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Frame bag review: The Great Australian Triathlon

Australian triathlon bike packing bags custom order

An expedition

Filmmaker Jonathan Doyle, with Ben Cianchi, expedition leader, began a journey in December 2019, of the world’s first human powered vertical crossing of Australia. We followed them via social media updates the whole time (find them here) until it was sadly cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They are all safely at home now, reflecting, recovering and gathering together what looks like is going to be an amazing film.

We were stoked to be asked to help out. And we’re stoked for the final product.

Jonathan has kindly put together some words about how we contributed to this effort…please read below.

Kit review

Dirtbags are an incredible independent company based in the Lake District, UK, who specialise in recycling old outdoor and climbing gear to create beautiful bags and accessories. Dirtbags were kind enough to support our world first expedition, The Great Australian Triathlon (thegreataustraliantriathlon), providing us with pannier bags for myself, an expedition-ready powerbank and solar charging system, and most importantly, a set of custom-made frame bags both for myself (the cameraman) and the athletes (Ben Cianchi and Daniel Lamb). 

We spent a number of evening working closely with Dirtbags founders, Jen and James to ensure we able to create the best possible bags which satisfied exactly what we needed, and from the get go, I was so happy to be working with them. They were warm and welcoming and super-stoked to get involved with the project. Their enthusiasm was electric and ideas were flowing faster than the teapot! 

Ben Cianchi - The great Australian triathlon

Having used the frame bags intensely during the filming of the expedition’s first leg; Ben, Emma and Claire Cianchi covering 640km from the most southern point of Tasmania to the most north-eastern point by foot, I can safely say that the bags are the absolute dogs-whatsits. 

I tended to use the frame bag to carry two litres of water, lunch for the day and additional camera accessories such as audio recording equipment that I needed quick access to. The top-tube bag was used to carry a small-powerpack for my phone, snacks and bike repair accessories. The material itself easily held up to the abuse I subjected it too, whether that was a little overstuffing, heavy-handedness with the zips, or when the bike inevitably hit the ground during tricky sections of trail. 

Jonathan Doyle - the great Australian Triathlon

The most difficult task for Dirtbags was making sure the bags could handle whatever environment decided to throw at them. There hadn’t been much rain in Tasmania proceeding the expedition, so we had to deal with copious amounts of dust as we crossed the state. Obviously, we needed to keep that away from any electronic equipment being carried, but more importantly we needed to keep it away from the sandwiches. We were subject to one massive rainstorm up on the highland plateau and I did fear the worst for my lunch, however Jen and James absolutely nailed it. Upon opening the bags, everything was dry, the waterproof zips and the additional waterproofing of the bag material worked a treat. I was genuinely impressed. 

Finally, the bags are incredibly eye-catching, every bike-packer we met during the crossing stopped me and commented how much they loved the look of them, saying how cool they were and how they wish they had a more interesting setup. 

Overall I have been bowled over by the Dirtbags team in going above and beyond what was promised and provided such exquisite bike-packing bags. I will absolutely be using these bags for a long time into the future!

Jonathan Doyle

insta @jonathandoylemedia

All media credit: Jonathan Doyle

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Make a wooden climbing hold: expert level

Salvaged wood pocket hold, handmade for home climbing walls

Handmade pockets using salvaged log wood. A step by step guide.

So, the last hold was too easy, huh? James upped his game and chipped away to make a two finger pocket wooden hold.

1. Get wood, drill hole.

Salvaged wood climbing holds

It all started with a perilous journey to find the perfect tree, chop, and leave for a year to dry and season.

In our case, we saved our shed from destruction by a scary, heavy looking branch, and kept it as it ‘might come in handy’. It wasn’t seasoned, either.

Prepare your ‘might come in handy’ bits of wood, obviously it needs to be big enough to have a hole big enough for your pocket. This was about 4″. Saw off the end so you’ve got a nice flat end to work from.

