From Newcastle to Anchorage: Bike Bag Dude

When Kedan Griffin sewed a bag for a friend to carry on a bikepacking trail race, he had no idea he had just created the first prototype for his brand new business.

Kedan Griffin taught himself to sew at age 12. A major ear surgery had put him out of school for six weeks and he didn’t “sit idly very well” so he began making his own board shorts.

What Kedan, who lives in Newcastle, could never have known at the time was that this dabbling would eventually lead him to design and manufacture extreme bike bags for professional cyclists around the world. What he did know at that age, however, was that entrepreneurship was preferable to employment and started laying the groundwork for that future

“I sold fruit from the family fruit trees and washed cars on the weekends,” he says. “I’ve run a food business for a year, which was a really good experience, and I’ve helped three people grow and sell their own companies. But I’ve always liked the idea of manufacturing and retailing a product because you’re able to retain the full profit margins.”

Getting on-board a new business

That opportunity presented itself five years ago while Kedan was helping run a bike shop. A friend asked if Kedan could make him a bag for the Arizona Trail Race, a 700km self-supported bikepacking race that requires participants to carry all their gear with them.

“I created a very rudimentary bag which did the job but also got me thinking of better designs. The irony was that 18 months before that, another friend had suggested I start a business making bike bags. I hadn’t given it much thought because it was such a niche market. But after making that first bag, I was interested.”

Bike Bag Dude opened for business a few weeks later. Using the same laminated fabric in sailmaking, Kedan began designing and sewing ultra-light bike bags in various sizes and sending them to friends, journalists and athletes in Australia and abroad. That marketing approach, he says, has been his biggest business investment and the most intense part of the start-up process.

“You have to go to great lengths to get your name out there,” he emphasises. “I gave away an incredible amount of free gear to have Bike Bag Dude constantly spruiked on social media. And I got into different Facebook groups at the right time. If I was doing it now, I’d just be lost in the crowd. So yea, it was a real slog but I got traction pretty fast.”

Fast enough that Bike Bag Dude received its first international order from Anchorage a year later. That was the first milestone. A year and a half later, America’s top ultra-endurance athlete, Jay Petervary, agreed to use Bike Bag Dude’s gear. That, Kedan says, was definitely a “pinch me moment.”

Riding the highs and lows

Yet there have also been those moments when he wondered whether Bike Bag Dude had run its course. A grand total of six times over the last five years, according to Kedan. It was usually when the stream of orders slowed to a trickle and lead time dropped from three weeks to two days.

“All my bags are custom made so there isn’t any stock on the website,” he explains. “I relied purely on email orders and when there’s nothing for a few days, it’s easy to worry. It took ages at the start to believe I had a legitimate idea and a sustainable business model. My lightbulb moment was when I realised I was comfortable with Bike Bag Dude supporting our growing family.”

Today Kedan fulfils an average of 10 orders a week of which 30 per cent are from international customers. As long as his customers are willing to pay the shipping costs, he says, his bags can go anywhere in the world. And they do. America remains his biggest market with occasional orders coming in from New Zealand, Lithuania and even Palestine.

The road ahead

When asked what pointers he would give small businesses operating in a niche market, Kedan didn’t hesitate to answer.

“Establish specific quality standards for your product. It’s too easy for a brand to get trashed on social media if its products aren’t good. Many small manufacturers of niche products don’t take this seriously enough and then wonder why they don’t do well.”

“People say my gear is expensive and it is compared to what’s out there. But those who buy it don’t complain because the bags don’t break and do what they’re meant to do.”

Bike Bag Dude will soon be moving to a commercial location where Kaden will be working with business consultants to further grow the business. Despite five years of solid hard work and thousands of bags, he is nowhere near being exhausted.

“I’m really at the top end of the tree so I get the upper end of clients who are a real pleasure to deal with. And the satisfaction you get from earning an income creating a product that makes people happy - that feeling is pretty hard to beat!”

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