Can High-Performance Gear Play a Vital Role in Bicycle Touring?

As I was building and using the first prototypes of my Hummingbird IFT rack/pannier systems back in 2003 I was kind of amazed at how well the gear performed.  It was really more than I had anticipated.  In their development I was basically combining a greatest-hits package of design covering three decades, with new revolutionary rack/pannier designs, and the results were, at least in my experience, truly exceptional.

At the same time, because the new gear was so incredibly lightweight and superior to most of the gear that I had been building, I began to lose all ambition to make any of my conventionally designed panniers (EL, Discovery Series).  I also came to the realization, somewhat surprisingly in the process of designing a vast range of new high-performance gear, that I have almost never used the gear that I sell to consumers.  For decades I have used highly modified versions of my own gear that are based upon my ultra-lightweight panniers first built in the mid 1980s.  For my own personal use I've often used extremely lightweight panniers, but with the development of my first Hummingbird IFT rack/pannier systems, I now had exceptionally lightweight racks as well as panniers.  The innovative systems opened up a lot of possibilities. 

I eventually decided to move in a completely new direction by custom-building all of my rack/pannier systems.  I created a new line of ultra-lightweight panniers for racks that I do not build, my Hummingbird RP systems.  I also decided to include all elements (except for internal pannier frames) of design, taken from my Hummingbird IFT models, in completely custom-made, hybridized versions of my EL and Discovery pannier lines as well.  The latest designs very significantly elevate their performance levels by cutting their weight by more than half in some cases.  Redesigning and setting up the production for all of the new gear was an enormous project, and during the long period of time that it took I wondered over and over and over: should I even do it all? 

What I knew far too well, from many discouraging experiences, is that in introducing my latest gear I would once again be swimming against the strong current of a very backward, maligned, and sometimes corrupt, industry.  As an independent builder creating highly refined, high-performance gear I would be up against enormous odds, and what kept running through my mind was a very real question that another independent pannier builder had posed in a conversation with me back in the early 1990s. “Why go through all that you have to go through just to sell a few panniers?”  He had it right.  In trying to bring high levels of quality and performance to bicycle touring products, his ambition became a Sisyphean ordeal.  He had discovered what I and many independent builders, who do not sell their products through retailers, have encountered.  In being independent he was one individual serving consumers directly.  He was, with little or no support, a single voice moving against an industry comprised of thousands of retailers, plus some elements within a cycling media who represent them and who often have a very different agenda, that is moving in opposition to high levels of execution and performance. 

A rack that is mounted in a low-mount position, is by itself, meaningless. What is critical are the interactive designs of racks and panniers within a rack/pannier system. The first step in moving toward the use of high-performance racks and panniers is in learning about their complimentary designs. The influence of the design of racks on their own is limited. The quality of their design and performance is measured in how well they function in a system with panniers.
My own involvement in bicycle touring has always revolved around providing bicycle tourists with a high-quality, high-performance alternative in the products that I build.  I've always worked toward bringing much higher levels of design, quality and performance to bicycle touring.  And I know quite well, that if high-performance rack/pannier systems are going to flourish and be widely used, vast changes in consumer awareness must first take place.  Perceptions and definitions of price, price range, design, material costs, production methods and costs, as well as what shapes performance, will have to be turned completely around.  It all has to start somewhere, and the bicycle tourists who may benefit greatly from using high-performance gear must first become familiar with of a wide set of interrelated designs that define the higher levels of performance.  The past, basic standards, in which performance has been measured by whether a pair of panniers can be mounted so that they won't fall of a rack, or by whether a rack breaks, or not, simply has to come to an end.  There has to be a much higher expectation and a higher knowledge of the designs that develop and elevate performance. 

Performance has to be seen not as something bike-industry simple or singular, like the “low” in low-mount racks, or the “dry” in dry-bag panniers, but in the accumulation of a wide number of interconnected, complimentary designs.  High levels of performance are a function of many different designs and details coming together.  And what also must be understood is that almost none of these important, complimentary designs that develop high levels of performance have ever been part of the design of products widely sold through retailers.  Innovation in bicycle touring during the last 30 years is almost entirely the product of my work (yes, I know that sounds arrogant), and in the past 40 years virtually all attempts to bring high levels of quality and performance to bicycle touring has been through the work of independent builders (Merz, Gordon, myself, Mountain-Minded etc.)

Nothing would please me more than for there to be enormous changes in bicycle touring.  I'd love to see bicycle tourists have free access to vastly superior products and to have the opportunity to experience high-performance touring as never before.  For there to be forward movement, long-standing barriers have to fall.  One of the things that absolutely must change is that the cheap, crudely made, poorly designed products that have been marketed as top-end products, must be exposed for what they really are.  Poorly executed racks and panniers must be openly and directly compared with vastly superior products.  And in a way I've tried to take some steps in this website to open up some possibilities for comparisons.

There is a decades-old tradition within the bicycle industry of isolating the advanced designs, materials, quality and performance of the racks and panniers produced by independent builders from being directly compared with the mass-produced products sold by retailers (I can provide an endless string of examples).  When direct comparisons are eliminated, both the performance and quality of mass-produced racks and panniers can then, through advertising, become purely one of proclamation and fabrication, not of design or refined execution.  Without direct comparisons, a very misleading image of their quality and performance has been created and proliferated.  Not surprisingly, both quality and performance standards within the industry are, and always have been, abysmally low.  No matter how badly products are designed, built and finished, they may still be, and are often marketed as well-made, high-performance products.  What is truly amazing is that even when they have knowingly failed under normal touring conditions, as many types and brands of aluminum touring racks have, they have still been sold as top-shelf products.

For products that knowingly fail to become successful and widely sold, a tremendously powerful, corrupt influence must be in place to generate and support their sales.  And there always has been.  Collectively, many individuals within the cycling media, among manufacturers, and among bicycle stores and retailers have played a part in victimizing bicycle tourists through marketing and selling many truly mediocre products, and much worse, as top-of-the-line performers.  Their duplicitous approach to sales may have successfully turned garbage into gold for themselves, but it has sadly undermined the development of bicycle touring products and touring itself.  But this can change.

The fraudulent appraisal of the quality of workmanship in bicycle touring racks, expressed in their sales and marketing among manufacturers and conventional retailers, is endemic. This type of rack joinery, which reflects the lowest possible standards, has been sold as high-end workmanship. Flawed craftsmanship is more easily recognizable than design deficiencies are, but extremely poor craftsmanship and exceptionally ineffective design often go hand in hand.
The wholesale deception and manipulation of bicycle tourists began early in the commercialization of bicycle touring in the 1970s. Racks, like the one above, which were designed and built to nearly the lowest possible standards, where sold to unknowing consumers as top-flight products. In the past four decades almost nothing has changed. Today, similarly designed and built touring racks are still being sold, often as top-end products, and are rapidly moving, in some cases, toward the $200-price level.

