Bricks and Bikepacking: Bedrock Bags
After riding the Colorado Trail over the summer, we stopped by and said hi to Andrew Wracher and Joey Ernst at Bedrock Bags, Durango. Read on to learn about their obsession with geology, discover where they like to bikepack most, and glean just what makes the business tick…
We’ve long been fans of Bedrock Bags, having followed the company closely as its range of gear has grown and matured. We’ve tested several of their products over the last couple of years and especially liked the origami-like folds of models like the Tapeats and the Entrada Handlebar Bag. And we’ve always been impressed by both the attention to detail we’ve seen in the gear they make, along with original, carefully considered designs that have stood up to the vagaries of hard use. Based out of Durango, the terminus of the challenging Colorado Trail, the company certainly can’t claim a shortage of testing grounds in their backyard…
Like many cottage industry manufacturers, Bedrock Bags was born from humble beginnings. “I started Bedrock back in 2012 after I had made my first set of bags,” says Andrew Wracher. “There wasn’t much info out there about bikepacking back then. Joey Ernst had recently started Velorution Cycles (check out our shop visit here) and I had heard he was into bikebacking. I took my bags down to his shop one day and he mentioned that he thought he could sell bags like mine, if I wanted to make more. That’s kind of how it all got started.” As both enterprises grew the two continued to share ideas about designs and materials. Eventually, they created a legal partnership in the business. “We each have our own way of looking at design and problem solving and the combination of the two works well for the business. We now have two employees, Tae Hillyer and Jacqueline Bierie, and are currently in the process of interviews for a third seamster/seamstress.”
When did you first start bikepacking?
ANDREW: I first started bikepacking in 2012. I had seen a few pictures of folks traveling with bikepacking bags but didn’t know anyone who had done it themselves so I made myself a set and gave it a shot. I have been a backpacker and cyclist for my entire life so it seemed like a logical transition to travel in a light weight fashion on a bicycle.
JOEY: Although I grew up riding bikes and just never stopped – it’s a lifelong obsession – I began bikepacking in 2010, after several years of diving progressively deeper into the all-day, self-supported-backcountry-ride rabbit hole. Once you start doing 18-24 hour rides, the only thing really left to do is to start camping off the bike… so I did, going all in for the 2011 Colorado Trail Race as a complete multi-day race rookie. Since then I’ve spent a lot of bikepacking miles on everything from hike-a-bike singletrack to pavement.
What kind of cycling do you most enjoy? And what bikes do you ride?
ANDREW: My favorite kind of cycling involves picking out a place on the map that I have not been to and using the bicycle to go explore. It’s often slow and sometimes involves walking but the curiosity of the new area and the fun of seeing new things is really exciting. I have a few bikes to choose from depending on the demands of the terrain, but my favorite by far is my Meriwether Cycles custom plus bike. It is a hand crafted, custom made work of art.
JOEY: My absolute favorite riding is anything exploratory. Having spent so much time riding over the last 30 years, in many places around the globe, I have many good riding memories. But the best ones are always from rides where I was really enjoying the trail, the surroundings, and uncertain – and so curious about! – what was around the next corner. Currently I’m riding a custom Black Cat 29er steel hardtail, and it is simply the best bike I’ve ever owned. Worth the 2+ year wait! I also have a Salsa El Mariachi Ti that’s my daily commuter.
Do you race?
ANDREW: Not anymore, I was never really that fast anyway. I now much prefer going slower and looking around more.
JOEY: For years I worked as a mechanic on the World Cup XC circuit, and was really into racing then. After that I fell off the XC map and began racing 12-hour, 24-hour, and multi-day races. My last two races were in Spring 2015 and between the two events and some SNAFUs I managed to absolutely destroy my right knee. I couldn’t walk normally for weeks after the last race. Two years later I can ride again, but that knee doesn’t hold up to more than a few hours of race pace. So I do big, chill, backcountry day rides and the occasional bikepacking tour-pace trip. I think my racing days may be over, unfortunately, because I loved racing. It wasn’t so much the competition with others as the competition with myself that I became addicted to.
