Porcelain Rocket 52Hz Waterproof Frame Pack
Porcelain Rocket is at it again. This time with the world’s first fully waterproof seam welded roll-top frame pack. We had a chance to test the 52Hz frame pack in advance of its launch, and in one extremely heavy downpour…
First things first. Where’d 52Hz come from? The short answer: a whale. The longer answer pertains to a naming convention that started with Albert, the world’s first dropper-specific seat pack released by Porcelain Rocket earlier this year. Albert’s namesake was the first primate astronaut, a rhesus monkey, who on June 11, 1948, was blasted into space inside a V-2 rocket. It was only fitting to stay within that theme for the first waterproof roll-top frame pack. As both Google and Wikipedia will eagerly tell you, 52-hertz is an epithet assigned to an individual whale of unidentified species. This particular beast emits calls at the very unusual frequency of 52Hz, a much higher frequency than that of most other whale species. This single whale has been detected regularly in many locations since the late 1980s and appears to be the only individual emitting a call at this frequency. He has been described as the “world’s loneliest whale”. There’s a lot to ponder in both names, Albert and 52Hz, but they are definitely both representative of original animals.
Creative branding aside, 52Hz has been in the works for a few years and is finally surfacing Monday at the Porcelain Rocket store. The original roll-top frame bag from Porcelain Rocket, the Orbiter, started as a design collaboration between founder Scott Felter and customer-come-associate Skyler Des Roches back in the fall of 2014. The idea made a lot of sense considering the stresses a framebag endures and its propensity for zipper failure. For lack of a more genial analogy, like the scene from the movie “Seven”, frame packs are often overstuffed with food (and other necessities) until they eventually burst. As great as the Orbiter was, both Scott and Skyler imagined the roll top concept to eventually manifest itself as a true waterproof bag. Since the company found success with their welded waterproof removable seat packs — the Mr. Fusion seat pack and the Albert dropper-specific seat pack — it was only a matter of time before they invested in the technology to make their other products waterproof.
The 52Hz is similar in stature to the original Orbiter roll-top frame pack. It has generous room and can be packed to the gills — with as many cans of spaghetti as you wish. Other than that, it’s a completely different animal. The bag is constructed of seam welded 420 denier PU (polyurethane)-coated nylon. While this particular fabric is new to the frame pack market, it’s a fairly common material in the outdoor industry. Most packrafts are made of a similar fabric, though the coatings can vary. Dry-bags, backpacks, and folding kayaks are also made of the stuff. The use of this type of fabric for river bound vessels should demonstrate how abrasion resistant it can be. And according to Skyler, “The nylon face will work as well against UV rays as any other nylon.”
The most notable feature of 52Hz is the Voilé strap closure system. After Skyler had experimented with the idea on a couple prototypes, Porcelain Rocket partnered with Voilé to use their straps as the mechanism in the bag’s closure system. Voilé straps are best known as ski touring binding straps, but have been used for everything from construction to bikepacking. They are durable, the buckle design is completely immovable, and their elastic properties offer the ability to cinch down loads above and beyond that of traditional webbing-based clips. Porcelain Rocket recommends that the top of the bag be rolled in an upward motion to move the roll against the top tube and allow proper thigh clearance on either of its sides. The Voilé system then pulls the load inward and upward using the top-tube as leverage, thus pulling the contents of the bag inward. Like the Orbiter, these two cinch fasteners overlap the velcro straps to protect the frame. Also like the Orbiter, the closures work flawlessly. Some might wonder if there is ever thigh rub at the wide point of the bag. The answer depends on how much you pack into it. I haven’t had that problem. Although, on more technical trails requiring body English, when the bag is packed particularly full, there can be some contact. I grazed my knee into the Voilé buckle a time or two on a technical descent. But that was isolated, so I can’t really claim this to be too much of an issue.
The 52Hz frame pack is indeed waterproof and air tight. Rolling it up requires a little massaging to purge it of air that would otherwise leave an inflated balloon between your legs. During the time I’ve ridden with it, I was lucky (!?) enough to be out bikepacking during one pretty heavy storm. I rode back home in three hours of heavy downpour and thick mud with the Mr. Fusion on the back and a waterproof handlebar pack up front. After I hosed the bike off with the bags in place, I opened up the 52Hz. Everything was as dry as a dead dingo’s donger. A weather resistant X-Pac or Cordura based frame pack would typically wet out after just one-fifth the rainfall, in turn dampening all its contents. I’ve always stuffed frame packs with items that aren’t terribly affected by water, but with the 52Hz my packing strategy may change, and more sensitive items, like electronics, camera lenses, and clothing may find a new home.