I used a 3/4″ spade hole cutter bit; a Forstner bit would’ve been better- but I don’t have one. Alternatively, drill lots of small holes with a regular drill bit, the bigger the better. Make sure you do this carefully with the log in a stable position, ideally clamped in place.

2. Chisel.

Using a chisel and a heavy object, dig out the hole to make it larger. Enough to accommodate as many fingers as you want. Please be careful doing this, chisels are sharp. Unless it’s ours, which is not.

3. Countersink.

Countersink to a depth of 5mm at the positions of the mounting screws (we used three screws, one at the top and two at the bottom). The depth of the countersink is to accommodate the screw head but is not absolutely crucial if you don’t have a countersink bit.

Drilling out a pocket hold

4. Shape and saw.

Using a rasp, bevel all the square edges and give the face of the hold some shape. Measure where you want the base of the hold to be, and saw it off. Keep it nice and straight, as this will be the back screwed against the wall. Obviously, when you cut the hold off the log, consider how deep you want your pocket to be. The length you cut off will determine the pocket depth.

Rough shape of climbing hold

5. Drill mounting holes, sand.

Drill holes for mounting. In order to shape and finish the hold, mount it to something solid (waste bit of wood, for instance) so you can go at it with sandpaper (250/400 grit), without having to hold it in your hand, until it’s nice and smooth.

Home climbing training, wooden pocket hold

6. Screw to board.

Make sure you screw this to something relatively solid. We don’t want you to pull your shed down. Climb.

Salvaged wood pocket hold, handmade for home climbing walls

Expert level, completed.


Disclaimer: we take no responsibility in loss of limbs, grazed skin, or bruised egos whilst you make your own holds. Use your common sense.

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How to make your own climbing holds

Step by step guide to creating your own wooden, plastic free climbing holds for a home training board.

Home climbing walls are becoming a pretty big deal, what with ‘ahem’ not being able to roam free at the moment. Home training is a cost effective way to stay strong, and to maximise training time; being able to do it in bursts in between dinner, putting kids to bed, washing pots blah blah blah.

As per usual, we gathered together random bits of wood to make our holds out of. We already had everything in the house so didn’t need to buy in anything. Woohoo – free holds!

1. Get wood.

This is a branch kept from a condemned Hawthorn tree. It is a nice dense hardwood, good to work with. Nice and chunky. You can use any old branch/wood scrap provided it is dead and dry with some weight. Using a rasp, I shaved off the bark into a rough shape and size on one edge.

2. Saw bits off.

Carefully saw off end at desired length. Be careful to get a square cut as this side of the hold will be against the wall.

3. Drill and countersink.

Drill two holes 4/5mm approximately two inches apart (distance will depend on the size of wood you are using). Then counter sink both holes to accommodate the screw head. Counter sinking creates a tapered hole about 5mm in depth. This can be done either using a tapered counter sinking bit or with a 10mm drill bit, drilling 5mm into each hole.

4. Flip and mount.

Now, flip the hold over – flat side up. I temporarily screwed it to something solid (wood cutting horse, for example) to keep it secure for the next step.

5. Shave more.

I then shaved the opposite edge on the opposite side to create a tapered hold. We are going for a small jug, here. But you can do anything you want, be creative.

6. Rough sand and shape.

I have a fancy machine but this can be done with a coarse sand paper block and some elbow grease or an electric hand sander. The aim is to smooth out the surfaces from the coarse rasp shaping, and to fine tune the shaping. No nasty splinters.

7. Fine sand.

250 or 400 grit paper works well. Sand away until nice and smooth.

8. Screw to board.

Voila. Get training. You can get creative and make lots of different shapes and sizes. Be sure to send us pictures of your finished pieces – we want to show them off too!

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Nuts and bolts for the future

Copper, a chemical element which, can occur in nature in a directly usable form. Pink and orange, soft and malleable; the lustre of a freshly exposed metal surface and the ease by which it can be worked, led to very early human use.  Chemically contrasting, elemental Zinc is a silvery blue-grey and brittle metal whose oldest evidence of use comes from 9th century Rajasthan.