What encouraged you to start building bikepacking bags?
ANDREW: I built my first set of bags because I knew how to sew and I like to make my own gear. Plus, I had no idea where to buy bikepacking bags even if I wanted to. Joey owned a bike shop at the time and he started selling my gear commercially. That’s how the business really got started. We worked together on ideas and designs from day one.
JOEY: Simple enough – I wanted a frame bag! And I wanted one that fit a certain way, so I bought a $20 yard-sale sewing machine and a yard of fabric and muddled my way through. Looking back on that thing – man, it was rough. But it was a start. After Andrew brought his first kit into my bike shop at the time – Velorution Cycles – to show off, he and I began working together on design and testing for his products. Two years ago, we decided to partner up officially, and I am pretty stoked with the meandering path that’s led us to where we are now.
Tell us a little about your background…
ANDREW: Well, I’ve had to wear a lot of hats to make a living in Durango over the years. I’ve done everything from graphic design to teaching science to whitewater kayak instruction. Fortunately what we do at Bedrock is by far the most rewarding work I have ever done. We have a great crew and we are learning everyday.
JOEY: I’m from the southern Midwest. I grew up in the woods, riding cheap mountain bikes on deer trails and gravel roads. I started working in shops when I was barely a teenager and somehow found myself working for the US National MTB Team ten years later. Bicycles have taken me some amazing places – I’ve explored the world, started, lost, and sold businesses, met my wife, done things I never would have done otherwise, all because of bikes. And bikepacking is a big part of that.
What draws you most to bikepacking? Do you have a favorite trip? Any future rides in the pipeline?
ANDREW: My favorite long distance trail would be some of the remote fatbike desert routes that we have put together in Southern Utah. They are not a trail specifically but they involve some beautiful seldom-visited areas.
Exploration and solitude are my favorite components on a bikepack trip. I often travel alone or with just one other person so there is not a lot of social distraction during a trip and I prefer this so that I can really tap in to an area. I tend to notice a lot more of the natural world this way.
We have a pretty ambitious winter planned for new designs at Bedrock so I don’t have any trips planned in the near future.
JOEY: I do love the exploration aspect of bikepacking. And spending even a couple days away from my normal day-to-day, out in the woods, has a way of hitting the mental reset button, which I probably need more than most. I tend to concentrate my overnight trips during the warm high country months with lots of daylight, so I won’t probably be on another trip until spring – but I have a good four-day loop here in SW Colorado that I’d love to do again. Very remote, and much of it sees bikes rarely, if ever…
Any story behind the name, Bedrock Bags?
ANDREW: After a false start with a pretty funny name that we won’t mention here, Bedrock became Bedrock about two months after its inception in 2012. I was trained as a geologist and thought it would be pretty fun to name the business Bedrock and each bag after a geologic formation or phenomena. Geology names can be pretty fun… most people don’t know it, but our Black Dragon bag really is named after a formation, not just because we thought it sounded cool.
What inspired you to base your business out of Durango, CO? What’s the riding/bikepacking community like here?
We were inspired to base our business out of Durango for a very simple reason: We both live here! Doesn’t get much simpler than that… but in all seriousness, we do enjoy the hundreds of miles of trails, the pretty stellar weather, and the fact that the nearest interstate is three hours away. It can be hard to find work, which is another great reason to start a business. There’s a huge riding community here, but bikepacking is still pretty low-level compared to the sheer numbers of bike riders in Durango. That said, there are some well known bikepackers here, like Brett Davis, who’s sponsored by Salsa and Bedrock.
What values are important to you in the way you run your business?
This will sound cheesy, but we absolutely mean it: Quality, Integrity, Originality… we refuse to sell anything we don’t feel good about, quality-wise. We would rather stay small and produce high-quality pieces than grow and lose quality. To us, integrity means having a cohesive view of the world, one where making our gear by hand in Durango and the current dismal political/cultural climate aren’t two completely separate issues, for instance. And we really try to come up with our own designs and ideas for new gear, to be original. Bikepacking gear all begins to look the same from a distance, but if you look a little closer, there are very important aspects of our gear that are our inventions, and that make our gear perform better than most… in our humble opinion, of course!
