Backpack? Hip pouch? Handlebar bag? Seat pack? There are so many ways to lug your stuff around on a bike, and lots of local makers who sew the bags to help you do that lugging. We caught up with several of them to learn a little more about what goes into making fun, functional, delightful, and durable cycling gear. Read more stories about biking and see a list of Minnesota trails in the Bike Minnesota Guide.
Today, thanks in part to independent makers and brands like the ones on this very list, cyclists can get all kinds of innovative backpacks and bags that are durable, dependable, and made with style. When Banjo Brothers got its start two decades ago, that was … not so much the case.
The Banjo Brothers (who are not brothers) are Eric Leugers and Mike Vanderscheuren, Minneapolis cyclists who were bummed out, back in ’03, about the number of bike bags that were low in features and yet high in cost. The duo set out to offer something different, and after launching in just seven Twin Cities bike shops, their cycling backpacks, grocery bag panniers, handlebar bags, and more are now available at hundreds of bike shops.
“The things that we thought about in the very beginning about who we wanted to be—we’ve kind of stayed true to that, and I think it’s helped us build the brand,” says Vanderscheuren. Banjo Brothers bags aren’t made in Minneapolis—they work with manufacturers overseas—but that lets Leugers and Vanderscheuren offer bags that last practically forever at a more accessible price point. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been rewarding, especially because it has let these “brothers” nurture and support the local cycling community for 20 years.
“Biking should be fun, right? Above everything,” Vanderscheuren says. “It’s hard to replicate that joy.”
Nestled in a cedar grove in scenic Two Harbors, you’ll find a real one-stop shop: Cedar Coffee Company, the Spokengear Cyclery & Outdoor shop, and the bike bag brand Cedaero, all situated cozily under one roof.
Cedaero bills itself as “the most fun bikepacking company in the galaxy,” and founder Dan Cruikshank (who’s also the mastermind behind Cedar Coffee Co. and Spokengear) has loved biking since he was a kid. “Ever since I got my first Schwinn Sting-Ray, it always provided a sense of freedom and joy in my life,” he says. As a co-founder of the backpacking brand Granite Gear, which he started with a friend in the ’80s and sold in 2014, he also knew a lot about making bags. Specifically, he knew about doing so in the United States with 100% U.S.-made materials—a point of pride that’s still true for all of Cedaero’s bags, whether they’re ready-made or custom packs.
Two Harbors didn’t have a bike shop until Spokengear opened its doors in 2017, and most of the town’s businesses are located either downtown or right along Highway 61. “A lot of people thought I was crazy,” Cruikshank says. But the bike bag biz is thriving—the company is working with 60 dealers across the country, and a few in Japan and Canada and the UK—and the coffee shop is one of the top 100 in the country, according to Yelp. “We’ve got something special going on here.”
“Once upon a time you could go Dumpster diving around Duluth for fabric,” says ROMP Bags founder Zach Sullivan. “You could find waxed canvas, leather, nylon—and a lot of it. Nothing will get my creative juices flowing like a Dumpster of free inspiration.”
For a long time, Sullivan hand-stitched bike bags for himself and friends with found fabric: a frame bag, a basket bag, some bar bags, panniers—you name it. His industrial sewing machine was a similarly serendipitous roadside score, and after some light repairs, he rented a small studio in Duluth’s Back Alley coffee/surf shop, just a short bike ride from his house. That’s where ROMP, or Rad Outdoor Multi Purpose Bags, came to life.
These days, ROMP is Sullivan’s full-time gig. He has burned through all of his Dumpster fabric and has to order it now, as his bags—including his favorite, the original roll-top fanny pack—are sold in more than 10 retailers. He even stitches white label products for other brands. And more bags are on the way: Keep your eyes out for a site drop, with new designs and colors.
Sturdy Bag Designs
For Sturdy’s Joe Mauntler, the road to bike bags started with cycling caps, which he’d stitch on a small home sewing machine for friends and other bike messengers in Milwaukee. That’s where he honed his skills thanks to a job at an upholstery shop, working on everything from couches and chairs to car interiors and boat seats. “I literally forced the guy to hire me,” Mauntler laughs. “I went there and was like, ‘Can I have a job?’ And I went there a week later and was like, ‘Can I have a job?'”
The upholstery shop gig involved a fair amount of contract sewing work—people would come in with an idea, and Mauntler had to figure out how to pattern, cut, and sew it. Bike bags present similar challenges: “It’s a lot of problem solving,” he says. Now based in Minneapolis, Sturdy’s line has grown to include tool rolls, feed bags, handlebar bags, hip packs, and custom frame bags made to the specific measurements of a client’s bike. He has gotten creative when it comes to helping folks carry their stuff as comfortably and effectively as possible.
“I feel like with sewing you can always fix things,” Mauntler says. “That’s what I love about doing it: Nothing is over. You can mend everything … and I think that’s why this is so fun.”
Thimbleweed Custom Bike Bags
Thimbleweed’s Jessica Swanson is a lifelong cyclist who has been bike commuting since she was a high school student in Minneapolis, but it wasn’t until the pandemic that she started bikepacking. And not long after, she realized there might be a way for her to put her past experience in costuming for theater and dance productions to work: “When I was looking for a bag, I thought, ‘Oh, hey, I should try making my own!'” she chuckles.
There are lots of canvas bags on the market, but few are as whimsical or as artfully designed as Thimbleweed’s. “A lot of my designs are inspired by nature and by my bike rides,” Swanson says.
That means you might see a frame bag decorated with a splashy, bright-blue cutout of Minnesota, or a forest illuminated by a glowing red and orange sunset. Her work is super customizable and colorful, and all of her bags are made to order—so yes, the leopard-print bag set of your dreams is just an email away.
Trash Messenger Bags
If you need to lug a lot of stuff around, Trash Messenger Bags are a really good bet. Leave it to a longtime bike messenger to stitch some of the biggest, most durable bags out there! “Like a lot of messengers, you realize that you probably can’t keep doing that forever,” says Andy Larson, who started the brand in 2008. “I thought maybe I’d try making some bags.”
Larson didn’t know how to sew at the time but is “pretty stubborn and determined” when it comes to learning new skills. Fifteen years later, the Trash Bags line of messenger bags (like the Trash Can and the Landfill) has grown to include hip packs (the Wastebasket), some of the warmest winter mitts on the market (Garbage Pickers), and a new Portage Pack for canoe journeys. In other words: stuff that might not be necessary for bike messengers but work great for many other Minnesotans.
“If you make something that works for big pieces of cargo, or heavy objects, and helps people carry them comfortably, then everyday bike commuters have a bag that can handle anything,” Larson says.