After a hiking trip turned into a bike-packing trip due to closed roads in the spring of 2014 somewhere in the mountains of northern Arizona, Nick Smolinske of Flagstaff had a revelation: He would make the perfect bike-packing bag.
By autumn, armed with a sewing machine and “too much time on (his) hands,” he set out to make a bike frame bag for himself, learning the hard way that panniers and road bikes were not best suited for the kind of riding he was infatuated with – long, dirt roads and high, rugged mountains.
Two years later, Rogue Panda Designs has five employees producing a complete line of bike-packing accessories out of Flagstaff, Arizona.
“What we do is make bags in the U.S. efficiently and affordably,” Smolinske said. “To offer custom frame bag options with a quick turn around time.”
And custom is key; all it takes is a photo. Smolinske and his team scale it, and get to work.
“So instead of having to send a template or having to trace your frame, all you have to do is take a ruler or tape measure up against your bike and take a photo. And then I do a lot of math.”
In fact, the former math instructor said the system is as accurate as any other method.
Growing from a solo mission to a staff of five, with two more joining the company this spring, Smolinske said he’s busy with the trappings of a blooming business, combining two things he loves: riding and designing. “We’ll see what happens next year. I’ve come at it from both directions.”
The staff is a mix of experienced sewers and riders and that formula is working.
According to Smolinske, who longs for outings on Arizona’s 750-mile Arizona Trail, Rogue Panda is for anyone interested in carrying things on their bike. Whether just getting into it, or crossing over from other genres of long distance cycling.
His product is tough, and well thought out. He uses a durable sailcloth-base fabric that is weather resistant and internally waterproof, and when called for the seams are sealed. The fabric has no stretch, so it retains its shape. The result is a burly piece.
A point of pride for Rogue Panda, whose name is derived from a prank- a hacked digital road sign near Flagstaff - is that everything is made in-house. “We do all the cutting and sewing. Nothing is outsourced.”
And remember, custom is key.
“We can cut out designs and press them onto the fabric,” he said. “People want custom designs on their frame bags. We’ve done state flags: Colorado, Arizona, Utah. That’s one thing we’ve been doing a lot of recently.”
And from photo to finish, it all takes about two weeks for Rogue customers to get their goods. Customers are about half local and the company has even done international orders.
While Smolinske makes his own hours, sometimes that means working three weeks straight, weekends included. Other times, it’s product research. We found him on the road traveling back to Flag after a holiday trip.
“It’s like being a workaholic interspersed with more opportunity to get outside. “
And to Rogue Pandas all over, that’s their main objective: Building a kit, and hitting the trail.
For a closer look, visit them at www.roguepanda.com.