Somewhat at odds with my original plans, I now find myself in Victoria, the capital city of British Colombia that’s situated, a little confusingly, on Vancouver Island – not to be mistaken with nearby Vancouver, which isn’t…
What, back in Canada?
Er, yep. For now.
There’s a reason for my about turn, and it’s that I’ve decided to prolong my stay in North America. But for this, I’ll need to renew my US visa. As per usual, this was a last minute decision, so with only a few days left before it expired, a helping hand was required to cover the 900 mile, triple-state traverse to the Canadian border. Enter the virtual bulletin board of Craigslist, where 75 bucks in gas money earned me a rideshare all the way to Port Angeles, a lonely harbour set dramatically at the foot of the verdant Olympic Mountains. From there, it was just a short hop across the Salish Sea, from Washington’s Olympic peninsula to British Colombia, on a ferry that neatly depositing me in downtown Victoria.
From past experience, it seems that unusual company is all but guaranteed when ridesharing: on this occasion, the 20 hour road trip was shared with a chainsmoking student of Tibetan Buddhism, a girl with green hair, a Deadhead and, of course, my dismembered bicycle squeezed into the trunk of the Audi wagon. The journey itself proved interminably long but largely uneventful, most likely because it involved four wheels and a motor, rather than two and a pair of legs.
Still, making such an odyssey north did have other benefits. For one, it introduced me to the Pacific North West – a land of ancient, towering redwoods, giant ferns, moss-draped rainforests and, being the middle of winter, permadrizzle. It’s also given me the chance connect again with Scott and Naomi, who have moved to Victoria since I last stayed with them in Banff – back when they replenished me with food in readiness for the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, over two years ago.
During this time, Scott has begun a new business: Porcelain Rocket, fabricators of custom bicycle framebags. Just to recap, stowing gear within the frame of a bicycle makes great use of space and centers weight, allowing for a lighter, rack and pannier-less setup and more technical riding prowess. With the advent of this style of kit available commercially, dirt road touring, or bikepacking, as it’s becoming known, has been flourishing.
In fact, Scott’s distinctive rocket patches have festooned my muddy gear over the last 18 months, as he’s been kind enough to send me various prototypes to use and abuse. Which, in turn, has introduced me to a new world of more remote and challenging mountain bike travels.
While I’ve been out riding, Scott’s been honing his sewing skills… And he’s got pretty good…
Welcome to Porcelain Rocket, aka the Cave. A trained ceramic artist, and something of a rocket when out on his bicycle, Scott’s unusual but aptly-named business has quietly grown within the bowels of a ramshackle Art Deco home, which itself is in midst of DIY upheaval.
The first step to building a framebag is to draw out a pattern of the bicycle frame in question, marking on details such as water bottle mounts and cable bosses. Inevitably each pattern is different, depending on the bicycle manufacturer, the frame’s size, and the material it’s made from.
The pattern is then cut out and laid over the fabric, its tracing forming the main panels of the framebag.
Depending on intended use and aesthetic whims, there are various fabrics and colours to choose from, from the burliest of Corduras for expedition riding to lightest of modern packclothes for ultra endurance racing.
Snip snip snip. Steadier hands than mine.
Just in case I might have had aspirations to rustle up my own framebag, I was told in no uncertain words that each pair of scissors has its own purpose. Of the four, these are the fabric shears. Woe betide anyone who confuses them with the snippers for cutting plastic.
Work begins by lamplight…
Scott’s machines are all second hand – this one is an old straight stitcher from the ’70s. His bartacker came out of the Dallas Cowboy’s uniform shop – unfortunately not the Cheerleaders’.
Time for some zips. These fellas are known as ‘Number 10s’, and they’re the big daddies of the zip world.
One side completed. This one has a dual compartment and is built with extra tough fabric.
Each panel is lined with a piece of foam, to help provide structure and protect innards. Although these black and white shots don’t show it, this particular liner is actually a tasteful shade of Hot Pink…
Take 5. Kaboom calls for a break.
Then it’s back to the sewing machine to work on the other side, which features a shallow map sleeve and a see-through storage compartment.
This done, the spine of the bag is then traced out onto a ballistics fabric, chosen for its high abrasion resistance.
Velcro strips are sewn in, to secure the bag in place within the frame.
Each one is carefully positioned to avoid cable bosses and stops, which have been marked out by the frame’s pattern.
Back to the machine once more…
Sewing in the main construction stitch – suddenly, it’s starting to take shape.
Corner and intricate stitches require working the machine manually.
The framebag’s still inside out, but almost there. Note the massive, padded flair at the front for extra storage capacity.
Excess fabric falls to the ground as the bag is trimmed, and then finished with seam ribbon.
And last but not least, the moment of truth: the ‘rabbit out of the hat trick’. Scott grapples with the framebag to turn it the right way round.
Framepack builder cradles finished product. Job done.
A final splash of colour… The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. It’s a perfect fit!
For more details on Scott’s fantastic work, check out Porcelain Rocket and his Flickr page.
The images were taken using a Micro Four Thirds Lumix GH2, with 28 and 40mm pancake primes, at 800-1600 ISO. Scott’s little sweatshop is all but devoid of light, especially away from the work lamps, so I processed the images into black and light using Lightroom.