JPaks FramePak Review: Bolt-on Frame Bag
Neil had a custom FramePak made by Colorado-based JPaks for his new Salsa Mukluk. Here’s his long-term review after two seasons of daily use, as well as runs along the Iditarod Invitational and other winter ultras….
Fat bikes and bikepacking bags go hand in hand. Not only because they can hold extra layers and gear to keep you warm, but because fat biking is all about fun. It’s about slowing down, bringing along some beers, sitting in the sun, and enjoying the moment. Sure, we can race our fat bikes, too, but when the temperature dips and the snow starts to fall, the mind, body, and tire rotations tend to slow down.
Just like figuring out your bike, its capabilities, and the way it rides and handles, the same can be said for bikepacking bags, believe it or not. There are a lot of intricacies to figure out, especially with frame bags. These include things like how much it can hold, which items fit best where, how to take it on and off the bike, and how the zipper holds up long term. To me, it’s turned into a bit of an obsession, actually. Just how much can I beat these bags up, stuff them with things, and tug on their zippers before they’ll finally give in?
Over the past year, I had the opportunity to test out a custom JPaks Framepak. JPaks is one-man company based in Denver, Colorado, run by Joe Tonsager. Joe makes all of his frame packs from scratch, meaning each bag is custom fit to your bike and your needs. When he noticed that my new Salsa Mukluk’s main triangle was empty, he went and got the measurements from Pedal of Littleton, sewed up a bag, and sent it my way. I don’t recall asking for anything specifically, instead having him send me something he thought would work best.
What I received was a sleek, all-back bag with dual zippers on the right to enter the main compartment, and one on the left to access the side pocket. What surprised me was the minimal use of Velcro straps. By now, many of you have seen strapless frame bags, no doubt. It’s a sleek look and function that I’ll get into soon. The FramePak made use of the frame’s four cage bolts – two on the seat tube and two on the down tube – with Velcro straps securing the bag to the frame elsewhere.
The bag fit like a glove and was surprisingly wide. It measures just over five inches across when unloaded, to be exact. Joe knew that I’d primarily using this bag to ride winter ultras, and while it works perfectly well for daily use, there’s no doubt that it was designed with expedition capacity in mind. Having space for a bag like this illustrates the beauty of a wide Q factor. I was initially puzzled by the width, but utilizing of that extra space you have in between your pedals makes a lot of sense.
Typically, I rarely remove a frame bag once I install it, and that proved to be the case with this one. Installing the bag was not as cut and dry as with most fully Velcro frame bags. First, I had to uninstall the cages or cage bolts from the frame. I then needed to start screwing in the bolts and washers provided by JPaks. This was the tricky part, as I had to find a short allen key to make the quickest work of screwing them from the inside of the bag into the frame. Once I completed that, all that remained was looping the Velcro straps around the frame in the correct order. Joe added a daisy chain to the front strap to accommodate any top tube bag on the market, so I measured my top tube bag to the daisy chain and installed the final strap accordingly.
The FramePak is thoughtfully designed, but not overly engineered, which made packing for day rides rather straightforward. Because of the Velcro divider wall separating the bottom and top of the bag, I threw a spare tube, tool, pump and full repair kit in the bottom compartment. There is also a little more room for a minimalist rain jacket, so I added that to the bottom, too. As for the top, I typically carry my camera, spare layers, food, and maybe an extra lens or random beer.
Two drive side zippers allow access to their corresponding compartments, and the internal Velcro divider can collapse to create one large compartment inside. The drive side compartment is another nice feature that allows storage of smaller items like chapstick, a cell phone, earphones, or even a multi-tool. The side pouch basically comes with three separate pockets, something that I normally would not want to see on a mountain or road bike frame bag, as it is just another place to take up space, but it makes sense on this monster frame bag.
Things changed slightly as I packed this bag up for winter ultras, knowing I would be camping outside and riding through the night. The bottom compartment would stay the same, but I would add an insulated Big Agnes insulated sleeping pad, my large down jacket, and a bag of batteries for my lights and GPS to the upper compartment, making the batteries the most easily accessible for when I had to deal with turning on my lights during the night. JPaks incorporates a nice port that worked very well for my light system, keeping things neat and functional.
We don’t typically need to worry about mud, grit, and grime here in the Colorado Rockies during winter, but what we do worry about is cold temperatures and snowfall. This bag endured many -20°F nights. For me, the most important things are keeping my belongings securely in my bag and ensuring that they’re easy to access. In order for this to happen, I needed to rely on a zipper. I understand that some riders don’t like zippers, but while racing, it’s the fastest and easiest way to access your goods. When temperatures dipped, I’d reach into my frame bag for my big down jacket, and the zipper glide was surprisingly smooth.
Opening the main compartment was relatively easy, but I’d occasionally struggle to get the zipper to shut fully after jamming my jacket and batteries back in, meaning I’d need to take time to repack it. Even so, I tugged on the zipper pretty good during many a sleep-deprived moment and I never had a skipped zipper tooth or other malfunction.
The internal velcro divider has held up well, though I haven’t opened it very often as I like the division between bottom and top compartments and it seems to help with keeping the bag tight. If I were to open it up, I do believe I could carry a few more items, but that might create a bit of a mess. Though, it might be a mess worth making if it means being able to carry a bunch of beers to your favorite camp spot to meet up with friends.
Beyond the zippers, the FramePak has held up to the abuse I handed to it over two winter racing seasons. Separately, one of my favorite features is the lack of Velcro to scuff my frame. Nothing is worse than coming back from a trip, even if it’s just a two-nighter, and seeing your beautiful, polished frame dulled down by the strap that connects the bag to your frame.
- Customizable to suit your needs
- Superb build quality
- Minimal velcro means less frame wear
- Expensive when compared to off-the-shelf options
- Made to order means you’ll need to plan ahead when ordering
- Price $275 (with either velcro or lace-up top)
- Weight ~454 grams (16oz)
- Place of Manufacture Denver, Colorado
- Manufacturer’s Details Link
While almost all of my testing miles were ridden during winter months, when silt, mud, and grime were at a minimum, the JPaks FramePak endured well-below-freezing temperatures, stuffing beyond what is normal, and plenty of abuse. It held together like a frame bag should, and shows no signs of significant wear and tear. This bag also has some nice bonuses. Namely, its width, its functional pockets and dividers, and best yet, the bolt on capabilities that save on the wear and tear of my frame.
Lastly, Joe has a great relationship with Pedal of Littleton, one of the largest Salsa Dealers in the Country, and this relationship gives him the unique opportunity to fit and measure all in stock Salsa models, which is a huge time and energy saver on the (Salsa-owning) customer’s end. Regardless, all of Joe’s Frame bags are made to order and priced based on your unique specifications. Head to Joe’s website, JPaks, to order yours and browse his other offerings.