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Bike bag business relocates to Spearfish

September 27, 2018

SPEARFISH — Need a bag for a bicycle?

Look no further than DirtBags Bikepacking, a company that specializes in handmade, high-quality bike bags, which moved to Spearfish from Laramie, Wyo., in June.

“Bike-packing is kind of this up and coming, growing sport among mountain biking,” described Emily Brown, who co-founded and owns the company with her husband, Heath. She likened it to backpacking on a bike, and after she and Heath experienced the sport on a three-day trip along the Centennial Trail in the Black Hills, they were all in.

Emily Brown, who grew up in Belle Fourche and Rapid City, and Heath Brown, who grew up in Newcastle, Wyo., spent a couple of years at Black Hills State University and then lived in Laramie, Wyo., for the past 12 years. Heath Brown taught junior high, and Emily, an entrepreneur, owned a yoga studio. After teaching for a number of years, Heath was interested in other opportunities, and in 2015, he began researching the growing sport of bike-packing. Recognizing that those participating needed a variety of bags, he pulled out the household sewing machine, sewed a variety of bags for the couple’s trip along the Centennial Trail, and along the way, had many soul-searching life chats about the outdoor industry, how it helped people find adventure and embrace simplicity, and whether there was a place for the Browns to be part of that somehow.

When they got home from the trip, they had decided that yes, they could do it, so Heath taught for one more year, teaching during the day and at night, figuring out the measurements, designs, pieces, etc., needed to create the products that DirtBags Bikepacking specializes in. The couple created a website, quit their professional jobs, and have been running the company ever since, working other jobs part-time to help make ends meet as they get the business off the ground.

The name of the company is meant to be endearing to those who need to be in nature. The company’s website describes that society often labels those who need outdoor recreation, “climbing rocks, skiing mountains, surfing oceans, running rivers, carrying all they need on their backs, and riding their bikes across continents” as “bums, loafers, or deadbeats. We prefer to affectionately call them dirtbags,” it states.

Emily Brown said that they have always been trying to get back to the Black Hills, so once they committed fully to the business, it made sense to make the move, and in June, they moved to Spearfish. They have connections to the area, and to the biking community already — Emily’s uncle is Perry Jewett, who with his wife, Kristi, started and continue to organize the popular Dakota Five-O mountain bike race that begins in Spearfish each Labor Day weekend.

Brown said that they’ve had a booth for DirtBags Bikepacking at the Five-O previously.

“Just the support in this area … it just seemed like people here were so much more excited about our business and so supportive of us,” she said. “It’s just such a great place to live and such a great biking community in general and a great place to have a local business where people really rally around you, so we knew that Spearfish would be the perfect fit for getting this business to roll out.”

Brown said she enjoys the business aspects of running a company and told her husband that she was in, as long as she didn’t have to sew — and she laughed as she pointed to all of the sewing machines in the workshop, describing that she’s been sewing a lot this summer, as business has been busy.

The Browns put together a workshop in their garage that is still a work in progress, and plans are to remodel the space to include a retail shop within the garage, where the company’s manufacturing will remain, so that people can visit and buy bags, in addition to being able to order them online.

“We manufacture bags for your bike that either can facilitate day trips, just going out and riding your bike for an hour or two, or, if you want, you can facilitate loading up all of your stuff on your bikes to go and camp,” Brown said, clarifying that there are products for people hitting the trail for longer trips, in addition to bags to carry a water bottle, or cell phone, or tools. She explained that the goal is to have people put less weight on their back and put it in a bag on their bicycle instead.

While there are a lot of other small businesses creating similar products, one of things that sets DirtBags Bikepacking apart is that people can customize their choice of bag, choosing color combinations, designing graphics, etc., and Brown said that she has been surprised by the artistry that comes with creating each unique bag.

“It’s cool to make things. It’s kind of like an art, really,” she said.

Jillian Shupe, an employee in the workshop originally from Rapid City, also enjoys the creative aspect, along with getting to know the community.

“Being a part of a small business from the get-go, it’s amazing to jump in … and see it grow. I’m just really excited to be part of a tight-knit community,” she said.

Brown added that while they don’t know what will happen to the business in the future, they are excited to be in the process, knowing the stories of other businesses that started in a garage - such as Patagonia - and she said they are happy to be living out their story right now.

People can find more information about the company at its website, dirtbags.bike, as well as on Facebook and Instagram. Brown said that the company has sent bags all over the world, from France and the United Kingdom to every U.S. state and Canada, and they’ve been excited to see that mountain bike, and biking in general, is taking off, with people of all ages participating.

She added that they hope to have a grand opening in the next couple of months, and they always invite people to get in touch so they can work together to customize a bike bag.

“If you can imagine it, we try to create it on a bag,” Shupe said.

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