (see top photo) that improve upon the weaknesses of the common Velo Orange offering, which has a weld that takes a lot of abuse. Mark's decaleur solves that issue with a robust sleeve. I'm thinking one of his decaleurs might be the right fix for Nancy's decaleur which gave out last summer.
(Top and bottom photos courtesy Mark Guglielmana/Flickr)
A customer has been reminding me for a while that he'd be interested in a small saddlebag, which I am happy to make for him. The fact of the matter is that I've made a number of saddlebags, but hadn't made one quite like he was thinking about, namely a compact bag that nestles under the saddle and hangs off either the rails or the saddle loops. Making a bag is pretty easy once the design, details and pattern are all worked out, but getting to that point is an iterative process that requires a lot of working, tweaking, testing, reworking, etc... So, I've been evolving a small saddlebag over the last month or so. Starting with sketches, then making a first stab at bag with no finish details to see how the shape, mounting, and function pan out.
Following the first test bag, I think I made at least four versions of the bag, with numerous modifications along the way before feeling like I was ready to send off a test sample to this customer (who really is part-collaborator part-client, which is a relationship I like) for his take.
He had some good feedback and now I feel like I'm ready to roll with this charming little bag. I've had one on my bike for the last month or so to hold the standby items I always keep with me (rain shell, tool roll, reflective vest) to allow room in my handlebar bag for the numerous extras cold weather riding requires.
Funny how moving one part into place opens things up. While we were on vacation last February, walking on a beach with our friend John, it suddenly came to me "Waxwing" bags. I told Nancy and John and the idea was greeted warmly. I knew it was going to stick, unlike the many previous stabs which never felt quite right.
Having the name in hand allowed me to start doodling and playing with logo ideas, and slowly the image above has taken form. It will likely evolve further, but I'm happy enough with it that I finally decided to get patches made. They will now go on all bags I make. Its a sign I feel solid enough about my work that I'm willing to attach a name to it. Fun stuff for sure!
The patches, made by Falls Creek Outfitters in Pennsylvania.
I took the sketch below (done on an iPad with 53's Paper app) and moved it over to Illustrator where I spent a bunch of time cleaning it up and trying to balance letters and give the waxwing some flow. I wanted to have a clean image but keep the handmade quality of the design, and I"m quite happy with where it landed. For future iterations of the patch, I'll beef up the lines of the bird and probably drop the town/state lettering. Like any design, its possible to keep messing with it forever, so at some point I just said good enough and got the patches produced, and I'm glad I did.
I've been consciously thinking about two main criteria driving my work lately: Proportion and Technique. I find myself pursuing each with a kind of doggedness. Every bag I make is a journey through how I make the bag, and then, when its done, noticing my impression; is it good? Why? Is something off? What is it? What's the weakest element? Process, design, execution, technique all funnel into the creation of each bag and bringing them together is my job.
On the technique side I am always asking questions: Is a given step reliable and repeatable and does it deliver predictably high quality results? Sometimes the issue is a question of having, making or buying the right tool, sometimes it is a matter of sewing skill. I find myself constantly examining myself working. Am I uncertain about the next step? Is it a challenging move? Is there a way to take the concern out of the sequence? This is important, but it is also fun. I love process; and I love efficiency, and I love quality. I will be doing this forever.
At the same time, I critique every bag I make once it is done. How did it come out? What are it's strengths? What are its weak points? What mistakes did I make? What is the overall impression? For a good while I think that my attention has sided a little more towards technique and have only made small adjustments to the design. Proportions are subtle, but they matter immensely. They are the difference between utility and beauty. And they can be hard to pin down.
Luckily I have the bags of the big producers, my own bags, and the bags of other small makers to look at and compare to. I've recently spent time charting the various sizes of bag that I have or am familiar with and tried to distill what I think would be a good large, but not too big, handlebar bag. Its hard to know until the bag is complete and sitting in front of me, but thats okay, I know I'm in the ballpark and each bag is a refinement. I have sometimes made simplified versions just to check the overall sizes before I commit to a fully detailed execution.
with this recent analysis of size and proportion, I've updated my pattern to be a more useful tool in the making process. The location of each pocket, each fold, each seam, etc.. is drafted on the mylar template. My aim is to avoid having to measure an existing bag to determine the location or placement of a given part. Crucial junctions have small holes punched in the plan which will allow me to chalk the points onto the fabric it's self, which should introduce repeatable accuracy, and save time re-locating the assembly again and again.