Alloying these two contrasting, natural ingredients in different proportions formed a new material, one with improved mechanical durability and strength; both copper and zinc at the same time, a symbiotic material, respectful of itself, whose two constituents can replace each other within the same crystal structure. Brass.

Beautifully crafted pieces of equipment, either mental armour or crucial for harder rock climbs, a brass wedge on a silver soldered wire protects from falls for those skilled enough to need them.

Marginal breaking strength and tiny surface area for contact with rock, brassies or RP’s (Roland Pauligk, their inventor) were skilfully hand-made. Careful shaping and filing, drilling and soldering; from a garage in the Australian suburb of Mordialloc, Victoria, twelve-hour days became thousands of brass stoppers on wire, crafted in a way which would make the ancient alchemists and engineers proud. Being sometimes the only protection against serious injury or death, climbers in the know or the need, held them dear, synonymous to religious icons.

Treacle Slab E3 5c – A powerful and delicate route. RP’s protect the mid run-out section. 

Roland no longer makes RP’s, they have been replaced. Replaced by dimensionally identical counterparts manufactured with more rigorous safety testing by a large company with resources at their disposal. Amazing to think that this revolutionary piece of climbing equipment which has for the most part remained unchanged was once hand made in a garage.

This is how all the best ideas start.

We started in a shed, with an idea.

Handmaking boulder brushes

An idea to change the way expired outdoor gear is disposed of and instead re-purposed. Mass manufactured versions of our products exist however, similar to Roland’s story, perhaps Dirtbags Climbing can plant the seed of a sustainable idea, an idea or example for manufacturers of outdoor sports equipment to use to help clean up the amounts of waste produced through manufacturing which, slowly pollutes the world and environments we like to play in.

Roped climbing indoors is becoming increasingly popular, cheap tents are ubiquitous and all ultimately end up in landfill once expired. A majority of this plastic based material can be repurposed.

So, lets give our waste a purpose and help to prevent the outdoor sports world from becoming one of the large producers of plastic waste.    

James Dickinson

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Building Mountains: an artwork for ‘Joey’s Cafe’

Rope is more than a tool. It travels with us, we lug it up to the mountain and we trust it (and belayer) with our lives. Part of the loved kit for climbing, part of the checklist. The climbing rope we get through the doors at Dirtbags HQ is retired and sent to us for lots of different reasons. Becoming frayed after lots of use, too long unused, renewed as part of an activity centre’s/climbing wall’s safety check. Rope needs to be new, and safe.

Joe Beaumont contacted us after retiring a rope that meant a lot to him. Understandably, handing over something for someone to chop up and sew was a hard choice. A 40m fall onto this rope had marked the beginning of a long road of recovery and rehabilitation for him, it had become a symbol and reminder of Joe’s journey and his incredible achievements since the accident. He wanted a commissioned piece to grace the walls of the new chapter in his professional life; a good old bricks and mortar cafe.

Learn a little about Joe’s climbing rehabilitation from his award winning film, Little Chamonix…

Joe utterly embodies his ethos ‘healing through happiness’ and we were delighted and touched he had come to Dirtbags to create something special.

The wood was taken from reclaimed scrap pallets. James sawed, sanded, measured and laid the pieces onto a plywood base. The same for the mountain tops, which were then covered with a lime wax for a white sheen.

The rope was washed (well!), cored, then stitched together to form a sheet of ‘fabric’ to use. We cut the fabric to match the shape of the sky and mountain tops, then affixed the pieces. With small triangles of hardwood for the trees and a handmade teeny tiny washer and wire bike, we placed them alongside the blue rope lake in the bottom left of the picture. James carefully made a frame to tie it all together.

Rather than becoming a rug to, in time, wear out, the mountains of rope will stand pride of place serving as a reminder of how fragile life can be, and how to live and enjoy every moment we have.

Photo: Chelsea Clarkson
Photo: Chelsea Clarkson

Want to visit the new Cafe? Check for updates and opening times here

Joey’s Café – Castle Mills – Aynam Rd – Kendal – LA9 7DE