Made By Mountains Story
Rockgeist Bikepack USA
Asheville has been a key part of our success. It’s the mountains, the trails, the riding, but more importantly, the people here. Western North Carolina has such a great biking culture, and a rich history in textiles. Those are all the elements I needed to lean on to start and grow the business the right way.– Greg Hardy, PhD., Owner
Rockgeist Bikepack USA makes quality waterproof and custom bikepacking bags, sewn in its workshop just north of Downtown Asheville, NC along the French Broad River. Greg Hardy, a medical research engineer with a PhD, founded Rockgeist in 2014 because he loved the simple act of riding bikes and camping. The company has grown as the niche of bikepacking has grown, and Rockgeist now has customers from all over the globe. Here, Hardy, and a few of Rockgeist’s loyal employees, discuss the nuances of small business, local bike culture, and their love of these mountains.
Expanding the boundaries of your bicycle travel
Rockgeist Bikepack USA
Rockgeist’s goal is to help you become more self-sufficient on your bike through gear defined by innovation, advanced materials, and made-in-USA craftsmanship. From its 2014 beginnings, Rockgeist has risen to acclaim in the rapidly growing bikepacking sport, making their mark with their “photo fit” custom build technique that tailors specific fitting gear for cyclists worldwide.
On Finding Western North Carolina and Founding Rockgeist
I first came to North Carolina to Durham for grad school. I kept driving out west to Asheville, and the Brevard area for the biking scene. That’s when I saw the mountains, got exposed to the towns out here. After grad school I made the transition to move to Asheville instead of driving here every weekend.
Originally, I was doing this part time after work in my apartment. We had 300 yards of fabric in the kitchen and machines in the living room. I like the autonomy of running a business and having the freedom of what we’re trying to build from the ground up. I also wanted to find a way to contribute to the bikepacking scene. Through gear and materials, it was the best way for me to be involved with the community and help encourage other people to get out and try bikepacking for the first time and have the type of experience that drew me into the sport.
The workshop opened in 2017, and I knew I needed to hire someone to grow the business. My first employee was one of my first customers, Eric. He came in one day and saw what was going on and offered to help. Hiring that first person was probably the biggest step.
On Collaboration and Innovation
Collaboration with all of the small and larger businesses in Western North Carolina is a huge benefit to being located here. There are a lot of more mature companies in textile and manufacturing that I’ve definitely leaned on and gotten great guidance from. When Rockgeist was young, I enrolled in the Waypoint Accelerator Program. We were working through the process of running a business and growing, finding customers, working on a website…all of the things you have to do to get out in the world. I had no experience running a business before, but with the Waypoint Accelerator Program, I was in a group of nine other small business owners trying to figure this thing out. We had some commonalities, but we were coming from different perspectives and were able to lean on each other and find ways to solve problems in different ways.
When we first started, the thing that really put us on the map in the bikepacking scene was our PhotoFit process for custom frame bags. Rockgeist specializes in custom frame bags for the bike, different ways to carry gear on the bike. One of the core elements of that is a custom frame bag. Before we started, that process involved customers tracing cardboard cutouts of their frames and mailing them to bag makers. We created a process called PhotoFit, where bikers can take a strategic photo of their bike, and we can take that photo and add the customization and features that the customer wants. That process has expanded our customer base to a global level.
On Growing Through a Pandemic
Dealing with the supply issues in the last few years has been a headache, but fortunately we’ve been able to rely on other companies in the Outdoor Gear Builders of WNC with those supply issues. Whether it be buckles, zippers…all that stuff that we took for granted four or five years ago, it’s a headache now. Having fellow companies to lean on in a network to navigate us through today’s challenges has been key.
The Outdoor Gear Builders is a group made up of a lot of different companies with different perspectives. We’re fortunate enough to connect with all of these owners of other businesses. In our early years, we definitely relied on OGB, because we only had two or three people here. We leaned on that collaborative aspect as other businesses in the area had equipment or systems we could leverage to help develop our products.
As a small business we’re reliant on other companies to help us solve challenges. Sometimes it’s sharing the work load, contracting work out that doesn’t make sense for us to do but still needs to be done. It opens up our time to spend on our specific product, where we don’t have to do some areas of work that we’re not set up to do. Having that relationship where you can talk face-to-face with local people, accelerates that collaboration and allows us to get a lot out of these relationships.
On Encouraging Bikepacking
The growth of bikepacking has definitely surged, and I hope it has become more accessible. One of the things we’re doing to encourage that is our rental gear program. If you don’t have the experience and want to talk to someone face to face about the right gear to put to put on your bike, we’re here for you. And you don’t have to purchase, a $600 kit to get out. You can take some of our gear, rent it for super cheap, and it’s enough to get out on some of our local routes for a few days.
On Being Made by These Mountain Communities
The mountains of Western North Carolina are our livelihood. They’re the pulse of our business. They’re what motivates us. They’re how we pay our bills.
Anytime you’re camping off of your bike, it’s a win. If you’re a hiker, and haven’t thought about bikepacking, this might be a great opportunity to get out and try something new.
These mountains are what inspires us to contribute to the community, and help people get out and experience the outdoors in maybe a new and different way with bikepacking. They hold tremendous networks of trails that can link different forests together, and you might find yourself in a new area you’ve never explored before.
Thanks to the Rockgeist Team for their time, hospitality, and sharing their story with us. Thanks to story writer, Graham Averill, and to videographer, Robb Leahy.