Introducing Buckhorn Bags: A Splash of Color
Five years after his last custom framebag, Cass Gilbert tries one of Buckhorn’s made-to-measure bags for size, adding a splash of color to his bike. He talks about the bag, the process of ordering one, and considers why going custom can be such a satisfying experience, especially when the maker is local and rides the same trails as you do…
When I first heard about the new wave of ‘bikepacking’, back in 2009, there were just a couple of professional bagmakers on the scene. Such were the challenges in acquiring one of these hallowed triangle bags, that unless you had the sewing skills to make one yourself, you’d need to send a frame pattern across the world… or at least into a neighboring country (Canada, in the case of Porcelain Rocket) or beyond the Lower 48 to Alaska (in the case of Revelate).
Fast forward a decade or so and there’s now a wealth of gifted makers to choose from, offering an array of styles and designs to suit all tastes and intentions. Chances are, there may well be one that’s local to you, or at least within your country or state.
So, when Instagram introduced me to Buckhorn Bags and I spotted they were based out of Albuquerque, my interest was immediately piqued. While I haven’t been back to New Mexico for a while, I still feel an affinity for my former home in the high desert and all those who ride bikes there. Digging further into Sam Lutz’ page, I saw his sense of aesthetics tied in with mine. I liked the palettes of colours he, or maybe it was his customers, had chosen for past projects, as well as the clean and simple lines that characterize Buckhorn designs.
I dropped Sam a line to talk bags and bikes. I’m not sure if it’s par for the course, but we probably chatted as much about our love for New Mexico as the actual framebag in question. It’s at least five years since I’ve had a custom framebag built, so it was a fun process wrangling over its details – be it the width of its taper, or style of zips, or the heady possibility of bolts and laces. After all, this bag was for a rather special bike – the Jones ti SWB I’ve had on a long-term loan and that has appeared in many of my posts over the last year. I wanted to get it just right but for someone as indecisive as I am, it proved to be a bit of a process… Sorry Sam!
Eventually though, decisions were made. And where I once remember painstakingly drawing a frame pattern and entrusting it to the post, Sam requested nothing more than a photo of my bike with a tape measure taped in place, like an increasing number of bag makers these days, to get going. From this, he could extract all the necessary data – tube lengths, angles, and the like – for a snug fit. Whilst turnaround is generally a month, I had to exercise more patience, and it wasn’t until friends visited from New Mexico that mine was hand delivered.
Thanfully, it was well worth the wait!
We’d settled on a general flare that ran from three to four inches at the nose of the bag, which we decided was enough to offer a boost in capacity, without being overkill for day rides – seeing as they make up the majority of my excursions right now. I opted for a single main compartment as my frame is just large enough to fit an 11″ MacBook Air, which allows me to work on bike tours. But given my aspirations to eventually invest in a tablet, Sam also drew up a side pocket with space for an iPad Pro to nest, which I plan to put to use one day. Other details included a lace-up system that runs the length of the top tube. It was more out of curiosity than anything because I’ve never been 100 percent sure about the aesthetics of laces over velcro. It was worth the gamble as it came out looking even better than I’d hoped, so I have no regrets there.
As I was keen to have a bag that looked clean and showed off the bike – rather than covering it up with swatches of velcro – we’d also settled upon making the most of the SWB’s five eyelets that run the length of the downtube. This allowed Sam to reduce the number of straps needed to keep the bag stable. But because there are no eyelets on the seat tube, we couldn’t totally forgo them altogether, given that I’m always bouncing around off-road. As for the main body, the bag uses industry-standard Dimension Polyant VX21 for the liner and accent, and hardy X50 for the body. Colors? That would be pink and coyote, and what a combo it is. New Mexico x Rapha, perhaps?
