Just before Christmas, Muc-Off announced that they would be expanding their range into modular riding packs, the Muc-Off LAB.94 range.
Pete had a chat with Andrew Syme who took the lead when it came to designing the new Muc-Off LAB.94 packs, a modular, military-inspired riding pack.
What are the key elements that you started with for the Muc-Off LAB.94 range?
We are always seeking different ways to produce new innovative products that have an outstanding performance. We believe we have discovered a niche in the market; military inspired and modular riding packs under an exciting new sub-brand which we have called LAB.94.
We wanted to create feature rich mountain bike focused equipment by using the finest materials and manufacturing techniques, paired with cutting edge designs that fit our needs when riding. We also wanted to develop something unique that we thought was missing from the current market.
The Ride Pack was born as result of wanting the ultimate MTB/commuter/life pack which could handle anything you can throw at it on those all-day epics and adventures.
The Dopp Kit came from increasing storage capacity on the Ride Pack and being the ultimate travel companion.
The Essentials Pack was required, as there wasn’t another pack on the market that we felt could fit all your riding essentials in without rattles and be used off bike for your mobile tech and cables.
How many people are involved in bringing the idea from concept to prototype?
Alex and Andrew work closely with our partner at the factory.
And what’s involved in that process?
Once we have a concept that we’ve developed and are happy with, it’s a case of producing a tech pack to display the CAD drawings and specify in very high detail every element, feature, fabric, finishing touches and graphics that we want to use. This is then sent to the factory who we meet with to talk through every aspect of pack. After this, fabric, zips and finishing items are sourced and produced before initial prototypes are made.
Where did the inspiration for the Muc-Off LAB.94 range come from?
The military inspiration was taken as other than the obvious camouflage association, military equipment must be very functional and durable. This is where the Molle webbing straps on the pack stemmed from, giving the aesthetic appeal we were after but also the functional purpose to offer a modular pack that we could add additional sections onto.
Some inspiration was also taken from brands outside of the cycling industry. A lot of fashion and streetwear brands have been using the military aesthetic for some time and these are the brands that we love and are inspired by such as Supreme and Acronym, to give the range that streetwear edge.
Did the LAB.94 range borrow from existing packs, if anything, or was it a ‘from the ground up’ design?
The backpack took inspiration from some commuter style packs since we loved the roll top closure and the integration of the D30 back protector and Hydrapak water reservoir. Other than that, the range was very much developed from the ground up to produce the products exactly how we wanted.
What did you know you did and didn’t want to do with these packs?
We looked at elements that us as riders wanted in our ideal packs and combined some great ideas into what we think are the ultimate riding packs. That’s the fun thing about developing your own products, you can take all the best bits and combine them to produce something quite unique and special.
Certain parts change along the development of the products, you end up adding and removing elements but from the start we had a good idea of what we set out to achieve and stuck as closely to the initial spec as we could.
What are your priorities when designing the packs?
The priorities are always to design and develop something that not only looks fantastic but performs to the best of its ability for the end user, combined with using the best materials available. We also want to design something that solves a problem or makes life easier when out on your bike or planning your next adventure.
How did you decide on a modular design?
The modular design came as a result of the military aesthetic and the desire to be able to attach additional sections onto the Ride Pack. Going for a modular approach has allowed us to design a more streamlined backpack without being too bulky when used on its own but also has flexibility to add or remove packs as required.
Did you have a material in your head before you started?
We knew we wanted to use Cordura® due to how versatile, rugged and durable it is. The water repellent finish was also essential for outdoor packs, so it ticked all the boxes for using across the range. It has proven performance and track record in the world’s harshest environments, so we knew it was the right choice.
With riders increasingly moving their spares/tools/food to their bikes, how hard is it to not detract from your backpacks?
There’s only so much you can carry on your bike and we wanted to develop something that could handle epic riding adventures, whilst protecting your back with the integrated D30 Back protector and keep you hydrated with the Hydrapak water reservoir.
How many prototypes did you have before getting to the production pack?
There were many prototypes before getting to the final samples that we tested rigorously before going into production.
Can you talk us through the prototype stage?
As mentioned above, the prototyping starts after the tech pack is finalised and signed off. The factory who we work very closely with will produce a sample to our specification. This normally involves a lot of discussion back and forth to make sure every detail is exactly how we want it. It’s always very exciting seeing the sample for the first time and see the product come to life from drawing to reality. From that, you can try it on and get an idea of how it feels and works. We then tweak certain elements, change positions and add or remove parts that we feel are or are not necessary.
In this case, the rear air flow panel and straps took some additional development until we got the comfort and positioning spot on.
Beyond the development of prototypes, what form did your testing take?
Our testing always starts internally, where we rode the pack in several different conditions over many hours to check and test every element of it before Alex went on a week-long riding trip across Nepal. This gave the backpack an extreme work out in some of the harshest conditions in the world.
After this, we sent samples out to our test riders and athletes to gather their thoughts and input.
How important are your athletes to your testing process, and did they have any influence on the bike packing range?
They are very important to our testing process and are always used to give feedback on all new products that we launch. This crucial test phase gives you additional feedback from a variety of different people who ride to the highest standards and have big expectations! A different set of eyes and opinions is always very helpful in product development but in this case, they didn’t have any further influence.