A change is as good as a break… a change combined with a break makes for something on another scale all together. Although I’ve been working hard for a large part of my extended stay in Xela, Guatemala, it’s still been a major break from the routines and realities of sustained bike touring. I’ve experienced a lot in my time here and at times have almost forgotten my beloved Shermy. She’s put up with a lot the last few months; neglect, having to watch me shamelessly cavorting with another woman and in the end being forced to share a room with a complete stranger who used her as a simple and demeaning clothes horse. I’m sure she welcomes the break as much as me for I know riding into Xela she was starting to feel the strain with broken spokes and multiple punctures. The old girl needed some pampering and this is the result…
I’ve mentioned before that during my first few weeks in Xela I obsessed about making changes to my load and possibly bike. Although I eventually managed to shake the idea of a suspension fork, I couldn’t so easily let go of frame bags. The big black obnoxious rack bag that has been following me around for the past two years had become an object of such derision it simply had to go. My set up was good so far as access and organisation but there was just too much weight going through the back wheel… fine on paved roads but a real nuisance and danger on steep and rugged business. So with the kind help and attention of Scott Felter, the master behind Porcelain Rocket, I developed a new system that would channel more weight through the frame and provide a better balance.
I guess that any readers familiar with long distance bike touring or the North American bike packing or mountain biking scene will already be familiar with Porcelain Rocket. Originally based out of Banff and now Victoria, Canada, Porcelain Rocket was set up by Scott Felter who still crafts every piece by hand. I heard about Scott through the grapevine, namely every bike tourists object of abject jealousy, Cass Gilbert then Greg Mu and the rest of the bike packing crew. For more information I can’t do any better than directing you towards Cass’s supurb piece on how Scott constructs his bags and the Porcelain Rocket website. To say that Cass was hyping Scott is an understatement, but the whole process from Scott’s incredible customer service, attention to detail all the way to the final product is pure quality and deserves the praise Cass gives his friend.
So what do I have? You’ll see from the photos that the main unit is the El Gilberto frame bag, custom cut and stitched to fit Shermy like a glove. Then behind the seat tube is an extended custom version of what Scott calls a 7/11. A tight space but one that fits a few tubes and my clumsy front light perfectly. Then sitting behind my steerer I have a tidy little top tube pack, great for snacks, electrolyte pills, anti-chafe cream and the like. Finally, my tent now lives in a Rocket Booster Rocket Seatpack suspended from my saddle.
My most immediate concern when working through the possibilities was water access and carrying capacity. I have got over this problem with the use of a King Cage top cap bottle mount and by switching my fuel bottle to a cook pannier and placing my 1.5litre Nalgene under the down tube. I’ve also invested in a small MSR dromedary and feeder tube that I’ll experiment with as I go.
Trying to have a guy in Canada custom make some bags when me and my bike were in Xela, Guatemala obviously involved some logistical pitfalls. Once I’d paid Scott a deposit to get me on his ever-expanding build list the next step involved tracing out the dimensions of the frame on my Thorn Nomad Mark I. This is no easy task but I feel my care paid dividends when I look at the superb fit of the resulting bags. I sent these tracings up to Scott and then started our extensive dialogue on how best to use the space I had available. Scott is able to do pretty much anything you want with your bags and the options seem endless. One thing that I considered for a long time was having a full length top tube pack made up, this was eventually dismissed as I didn’t feel I would have enough stand-over room. Once we’d decided on what to go for Scott stitched them up, I paid by PayPal and that was it save for the small problem of getting everything to me in Guatemala. Customs in Guatemala City are notoriously brutal and the country is known for being a difficult place to get things sent. Fortunately I have a friend here who regularly gets things couriered from the U.S., he simply had me send everything to Miami from where I used his account with the courier firm to get everything flown straight to Xela, bypassing customs all together. It took about a week to get everything safely from Scott’s workshop to me in Central America, it was affordable and stress-free too.
I’m over the moon with how this new set-up has worked out and can’t wait to get the Shermster out on some of Central America’s gnarlier roads. Big thanks go out to Scott Felter for everything.