Two Wheel Gear :: Making a Classic
Here’s the scene: a young man goes to work everyday, in a suit, does his nine to five and leaves. He doesn’t go to a bar. He doesn’t see friends. He goes home. He goes into the basement. And he works. He works with pen and paper, he works with duct tape and sharpies and rivets. He works. He plans. He works some more.
He does this day in, day out. He pours all his money into it. Eventually, he quits his job. He keeps working though. And working and working and working.
That’s been Reid Hemsing’s life for the past three years.
Why? Well, he just wanted to help people ride their bikes to work.
On ya bike
This, like a lot of good stories, starts with public transport and some self-loathing. Reid was working in an office and stuck in a cycling commute.
“I hated sitting on the bus and the few times I did I just ended up glaring out the window and staring at the happy faces on their bikes…thinking I am an idiot, this sucks.” Reid was a cyclist through and through.
Why would you want to do that when you can cycle? There’s nothing quite like the “freedom of being on a bike and feeling your environment. There’s a state of mind when riding a bike that you can never get in a car.”
But cycling through the city is not without its problems. And Reid being a “suit” at the time, transporting his collared black uniform to work was an issue.
“There’s a state of mind when riding a bike that you can never get in a car.“
That’s when he discovered his destiny: The Classic Bike Suit Bag by Two Wheel Gear. It was a pannier designed to store your garb with nary a crease or mark. You’d just hook it onto your bike and be ready to go.
The Classic Bike Suit Bag – the bag with the world’s most literal name
For Reid, it was nearly perfect. “It was just one incredibly homemade product…but I really bought into the concept,” he said. He means that literally: Reid reached out to Two Wheel Gear and became part of their team, slogging away with them, shoulder to shoulder, after work and selling their wears from their garage.
“I thought the bag solved a huge problem.”
He wasn’t the only one.
“In the corporate locker room, watching other commuters carefully unpack their bags with cleverly folded or rolled up clothing, I would just roll in, hang the bag up and unzip the bag, exposing a perfect set of clothes hanging like I just pulled it out of my closet. People would say, ‘What is that thing?’”
And Reid knew he was onto something. That he could make it better.
Soon after, Reid laid down his savings and bought Two Wheel Gear. The Classic wasn’t just another piece of gear now: it was his life. Reid went to work, funnelling all of his energy into the project.
“In the corporate locker room…I would just roll in, hang the bag up and unzip the bag, exposing a perfect set of clothes hanging like I just pulled it out of my closet.”
Now, Reid wasn’t the only one who had noticed the success of The Classic. His competitors had too. He had a “couple companies trying to rip off” Two Wheel Gear designs – making “junk” copies and selling them for a fraction of the price.
Reid was realistic about the problem, calling it “the world we live in,” but the challenge was clear: make The Classic just plain better than anything else.
The first step was making The Classic easier to use.
“The rack mounting system definitely wasn’t perfect. It was very secure and clever, but it was somewhat tedious and slow to use.” To make things worse, it “wasn’t universal” and didn’t work with some bike racks. It received some compliments, sure, but “it was one of the main points holding the product back from reaching the next level.”
Beyond that, The Classic suffered from the usual “first generation” problems: it “really needed a laptop pocket and some extra organisation.” The reflective material they had been using was “terrible.”
It would need some work to get it “into the mainstream.”
Reid went to work.
“My first real crack at [the redesign] started with the pattern for the original Classic.” Despite having “no prior experience” with designing a product, Reid spent “a weekend measuring, labelling and drawing these massive scans of the original Classic pattern with scissors and a Sharpie.”
It was a labour-intensive process but the end result was a base upon which The Classic 2.0 Garment Pannier was built.
Reid would hack things apart, duct tape them together, add plastic and rivet things to get a working prototype. The most important thing is having the physical prototype that you can toss around to see if it really does the job or not.
This helped Reid dig into the redesign and make a slew of small changes that helped make The Classic 2.0 a true evolution.
“The most important thing is having the physical prototype that you can toss around to see if it really does the job or not.“
Reid made “the logos reflective using heat transfer tech”, “custom design[ed] the new reflective ‘safety hazard’ pattern out of our ‘2’ logo”, found space for a “15″ padded laptop pocket”, turned “wasted shoulder space” into more pockets, added a padded shoulder strap and improved the bag’s hanger and handle.
Oh, and they added some style with “a custom monogram liner” and “seriously” upgraded all the zippers. They even catered to a less pressing problem:
“One thing that was holding certain people back was the lack of a rain cover for the bag. I used it in all weather conditions and knew it was pretty much bulletproof but perception is a funny thing.”
So he added an “invertible rain cover.” No more complaints.
Despite all of those changes, Reid still returns to the now “accessible and replaceable” mounting system:
“I tried bungee cord systems and S hooks and a whack of different clips and hooks, even trying out some other mounting hooks that other companies were using. Nothing comes close to the system we are using now…we’re told we have the quickest, easiest and most secure system for a pannier that commuters have ever seen.”
As with The Classic, Reid sought feedback from the corporate locker room. Like last time, it was revealing:
“I was always talking about the bag to other commuters while we were changing. People were pretty blown away with it. There were a few times I was cornered into explaining the product to some naked older gentleman towelling off straight out of the shower.”
Old guys have no shame in the locker room.
What did Reid do when he realised The Classic 2.0 had come together?
“I clapped my hands and said, ‘I fucken did it!’”
Back on the road
The path from The Classic to The Classic 2.0 Garment Pannier was a “three year development process” filled with iterations and feedback from users – complete with multi-year-long email chains. It’s all been worth it.
“…we’re told we have the quickest, easiest and most secure system for a pannier that commuters have ever seen.”
It’s “very rewarding to hear the response when people finally get the finished product into their daily routine.”
Now the challenge is ramping up production. They’ve landed a distribution deal with MEC – a Canadian retail behemoth – and started working with a manufacturer in Vietnam. It’s a far cry from a garage, but a necessary change.
“Our manufacturer in Vietnam is world-class and we share the same values in quality and craftsmanship. They can build things at their factory that I only dreamed of before starting to work with them.”
Reid was worried outsourcing manufacturing would make Two Wheel Gear lose some of its handmade charm but that didn’t last long: they have a “0.05% defect rate… We have never been able to pull anywhere near that kind of efficiency in production before.”
“Our manufacturer in Vietnam is world-class and we share the same values in quality and craftsmanship.”
“We just couldn’t have evolved the product to this level without them.”
The next horizon
That’s good for all you commuters out there because Two Wheel Gear hasn’t stopped evolving. There are people out there who need to get their stuff carried.
“Right now we have the one size fits most bag and it is geared a little more towards men.” This leaves women working with something not tailored to their carry needs. That doesn’t work for Reid: “I’ve been working with more female designers lately to see if there are things we can tune specifically for the female commuters.”
It’s all part of Two Wheel Gear’s iterative approach. Now that they have really nailed their core product offerings, they can start “tweaking with different sizes, materials and evolving features.”
Does that mean we’ll soon see something a little more niche and old-school? Say, a Classic for the most classic of bikes?
“Although cool, I think the commuting days on the penny-farthing are behind us.”
With all the vision Reid has for Two Wheel Gear, we can’t fault him for one blindspot.
*Big thanks to the cool crew at Two Wheel Gear for sponsoring this post.