cycling utah July 2000

Life's experiences fueled the idea for Pika Packworks

By Micah Roberts

Mark Smedley learned to sew in junior high school. His first piece was a button up long-sleeve shirt with complicated parts like collars and cuffs. Not bad for a young kid from Wyoming whose mom thought he should know how to sew. But, as he quickly points out, he moved right on to "sew-it-yourself" kits from Frostline, things like sleeping bags and backpacks, honing a skill that would one day see him selling his bags to the U.S. Postal Cycling Team.

Most of Smedley's ideas for his bags come from his own experiences. As a Biology graduate student at the University of Utah, he designed the Talus, a bag tall enough to carry a clipboard, like a backpack, but with straps for the waist or shoulder. This made the field biologist's note-taking task a simple zip and pull operation, rather than the complicated taking-off-and-putting-back-on of the backpack every two minutes. Once his friends saw his ingenious little bag, he found himself making several more. In 1992, at a little Mayfest booth at the U, Pika Packworks was born.

Moving on from the Talus to bags like the EEP and the RWB, Smedley drew ideas from another of his experiences, bike racing. Pika Packworks' biggest seller, the EEP (Exercise Equipment Pack) was designed when Smedley was a Pro-Elite mountain bike racer for Slingshot Bikes. The EEP is designed to check a road or mountain bike on an airplane as a normal piece of luggage, avoiding oversized or bicycle fees. The RWB (Race Wheel Bag) carries two to three racing wheels with compartments for tools. Both bags are very protective, standing up to harsh airline baggage treatment.

Marty Jemison, a Park City native on the U.S. Postal Team, used the EEP when he won the U.S. Pro Championship in cycling. Smedley sent the rest of the team a sample and they have purchased many bags since. Other teams using the EEP include Saturn, Elita and Merlin-Hind, as well as number of individual pro racers. Although Smedley argues the EEP had no effect on Lance Armstrong's superior performance in this year's Tour de France, there are those who would disagree.

Smedley's first and foremost goal is to keep his operation simple. He works out of his basement in his Salt Lake City home. He uses two walking foot sewing machines that can stitch through four layers of pack cloth, a layer of foam, and a zipper. His third sewing machine is the same one he started with in graduate school.

Why not hire more employees?

"Because then I couldn't stop and go outside and work in my garden whenever I feel like it," Smedley says, "I would be responsible to the workers." Smedley and his wife Diane's garden alone makes the trip down to West Salt Lake to see his bags worthwhile. A cool oasis in the heat of the valley, they grow every herb, vegetable, and berry imaginable.

If you aren't up for a visit to Smedley's home, you can see his bags at Wild Rose and Guthrie Bicycle shops, and watch for them when you're traveling in California, Florida, New York, Europe, and South America. They may not get you to the Tour de France, but at least you can say you have something in common with Lance Armstrong.

Pika Packworks can be reached at (801) 363-0304.

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