Sew and Tell

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - by Tara Nolan

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.”

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