We can move forward.  Traditions can change.  The tradition of measuring the top-end performance of panniers and racks by whether panniers fall off of a rack or by whether something horrible happens to them, or not, on a tour, can be erased.  In fact, there is a much higher standard which has been around for decades.  It's a standard that is in a completely different dimension than the level of performance found in racks and panniers sold through bicycle stores and online retailers.  And everyone can aspire to travel with gear in this unique dimension.  Touring gear that performs at much higher levels, and that is built to dramatically higher standards has always been produced by independent builders.

In this website there are numerous places in which rack/panniers systems' complimentary designs are noted or described.  In my systems, more than 20 different designs are combined to create dramatically higher levels of performance.  In the three different sections of racks and panniers in this site, each has a list of features entitled, “Performance: Fundamental Load-Carrying Designs,” and these lists are a good place to start learning about rack and pannier designs that are relative to on-the-bike, load-carrying performance.  Broad descriptions of designs that relate to on-the-bike performance may also be found among “Critical Rack/Pannier Details” in the "Racks" section, as well as in the “Phase Three” section of Advanced Touring Method.  Additional information may be found at the end of the Discovery Panniers section in the “What is a realistic cost?” presentation.

More than a handful of the 20-plus complimentary designs relate to several means of increasing rack rigidity, and to rack platform designs that contribute to much more rigid pannier mounting.  Also, several of these designs are conducive to great reductions in rack weight and better distribution of gear weight on a touring bicycle through rack design.

This is a photo of a high-quality, high-performance rack. To the untrained eye, it may look similar to the rack pictured above, but it is in a completely different realm of quality, execution and performance. It is also in a totally different dimension in terms of its costs of materials and in the time that it takes to to build a high level of quality and much more complicated detailing. This website is the only place in which you may learn of the vast differences among the designs and levels of performance of racks and panniers.
More than a dozen pannier designs revolve around advanced levels of pannier mounting system stability and rigidity as well as dramatically higher levels of load stability and support through HDPE perimetric stiffeners and other pannier structural load supports.  The dozen-plus also relate to dramatically better levels of pannier load control through advanced compression systems in addition to designs that are combined to develop precise distribution of gear within panniers and on a touring bike.  All of the designs are executed in a way that not only greatly increase pannier performance, but are developed to greatly decrease pannier weight.  Minimizing pannier weight is a very critical aspect of pannier design in developing much higher levels of touring bicycle performance.

Becoming familiar with the performance potential of racks and panniers, and ultimately of how they enhance of the handling and riding quality of touring bicycles, through gaining an in-depth understanding of design, is a very critical part of learning to bicycle tour with a much higher level of efficiency and with a lot less effort.  Knowledge is the foundation of progress toward high-performance touring.  Without a solid, broad-scope awareness among bicycle tourists of all of the designs that create much higher levels of quality and performance, change is unlikely, and the outmoded, backward standards of travel and of touring gear that have influenced tourist for decades are not likely to come to a close.  High-performance touring will likely remain severely stunted.

While I think that a wide understanding of design and performance can be liberating in bicycle touring, I also think that developing a sense of why the standards of quality and performance have traditionally been stunted, and ultimately so incredibly low in bicycle touring products, is also crucial to moving forward.  A good place to begin to learn about advances in quality and performance, and why these advances were not fully supported, or in some cases were systematically suppressed, may be found in the awareness of some of the work of independent builders.  

Many people have quietly and steadily been working for decades to bring higher levels of quality and performance not just to bicycle touring, but to other types of cycling products as well.  If a change is gonna come I think that its important to go back in time to take a short look at some of their efforts and into some of the reasons that their efforts have either been extinguished or have gone almost completely unnoticed.

My initial awareness of much higher levels of quality and performance in bicycle products, came with my introduction to independent builders.  The first independent builders that I had a chance to meet more than forty years ago were custom bicycle-frame builders.  With relatively few exceptions, true custom-frame builders sold their frames directly to individual customers, and not through bicycle stores.  Therefore they were independent of most wholesale/retail relationships and their work could be seen as independent of, and in direct competition with, bicycle dealers.

Certainly among the very best of independent bicycle builders, the level of frame quality and craftsmanship within their work was dramatically higher, more refined in its details, and far more costly overall to execute when compared with the quality of high-end, production-level frames.  Consequently, to sell their frames anywhere close to a competitive price, and to do true custom work, custom builders sold their frames directly to individual consumers and eliminated dealers and their price markup.  By excluding a dealer markup (often double or nearly double the price of a product), which would likely have eliminated all of the profit for a builder doing a high caliber of work, independent builders were able to produce a unique level of quality with some hope of working profitably.  Being independent was entirely fundamental in their work.

One thing that I saw developing already in the 1970s, is that products were measured from the bottom upward. A product of mediocre quality, at best, like the frame above, might be presented very falsely in media endorsements or advertising as finely crafted or very well made. By moving products near the bottom of a quality range to the top, in effect, there was little room for upward movement.
In the 1970s nearly all bike frames were built with lugs and steel tubing. The best of independent builders significantly changed the standards of frame building and could have brought a much higher level of quality into bicycle building, but it just didn't happen. They influenced the execution of some custom frames, like the one pictured above, but the level of craftsmanship in their work required so much work that their influence didn't travel far.

When I was first becoming involved in cycling I greatly admired the very best of custom bicycle builders because they were the only source of quality bicycles.  Independent frame builders were my introduction to quality, craftsmanship, performance and politics in the world of bicycles.  It was through their work that I became aware of just how bad the quality of mass-produced bicycles was (you have to see the good stuff to know where the bad stuff stands).  And it was through custom frame builders that I began to learn of why independent builders were a threat in the bicycle industry and why they were sometimes treated as such.  Behind the scenes, I've seen some truly amazing things through the years that have been aimed at suppressing the visibility of the work of independents, in keeping their influence, and their competition, in check.  But still, against tremendous odds and opposition, many independent builders have prevailed, albeit somewhat precariously, to still try to make an impact in advancing quality craftsmanship, design and performance.   

I have witnessed three very inspiring waves of influence generated by independent builders that could have brought wide and sweeping changes to cycling, and each in its own way could have been of a tremendous benefit to cyclists as consumers, especially among tourists.  All brought important changes in product quality, and the latter two brought tremendous changes in design and performance as well as important developments in materials. 