Prior to this framebag I’ve mostly favored designs with roll-top closures. They’re definitely not as quick to access as their zippered counterparts, but there are also fewer points of potential failure. Whilst I’ve never been a fan of waterproof zippers as they’ve always split over time, especially in dusty conditions, more recently I’ve been very impressed by a new generation of molded tooth options. They’ve stood up much, much better than the zips of yesteryear, so I was happy to use this opportunity to give them a go. On the driveside, which would be seeing the brunt of the loads, Sam suggested sewing in a band of fabric to allow for zipper pull – Tweave Durastretch – which appears to have helped them shrug off the poor packing I’ve put them through.
Buckhorn Bags may be new to the business – Sam is just 31 – but a background in carpentry definitely shines through. The whole finish is extremely precise, with bolt straight double and triple stitching throughout. Detailing is also spot on. Still, wear and tear are inevitable and in this day and age, the ability to repair gear, and keep it in service for as long as possible, is just as important as putting it out there in the first place. That’s something Buckhorn Bags is able to offer too, to keep your treasured framebag around for longer.
Without a doubt, this framebag elevates an already elegant bike and I’m thrilled with the result. I’ve been running it for five months now and it’s faded subtly, just like the finest New Mexican patina. Oaxaca, where I now live, is a beautiful city with splashes of color in every street – like the bougainvilleas pictured – and the end result definitely adds to the typical ‘bike against wall photo’ that I so enjoy taking.
Any downsides? Initially, I wondered about the longevity of the stretch fabric sewn into the zippers but so far, so good. It’s showing no signs of wear or UV degradation. I did notice the grommets used to bolt the framebag into the downtube have rusted lightly from humidity, but as the rainy season here is undeniably majestic and I use this bike daily for grocery shopping and bikepacking alike, I’m not entirely surprised. Speaking of rain, I accept that this style of framebag can’t claim to be waterproof, even if in practice it has withstood a number of thundery, overnight storms – as long as I leave my bike parked against a tree and not lying down on its side.
Any changes if I was to do it again? I forgot to ask for a couple of pump straps to be sewn into the roof of the bag, as I find these useful for keeping a pump in a specific place – especially handy when you’re running large volume tyres that benefit from frequent pressure changes. I love the look of the lace-up system but I would note that it makes fitting and removing the bag a more time-consuming affair. On the plus side, it likely reduces paint scuffs too, not that this is an issue with polished titanium.
Yes, there’s a certain irony to investing in gear that’s for a bike that isn’t mine. But whilst it will be heading back to Jones in October, I’ll be replacing it with its steel counterpart. Luckily it has the exact same geometry, so this custom framebag won’t be going to waste, and will continue to add flair and practicality to my future bike tours and portraits.
If you’re interested in getting your own made-to-measure gear to add flair to your bike, enjoy features that are specific to your needs, or support a local maker, Logan recently published this complete guide with suggestions for what to spec as well as a list of those who make them.
Interview with Sam Lutz of Buckhorn Bags
Whoever you choose, it’s the nature of custom framebags that working with a maker is part of the experience. I put some questions to Sam, because backstories of small brands and the motivations behind them are often as interesting as the products themselves.
First off, you’re based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a land that’s close to my heart. What drew you to the high desert? And what got you into this bagmaking game?
My wife got a job here in 2019 which brought us from Kansas. We’ve fallen in love with the many cultures here as well as the access to the outdoors.
As for making bags, I’m a carpenter by trade and have always found my hands working on something, whether it be building, taking apart, reverse engineering, repairing, what have you. Several years ago, I wanted to get more into ultralight hiking. Looking at quality gear and the high prices they command I thought, “I could figure that out and make it.” So, I bought a sewing machine. I built some backpacks and other assorted bags. Learning by doing, drafting patterns and shapes and figuring out how to make them, learning the proper order of operations and how fabrics interact with one another.
