Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Joe Tonsager's one-man shop is making slick modular bikepacks for a growing cadre of adventurers and commuters.
Given that bikes are sold in so many different sizes, models and configurations, there are no fantastic one-size-fits-all FramePaks. Tonsager's JPaks fills the void by making bespoke packs to order.
FramePaks are increasingly replacing panniers for bikepacking. While panniers offer plenty of storage capacity for tents, sleeping bags and more, they make bikes more unwieldy and wobbly. "The idea of putting everything centralized in the middle of the bike frame, it just makes sense," Tonsager says.
A frameback balances the most of the weight in the center of the bike, rather than skewing to one side or the other, or trying to split it between both sides. The design helps ensure the bike has a narrower profile for navigating tricky trails.
Others are agreeing with his approach. JPaks have been featured on award-winning, custom-built bikes, like Mosaic Cycles' mountain bike, which took home a "Best in Show" award at the North American Handmade Bike Show in 2019.
Tonsager's ModPak is a unique approach to bikepacks. Like most similar products on the market, the ModPak fits the main triangle of the bike -- offering plenty of storage for longer trips, but splits in two. "The ModPak that I do can be split down the middle and used as either/or, or both together," he says.
"That one is starting to be a little more popular with people that commute five days out of the week and don't want to run the whole thing, just the top," Tonsager explains. On bigger weekend trips, they'll add the other half.
Most of the packs JPaks sells are designed for mountain bikes. "My stuff is tailored to and honed into that singletrack, more technical side of bikepacking," he says. His second-largest market is riders of gravel bikes, but he notes that more bike commuters are buying his packs, too.
Tonsager was drawn into designing the packs after getting a degree in industrial design from the Art Institute of Colorado. As part of the curriculum, he worked on soft goods, and later made some fly-fishing bags.
"As things went on, I kind of went away from it," he says. "Around late 2009, 2010, I got turned on to the Tour Divide and the whole endurance racing scene. That's where I got turned on to the whole bikepacking and bags on bikes. It just made perfect sense. even in the kind of day-to-day commuting aspect, and that's what turned me on to it."
Tonsager notes that his ability to get into the business was bolstered by the ability to source industrial sewing machines and specialized fabrics locally, and Ralph's Power Sewing Machine has the machines he needs. "They not only sell the machines, the whole variety of them, but they have a custom repair shop and CNC shop. If a part were to break on an old machine as long as they can look at it or have the drawings they can machine anything they want [to fix it]," Tonsager notes. Likewise, he sources some specialized fabrics from Loveland's Rockywoods Fabrics.
The majority of JPaks' business is local. "I'm pretty lucky in the fact that I'd say 70 percent of my business is local where I'm able to actually meet with somebody," Tonsager says. However, he does sell to some shops and has partnered with local frame manufacturers as well.
Tonsager notes that JPaks helps many customers who have Colorado-made bikes and want to make sure their bikepacks are local as well. "You've got Moots, Mosaic, Corvid, and those are just three local titanium frame makers," he says. "There are a ton of other frame makers here in Colorado, and if they buy a Colorado-made bike, usually it's a little bit higher-end bike and they don't want to just put some off-the-shelf bag on it, which works out really well for me."
That one is starting to be a little more popular with people that commute five days out of the week and don't want to run the whole thing, just the top," Tonsager explains. On bigger weekend trips, they'll add the other half.
Challenges: "What the big bike manufacturers are gonna do," Tonsager opines. He notes that Minnesota-based Salsa Cycles used to send some customers his way for packs, but that they hired an in-house designer last year and now are making their own line. "There's always the fear that they jump in and they hit a price point that I can't even touch," he says.
Opportunities: "Commuters," Tonsager says. "Every bike to work day that we have here in Denver I definitely make the rounds and I think all those people can benefit from having at least a top tube bag or small frame bag for stuff."
Needs: "Expansion," says Tonsager. "You know, I'm not a businessman at heart, so figuring out how to grow the business and still keep everything in focus."
Another need: "Access to a mentor or an actual guide to help focus on where to go from here and to take things in the right direction would be great. Being able to talk to people that can say, 'This is the jump-off point, or 'This is what you should do, you know, put all your eggs in this basket.' That would be huge."