April 27, 2011
After the Sea Otter, Chipps took the drive a couple of hours north to the small town of Petaluma. It’s a lovely little place on the edge of wine country and, remarkably, is the home for a whole host of bike industry types, including Soulcraft (and the original Salsa), White Industries, Chub/e*thirteen (and Mesa Boogie guitar amps and Lowe Pro camera bags!) and, in a big, but nondescript office block, Camelbak – the pioneers of drinking stuff while riding.
As you sweep into the impressive entrance hall, there’s a little museum of older, and current, Camelbaks, with originals from way back in 1989, right up to modern day Better Bottles and military models. The company was famously founded by Michael Eidson, who wanted to drink more than a couple of bottles of water while doing long road rides in Texas. He came up with the novel idea of using an intravenous drip bag in a tube sock attached to a jersey. The idea caught on and those first commercial Camelbaks were nothing more than a padded sleeve with thin straps, holding a bag of water very similar to an IV bag. The important difference though, was Camelbak’s bite valve – which I still reckon has yet to be bettered. Bite and suck – let go and it seals. Simple.
Those first Camelbaks weren’t perfect – they turned sausage shaped when full, bounced around on your back (or fell off over your head when bending down to check something on your bike) but the initial idea was sound – and the sight of ejected water bottles on downhills started to become rarer events. In later years, Camelbak started adding tool pouches and then developed the housing from a basic sheath into a simple rucksack, so that you could carry a tube and tools and a jacket – with a chest and waist strap to keep it in place. The Camelbak as we know it was born.
My guide for the day was Seth Beiden, one of Camelbak’s marketing guys and a fine mountain biker. It seems that most people at Camelbak practice what they preach, with many staff heading out for a lunchtime run or ride in the countryside surrounding Petaluma. Seth can often be seen at mountain bike events, test-riding a lot of the new gear (so it’s always worth seeing what gear he’s using…)
One of Camelbak’s big markets is the military and security sector. It makes all sorts of products that you’ll never see in your local bike shop. There are pilot’s gloves, tactical rifle and sniper’s gloves as well as a whole range of military issue hydration packs. Even private security firms and the Secret Service shop at Camelbak…
After the tour of the office – which looks like most other offices, only with a few more bottles and bags on them, it was time to go through the security doors to the Secret Test Lab, where lab boffins Kevin and Chris lurk.