The first wave of influence formed when a handful of the very best of American custom frame builders brought vastly superior levels of craftsmanship, finish and overall quality to bicycle building.  In my mind, and experience, they made an absolute joke out of the frames being built by all bicycle companies, large and small.  Essentially, they obliterated quality standards that had been established by Raleigh, Schwinn, Peugeot, Fuji, Cinelli and every other brand of bicycles.  What was also very clearly eclipsed were the building standards of European custom frames, of which many were actually production-built frames, and none sold in this country were custom-made.  The best of the American custom builders created a totally new standard.  They also brought to bicycle building something that was almost completely absent previously, and that was the tremendous amount of work that is required to create a high level of detail in true hand-building.  Both a vast amount of work and detail were highly contradictory with and antithetical to an industry culture that had thrived on crude work that revolved around minimizing effort at the cost of quality.

The second wave of influence that I witnessed was in bicycle touring, as a few independent frame builders began to produce tubular-steel touring racks that erased the standards of mass-marketed and mass-produced aluminum racks.  The very best of the rack builders established dramatically higher standards of craftsmanship (in early Gordon racks), design, performance (in the form of rack/pannier systems) and materials (tubular steel that was about ten times more expensive than the materials used in building aluminum racks).  Standards of performance and craftsmanship were greatly altered, but what changed even more radically was in the cost, time and effort that is required to build quality racks.  Even the moderately well-made tubular steel racks built in the 1980s could easily take five or ten times longer to build than mass-produced aluminum racks.  Coupled with much more expensive materials, a very new standard of rack was created.

Most importantly, what changed that could have been of great benefit to consumers, was that design and performance was greatly altered.  Lightweight racks of tubular steel did not break like aluminum racks of that period.  Rack designs became complimentary with pannier designs.  The first true integrated, rack/pannier systems were developed in the late 1970s incorporating four-point pannier mounting systems, greatly altering the standards of rack/pannier stability.  This was largely due to my efforts in developing new types of mounting systems.

The third wave of influence to greatly change the standards of craftsmanship, materials, design and performance was also in bicycle touring.  I'm very familiar with this wave in that it is of my influence that totally changed the quality, and most importantly, the performance standards in panniers as part of rack/pannier systems through mounting system developments, perimetric stiffeners and compression systems.  Also included in my work, just as it had been in changing standards of quality in racks and bicycles, was the fact that elaborate detailing and designs totally changed the amount of time and effort that is required to build panniers to the highest standards.

The three waves of influences did not travel outward very far.  Change, on the whole, didn't come.  The quality of bicycle frame building actually went backward with the arrival of welded steel, aluminum and titanium frames.  All three waves were systematically extinguished.  For independent builders to have been successful in bringing high levels of craftsmanship or performance to products in which they had previously been almost entirely absent, a lot of things had to fall into place.  These things simply didn't.  One thing that absolutely had to change, and didn't, was that new standards of quality and performance had to be placed in direct comparison with old standards of quality and performance, and nobody making a living using the old standards was going to let that happen. 

Many wonderful things have been said about my products and those of other independent bicycle frame, rack and pannier builders.  On their own, in isolation, these things are nice, but totally irrelevant.  For new standards of design, craftsmanship and performance to have been established the old standards first had to be openly questioned and denounced.  Direct comparisons absolutely had to be drawn.  A very clear delineation of all of the details that comprise the highest levels of craftsmanship, or exceptional performance in bicycle frame, rack and pannier building, and that separate top-flight products from others, had to have been vividly illustrated.  The vast differences in the amount of work, and in the cost of materials used by independent builders, had to be openly and accurately expressed.  All of these things had to be clearly outlined not by builders themselves, but by an informed, impartial source.  And that source just wasn't around then.  Had a voice, or voices among the cycling press acting not as representatives for large-scale advertisers and for thousands of retailers, but acting as journalists representing cyclists, change might have come. 

Even if all of those things had taken place, it still may not have been enough.  The powerful tradition within the bicycle industry of building many types of touring products as quickly, crudely, and often as cheaply as possible, and then through the alchemy of advertising, turning those products into top-flight ones, had to be fully exposed.  Comparisons had to be openly made, and there was absolutely no way in hell that this was going to happen.  We quietly moved from the 1970s into the 1980s, and well beyond, as if nothing had ever happened at all.  We moved into what I have often called the "Blackburn Lowrider Era" when the sky fell, the bottom dropped out from underneath us and any hope of quality and performance becoming a part of bicycle touring, was all but put to death.

A Merz low-mount rack from the 1970's. Far too much emphasis was placed on a lower mounting position in low-mount racks by mass manufacturers. Independent builders, like Merz, Gordon and myself, placed far much more emphasis, correctly, on a multitude of designs including rack/pannier system design, four-point mounting system design, mounting stability, quality of construction, rack strength, rack flare, lateral- and fore-aft gear loading within panniers, and many other design elements, years ahead of the vastly inferior aluminum low-mount racks which emerged with the Blackburn Lowriders in 1983. On the whole, aluminum low-mount racks were very poorly designed, executed and knowingly unreliable.

In the early 1980s we were all standing at the crossroads in cycling.  Probably very few of us were aware of this, and even fewer fully understood this possibility.  A lot of movement had taken place, but nothing was fixed in new positions.  The best of the custom frame builders had eloquently expressed just how wide the gap between quality custom frames and production-built frames was.  The same vast gap was reflected in rack and pannier designs.  We could have easily moved forward into a totally new realm of quality and performance.  But the things that needed to change, didn't, and an anything-goes, business-as-usual atmosphere became even more deeply set.  It was hard for me to imagine at the time, but things would get even worse as the commercialization of bicycle touring moved further downward still. Touring, already horribly backward and turned upside-down in many respects, would become just plain, downright sleazy in some corners.  Quality, comprehensive design, and advanced performance, each as important elements in touring products, would be severely undermined as the focus in touring would become centered upon one nearly irrelevant aspect of design, the movement of front panniers downward on low-mount racks.

When the Blackburn Lowrider front rack hit the market in 1983, it was hailed throughout the bicycle industry as a revolutionary design and was marketed by thousands of retailers as a totally new concept.  In fact, it wasn't even remotely new.  The design had been around for decades and had been one of the basic elements of the rack/pannier systems of American independent builders for a number of years.  Vastly superior American low-mount racks had been around for some time, but the Blackburn Lowrider, although it would prove to be very structurally unsound, became the foundation of a new formula for bicycle touring among retailers.  It opened up a Pandora's Box as an extremely false illusion of quality and performance was transformed into something altogether different.  Unfortunately, a horribly designed, cheap, breakable rack helped establish the tone for the future of bicycle touring in terms of defining both quality and performance.

