We catch up with Kedan Griffin, who is the Bike Bag Dude, the man behind some of the world's most coveted bikepacking gear.
Photos: Tim Bardsley-Smith
Kedan Griffin has been stitching up bags for cyclists looking to explore anything from their backyard to alpine tundra for close to a decade. What started as a passion overtook a family home, and now fills a commercial space near Newcastle. Maybe Kedan setup Bike Bag Dude at just the right time, as Instagram is flooded with emotive images of cyclists packing their essentials into a frame bag and taking off to escape the daily grind. From a long day out in the local bush, to massive sojourns crossing continents or mountain ranges. Bike Bag Dude bags can be seen helping people escape the world over.
AMB: Sewing custom bags from sailcloth in Newcastle might seem like a bit of a hobby for some – but how far around the world do your bags go?
BBD: BBD’s range is far and wide — we have sent gear to over 25 countries and regularly send gear to the States and Europe. The States would be my biggest market behind Australia - I seem to have a cult like following over there.
"Some people want hidden spots to hide guns and weed! U.S. clients habe different recreational drug laws so they have different needs and ask if I can accomodate them"
AMB: We’ve seen small top tube bags from BBD, all the way to full frame bags and even custom double wheel bags you made for us to test. What are the limits of what you can create? Have you had any crazy requests?
BBD: Limits… The only real problem I have with creating new things is the hardware that needs to be on it. I don’t make pannier bags for example as the mounting hardware is just too difficult for us to source and attach at the correct spots.
But in general - If I have a template sent to me - I can make the bag to fit.
I have had some crazy requests come in though, and there is one that I get a fair bit. Some people want hidden spots to hide guns and weed! US clients have different recreational drug laws so they have different needs and ask if I can accommodate them. I actually had to go to a local gun shop and ask to see a gun - I had never seen or felt the weight of a handgun in real life.
AMB: BBD is known for the custom process, and delivering exactly what people need. Is that the only thing that sets BBD apart from other bag makers?
BBD: The custom process and colour choice is definitely a big feature of what I do, but the main reason I do so well is the bags I make are a step above what is available anywhere else. I am the only person in the world that seam tapes their gear to keep water out. To me the main requirements for bags used for bikepacking and other adventures are volume and dryness — I seem to be in front of other builders in respect to these two details.
AMB: We see a lot of bikepacking bags coming out of the USA, and from the UK as well. As an Australian business – what’s it like competing with bigger brands overseas?
BBD: A bigger market means there are more players. I was worried when big companies started coming out with a range of products, but then we soon realised that the manufacturing restraints of China worked to our advantage. I do a lot of things differently to other makers and anything mass-produced inherently has the same problems, regardless of the brand that is having them made.
AMB: The materials you use don’t really come from the bike industry, what can you tell us about them?
BBD: We use laminated sailcloth that is produced in Germany - it is the lightest and strongest fabric that is available. The most important factor is abrasion resistance. The PVC gear that is mass-produced falls down at this point. It all comes down to how long you expect the gear to last and these days there are enough choices to appease any budget. The good old saying rings true - you get what you pay for.
AMB: A bike can take people just about anywhere – do you think equipping riders to take more and travel further is a key part of what BBD does?
BBD: We started out catering to a lot of people doing rather extreme races around the world. Events like winter ultra marathons in America where temperatures get as low as -40 degrees Celsius. When you build gear that can handle those sorts of extremes, you know it will handle any other sort of adventure that the not so extreme rider will undertake as well. Couples doing trails like Munda Biddi in Western Australia are becoming more and more popular and if you are dragging your partner out for an adventure, you don’t want your gear letting you down and making it a horrible experience.
AMB: Cutting custom templates, filling requests and mailing out the bags – it all sounds tiring. Where does the drive and motivation come from?
BBD: I think you have to be very driven to keep at something for 6 years and to do a full workload by yourself is just too much. I have help now. A young guy, Ash, has been with me for a couple of years and is very good these days. We vary our tasks depending on how we feel on the day so it keeps us fresh and not bogged down doing repetitive work. It is the main reason I love doing so much custom work as the schedule changes all the time. We ask for clients to send images back to us so we can see the gear on the bike, and also to feel proud about the fact that our gear has helped someone undertake an awesome adventure that they may have not done with the old traditional pannier style touring set up. Credit card touring will get bigger and bigger as it is a simple approach with a few more comforts.
AMB: It is probably easy to see bicycle luggage like frame bags only for the bearded types going on multi-day transcontinental trips. But then we see people using them for commuting, family rides and more. Do you think we are still seeing bikes coming back into regular Australian active lifestyles? How far is there to go?
BBD: General outings by bike are becoming more popular in Australia, and as people realise the benefits of loading up the bike rather than the person, it brings a whole new level of enjoyment. You don’t feel like a packhorse. Even now I am looking at a new trail bike for myself and I want it to have a space I can add a frame bag to so when I am having simple outings with my kids I can load up the bag with necessities rather than take a backpack.
Commuting is an area that I feel will grow when I can figure out a way for a bag to be easily attached and re attached to the frame - I have been experimenting with magnets lately and that may be the new way to do something like that.
Bikes have been helping people explore personal and physical horizons for a lot longer than AMB has been around. But in the past few years it is hard to ignore the imagery that floods social media as people use their bikes to explore far and wide. Whether that is because our bikes are more capable, there is equipment to support it like bags from Bike Bag Dude and other companies, or maybe it is because we are all so highly connected that sharing emotive images has become a default action. Regardless of the why, the need to escape the daily grind isn’t a new concept, and we’re stoked to see that a small Australian company is helping people get out on their bike for an everyday adventure or beyond. Maybe it is time to think about where has your bike can take you to escape?
You can follow Bike Bag Dude on Instagram: @bikebagdude
Or get in touch via their website bikebagdude.com