During that time, I started getting more into cycling and loved the custom framebags coming out of small makers here and abroad. I liked the complexity and cleanliness that comes from a custom fit and the personality that they can add to your bikes. Once I moved to New Mexico and had made a few framebags I was encouraged by a few friends to make a go of it. Kevin Hinton was one of the first, and I built a bag for his Niner, and Bailey Newberry at Sincere Cycles encouraged me for months to start a business and we traded a pair of bags for his tandem for some parts for a Fargo I built.
It’s clear you have an eye for detail. How does your background in carpentry help in making framebags?
As a carpenter, I worked on high-end cabinetry, furniture, and millwork. These specific parts of carpentry are typically the final and most visible details of a space, they define and accent the space. Precision is key. I have always liked the mantra, “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast,” and I feel like it lends itself well to creating by hand. Taking the time to lay out a pattern and cut pieces precisely, as well as utilizing index marks throughout, allows for a quicker assembly and a more polished final product.
I also grew up in Boy Scouts and spent a lot of time outdoors, where I learned that the things you carry ought to be multi-purposed, and I like to try to incorporate that into my gear as well. As much as possible, I try to incorporate the other gear and attachment methods already on your bike to make for a cleaner, sturdier, and more functional product.
Where do you see the business heading? Full time or part time?
Right now, I work as a carpenter at UMM, but I intend to take Buckhorn Bags full time within the next year. My wife is transitioning out of many years of professional training which will allow me to take a step forward with Buckhorn. My hope is to create a self-sustaining business that creates high-quality gear domestically, fosters business and families within my community, and provides a space for community to grow.
And what’s a realistic turnaround time for bags?
As a small one-man band, I’ve struggled to find a balance between taking orders, fulfilling said orders, and developing new products. As such, I’m implementing a new ordering system. I plan to open orders for custom gear at the beginning of the month with four-week lead times. I’ll open fewer spots than in the past in an effort to keep lead times short, and a sense of sanity for myself and my marriage. This will also allow me to keep the web store and my retail dealers stocked up more frequently. I hope to also be able to have time to develop some products that have been brewing for a while.
If you’d like to get a custom framebag and they show “sold-out” please sign up for the waitlist. Afterwards, you will receive an email for when framebag orders will be open. They’ll close when they’ve filled up and reopen the following month. This is a new system of taking orders, so it may change as we move forward. But I believe this is a great way to offer product in a reasonable time and have an inventory of universal items more often than not.
Any particular comments on the bag you made for me?
I feel like we incorporated a lot of fun stuff into the framebag for the Jones, like the tapered nose and the size-specific custom sleeve pocket for an iPad, for instance. We also incorporated a lace-up on the TT, which was a first for me. I never really was a fan of that attachment method but after building the bag for the Jones it’s grown on me a lot. And apparently, others too, as I’ve built quite a number of them since. As a small manufacturer I love getting to implement new requests from customers, it helps to expand our offerings and grow our products. As a new company with just me at the helm, it can be challenging to iterate on new ideas, so it’s nice when a customer wants something specific and gives me the latitude to implement it.
Lastly, what’s your bike of choice, and where do you enjoy riding?
That’s a toss-up, as I just built up a new bike this month that’s really got me smiling. I built a Surly Midnight Special in “Hot Mayo” color. My intention for it is as a commuter and dirt road tourer. It’s got a front rack and basket as well as a dyno running B&M lights. Bailey Newbry at Sincere Cycles in Santa Fe built me up a really nice 650b wheelset with some polished Velocity hoops that are pretty dreamy. Keaton at Doom Bars in ABQ is bending me up a nice Klunker style sweepy pair of bars that’ll complement it nicely.
You can find out more about Buckhorn Bags by checking out the website or following Sam Lutz on Instagram. Prices start at $170 for a basic framebag. A number of extras – like lace-ups, extra pockets, and dual compartments – are available for an additional cost. You don’t need to choose pink… there’s a range of X-Pac colors through which to express yourself. Sam is also developing a full range of gear; currently it includes the Rattler stem bag and Conejo hip bag, which we’ll be adding to our Gear Indexes, as well as some mini panniers in the pipeline.
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