Restrap have been there seemingly since the genesis of the bikepacking boom that we’re experiencing now across Europe, but their beginnings couldn’t be more different. We wanted to get to know more about this bikepacking household name and check out their new workshop, so took the opportunity for an overnight visit to Leeds and to be guided around Restrap’s local playground in the Yorkshire Dales.
Photography by Michael Drummond.
Where it all began
A lot of what you see of Restrap today was born out of the Leeds Fixed Gear scene. Founder Nathan started out making foot retention straps using reclaimed seatbelts from scrapyards back in 2009, before roping his mum in to help as things got busier. The very first set of pedal straps are still on display over ten years later in the large Restrap workshop, now employing over sixty people from designers to machinists.
Like many businesses in this domain, Restrap claim to be a ‘team of outdoor enthusiasts’, and that’s the first thing I noticed when I was welcomed into the office. A Friday lunchtime, everyone was gearing up for their weekend plans: Danny was heading up to Scotland to get some big miles in training for the Pan Celtic, Carl was getting the train to Morcambe to race the TransEngland, Ed was off on a long ride in the Dales, Nathan and Jon were planning a long ride down to Grimsby after our overnighter and Sam was taking on his first road crit.
The team really do live and breathe adventure cycling, and they also seem keen to get those not yet hooked into it, with a small fleet of Ribble ebikes for loan for the staff. What a lovely idea.
Restrap in 2021
It might not surprise you to hear that despite only moving into bigger premises in February, Restrap have already expanded to fill the space and are looking for solutions to find even more. Easily accessible from the motorway, just a stone’s throw from the train station and a short ride from the city centre, keeping production local for the Leeds-based workforce has been important to their expansion.
Even though production is fully booked until March 2022 (yes, you read that right), the innovation doesn’t stop. Nathan and Danny work together to come up with new ideas for innovative bikepacking products, experimenting with new materials, designs and methods, refining and adjusting until they come up with something that they are satisfied is truly unique.
A whirlwind workshop tour
From raw materials to the finished products shipped globally, marketing manager Jon Hicken took us around the workshop floor to explain the manufacturing process.
First up, the fabric pieces are cut using two huge state of the art cutting machines, with programmes optimised to minimise fabric offcuts. Just like the rest of the raw materials used in the process, Restrap aim to get as many of their supplies locally, with the cordura used widely being sourced from Nottingham.
Around the corner we popped to see Carl on the laser cutter, which precisely cuts the thicker plastic sheets to provide rigidity and reinforcement to the bags. Offcuts here are carefully stored, either to be used to make smaller tabs for the bags, or then passed on to a third party that are working on making products including kitchen worktops from ‘waste’ plastics. Really neat!
As part of our tour, Jon gave us the opportunity to have some #deepcustom musettes made there and then, so photographer Michael and I chose our colours: I went for a double orange outer/liner, while Michael went for a sandy outer and orange liner. After watching the machine cutting, we were whisked off to meet machinist Janet who’d work her magic to form the bags with incredible accuracy.
The floor of machinists were split into teams, each specialising in a smaller range of products from the Restrap catalogue. With a strong history in manufacturing, Leeds has many talented machinists, and it appears that Restrap really do a great job of looking after them. British manufacturing seems to be one of the factors that really set Restrap apart from many other bikepacking brands, and a factor that allows them to rapidly prototype and play with novel ideas.
One thing that we noticed that we really loved was the little tool pouches many people carried: each specifically made for their role with pockets and slots for the necessary tools. Fabric offcuts are all saved and made available to the machinists too, we were told, and they are always gladly accepted for home projects.
After Janet deftly pieced together out musettes, attaching the reclaimed seatbelt strap and vegan leather Restrap logo patch, we walked over to Marius for the finishing touches. I didn’t expect to see a drill in action, but it was really effective for creating the holes for the poppers that secure the top of the musettes, which Marius then punched in with quite some force. Incidentally, Marius also holds the record for lacing the Restrap saddlebag holsters… Nothing like a bit of friendly competition, eh?
He was joined by a team of other finishers: clipping any stray thread ends, adding any last touches and threading up the unique holsters for the saddle packs. All the little things that take time and careful human precision that I’d always taken for granted.
The final step was packaging, storage, picking and packing, at the far end of the workshop. I remember seeing a shop in Toulouse decked out with Restrap bags once and being a little surprised, but the reality is that a lot of the product is shipped to Europe and even further afield. Today the racks of product were empty: what gets made each day is immediately shipped out to customers and bike shops eagerly awaiting their new bags and accessories.
