Rockgeist (Spirit of The Rock)
Driven by “the spirit of the rock” Greg Hardy makes bikepacking bags and gear under the Rockgeist brand, right here in heart of the Appalachian Mountains just outside of Asheville. We paid him (and his dog Marlin) a visit to learn more about the company and see what’s in the hopper…
It’s often an odd series of life choices that lead people to find their passion. For Rockgeist founder, Greg Hardy, it was camping under a rock in a three-piece suit and a 9-5 job as a materials scientist which led him to start making bikepacking bags… and eventually to form Rockgeist back in 2014. The company was born from necessity and soon found its niche designing and making gear specifically for endurance backcountry racing. Since then Greg continues to focus on ultralight bikepacking bags, featuring unique off-the-shelf designs such as the Gondola dropper-specific seat pack, and his new Barjam handlebar mount system. Equally as much a part of the business is Rockgeist’s custom made gear, including the Mudlust frame bag, which Greg makes using his ‘PhotoFit’ system.
The Rockgeist studio is just down the road, so I decided to pay him a visit…
While Rockgeist has several interesting products, I was most curious to see how their “PhotoFit” frame bag process worked. The basic idea is that the customer emails a photo of the frame triangle with a measuring tape positioned just so. From there a perfectly sized, handmade Mudlust frame bag is mailed back based on preferred colors and specs. According to Greg, “The most important advantage is that it eliminates template errors. After years of working with the slow process of customer-tracings it became apparent that that method introduces too much variability and can result in gear that doesn’t fit perfectly… and a perfect fit is key to avoid zipper stress, maximize packing efficiency, and ensure strap compatibility with other frame features or gear.”
So before I met Greg, I sent him the required photograph needed to make a bag for the Pivot Mach 429 Trail that Gin’s testing. A week or so later I went by his shop to watch the last few stitches get applied to the bag. The end result is a Mudlust frame pack — complete with a bolt-on bottom panel — that fit the Pivot like a glove (photos at bottom of article). During the process I asked Greg a few questions about the process, as well as Rockgeist’s past and future…
How long from start to finish does it usually take with the PhotoFit process to make a frame bag?
The PhotoFit process adds build time on my end since I am making the template rather then the customer. But PhotoFit is ultimately more time efficient since I’m not asking my customers to mail their template. First-class mail takes 4-5 days to arrive and if you’re outside the US, mailing a template makes no sense. But more importantly it eliminates time spent emailing customers when I would receive missing information on the template. Does your bike have a front derailleur or did you just forget to mark it down? Full length housing or cable stops? Water bottle bolts on the underside of your downtube? Photos of your actual bike eliminate the need to go back and forth getting all this information. So with PhotoFit, it takes me about 10 minutes to make your template, then about 1.5 to 3.5 hours for the build – depending on the features selected, framebag type, and amount of prep work completed.
When did you first start bikepacking and what got you in to it?
My first time bikepacking was in 2010 and it was this first trip that got me into it. I was in Switzerland for a grad school conference and wanted to travel from the conference to Zermatt. The distance was too far to hike so I rented a bike and before I knew anything about bikepacking, I was bikepacking. To this day it was the hardest trip I’ve ever done. I did everything wrong. I was carrying all my “gear” in a 45 liter backpack, which included a suit, dress shoes, and a laptop from the conference. The first night I lost the route in some deep snow and spent the night freezing under a rock while I waited for sunrise. I was incredibly under-prepared and words like elevation and extra batteries meant nothing to me. I’ve done some stupid things since that trip but I like to think I’ve come a long way. It was definitely the last time I camped in a suit.
What bikes are you currently riding?
For bikepacking I mostly ride a Santa Cruz 5010C, 27.5 wheels with 2.2/2.4 tires. Its very nimble and gets me out of a lot of sloppy handling late at night. I also still bikepack with my first “adult” bike, a Trek Cobia hardtail, and then sometimes I use a rigid singlespeed. The singlespeed is the worst bike ever and I only ride it because my dog loves it. He knows I’ll never get too far from him when I’m hiking that thing around. My dog has short legs…
What’s your favorite bikepacking route?
Arizona Trail 300. There’s something about night riding in the high desert under a full moon that creates such vibrant memories.
You’ve done the AZT 300 Race a few times, right? What led you to racing?
I enjoy racing because it puts me in scenarios that provide incredible emotional highs and lows. No rational person that is touring a route would find themselves hiking their bike off Oracle Ridge at 1 am after riding for 18 hours. I connect with the mountains in a much different way when I’m racing versus touring. Touring certainly has its advantages and can be every bit as hard, but with racing, the sense of urgency creates a completely different experience for me.
