- Buyer's Guide
Interview with Kriega
When it comes to motorbike carry, Kriega is one of the first carry names to crop up – and it’s not hard to see why. The brand has dedicated itself to all things bike for over a decade, establishing itself as one of the most respected names in the business. So we were revved up at the opportunity to chat with the folks behind this innovative carry creator and find out what’s on the horizon for them…
Brand & business
Kriega was founded in the year 2000 by Dominic Longman and Michael Cottam, two product designers who had the idea of developing a range of backpacks designed specifically for motorcycling. They had both previously worked at Karrimor – Mike on the production side and Dom as a freelance designer. Their intention was to design and manufacture products with the same quality levels as high-end outdoor gear. At that time, the brand was called KRUG (from the Wes Craven created character, later to become Freddy Krueger) but as the first batch of KRUG product arrived, so did a Trade Mark infringement letter from KRUG champagne – not the best of starts – so, after just one year of trading, the brand changed to KRIEGA. For some time after, the early ‘limited edition’ KRUG backpacks commanded even better prices on eBay.
Kriega has always been a very ‘compact’ company: Dom is responsible for design and Mike for production/admin. It was run like this for the first five years and even now it’s still a relatively small team. The strength of the brand could, in many ways, be attributed to this. It was a conscious decision from the start to develop a brand that was known for its function-driven design, without the requisite seasonal changes demanded by fashion. In addition, this also enabled a product to be developed that was not subject to the price restrictions demanded by larger retail chains. Kriega’s first backpack was nearly double the normal retail price that was expected by the motorcycle market. The belief that products designed with passion and conviction would work has placed Kriega at the top of the motorcycle luggage market, both in terms of brand perception and product desirability. Mike and Dom love motorcycles and were confirmed bikers, both on and off road, before the firm was created. It is this insight that has enabled them to have a direct understanding of what riders want.
Ducati 848 Evo, Triumph Bonneville, Honda 650 Dominator (street tracker), KTM 690 Enduro, KTM 525,400,250 EXC, Beta 250 EVO, Bultaco Sherpa 250, BSA 650, Norton 500T & Royal Enfield.
Talking active harnesses
The first harness designed was named QUADLOC due to its 4-point, X-style design. A Quadloc LITE version followed in 2002 on the smaller backpacks (below 20 litres). Both designs were never really developed as an ‘active’ solution. They were designed to address the primary issues of weight transfer and under-arm restriction, (which some ‘active’ designs do address). The large, cantilever-style hip wing, typically used for load transfer, was out as it got in the way of the petrol tank, and the conventional shoulder harness (with or without chest strap) also had to be rethought due to its tendency to cut off the circulation to the rider’s arms (leathers and riding position). Another problem well known to bikers which had to be addressed was the backpack ‘belly dance’. A conventional, outdoor-style harness is very hard to put on whilst wearing leathers/armour, and often another person is needed to hook the second shoulder strap on – not very cool having to get someone else to dress you.
The concept was grounded in the idea of a ‘mega’ chest strap to prevent the harness from cutting under the arms, and to transfer load away from the shoulders on to the chest. Also, a parachute style entry made it easy to get on (preferably without your mum to help). This load transfer area on the first pack design (R35) was very big – full chest, with an unconventional zip entry. Kriega still manufactures this first design, with some design tweaks made in 2014, as their heavy load, long-distance backpack. At the time of its launch it was a revelation in packs for bikers – no shoulder/neck ache, super stable at speed and easy to get on/off (no strap adjustment each time). The first batch of product was embraced by virtually all of the motorcycle press/magazine riders in the UK, which, along with positive word of mouth from the early adopters, confirmed the company as the benchmark brand for riding packs.
There are now 3 variants of the original QUADLOC harness. They’re basically smaller solutions as the pack size/load decreases. The R20 harness, as reviewed on Carryology, has the Quadloc LITE version (single buckle harness), which, although looking quite conventional, has taken a considerable amount of design development to improve comfort and fit – from the adjustment system (internal straps) to the ‘structural’ shoulder straps (no distortion of shape, however tightly they are adjusted). Quite a few customers ride MTB or are involved in snow sports and the LITE version of the harness works very well for any type of active riding – motorbike, cycle or board. But as a brand Kriega is not planning to diversify into other markets, as they’re a motorcycle company to the core and that’s what drives them. They believe that product developed exclusively to a market is the key to a strong brand. If they were to develop an MTB-specific pack they would also develop a different/specific brand, which would not ‘dilute’ the motorcycle history of Kriega.
What’s your supplier/s relationship like?
From day one, we’ve always had a Far East manufacturing base. Unlike in Europe or the States (even 15 years ago) backpack manufacture no longer existed in the UK (Karrimor was probably the last large UK maker). We’ve never known anything different, but there are times when it would be better to be able to turn prototypes round quicker. When minor adjustments take 4-5 weeks to arrive back, the design process can be very slow. As a long-term industrial/product designer, the learning curve to soft products was/is steep. You’re used to ultimate control of both form and function, which you just don’t get with fabric. If I could change anything, it would be to have a UK-based pattern maker and prototype pack machinist – both of which don’t seem to exist in the UK (contact us if you’re reading this!). We’re very happy with the factory in China, we’ve known them for nearly 20 years and they produce very high-quality work.
Motorbike riders are a certain breed, how do you make sure you’re pleasing them? What do they want in good carry?
As we’re all bikers, we have a good understanding of what the needs and problems are. Most of the requirements are pretty common sense stuff like stability, straps that don’t slap you in the face at speed, components that are easy to use with thick gloves etc. We get a lot of customer feedback from the shows we attend and we get specific ideas from riders we sponsor. Good examples are the Haul loops for extreme enduros (how to ‘carry’ your bike when it’s impossible to ride) and specific packs for Dakar Rally bikes. We do a lot of product testing, so that means a lot of riding, which isn’t work.
What’s the hardest part of running Kriega?
As a small firm, with a small number of people, there’s always something outstanding to do, which doesn’t always allow us the luxury of concentrating on our long-term strategy. But maybe that’s the hardest, most interesting part to manage, regardless of company size. We’re a happy bunch, no complaints.
What’s the best part?
Maybe it’s the complete freedom to design and make what we consider is the best product for the job – from product concept to designing bespoke hardware. Plus, riding off-road in Romania for a week while product testing isn’t bad either.
Do you keep up to date with other carry brands, or is it just head down with your own ideas?
Yes, of course – you can always learn new things from other backpack brands. We’re great admirers of Arc’teryx, Osprey and Lowe Alpine. All these firms have really strong brand character, with great company history. More significantly, they all demonstrate a real understanding of the importance of design innovation – something we’re always striving to achieve.
As mentioned earlier, we’re great believers of a brand developed for a core customer, with no diversification into other pursuits, so it’s unlikely that we’re going to develop a climber’s pack using our harness ideas. Plans for the next year include urban rider shoulder packs – 100% waterproof and trick alloy hardware, and the start of a range of internal accessories that improve the function of the whole range. More long-term, we want to have a look at a range of welded product and there are some interesting bike luggage concepts that we’re going to explore.