Sew and Tell
What a bikepacker learned from making her own bags
After booking a trip to Jordan this past spring, Heather Plewes, from Guelph, Ont., needed bikepacking bags. Standard sizes didn’t fit her small Felt DD 70 fat bike. After a little online research and some colourful inspiration, Plewes was at her parents’ dining table one wintry Saturday sewing her own.
A retail associate at Fabricland recommended sourcing a second-hand raincoat for the lining fabric and zippers. “I’ve always liked the concept of upcycling,” says Plewes who found a $10 men’s raincoat with teal fabric and purple zippers. A Len’s Mill store yielded purple Velcro, pale grey and teal Cordura fabric, and a neon yellow daisy chain.
Plewes and her mom quickly discovered the instructions she’d found on a bikepacking site were pretty sparse on details. “We kind of worked together to figure out how best to cut the pieces and to put them together,” she says. One important element was to ensure the bag filled up all the space in her frame, with no gaps in the corners.
Plewes also sewed a top-tube bag. “That came completely out of my brain,” she says, adding she was surprised by how quickly the sewing skills her mom had taught her as a kid returned. “Using a sewing machine is a lot like riding a bike: you never really forget it once you learn.”
One minor snag had nothing to do with sewing, but with a new Salsa Beargrease purchase before the trip. “It wasn’t a perfect fit, but it was close,” Plewes says of attaching the bags to her new ride.
The colourful set weathered seven days riding in Jordan. After a particularly gruelling 30-km day that was spent riding mostly uphill, Plewes and her boyfriend, Paulo Laberge, stopped to take photos and celebrate. “It was probably one of the hardest days I’ve had on the bike, but I had a smile on my face. I was beaming and proud of myself in this beautiful place,” she says, and later describes the views as kind of life changing, “and the bags I made myself are in the pictures.”
Snacks, a phone, a headlamp, gloves, sunscreen and a multi-tool were packed in the top-tube bag. The frame bag held a spare tube, some food and camp-kitchen items. “This is a really solid spot to put heavy items, so they don’t bounce up and down a lot,” explains Plewes, who modified her design for a second bag – one that better eliminated that movement – for a friend once she got home.
That friend, Nate Lessnick of Sacred Rides, gave her an old company jacket with waterproof zippers to incorporate. This time, Plewes used a new heavy-duty Singer sewing machine, which could better handle the thick layers. When she turned that second bag right-side out, she thought, I would buy this. Lessnick reminded her that she named her first bike, a black Giant Trance with a bright blue handlebar, “Bruiser.” A logo was created, and her company was born.
“I love the idea of making things that are unique and not the usual black bags,” says Plewes. “That’s where the idea came to turn it into a small business-y thing.”
Right now you can find the business on Instagram (@bruiserbags.bikepacking) and Facebook. “Bruiser Bags is another expression of a spirit I’m feeling in my 30s of a willingness to dive in and try new things that make me feel happy and fulfilled,” Plewes says.
“Using a sewing machine is a lot like riding a bike.”