There is a lot to be learned from the introduction of the Blackburn Lowriders in the marketplace and of how they were ultimately promoted.  Briefly, they were introduced, if I remember correctly, at the New York International Bicycle Show in early 1983, and separately by Bicycling Magazine in a very extensive article shortly thereafter.  In the magazine they received the greatest promotion that I have ever seen afforded to any one type of touring product.

A Bruce Gordon low-mount rack from the early 1980's, back when they were brazed, and not welded as in the late 80's and beyond. The Gordon racks were in a completely different dimension of quality and performance then, compared with the poorly designed, garbage-quality aluminum low-mount racks of the time. We stood at the crossroads back then, and ultimately it was junk that prevailed over quality and performance.

I had been building panniers for Gordon low-mount tubular chrome-moly racks for a number of years when the Blackburn Lowriders first appeared.  My immediate impressions of them, based mostly upon my knowledge of Gordon and Merz racks, was that they were extraordinarily flimsy and that they were silly toys compared to Gordon racks.  The Blackburn Lowriders were not rigid by design, and it appeared that they would break easily.  Anyone with a science IQ of over four would have been rather doubtful of their potential to withstand the rigors of touring.  My impressions were correct, almost immediately upon their sale the word got out that they indeed did fail, and the word began to spread.

A couple of years later, Bicycling Magazine had a number front racks tested for strength and durability following a procedure and testing standards that were applied to the testing of rear racks a year earlier.  A machine had been built to vibrate consistently loaded racks until they failed.  A minimum time of failure was established to compare the relative durability of rear racks and to establish a minimum acceptable standard of durability.  When front low-mount racks were tested, the Blackburn Lowrider failed in 1/10th the amount of time of the minimum standard (testing results were being leaked out as the testing was taking place) that had been applied to rear racks.  A number of low-mount racks failed miserably in the testing.  As expected, the Gordon Low-Mount racks proved to be quite sound.

I didn't expect any headlines announcing the full results.  There were no headlines.  Consumers were not informed of just how miserably a number of racks had failed..  The testing was whitewashed: business as usual.  The Blackburn Lowrider continued to sell like no other touring product ever, and they became the standard front rack in bicycle touring.

What has always been amazing to me is that aluminum low-mount front racks, and many other rear aluminum racks, failed in normal use.  It was absolutely no secret.  Detail for detail, they were designed and built nearly as badly as racks can possibly be built, and yet retailers accepted breakage as completely normal and widely endorsed these products, not just as acceptable products but in many cases as absolute, top-of-the-line products.  It is a truly magnificent expression of just how little regard there was/is for bicycle touring.  If bicycles had ever appeared on the market with frames made of aluminum rod, opposed to tubing, and if these frames failed, there is simply no way that they could have ever gained even a toehold in the market.  Products that break, and end up in a landfill, are garbage-level products.  Garbage-level racks became the standard in the bicycle touring industry.  Independent builders had to build vastly superior racks, design-, quality-, and performance-wise for many years before anyone with a voice in the cycling media would even point touring cyclists in their direction, and by then it was far too late.

There is much to be gleaned from the fact that racks that were basically of the lowest possible standard, and that knowingly failed, could become an industry standard.  For a place for them to be created within the market, they had to be deceptively advertised in complete isolation, separated from an awareneness of vastly superior products.  They had to be marketed completely on their own terms, by their own completely separate definitions of quality and performance.  For this to develop, the knowledge of the superior designs, materials, workmanship, quality and performance of Bruce Gordon racks, and other dramatically more advanced products, had to be erased from existence.  Any direct, detailed comparisons between products like the Blackburn racks, and far-superior products of independent builders, had to be avoided.  And they were, quite systematically.  A large-scale lie had to be perpetrated.  And it was.  Honest, direct comparisons between products are always deadly for inferior ones.

How consumers were horribly cheated, and how they ultimately lost out was in be being directed away from vastly superior products.  And they were directed away from a much broader awareness of design and of higher levels of performance.  Bicycle tourists, through the deceptive marketing of aluminum low-mount racks, only learned about one thing with regard to the performance of low-mount racks: that they were lower.  There is nothing to be gained from the obvious.  Few people ever became aware of the vast differences in craftsmanship, finish and overall quality that may separate one rack from another.  A knowledge of the multitude of rack/pannier system designs and details that develop performance was not gained.  Consumers, most importantly, did not develop an understanding of how rack and pannier design is complimentary and of why independent builders create rack/panniers systems.  Much higher standards of performance and quality could have been established.  Instead, we remained in the early 1970s with relation to design, quality and performance. 

What was lost, and is still lost, to nearly everyone is that when a full knowledge of advantages of superior products is consciously erased or subverted, then all of their advantages can be erased, and the growth of such products in the marketplace can be severely stunted or stopped altogether.  The manner in which aluminum low-mount racks were initially marketed and endorsed nearly led to the extinction of the Gordon racks.  Such marketing tactics are still in place and in some respects are even more prevalent today.  Consumers are still being directly led in the opposite direction from vastly superior products.  In such an atmosphere high-performance products cannot prevail.

The commercialization of bicycle touring and its related products has almost always been a price-oriented development at the expense of advanced design, quality and performance.  In an atmosphere in which price is the prominent defining aspect in sales, many products enter the market in a highly marginalized form, devoid of fundamental design and craftsmanship, and then through marketing are transformed into something altogether different. 

I don't want to speak disparagingly of any products, but I cannot ovoid the obvious.  Most bicycle touring products, when they initially become available in a price-oriented market and are aligned with low prices and high profitability as they are sold through retailers, arrive in form that often is as bad, or nearly as bad, as it possibly can be.  As a young bicycle tourist in the early 1970s, it was fully obvious to me just how badly the racks and panniers sold through bicycle stores were designed and built.  And this simply hasn't changed through the years.  When many products arrive in the marketplace, they arrive in a form that is barely a half-step above just plain junk (most racks) or are extremely limited in their function .  For instance, when dry-bag panniers arrived on the market, they arrived as floppy sacks that may only be loosely mounted to racks.  Their overall design lacked effective compression/stabilizing systems and gear-distribution designs.  Poorly functioning, two-point mounting systems of the type that independent builders had abandoned by the late 1970s, were included in the design of all dry-bag panniers.  They all lacked proper structural support (HDPE perimetrci stiffeners or some other effective design), and they sometimes weighed three times more than necessary.  Only on the very lowest levels of performance were they functional.

Another example in bicycle touring of a product that is poorly designed and executed is displayed in trailers for touring. Trailers have often reached the market displaying the cheapest, crudest workmanship produced by some of of the lowest-paid workers on earth.  They have been built in extraordinarily heavy designs and with gear-carrying packs that are often nothing more than a big sack designed to the lowest possible standards.  Yet, despite having a long list of shortcomings in design and execution, through fraudulent advertising they are often marketed as being very good, or even excellent products.  When cheaply made products reflect design and performance standards that are very low, or at their potential worst, but in turn are marketed as the very best through highly influential sources (like retailers and media sources), the outcome can be devastating.  When the worst becomes the best, it often marks the end of truly well-designed and well-made products.  If cheap products are indeed the best, why would anyone pursue something different?

