Words and photos by Kuba J. (@rambler.bags)
Hi, I’m Kuba. I’m from the Lackawanna Valley in Pennsylvania, but I got into bikes while living in Philly around 2012. I started doing food delivery on my 80s Raleigh Alyeska there, hanging out at the co-op because I broke my bike more than I could afford to fix at the bike shop. Around 2015, when I got the urge to travel but didn’t have the cash, bike touring revealed itself as the way to make it happen.
I made myself some panniers and things from 40s and 50s military surplus that I got at the I Goldberg Army & Navy store (RIP) and set off on a ton of short trips before one departing south to Florida one fall with not much money and a banjolele, busking and doing odd jobs on the way, heading west but crashing and totaling my first touring bike in Texas, then buying a 90s Bridgestone CB-1 on craigslist to continue on. I eventually made it to southern California, bought a banjo from someone’s attic in Arroyo Grande, strapped it behind my hand-stitched longflap bag, and took it up and down the West Coast for the summer. Most things I own are old, full of quirks, and Frankensteined together, and my current touring rig is no different.
My 1990 Nishiki Ariel is set up as a stealth camper, mountain cruiser, dumpster diver, and banjopacker. It’s shown here on a recent trip from Burlington to Brattleboro, Vermont, on a mix of the Green Mountain Gravel Growler, VTXL, Roundabout Brattleboro, and miscellaneous local suggestions. This bike started as a pretty run-of-the-mill early 90s racing bike with 26 x 2″ tires, a triple crank, flat bars, trigger shifters, and a 1 1/8″ threaded headset.
I swapped the fork for the Crust segmented to run a disc wheel I already had and built up the rear wheel with a pink anodized Bullseye freewheel hub and 27.5 Cliffhanger rim. The dramatically larger wheels and tires and longer fork helped increase the wheelbase and rake out the front end, making it handle a bikepacking load much better. The stem was a $1+shipping NOS eBay miracle, and the bars have a surprising amount of hand positions for touring. The levers helped me open up those hand positions by moving my bell and shifter to the lever body, but they’re plastic and flexy and the rear lever doesn’t make stopping a 27.5 x 2.8″ tire with a cantilever an easy task.
I had to slightly crimp the seatstays to clear the 2.8″ tire and find a low-profile clamp bolt for my front derailleur too. It used to be painted a very cool teal and magenta splatter on black, but I stripped all the paint and clear coated the frame anyway. You can still see some paint at the joints I was too lazy to file.
- Frame 1990 Nishiki Ariel
- Fork Crust Segmented
- Rims WTB Asym (front) / 27.5 Velocity Cliffhanger (rear)
- Hubs Generic thru-axle (front) / Pink Bullseye freewheel (rear)
- Tires WTB Ranger 27.5 x 2.8″
- Handlebars Nitto Choco
- Headset Diatech Melon Cup roller bearing
- Crankset Raceface Turbine 32/46
- Pedals Fyxation Mesa
- Cassette Sachs-Maillard 13-32 7 speed
- Derailleur Shimano Deore XT M737
- Brakes TRP Spyre road pull disc (front) / Tektro CR720 Cantilever (rear)
- Shifter(s) Simplex clamp-on on seat tube (front) / Suntour Power Thumb (rear)
- Saddle Brooks B17
- Seatpost Generic straight post
- Stem Modolo Tau
- Front bags Rambler UL handlebar roll-top prototype
- Frame bags Rambler zipperless frame bag
- Rear bags Rambler Troubadour prototype/Rambler Wald 137 Tote/Rambler roll-bottom padded banjo case
- Accessory bags Rambler stem/hip point and shoot case
- Other accessories Blackburn rear rack / Pedros Tulio rear QR / Lezyne Micro Floor Drive
- Banjo 1960s Harmony Reso-Tone 5 string
These days, I’ve also gone from making little DIY bag mods for myself to sewing gear under the name Rambler Bags for other people who dislike zippers, velcro, and weird proprietary hardware that can’t be repaired with parts from a small town general store. The bags pictured here are all prototypes I’ve wanted to test out. The bar bag is a 7.4oz roll-top with a capacity of up to 20L with giant expandable side pockets that’ll hold a 2L bottle, and the frame bag is a zipperless design that uses randonneur-style cord and hook closures.
The rear bags are a pile of straps and tensioners that I call the Troubadour, a harness system I designed after damaging most of the instruments I’d take bike touring by just strapping them to my rear rack. On this version, there’s a large padded harness under my seat that holds a Wald 137 roll top tote filled with my camp gear and clothes, and then a smaller padded harness system with load lifters and a counter-tensioning strap that attaches to the larger harness and keeps an instrument tightly in place.
The whole setup attaches via an external dowel that runs between the Brooks saddle loops and my Blackburn rack, along with straps on the bottom that keep it from sliding back and forth or side to side. The stem caddy is actually a backpack shoulder strap bag I made for my point and shoot camera, but it clips perfectly to a belt or bars. The roll-bottom banjo bag was a night-before-the-trip concoction, desperate to make something lighter and better fitting than the store-bought case I had and to apply my no-zippers ethos to an instrument gig bag.
You can see more from Kuba on Instagram @rambler.bags.
Send Us Your Bikepacking Rig
Use the form below to submit your bikepacking rig. We’ll choose one per week to feature in a Reader’s Rig Dispatch and on Instagram. To enter, email us your best photo of the bike (preferably at a 90° angle), your Instagram username (optional), and a short description of you and your rig. If your bike is selected, we’ll need a total of five photos and a little bit more info.
Please keep the conversation civil, constructive, and inclusive, or your comment will be removed.