Rider and Rig: Joe Tonsager’s Gorilla Monsoon
We caught up with Joe Tonsager, founder and proprietor of JPaks, to check out his bedecked All-City Gorilla Monsoon. We also asked Joe some questions about how he started JPaks and where it’s headed. Learn more about his bike and his business here…
Based in Denver, Colorado, Joe Tonsager has been making bikepacking bags for quite a while under the brand JPaks. The company specializes in custom frame packs and offers a few tried and true designs, such as the signature extra-large top tube bag, the RukSak stem caddy, and GravelPak seat bag. While reviewing the Gorilla Monsoon a few months back, I reached out to Joe to ask his opinion on the bike since he was also riding one. Fast forward to this fall and I found myself in Denver, so I couldn’t resist taking a look at his Monsoon set up, decked out with a sweet set of quilted bags, a pizza rack bag, and a few other bits and bobs. Here’s a full set of photos and a Q&A with Joe about JPaks, the bike, and what’s next…
How and when did you get turned on to bikepacking, and where was your first trip?
I was first introduced to bikepacking through the Tour Divide and bikepacking.net. I’m not sure how I was turned onto it, but the thought of multi-day trips while camping was mind blowing and I was instantly fell in love with the concept.
My first bikepacking overnighter was on a single speed Karate Monkey (one that completed the CT beneath another friend this summer!) onto Segments 1 and 2 of the Colorado Trail. It was an 85-mile loop with one night under the stars, and that set in motion what I have become today. I was hooked! Little did I know that eight years later my wife and would be adopters of Segment 1 through the Colorado Trail Foundation and we would have bikepacked the CT both southbound and northbound in back-to-back years. My wife also completed the Colorado Trail Race this year, finishing in 3rd place for women!
When did you start making bikepacking bags, and what led to you doing so?
Back in late 2009/early 2010, I caught onto what was happening with the Tour Divide and some other long-distance routes/races, and I became very interested in the frame bags riders were using to haul their gear in. This was very intriguing for me as it combined my love for cycling with my passion for the outdoors and backpacking into one! I was hooked. The first foray into Paks was all about freeing your back from the pack, and bikepacking came shortly thereafter.
Having recently been laid off from a professional model making career due to the economic slump we were in at the time, I had some free time as well as the equipment and resources for materials close at hand to make my own frame bags. I started making Paks for myself with no intentions of creating a business or vying for a share of the market in the beginning. I was all about getting that backpack off of my back and getting the weight centered and low. It made perfect sense to me that the bike can and should be your sherpa, allowing you to enjoy more of the ride with the peace of mind that comes from knowing you have everything you need with you.
My friends are the ones who deserve credit for asking/begging/pleading for me to make them Paks in the beginning, and ultimately forcing me to create a brand and identity for this need. And, well, that story continues to this day with JPaks.
How did JPaks come about?
JPaks was born out of the passion and creativeness that I thought I could bring to the Bikepacking world. Whether it was a feedbag that was smaller than I liked or a zipper size that I thought could be refined for the intended use, my degree in industrial design taught me to look at existing products and to analyze where they meet and exceed the expectations of customers, or where they fall short and could be refined to better fit the intended purpose or user.
Industrial design has a lot to do with hands-on interfacing with products, and you don’t get more hands on than with bikepacking bags! I also use everything I make, and regularly get out for overnighters to put things through their paces. Bikepacking is a way of life for me. JPaks has always been a passion first, profit second type of business, and people get that. They understand and see the passion and that keeps the business going.
What drew you to the All-City Gorilla Monsoon?
First and foremost was the 650B platform it was built around. I’ve been curious about 650B+ road setups for a while, and was contemplating between a Salsa Vaya conversion and the venerable Soma Wolverine. Neither was truly a 650B dedicated ride, and both suffered from minor geo changes with the conversion. Then the Gorilla Monsoon was announced and I was sold! The Fork, the paint job and the 612 tubing (I’m a Minnesota native and that’s the area code for where I grew up) checked the boxes I was looking for, and the thru axles make wheel changes a breeze! After putting 10,000 miles on a Salsa Fargo over the past four years, I was in search of something more in line with road/gravel/mixed use exploration and less mountain-bike-turned-road-bike. The Fargo is amazing and I’ll never get rid of it, but I wanted a horizontal top tube, non-suspension-corrected geo, and another steel frame.
The Monsoon is also an experiment for me, using and riding a loaded front rack vs. a handlebar bag.
What do you use it for, mostly?