Its truly unfortunate, but information on bicycle touring products has often been clearly subverted.  A certain amount of deception and corruption, perhaps not in a legal sense, but in an ethical sense, is endemic in the sales of touring gear among some retailers, manufacturers and within scattered sources in the cycling media.  I think that deception and corruption are inevitable in the marketing of products by retailers who sell mass-produced products as they often must compete indirectly with independent builders who have developed vastly superior products.  Its unfortunate, but the information that consumers receive about touring products is undermined in many overt and subtle ways.  A number of different tactics are used to turn cheaply made, poorly designed and executed products, into something dramatically better.  The most common tactic is simply the false appraisal of gear in advertising and marketing that allows very deficient gear to be presented to consumers as top-notch products.  I refer to this baseless transformation as the alchemy of advertising, and it is developed in many different, highly effective ways. 

One of the things that has deeply undermined bicycle touring is that there has never been an independent media source that serves bicycle touring and bicycle tourists.  This is especially true during the past decade as large-scale retailers, who also have their own publications (magazines), have had a tremendous influence on the type of information that consumers receive, both in terms of depth and clarity.  This has had a very direct impact upon whether high-quality, high-performance gear can even exist and whether it will be available to you as a consumer.

I've experienced, first-hand, many ways in which information has been skewed so that publishers may guard the products of large advertisers, and so that a publisher/retailer may be able to sell the products that they represent both freely and to their greatest advantage.  Some of the ways in which information is subverted are subtle and invisible, such as when my products have been reviewed by publisher/retailers in negative terms without them ever having seen the products, as they shape a market for their own products.  Another effective means of opening up a market for poorly executed products has been developed as authors of articles and reviews of my products have been told by magazine editors, before they even wrote a word, to tone-down their presentation of my products.  They have been told very directly to not be "too favorable" toward my products.  This cannot be seen, but it definitely has had an impact on the information that you receive.  While there is no way for you to see such things, other mechanisms in the control of information, although still subtle, are much more visible. 

One thing that you can look for is to see how incredibly generalized information is (I'd recommend checking out Adventure Cyclist Magazine and the ACA's Cycle Source as an example).  And one thing that you will most definitely find is that information is not only very generalized, it is almost always extremely limited in its scope.  When information is generalized it creates a way that products, which lack the designs and execution of a high level of performance and quality, from ever being directly compared with superior products.  It provides a way that inferior products may be isolated from the kind of scrutiny which would inhibit their sale.  

One of the best ways to eliminate competition is to undermine the competitors.  In sales, one of the most effective means is through isolation.  By never allowing direct, detail-by-detail comparisons between products to be drawn, the faults and failures in the design and execution of one product cannot be measured against the advantages of another.  It is extremely important for weak products to be measured only on their own terms, in isolation.  The more generalized information is, the more effective this type of isolation becomes.  But it is still just one form of isolation, there are many others that influence you as a consumer. 

When I began building gear professionally, I had never given any thought to my favorite cycling magazines as having business associations with large-scale advertisers, retailers or manufacturers.  I never was aware that politics or a corruption of information could be found between their covers.  In a very naïve way I had always associated magazines with purely benign, objective journalism.  But I got schooled early and began to see that in the business of dispensing information their are a lot of wolves in sheep's clothing.

At a time (back in the early 1980s, when some general comparisons were still being made) when my panniers were compared with all others in reviews as being “in a class by themselves” and it was said that “nothing even comes close” to them, something very interesting happened.  Three individuals approached a prominent bicycling magazine about doing a piece on my panniers.  Each, including the two whose names had appeared, as contributors, on the masthead of the magazine, were told separately the exact same thing, “it would not be in the interest of the consumer.” It was then that I started to think about how some magazines influence information and have a hand in controlling which products succeed and which ones don't.

What I had been oblivious of is the fact that a business relationship between magazines and large-scale advertisers can indeed exist.  And this relationship can be an interesting dance in the influence of information.  Some magazines dance the dance far better and in a more balanced way than others.  At its worst, the dance becomes one of partnership in which large-scale advertisers and manufacturers not only receive certain perks, and protection from competition, but one in which protection becomes predatory, although outright predation is rare.

The dance is a very delicate one as magazines function financially, in part, through the sales of advertising.  Where the dance can become dicey is relative to product information and reviews within magazines.  It is damn-near impossible to portray superior products in reviews accurately without making direct, detailed comparisons with other products.  At the same time it is damn-near impossible to sell advertising to manufacturers who have inferior products if anything negative about those products goes into print.  The solution to this contradiction, especially in the past couple of decades, is to say damn-near nothing about products.

The triumphant winners, when the approach of saying very little is taken, are the manufacturers who create mediocre products, because the less said (and there is often little to say anyway), the better.  When little is said and no comparisons are made, and when nothing negative is expressed, all of the things that delineate the superiority of highly executed products goes almost completely unrecognized.  The gap that separates products, and it is often wide, is eliminated.  An interesting set of conditions can then develop.  Mediocrity, falsely appraised and advertised by manufacturers and retailers, can become, without quality or substance, great stuff.  And when this "great stuff" is then compared, in the most general terms or not directly compared at all, to highly superior products, it can immediately be perceived as being equal.  Gear that is truly great stuff is almost always much more elaborately designed and far more expensively executed.  But when two products appear to be equal, anyone with a pulse will purchase the less-expensive product.  Mediocrity prevails, the truly great stuff withers and eventually dies, if it even ever had the opportunity to propogate at all. 

Again, what you as a consumer purchase, can be highly influenced by what little may be expressed about products in the media.  But even more powerfully, you can be greatly influenced when information is eliminated altogether.

Probably the least visible influence on you as a consumer, and perhaps the most profound in guiding you to what you ultimately purchase, is selective amnesia.  It may be the ultimate form of isolating inferior products from being compared with competitive products that are far superior.  I can only smile when I think of how it is so brilliantly implemented in the sales and promotion of a wide variety of products.  It is the ultimate extinguisher.  It is the eraser that clears the slate so that poorly designed and executed products can prevail nearly unabated.  It is utilized ruthlessly.  And what has always been so amazing to me is in how effortlessly it becomes a part of sales.