Rockgeist started by making bikepacking bags catering to ultra racers. Why is that? And do you see your target changing?
Ultra racers was the focus in 2014 because that was the type of riding I was getting into and it was the biggest unmet need at the time. And it still is today. While there has been an influx of gear makers over the last five years, very few companies are meeting the needs of this group; which are weight, function, and durability.
For example, look at all of the popular front harness solutions out there today, from the most expensive to the cheapest. Now how many are over 1 lb and how many don’t function when you’re racing down technical singletrack? Honestly, it’s a challenging bar to meet. But this is the group of riders Rockgeist is focused on and I do not see this ever changing. The reason is that the needs of weight, function, and durability are not limited to racers. Racers are just setting the bar. The reality is that bikepacking in the mountains is hard for everyone and those are the needs of every bikepacker. Your gear shouldn’t impede your bike handling or make it harder to ride no matter what style of bikepacking you do.
What did you do before Rockgeist and what encouraged you to start making bikepacking bags?
I worked as a materials scientist. I started making gear because it satisfies my desire to work with product design and the need to be creative. But I started the company because I wanted to build a louder voice to inspire and enable the experiences that bikepacking provides.
What’s the story behind the name Rockgeist?
Geist is German for ghost or spirit. The name means “spirit of the rock” and alludes to the deep connection that bikepacking can create between people and the outdoors. I also chose a German word because I was first inspired to learn how to sew while living in Germany.
You are based out of Asheville, NC. How did this come about?
I moved to NC 10 years ago for grad school and started Rockgeist shortly after in Winston-Salem, NC. I chose to relocate to Asheville for a few reasons; Western NC has some of the best bikepacking in the US combined with a strong network of outdoor gear manufacturing. There are dozens of companies in WNC making innovative, extraordinary gear and I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn from and contribute to this network. Asheville is also a city that fits well with my values and company culture. As I work towards building a solid team I’m looking for people that share the same values and passions. Im confident that WNC is the best place to build this team and to realize the goal of creating an inspiring company for people work and grow with.
What do you think Rockgeist does best?
Rockgeist is focused on offering the best of both universal and custom gear. However, Rockgeist is unique in its focus on custom gear and meeting the needs of the individual. This means I’m committed to building the right infrastructure and processes to sustain a permanent effort on building custom, made-to-order gear. Today, this commitment is evident in the Rockgeist PhotoFit™ template creation, all the options/features for framebag customization, and all the work behind the scenes that makes the manufacturing of made-to-order gear efficient.
This effort also extends to the customer’s experience on my website. I’m working to make rockgeist.com have the easiest ordering process possible and eliminate the need to clarify information over email. If you want a framebag with specific features, just select them from the drop down menu. If you want to see the difference between the 29 fabric options, visit the Fabric page. If you want to see how I bolt-on my framebags or the shape of a flared front nose, scroll down and view images of every possible framebag feature.
What product are you most proud of?
While I take pride in every product, the best feeling comes from what my customers do with this gear. It’s the experiences created from bikepacking that are most important. For example, while bikepacking the Colorado Trail I randomly ran into two bikepackers with Rockgeist full suspension framebags. They were a father son pair doing their first bikepacking trip together before the son moved away for college. It’s nice knowing that I played a small role in their shared experience.
Any new products around the corner?
With the custom work having a solid foundation it’s finally time to release some unique universal gear solutions. The immediate pipeline includes two handlebar bags, a saddlebag, and a bag that has a unique place on certain bikes that has never really never existed before. The current line will also be improving with molded zippers, reinforced velcro connections, and I just released a free option of adding weatherproof reflective webbing to your gear. I’ve been working with the manufacturer to create this reflective webbing to be durable enough to withstand a lifetime of bikepacking abuse. I know it seems odd to promote reflective webbing for off-road use, but its very common for bikepacking routes to include sections with heavy vehicle traffic. It’s also perfect for those using bikepacking gear on their daily commuter.
Do you have any plans for upcoming trips?
Mulberry Gap in GA is up next then some local S24O rides here in Pisgah. I’m still undecided if I’ll be headed back to the AZT this spring, but I’ve been thinking about the 750 a lot these days…
Rockgeist Mudlust Frame bag
Here are a few photos of Gin’s partial bolt-on Mudlust frame bag. Built from a single photo that I sent via email, the bag fits perfectly. It’s also decorated with a couple patches by the Landmark Project. Each represent our local stomping grounds — Dupont State Forest and Pisgah National Forest.
Learn more about Rockgeist at Rockgeist.com. And stay tuned for more coverage of the Gondola, Mudlust, and Barjam in upcoming articles…