Clocking off time
On Fridays, Restrap clocks off early at 3.30pm (noice), and as a Bank Holiday weekend there was even more of a buzz about the place.
Once most of the staff had headed off, Nathan, Jon, graphic designer Alex and ADVNTR photographer Michael and I loaded up our bikes and headed off… round the corner to the brewery next door. Of course luck would have it that it started drizzling just as we were meant to leave, so we enjoyed a cheeky half with some of the other guys from Restrap under a gazebo before the rain eased and we could finally leave the city.
After passing Hyde Park, we soon joined the oh-so-slippery Meanwood Valley Trail, a muddy, rooty and rocky bridleway heading north out of the city, crossing the ring road and following parallel to Adel Beck.
After this rather spicy trail – thanks to recent rain – where both Jon and Michael took a small tumble, the decision was made to stick to the roads to get out further, as a lot of the trails were likely to be in a similar state. We were all rather peckish, and keen to get to Otley for our promised Friday night fish and chip supper.
Otley was a quaint Yorkshire town, on the River Wharfe and not far from the border of the Yorkshire Dales. We took a bridleway across the fields to track the river’s edge for the final approach to the town, popping out into playing fields and next to the most gorgeous row of cottages on the riverside.
We soon arrived at North Bar: a lively square of outdoor benches, thankfully with space for the five of us, directly opposite the chippy. North Bar is a favourite of the Restrap clan, it would seem, and they have a small chain of bars in Leeds and nearby selling craft beers. A hearty feed was just what we needed, and after filling our musettes with some camp beers and snacks at the nearby supermarket, we were ready to take on the final leg to our campsite for the night.
Into the Dales
The light was starting to fade, subtle pinky-peach tones streaked across the sky. The quiet country lanes to Askwith were nearly empty now: everyone had travelled to their chosen destination for the weekend’s frivolities. We’d been warned about a long climb out of the village and into the Dales proper, but from this side it wasn’t too bad, kicking up with tougher gradients and easing off a little. The views that stretched out beyond the classic dry stone walls certainly distracted any tired or strained legs from the task at hand, with sheep and lambs contentedly grazing as far as the eye could see.
A familiar sound came next that caught me off guard: the trill of a curlew. It took me a few minutes to put my finger on it, but these were the sounds of the birds I’d spent the winter months down in Devon watching on the estuary. I had no idea that they came up north onto the moorlands to nest, and I gazed with wonder as they started to up and fly so close overhead. With the fading light, it was one of those back-tinglingly awesome moments that you only get every now and then.
I was relieved to reach the top of the climb, as we joined the spectacular Weston Moor Road. What a dream, and one to come back for on an unladen road bike for sure. Mega views, smooth tarmac, rolling and fast.
Soon we dipped off to the reservoirs at Swinsty to find our camp for the night. I was delighted that the Restrap team are fellow hammock-dwellers, and insisted that Michael joined us too with his first night in a hammock. Jon furnished us with tales of his Pan Celtic Race (a result of a beer-fuelled promise after a night hanging out with the organisers) and the team’s video trips to Japan and more recently the North Coast 500. For a real laugh, check out Jon’s Pan Celtic Highlight on the Restrap Instagram page…
After the calling owls in the night and the promise of a proper breakfast in Ilkley at the Commuter Cafe, we broke camp with a little coffee and some granola bars that Nathan had packed.
What we’d anticipated would be a short ride across the moor down to Ilkley turned out to be a real highlight. The guys marvelled at ‘real Yorkshire gravel’ as we rode onto a byway through the tall pine trees, through a series of gates and out onto open moorland.
I couldn’t help but be smug with my 2.1″ tyres compared to everyone’s skinny GravelKings, especially poor Alex on his 32s, as it became rockier, boggier and altogether more technical. We were back in curlew territory, as well as some nesting lapwings, and a little swarm of starlings later swirled overhead.
After a real mix of tracks and bog, we flew down the aptly named Hunger Hill Road down into Ilkley, gratefully welcomed by some great coffee, bacon rolls and posh beans on toast and joined by Sam, smug from taking third place at his inaugural crit the night before.
Over breakfast we planned our next moves back to Leeds. The Cow and Calf climb couldn’t be missed out of Ilkley, leading onto a fun and fast road down the other side to Menston. Then a long, steadier climb up York Gate would lead us to more (much needed) refreshments at The Royalty.
Some more fun off-road tracks ensued, with a fast and thrilling rattle down Miller Lane and through Chevin Country Park, bridleways through Breary Marsh and then straight into the heart of town for a hearty vegan burger in the park.
Keen to check out our route? You can find it here on komoot:
Last modified: 15th June 2021