As a bicycle touring gear designer I have seen it used most ruthlessly and in the most predatory way in erasing the existence, at least momentarily, of Bruce Gordon low-mount racks so that flimsy, toy-like, breakable aluminum low-mount racks could be sold to consumers in a way that the Blackburn Lowrider would quickly become, and prevail for many years, as the "standard."  A lot had to be selectively forgotten so that thousands of people in the bicycle industry, who had had many opportunities to see the Gordon racks in the flesh (at trade shows, for instance), could actually place in consumer's hands, with a straight face, vastly inferior products that knowingly broke and suggest that they were better products.  It was truly obscene.  But forget, they did.  They erased from memory the obvious superior qualities of one product so that they could profit by another.

Selective amnesia is an amazingly effective tool in moving products from the bottom to the top and is one of the most common of all marketing tactics.  It is the act of forgetting a part, or the parts of a truth that must be forgotten, so that an illusion may be more readily created to replace what is true.  In advertising it is the first act of forgetting the superior qualities of one product so that an atmosphere may be developed in which the illusion of an inferior one can successfully prevail.  It is an act that helps fiction become fact, and allows fantasy to morph into reality.  Those are kind of nice ways of putting it.  What it really gets down to in sales is that it is the process of erasing the existence of one product from memory, or from becoming more visible, so that it may be replaced with a grand lie of another.

In relation to Gordon racks back in the early and mid-1980s, their superior design, materials, performance and craftsmanship (Gordon racks were not welded back in the 1980s) had to be successfully erased to allow the poorly designed and built aluminum low-mount racks to even exist.  Many things had to be overlooked.  They could not be acknowledged in any way.  A lot had to be eliminated to develop the successful promotion of aluminum low-mount racks, and it absolutely was, not just in their promotion by retailers, but also in the outrageous media endorsements which precipitated their success.  Aluminum low-mount racks became wildly successful.  The Gordon racks nearly became extinct.  The bottom became the top.

Selective amnesia is an integral component in what drives sales.  It is part of what keeps high-performance gear from falling into your hands. It is especially prominent in the sales of bicycle touring racks and panniers sold through stores as they simply do not have the design, the innovation and the details of craftsmanship to develop performance and quality above the lowest rungs.  It is a critical element in allowing some retailers to create an extremely false image of the products that they sell.

(On a social note, we may not see selective amnesia as something that impacts our lives as it so ingrained in our culture that it goes by almost unnoticed.  And we may not recognize it, but it insidiously penetrates into nearly every corner of our routines.  It is a basic, functional element in many parts of our society.  So the fact that it has had a profound impact on something as obscure to many as the advertising and business of bicycle touring, should really be of no surprise.

Selective amnesia plays a significant role in interpersonal relationships.  It allows us to casually eat food by casually allowing us to forget that it was grown with the use of highly dangerous and toxic herbicides, pesticides and hormones .  It helps us convince ourselves that cities are healthy places to live.  And it definitely is one of the cornerstones of our country's history, which is sometimes little more than a blurry marketing amalgam of fantasy, fiction and fact.  It is selective amnesia that has often aided in catapulting products from the bottom to the top, and it is what has aided Americans in rising from the deeply rooted experiences of genocide, slavery, terrorism, imperial war, class oppression, a highly predatory economic system and many other easily dismissed qualities to the elevated position, at least in some of our minds, of the ever-present good guys on the world stage.)

One of the things that keeps high-quality, high-performance gear out of your hands is in how a sense of what is a fair, relative or commensurate price is projected upon you as a consumer.  The immensely misleading ways in which prices are represented is yet another way in which poorly designed and crudely made products are protected from scrutiny and competition from vastly superior products in bicycle touring. The subject of price is extremely complicated, especially today when most products are produced by people earning penny wages and a few still are working for dollar or dollar-equivalent wages.  But to make things a bit simpler in developing some ideas of how a sense of price is manipulated I'll refer to time and material costs.

One of the things that I could not have helped but notice through the years as my products have been reviewed is that they often have been referred to as "expensive."  This is extremely misleading, because the question must be asked: expensive compared to what?  The suggestion that the products are "expensive" isn't connected to anything.  It is merely a proclamation, and one that isn't grounded in reality.  What you as a consumer are not being informed about are the radical differences in the time and materials required to build elaborately designed, extremely well-executed products that perform to a highly elevated standard.  This is especially true when comparing touring racks, which may have extraordinary differences in materials costs and in the time differences in creating high levels of performance and quality opposed to what it takes to produce crudely made welded racks of simple, very ineffective designs.

The differences in the cost of materials can be staggering.  Metal prices fluctuate to some degree, but the cost of the 4130 seamless chrome-moly steel tubing that I use in building racks, which is of an uncommon dimension, is currently about 25 times more expensive than the aluminum rod that most rack manufacturers use, and that I purchase to make parts.  Also, what is difficult to perceive is that crudely executed, mass-produced racks can be built very quickly.  Fillet brazed racks built to a high standard take a long time to execute, especially when they are all completely custom-built.  What you cannot see as a consumer is that one hand-built rack can easily take 20 or 50 times longer to build than another.  Easily.

What will be projected on to you as a consumer is that if one rack costs $100, then other racks should be somewhere in the same ballpark, cost-wise.  So far, among bicycle touring products, the differences among products have received little recognition, and any sense of a price range in products really hasn't developed.  But I would suggest to you that if one product takes 25 times longer to build, and is built from materials that are 25 times more costly, then a relative or commensurate price should be at least 25 times greater than that of an inferior product.  But realistically, there should be a still wider gap that is also developed through much higher standards of performance.  It's extremely common among many, many types of products for one, within a price range, to cost 50 times greater than another, or 100 or 200.

One thing that I'd like to dispel is the idea that my products, and those of many other custom builders, are expensive.  The prices of the gear that I create, relative to their quality of design, intricate details, highly advanced levels of performance, craftsmanship, material costs and overall execution, are not nearly as high as they need to be.  Not even close.  Like the products of so many other independent builders, my elaborately designed and detailed products have created a life of my own choice.  They have defined what has often been an unhealthy, grueling hand-to-mouth existence, financially.  I've never been motivated by dollars and cents.  I've been building gear professionally for 35 years now and in that time my income has averaged a bit over $5000 per year.  Reality for me, and many other custom builders, is far different than the "reality" that has been projected on to consumers by referring to our gear, without any real knowledge of it, as expensive. 


As I just mentioned, there can be vast differences in the costs of many materials that few consumers are aware of.  But they are not just limited to touring racks or confined to just raw materials.  In my work I use a lot of expensive, hand-made parts.  In the Hummingbird rack/pannier systems that I build there are roughly 140 custom parts of 18 different types in a front and rear set.  It would be great if I could simply waltz over to 18 different boxes filled with 5,000 parts each, and grab some every time that I am building racks, but it just isn't that easy or simple.  I have to machine each of the parts myself.  It's a tedious, dirty process as every part is machined, hand-filed, sanded and polished before being used.  It takes a while just to make all of the parts, and then a lot more time to braze or epoxy them into place.  What I always tell people when I'm building these systems is that each of them is dramatically more time-consuming and expensive to build than it is to custom-build welded bicycle frames.