While the Orbiter was a custom, made to order bag, the 52Hz frame pack is available in four standard sizes (S (coming soon), M, L, XL). The sizing is designed to pair with common modern mountain bike geometry. For example, each bag size will theoretically match the frame size on popular steel frames such as Surly’s Krampus (gen 1), Karate Monkey, Ice Cream Truck, and ECR as well as the Jamis Dragonslayer, Advocate Hayduke, Salsa El Mariachi, etc.. For aluminum frames with larger diameter tubes, folks will likely need to size down relative to their frame size. Riders on frames with non-suspension-corrected geometry might need to size-up. For frames with major curves, hydroformed tubes, or generally unusual frame triangles, size may vary. Shortly after the launch (Monday!!) Porcelain Rocket will be publishing bag size diagrams, so that people can measure their frames and see how the bag will fit before ordering. We tried both the Large and Medium, and, as expected, the Large fit my large Krampus perfectly, the Medium fit the Medium Pugsley well, and, although slightly off in angles, fit the medium Deadwood (rigid steel) OK too. We’ll be trying them on a couple other bikes soon and will update this post, but it seems that PR did a lot of homework before committing to panel lengths and angles.
Repairing the 52Hz Frame Pack
Intrinsic to its material, the same field repair products that work for pack-rafts can also be applied in the event of a tear to 52Hz. Seam grip, Tenacious Tape, Gorilla Tape, or urethane caulk all work to fix rips and keep it waterproof. Seam grip would be a great choice. Tenacious Tape is a great product to carry in the tool roll as well; it will adhere durably and can be applied at a moment’s notice. The Voile Straps can be replaced in the field too. If you carry a couple spares to hold your Crocs on the seat pack, they could be cut and repurposed should the need arise. PRO-TIP: Interested in a little color? You can also buy Voilé straps in several other colors — orange, red, blue, and green — and cut them to size for some added pop in your 52Hz.
The pack is constructed with the seams exposed to the outside on the front and back which adds a unique aesthetic and gives these panels the appearance that they wrap the bike’s tubes. To finish the exterior seams and soften the look, a nylon gross-grain strip is stitched along the edges. This also serves to bolster the barstiches for each of the sewn-in straps (two on the top and two on the back panel). On the drive side of the bag there is an additional half panel of thicker PU nylon with a scalloped upper edge. Each of the two peaks on this panel serve as the webbing/Voilé attachment points and serve to carry and balance the pack’s load.
The top and bottom panels of the bag are reinforced with two-inch wide webbing strips. On the top panel this creates two daisy-chain placements at the bag’s front, which allows the moveable OneWrap Velcro strap to integrate with a top-tube bag. Another hidden perk is that the terminating ends of the top panel are each left with a half inch wide unstitched recess, that allows for the storage of extra spokes (or shish kabob skewers!). The bottom panel webbing strap has nine daisy chain positions (on the medium) which allows three individual OneWrap Velcro straps to be moved and adjusted according to bottle bosses and such. To cover these stitches and waterproof the interior, the top and bottom each have an additional layer of material welded into the bag. The reinforcement also stiffens these panels and helps the bag keep its shape. Unlike other bags in this category, there is no sewn in foam padding on the down tube panel. While the webbing serves as a bit of padding on the downtube, it might be nice to see a thin layer of foam on that panel.
Contributor Miles Arbour has also been using the 52Hz frame pack, so I asked him what he thought. Here’s his take:
“It comes as no surprise to see Porcelain Rocket at the forefront once again. This time it’s a fully waterproof, super durable, roll-top frame bag designed around popular modern mountain bike geometry – and boy does it deliver. It’s the most voluminous frame bag I have ever used, but the Voile strap closure still ensures my knees aren’t rubbing when fully packed. The roll-top designs lends itself perfectly to its fully waterproof construction, making it one of the most durable and adventure-ready frame bags available. I especially appreciate having the option to reposition the downtube straps, allowing me to dial in the fit and position of my entire ensemble. What’s next? No one knows!”
- Sizes available S/M/L/XL
- Weight (medium) 380g (13.4oz)
- Price $250 CAD (approx. $185 USD)
- Date available Today!
- Contact PorcelainRocket.com
While some people might claim there are drawbacks to waterproof gear — such as clothes and sleeping gear not being able to breathe — I think the virtues far outweigh the disadvantages. In wet climates, such as east Africa, I’ve found myself drying gear in yardsale-esque arrays more times than I care to admit. And I’ll certainly not miss arming myself with ultra-sil dry bags and ziplock baggies to protect random bits and pieces throughout my kit.
Other than the forced grouch about the lack of downtube padding, I was unable to formulate any significant complaints about the 52Hz frame pack. Some folks might be bummed at the lack of color choices, and if we are nitpicking, a air purge valve would be pretty cool, but otherwise the 52Hz seems like a rock solid choice for big trips or weekend exploits alike. I like to max out the frame pack; having the bulk of kit weight at that position lowers the center of gravity and keeps the bike at an even keel. The rolltop made the Orbiter about as expandable as you’d like, and with its standardized sizing, attention to details, daisy chain mounting, waterproof construction, and Voilé strap closure, 52Hz raised the bar.
To clarify, after just a few rides with 52Hz, this is more of a first look than an long-term review. As I continue to spend time with the bag, I’ll be sure to update this review with any relevant information.