Bags, Bicycle, Gear, Handmade Bicycles

Meet the Maker: Ruthworks

I came across Ruthworks via Facebook and reached out to Ely in San Francisco where he works at his home shop, enjoying the opportunity to spend time with his family. Ely is the owner, sewer, leather worker, cutter, designer and fabricator at Ruthworks, with quite a few beautiful items available for randonneurs, tourers, commuters and every day folks.

We did a little interview and it went something like this:

Describe a typical day in your shop.
Cut, cut, serge, cut, skive, sharpen blades, trim, work leather, sharpen blades, work leather, skive, sharpen blades, coffee, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, water, cut, sew, sew, coffee, take picture, sharpen blades, sew, change CD, sew. coffee, take picture, sharpen blades, clean up.
How long have you been in business?

This is my third year and I’ve learned a lot.
 When did you start cycling?
I started as a kid, like everyone else.
What got you started sewing?

The first bags I made were for a tour in New England. They held up well and I enjoyed the design and fabrication process.

And what brought the two together?
I enjoy the sense of adventure and utility that bags bring to bikes. Being able to carry a sleeping bag, or extra food extends the possibilities that cycling offers.
How do folks purchase Ruthworks cycling luggage?
Each one of my bags is made to order, so people can contact me directly via email:
Where’s your favorite ride out your front door?
Luckily, we can ride year round. Going north takes you into the headlands, east is Diablo, south is Santa Cruz and the mountains. It is all stunning.
What about your bikes?
My road bike was made by Eric Estlund of Winter Bicycles. It’s strong and fast and steady as a rock on fast technical descents. I have complete confidence in it. Oh, and it’s really beautiful too!
My cyclocross bike was made by Paul Sadoff of Rock Lobster. It handles like a beast, is rock solid, and I absolutely love riding it.
 Do you have a favorite piece to make?  You have quite a few options.
No, I don’t have a favorite. I like the process. I like the hours of focused intense work, then seeing the bag at the end. I’m always pleasantly surprised at how they turn out.
What makes your bags different than what else is available?
There are many great bag makers out there with different construction methods.  I use 18oz or 24oz waxed and unwaxed cotton duck, 9-13oz vegetable tan Herman Oak bridle leather, and solid brass hardware. My machines are configured specifically to my sewing style and materials. A lot of my tools have been modified or made for me.
The biggest feature of my bags is that they are all made to order, to your specifications.
You’re in San Francisco- what do you love about it?
San Francisco has great food, great weather, and beautiful places to ride…until a big earthquake comes and swallows the entire city.
 Are you involved with any cycling organizations?
Yes, my family has been involved with the SF Bicycle Coalition for many years, I’ve volunteered as a mechanic and taught classes, and I’m currently a member of the San Francisco Randonneurs– the nicest guys in town!
How ’bout your favorite trail food?
If the ride is under 3 hours, I just eat a bar or two. Every four hours I’ll eat at a cafe or restaurant. I like eating real food.
Three things you never leave without on an overnight bike trip, not including your bike.
1. always bring my 850 fill 15 degree bag, it gets nippy at night.
2. bivy if you think it’ll be really cold or rain.
3. big fat 4″ thick ultralight pad. I’ve had excruciating nerve damage in my left shoulder and the pad allows me to sleep on the ground.
When on a bike tour, do you bring: an ipod, a book to read, a journal, a camera, or nothing at all?
I don’t bring anything. I have so many songs, thoughts, memories, ideas, and fantasies in my mind, I don’t need anything else. I like to be in the present and experience the present. i also accept that the present is fleeting, so I’m ok letting things go. I find that if we try to hold on to the past, it stops us from experiencing the present and stunts our potential future.
Fill in the blank:  The bicycle is a _______.
The bicycle is a tool. It can be expressive or artistic, but it should be a trustworthy tool. If you don’t trust it, you won’t ride it.
 How does your son like riding?  What’s his bike like?
My son Finley is 7 and he is awesome. We ride every day, in the rain and after dark. His bike is a Bridgestone Sprinter from Japan and is set up with fenders, generator light, and custom bags. Because my family has never owned a car, we never think of “going riding”. It is assumed that we will ride to wherever we’re going.
Favorite bike shop in SF?
I like Mission Workshop, but it’s not a bike shop.
Any plans for PBP?
I’ve got PB&J plans for tomorrow…
I’m excited to be making bags for riders doing PBP. I’m happy to be part of their prep team, but I won’t be riding. I have a lot to learn and a lot of miles to get into my legs before I can think of riding with the big boys.
What would be your dream bike trip/tour?
I’m currently doing my dream bike tour right now. I’d like to ride from Alaska to Argentina and I’m doing it in sections. This summer is Vancouver to Portland.
Where do you see your company in the next 3 years?
I see RuthWorks growing in skill, continuing to pay respect to the master ateliers, learning from other bag makers, and pushing the craft forward. The work and artistry being produced right now is inspiring. From hubs, to frames, to headbadges, to leather belts, to bags, it is inspiring.  I plan to continue to learn and contribute to the community.
What’s up with the Back to Earth videos that you link on your webpage?  Are they friends of yours?
Yeah, I like those guys, some of them use my bags, and they sure can cook up some good campfire food!
Anything else?  More thoughts on what you’re doing?
I really enjoy bags. There are so many approaches and philosophies behind design and fabrication. It’s interesting to see what bags resonate with which person. Certain bags can evoke deep memories or ideas of future adventures, and I love that.
I attempt to balance the customers needs and technical requirements with an aesthetic that resonates with my style.
Each bag I make is constructed with the intention of being trustworthy, strong, and beautiful twenty years from now.
Thanks for your time and the photos, Ely.  If you are looking for a handmade piece of luggage for your steed, check out more from Ruthworks at the following spots:
Now get on your bikes and ride!

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