As bicycle touring products have evolved during the past 40 years, and as some of the most uninspired junk imaginable has been presented to consumers as really good equipment, a very unrealistic image of what is actually good and what it should cost, has materialized.  I regularly encounter cyclists who have been led to believe that top-of-the line racks and panniers should somehow miraculously cost the same amount as the uninspired junk.  One way that you as a consumer can develop a clearer awareness of what is a fair price is to compare what I do with other custom frame builders, not with mass-manufactured racks and panniers that are just plain poorly designed and executed, and that are often built by people being paid pennies per hour.  Compare in a meaningful way.  Compare a $2000 custom frame that is crudely welded together and is comprised of 11 pieces of tubing and no custom parts with a Hummingbird IFT system.  One system has 70 custom parts of 18 different types, all of them hand-made.  There are two frames in each system.  And the combination of the rack and panniers take dramatically more time to build than it takes to build a bicycle frame.  Comparatively, they are very, very complicated systems, especially when set against just how simply some bicycle frames can be built.

As you get a feel for what actually goes into the making of products, I think that you will develop a better understanding of the fact that material costs go way, way beyond just very basic raw materials and you'll begin to see things differently.  And you'll most likely begin to develop an understanding of the fact that as the vast differences in the material costs between products are grossly understated in highly generalized marketing, yet another way of isolating the differences between cheap, simple products from vastly superior ones, is developed. 

For high-quality, high-performance gear to become a part of bicycle touring, the way in which quality is measured among bicycle touring products, will have to be turned totally around.

I have been truly amazed by what has been paraded in front of cyclists, and especially among bicycle tourists, in the name of excellence.  Some of the most ill-conceived, uninspired, poorly executed gear has been marched past consumers as if it were great equipment.  But while I've always experienced this with some incredulity, I also am aware of the fact that quality and performance absolutely do not have to march in the same line.  Performance does not have to be aligned with quality.  Products can be very cheaply and roughly made and still perform to a very high standard.  But many makers and manufacturers, and the retailers who sell their products, have trouble accepting this and insist upon aligning the lowest levels of quality with overall excellence.  And of course this just doesn't fly.  But that doesn't mean that there aren't ongoing attempts to alter quality standards, some of which are centuries old such as in metal working, so that products that are devoid of craftsmanship can still be seen as excellent.

It is interesting to me that bicycle frame builders who weld their frames, for instance, and who absolutely do not want to do any of the work, much of it tedious and time-consuming, to develop quality measured by centuries-old standards, still want their products to be considered excellent overall.  I'm entirely unsympathetic.  In my view, their products can be excellent performers and they simply have to live with the fact that, by comparison with other products, the quality of their work is at the lowest levels.  

Also, with regard to quality and performance in bicycle touring products, I find it quite interesting that manufacturers who are unwilling to take any steps toward elevating the quality of their products, and who don't have a shred of an instinct or ambition with regard to design and who have taken no steps toward elevating the performance of their products, can simply expect their products to be aligned with excellence.  They sell their products, such as racks and panniers, in a totally uncritical market in which quality and performance standards are so low that regardless of how poorly products are built or how limited their performance is, they will still be regarded as excellent.  Manufacturers can make any claims, regardless of how absurd, about their products and they will go completely unchallenged.

This type of crude construction has been around for decades in bicycle touring racks. It reflects workmanship at its very worst, especially in the adjoining (by means of welding) of its component parts. This has often been presented to consumers as the best that there is. You may get a feel for just how atrocious the level of its craftsmanship is, by comparing the finish quality of its surfaces and the manner in which its component parts are adjoined, with hundreds of other common items you have around your home. If you compare a $150 welded aluminum touring rack that displays the level of quality shown above with a $20 watch, like the one pictured below, the surfaces of the watch components are all smooth and polished and individual parts are carefully fitted together by means of pins, screws or adhesives. Even in a $20 watch all external parts are very cleanly executed, and there are many parts.
If you move from room to room in your house and begin to observe how things are made, you simply will not find the type of off-the-bottom-of-the-charts quality shown above. Many things that you own are made remarkably well in terms of how their surfaces are finished and how well they are put together. Even the simple, cheap, everyday stuff you own has often been made in a tradition which requires a reasonable measure of quality: bathroom and kitchen fixtures, knives and silverware, glassware, coffee grinder, blender, door handles, lamps and lighting, and so on. And then as you move to a bit more sophisticated tools and components that you own you may see even a much higher level of execution such as in cameras, laptop computers, cell phones, video cameras, stereo components, clocks, musical instruments (check out the metal work on woodwind instruments, for example) and other common devices. I\\\'d also suggest a trip to a museum to look back upon how things have been made in the past and you will likely develop a sense that products, like bicycle touring racks, are horribly executed. Things simply don't have to be glamorous or expensive to reflect thoughtful craftsmanship. I took a look at the flushing handles on the inexpensive toilets in our house and they were nicely finished and completely in a different dimension of quality than the brazed and plated touring racks available on the market today.

The argument and attitude that I've seen developing through the years is that touring products (racks, panniers) are simple tools that are going to get dinged up and dirty and therefore they don't have to be built well (Phil and Schmidt hubs are going to get dirty and dinged up as well, but they are still nicely made).  This is especially true among touring racks.  And I would agree that nothing ultimately has to be built well.  There is no universal or divine rule that applies.  But I also see this attitude as being part of a sleazy and irresponsible tradition in bicycle touring.  All I have to do to challenge this attitude is to walk through my house and shops and I can find hundreds of simple tools and utilitarian items that don't have to be made well, but they are.  In one small space in one of my shops are dozens and dozens of tools that were all built in a tradition in which craftsmanship and finish are part of defining quality.  I can look at all of my violin-making planes and hand tools, and a wide range of Japanese woodworking saws and jeweler's saws and I see thoughtful design and quality.  Within a few feet are  superbly finished drafting tools and a wide assortment of hand tools made for preparing bicycle lugs to be used in building bicycle frames, and they are all nicely made and they absolutely do not have to be.  None of the tools are particularly expensive yet they all are built to a standard that is in a totally different dimension compared with the horrific quality of bicycle touring racks.

