Fort Collins innovator converts backpacks for bikes

Richard Jones, owner of Convertable Backpacks/Panniers, poses with his backpack on Nov. 19 in Fort Collins. The backpack can be taken apart into two pieces and used as a pannier for bike touring. / V. Richard Haro/The Coloradoan

Question: What is Convertible Backpacks?
Answer: The Convertible Backpack is a front and rear set of bicycle touring panniers that convert to an awesome internal-frame backpack.
Other dual-mode bags are panniers first, and are cobbled into a structure that could be carried on the back. With the Convertible, it’s hard to tell which mode dominates.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for the business?
A: On a tour from Bethesda, Md., to Yellow Springs, Ohio, I intersected the Appalachian Trail and couldn't resist dragging my loaded bike 2 miles up to a trail shelter, all the while wishing I had a backpack instead of panniers. I sewed the first pack by hand with needle and thread.
Friendly encouragement led me to buy an old sewing machine and make a more realistic prototype. Further encouragement in 1981 led me to patent the design and start the business.
Q: Where do you make the backpacks?
A: The packs are made by Cindy Colorado — the business name of a very talented local designer/seamstress — and metal work is done by Chuck’s Prototype Machine shop.
Q: Where are most of your sales?
A: I’ve sold packs to folks in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and, of course, the states. I recently sent one to a serviceman in Afghanistan. Some customers ride their bikes around the world, some commute with groceries — none of the packs stay in the closet.
Q: How does the conversion from bike to backpacking work?
A: The front panniers split in half, and attach to either side of the rear pannier, which is the core of the backpack. Add shoulder harness, waist belt and internal frame and you’re ready to hike.
Q: How many different styles, or options do you have.
A: We have two models: The “Elite” includes the complete front and rear pannier system. We also offer the “Classic” which is just the rear pannier/rack-trunk set. We can make them in a surprising variety of colors and camouflage patterns but, regrettably, not plaid — yet.
Q: What is the demand for these packs?
A: Our primary market is touring cyclists and mountain bikers who demand the option to leave their bikes when appropriate and arrive by foot to places that are inaccessible or inconvenient for bicycles.
Bikes are not allowed in wilderness areas, and airports and trains are also best negotiated with a backpack. Our other market is folks who recognize the economy of purchasing one piece of equipment that will perform wherever it is needed; for example, the Classic is a perfect size for cross-country skiing, though you wouldn’t necessarily bike to the ski trail.
Q: How much do the packs cost?
A: The Elite is $382, the Classic is $238.
Q: What are your plans for the future of the company?
A: We are currently “B2C,” direct to consumer, but we are also pursuing affiliates in retail who cater to a customer base that crosses over between hiking and cycling.