Road(ish) adventures and bikepacking trips that don’t require the squish of suspension, and also for errands and commuting around town. It’s my go-to bike for long days with mixed surfaces or questionable terrain where I know I won’t have the perfect bike for all conditions, but it will bridge the gaps between genres.
You decided to build up the Gorilla Monsoon from a frameset. Can you tell us why, and what elements of the build helped dictate that decision?
I actually picked up a complete Monsoon back in March since the frameset-only delivery was a long way out and I wanted to get it built up for the spring. I essentially knew I would replace most all of the components over time, but was feeling eager to get this thing between my legs! Most changes were for weight savings, and some aesthetics as well. I wasn’t too thrilled on the complete build, but it surely isn’t horrible.
The first thing to go was the stock wheelset in favor of my besties from North Carolina, Industry Nine Torch hubs laced to Spank Oozy rims are bomb proof, plump, and plush, along with dropping some weight. I also have a 650×50 wheelset and a 700×40 wheelset complete with cassette and rotors for easy swapping. It’s been fun to play with tire sizes and BB drop between the wheels. The other changes came from the fact that Thomson makes beautiful and functional products, the Shimano XTR cranks were waiting in my parts bin for a build like this, and the GX derailleur has a tighter cable loop than the Apex, keeping it out of the bushes. The Rawland Demiporteur front rack is the perfect complement to finish out the build and load the front end properly.
- Frame 58cm frame
- Cockpit Thomson post and stem
- Saddle SQ labs 611
- Handlebars Salsa Cowchipper (44cm)
- Shifters Apex 1×11
- Rear derailleur GX 11spd
- Cassette Sunrace 11-46
- Crankset XTR M952 w/110 bcd spider
- Chainring Wolftooth 36T
- Brakes TRP Spyre
- Wheels I9 Torch hubs laced to Spank Oozy 350 rims
- Tires Maxxis Ikon 27.5×2.35″
- Front Rack Rawland Demiporteur
- #1 Accessory Bearded rubber ducky
- Packs Custom Quilted JPaks
- Bell Spurcycle
What’s been the biggest ride you’ve taken on it? Can you share a little about how it preformed during that ride?
Back in March, my good buddy Fixie Dave planned a Solstice overnighter on Mt. Herman, about 60 miles south of Denver, and I chose to ride to the ride over the course of a couple nights. That ride ended up being about 167 miles over three days and two nights. Part dirt road/bike path and part singletrack, the ride was the perfect shakedown for the Monsoon, and just the right tool for getting to and from the ride. It performed flawlessly! I was smitten with the way it handled with a loaded front rack. It was quick and nimble in the path down, comfortable and stable on the dirt, and surprisingly agile on the singletrack with a full load. The front chainring was a tad large for such a trip, but I had no issues keeping up and leading the group through technical singletrack. The Gorilla Monsoon really has the heart of a mountain bike with its short wheelbase and big wheels, so off-road riding is nothing but a pleasure.
Is there anything you’d change on it?
Yes. Adjustable dropouts. The wheelbase is definitely tucked, but it would be nice to lengthen it for longer trips.
Tell us a little about those beautiful quilted style bags?
Drawing from my Minnesota roots, the quilting has been a fun addition to the bags, and it adds a touch of flair. This particular quilting blends my MN roots with my CO lifestyle. Taking traditional cross-hatch quilting and melting that into the mountain peaks of the HalfPak was a fun one. These bags (and this bike, for that matter) get a LOT of attention when it’s out. Rarely do I get in a ride where someone doesn’t comment on the paint, bags, fork rake, or crown. It gets noticed, and that was part of the idea for the build. I wanted to showcase my beautiful work!
Do you offer such bags to your customers?
Yes, I do. I charge a small fee on top of the FramePaks for the time and materials involved, and I’ve gotten to do some rather fun quilting on customers’ bikes. You’re guaranteed not to see another one like it on the trail!
You mentioned a few new developments for JPaks. Do you want to share your plans and next steps with our readers?
Well, I’m moving! Three miles down Colfax (never thought I’d get to say I work on Colfax!) to share a space with the Slo-Hi City Park bike shop. I’m currently building out the shop space in the basement and hope to be physically in there working on November 1st. There will be a formal announcement in the coming weeks, and there will definitely be a party at the shop to open the new space! I’m stoked to work with and be a part what Adam Williams has created with Slo-Hi, as well as his partnership with Rodeo Labs. There’s a really strong community of support and passion here in the Denver metro area, and we’re all striving to grow that passion and better ourselves and our companies/products. The future is looking great for JPaks!