I know it’s a broad question… but what do you think Bedrock Bags does best?
Plainly put, thinking outside the box and integrating novel ideas – ideas that make our gear work better – into our products. We also spend a lot of time in contact with customers, making sure all loose ends get tied up and that there are no outstanding questions.
And another tough one: what product are you most proud of?
Many, really – but the Black Dragon Dropper Seat Bag is a more recent example. With dropper posts obviously becoming standard equipment, we wanted a dropper compatible bag, but we didn’t want to sacrifice performance or durability. This meant we weren’t going to use an easily-damaged rack stabilizer system (which we tested back in 2011), and we wanted to carry over the absolute zero-sway stability of our Coconino seat bag. So we spent literally eight or nine months brainstorming, prototyping, testing, going back to the drawing board, rethinking the whole thing. In the end, we re-used our RailWing technology from the Coconino – another Bedrock invention – and built a seat bag like no other, makeing something completely capable of taking four-foot drops fully loaded with no movement, sway, or damage. Perhaps the most interesting thing about that entire project is how ‘normal’ the bag ended up looking, since all the really interesting tech was either invisible or very difficult to see…
Plans for the future that you can share?
We’ve got some new products in the design phases, and potentially some completely different projects coming down the pike, just to add to the fun. But immediately, we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing – cranking out some of the world’s finest bikepacking gear. Ideally we can boost production a little bit, but for us that means hiring and training new seamsters and seamstresses, not moving overseas. And as noted earlier, if the choice is more products and lower quality, or less products and maintaining our quality, we’ll take the latter every time. Just remember that if you get frustrated when something you’re after isn’t in stock please! :)
Anything else you’d like to mention?
Thank you so, so very much to all of our wonderful customers out there! It’s been great to outfit so many of you for so many awesome adventures, and we love getting your notes and photos – keep them coming! Also, we definitely want to shout out to our crew, especially Tae Hillyer, who is our longest-running employee and an irreplaceable part of the team. He’s personally responsible for a large chunk of the gear that leaves our little HQ for various points around the globe, and we are very grateful to have him on board. Thank you, Tae!
Favourite local trail for anyone visiting Durango?
ANDREW: As far as my local trail I’d say my favorite would be Sale Barn in the local Horse Gulch trail network. And the best part is that it is right out the front door of the shop!
JOEY: My favorite in-town trail changes with the seasons, but I’ll recommend two. For close-in Durango riding, Sailing Hawks – it’s one of the more technical, rocky rides in town, with interesting power moves and option lines. Unfortunately it’s getting sanitized pretty heavily, but the character remains for now. If you’re willing to drive a little bit for a longer ride, do a loop from Cascade Creek north of Purgatory: Lime Creek Road to Hwy 550 to Molas Pass; then Colorado Trail west to Engineer Mountain Trail, culminating in a seven-mile descent back to the parking lot. It’s a wonderful high-summer ride!
And lastly… any recommendations for food and drink here?
There is a ton of good food and drink. We’ll leave you with two options: 1) Our common lunch spot is just a block from the shop and has delicious burritos and tacos – Macho’s! Definitely a hole-in-the-wall, but an awesome one. 2) If you want something a little yuppie-er, or Durango-brewed beer, then our recommendation is Carver Brewing Company on Main Ave. They are a favorite with locals and tourists alike, Chef Dave keeps the menu full of tasty dishes, and there are always plenty of award-winning beers on tap, all brewed in-house. We recommend The Schwarz, a black ale that is super delicious.
With thanks to Andrew Wracher for Utah location shots! For more on Bedrock Bags, don’t miss our reviews of their Entrada bar bag system, Black Dragon seat pack, and find their top tube bag, stem bag, and Honaker in each of these round ups.
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