Off to the side of my work benches and the hand tools that I've mentioned are some very common tools that many of us use.  I think that using these everyday tools as an example will help illustrate just how well many ordinary tools can be made, and also it will illuminate just what kind of garbage has been placed in front of us, as bicycle tourists, in the name of excellence or very good equipment.  The common tools to which I'm referring are simple time-keeping mechanisms: watches.  By taking a closer look at watches and getting a feel for how well they are tooled and finished, I think that you'll then be able to start looking at other simple tools, and at how they are executed, and begin to see just how poorly bicycle touring gear is built.  

Two relatively inexpensive watches and one very inexpensive watch that a friend of mine owns. On the left is a $20 watch and to its right are ones that cost $350 and $500, respectively. Watches have a wide price range with ones filling out the upper end in the tens of thousands of dollars. What is interesting about watches is that like so many common tools, their quality and performance standards at the very bottom end are very good. But from very good their quality of execution and prices just keep going up and up and up. There is a tradition of excellence in watch making that goes back centuries. In tremendous contrast, bicycle touring products often reflect very poor quality and low performance standards even at the top end of products sold through stores and online retailers. This is especially true among touring racks.
Watches have been around for quite a while, and in terms of reliability have been nicely executed as time keepers since John Harrison and his son, William, created the first chronometers in the 1700's.  But even before that, with relatively unsophisticated tooling, watch makers made some exquisitely impressive tools, they just weren't particularly accurate until Harrison brought true genius to the making of clocks and other time pieces (I'd recommend checking out the book, Longitude, by Dava Sobel).  A long time before the electrification of factories, watches were impressively mass-produced and for a long, long time very accurately built specimens have been produced.  What I find interesting about watches is that at the low end of prices, accurate time pieces are made that are well finished, and overall are reasonably well executed for $20.  But even though some pretty well-made products are built for 20 bucks, prices go up from there.  Way up from there.  The ones in my photo only reach up to a very relatively low price of $500, but if you dig into watches a bit you should be able to find some nice examples of precision and craftsmanship that cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, and some that cross the $100,000 barrier.  For starters, if you're interested, I'd check out the Patek Phillipe watches.

I think watches are an interesting contrast to bicycle touring racks because even among racks priced at $150-$200 you can find ones that don't begin to scratch the surface, in terms of their performance, compared with top-quality racks that are available at higher prices.  In great contrast, in watches that cost even less than $20, you will find examples that as time-keeping tools are in the same ballpark of performance with watches that may cost tens of thousands of dollars.  At eight or ten times the price of a cheap watch it's not difficult to find racks that function very, very poorly.  And at $150, especially in welded aluminum racks, you can find workmanship that reflects such terrible quality that it cannot even be mentioned in the same breath with the craftsmanship of even the very bottom-of-the-line watches.  You can also, to gain an understanding of just how ridiculous the quality of racks can be relative to their price, consider the number of parts in a watch compared to the number in a rack.  A common touring rack has very few parts all of which are horribly made, but even a cheap watch can have hundreds, and every one is made to a standard that is way beyond the standard found in touring racks.  Touring racks, on the whole are simple tools that are horrifically built.  Watches, even though they are complicated tools that are impressively made at the low, low end, are also made in more and more refined forms that just keep going up in price.  Quality and performance in watches is developed through design and excellence in execution.  Quality and performance in racks are the function, in a truly crippled and maligned industry, of deception.  For decades consumers have simply been fed a monstrous lie about the quality and performance of touring racks. 

As in many simple tools, a standard and tradition has been developed in watch making in which both performance and quality are valued and required even at the bottom end.  Nobody projects upon consumers the idea that $20 is as good as it gets in watches, or that it would be ridiculous for them to spend more than $20.  In bicycle touring, where there is absolutely no tradition yet of quality and performance, it may most definitely be suggested that you do not need more than a $30 or $100 or $200 rack and that no higher level of quality or performance need be desired or considered, or that it even exists.         

One thing that has deeply undermined the growth of quality and performance in bicycle touring products stems from the quality of information that tourists receive.  A lot of information about bicycle touring and its related products is generated by people who are not very well informed.  Even worse, a lot of information is developed by people who think that they know a lot, but they simply have no experience to know more than extremely little. 

I sell gear to a wide range of people who work within a profession: lots of school teachers, university professors, engineers, dentists, architects and so on.  Every person in a profession has spent a lot of time in school, and to reach a professional level a long time period of education is simply required.  In tremendous contrast, most of the people assigned to the task of dispensing information in relation to bicycle touring products often have no helpful experience to guide them.  They absolutely are not professionals in the realm of touring gear.  They have had no schooling or educational experience, there is no design experience, there is no manufacturing experience, there often is no bicycle touring experience.  Many have never seen quality gear or have had any experience with high-performance gear.  On an educational level, with regard to bicycle touring products, most of the people who write about them are definitely on a kindergarten level.  Only one person that has ever written about my products has even begun to have had the experience that would allow him to accurately report on the subject of price, yet many people who have reported on the equipment that I build have felt quite comfortable in expressing their ignorance, of the complex components of price, through flaccid and often-ridiculous opinions.

Luckily, I have met through the course of time a number of people who have written about my gear, and who saw in dispensing information about it a journalistic responsibility to find out as much as they could about it, and to portray as accurately as possible what it ultimately reflects in terms of its quality and performance attributes.  These people were few, and they were sometimes severely handcuffed by the publications for whom they were working in attempting to bring my gear fully into the light.  Some of these individuals were highly dedicated in their work and they were responsible for accurate reporting.

But those days may be over.  So my message to you as a bicycle tourist is to simply be open to the fact that a great deal of information that has been developed through the years with regard to bicycle touring products has been generated not by individuals who are designers and craftsman and innovators, but by individuals who are in the business of exploiting bicycle touring financially as retailers, among manufacturers and as some elements in the media.  A lot of information is created by people in the business of simply making money, and who are really quite clueless about products.

Also, it is extremely unfortunate but we are in a time in which a new playing field has emerged in which magazine publishers, in some cases, sell products that compete openly and directly with the products of their advertisers and with the products of other makers who do not advertise in their magazines.  This can deeply undermine the accuracy of the information that you receive as information is skewed to create an atmosphere in which the products that they (publisher/retailer) sell may fluidly be sold.  Therefore it is your responsibility as a consumer to find out what separates the good stuff from the bad through learning about design, craftsmanship and performance.  You are very much on your own in many ways.

I don't know that we can recover from the deception of consumers and the manipulation of information that is so widely institutionalized in the sale of bicycle touring products, and that is embedded in the bicycle touring culture.  The legacy of lying runs so deep that I'm not sure that it can be overcome.  Considering what I have witnessed during the past four decades in the commercialization of bicycle touring, I have yet to feel confident that an atmosphere in which true quality and high levels of performance can prevail.  But some of us will continue to work toward that goal.