Over the past two years, I have been slowly adjusting my setup to include more racks, cradles, and dry bags and moving away from bags that strap directly to the bike. I have struggled with many strap-on bags from large manufacturers as all of them seem to have their own opinions on how to cinch, fold and strap. My largest challenge was with a 15L handlebar bag that inevitably turned into a sausage no matter how you packed or cinched it down. Handlebar wag? What?!
This led me to search for a cradle for my handlebars that I could strap a dry bag to and ultimately be more in control of my front setup. I landed on the Aeroe Spider Handlebar cradle, and have been super happy with the change. The cradle is consistently awesome and performs exactly as it should. My only beef with the cradle is the set of straps that come with it. They are sewn into the cradle so that they can't be removed and they are just well, sorta cheap. It's only a matter of time until the plastic buckles break and no doubt it would happen in the most inconvenient of times and places.
Like most good things on this site, I came across Austere Manufacturing on Instagram and was instantly blown away. It was my first time seeing anyone working on something as seemingly simple as a strap at the level of craftsmanship that owner and operator Uriel Eisen works at. Until that moment, I had assumed that the entirety of the bikepacking community was using rubber straps and that the was case closed. Nope.
Austere's buckles are lighter than the cheap plastic variety. It makes one wonder how plastic became so prevalent.
Uriel's cam buckles are CNC machined from a solid piece of alloy billet at his workshop in Kitsap, WA. Each buckle is held together with a CNC'd titanium pin and stainless steel spring. They come in ¾” and 1” with strap lengths of 1.5, 3, and 4'. Now here's the kicker: at 8.2 grams (for the ¾” buckle), Austere's buckles are lighter and stronger than the cheap the plastic variety you see on most bags. It makes one wonder how plastic became such a prevalent material in gear and buckles.
Using Austere's straps was my introduction to cam straps for bikepacking. Simply put, a cam buckle is a strapping lock-down method that allows you to tighten to a specific tension by pulling the strap through the buckle. The buckle is spring-loaded to secure the strap in place and press for quick release. When compared to a side-lock plastic buckle, cam buckles can be much smaller as they don't require two halves to buckle together.
To test Austere's straps out, I cut and replaced the Aeroe Spider cradle straps and also used them to strap a dry bag directly to my Tailfin. I couldn't believe how fiddle-free the Austere straps were on the first go. Simply push the strap through the cam and pull. Job done. Whereas with plastic side-lock buckles, you first lock the buckle and then adjust the strap length to an appropriate tension. In theory, this sounds easy but in practice, it's always way more of a hassle than it needs to be. Through this lens alone, the Austere straps live up to their reputation as 'performance straps' .
The straps are available in three lengths (1.5, 3, and 4 feet) and two widths (¾” and 1”). My instinct was to get the widest and shortest straps possible but after speaking with Uriel, he suggested the ¾” wide and 3' length straps to get started, and I am glad he did. Anything wider would have had trouble getting through various loops and anything longer would be way too much. However, any extra length can be shortened by cutting the nylon strap to size and melting the end with a lighter. Order a longer length to be safe.
As a cycling writer, I often find myself describing a product's strength, which is a bizarrely difficult task. I will say, however, that Uriel's straps and buckles are likely stronger than any bikepacker will ever need. I tried lifting various heavy items with the straps including my fully-loaded Krampus and even did a pull-up with them. This last test, however, borders on not-so-smart. The Austere site mentions that the straps are not intended to be used in situations where injury or death can occur. The straps are strong, but don't be silly.
Outside of performance, one huge feature of Austere's straps is how hot they look. Being a designer, Uriel has a great sense of color and sells buckles in various palettes including tactical colors, everyday colors, and even pastels.
The buckles pictured above are Austere's spanking new color combination: powder blue and orange. The blue and orange are sharp and contrast each other perfectly. You can see those orange buttons a mile away and they seem to match many orange highlights I already have on my bike and setup. They look great. I mean, look at them. Poking around the Austere Instagram feed I even found that a few people are wearing the straps as belts. I'm yet to try this, but I promise you, I will be soon.
As I mentioned above, I had assumed the world was using rubber straps for all things bikepacking. And like many of you, I have a bag full of Voile and Titan straps at home. I thought it might be worth mentioning how cam-lock straps differ from rubber.
The major difference lies in tensioning the straps. With rubber straps, the core idea is to stretch them and lock them utilizing the stretch and tension of the material to keep everything in place. My experience has shown that with rubber straps you need more tension than less for them to be effective. This has made me nervous a few times, especially when I started rubber strapping my tent poles to my front setup as you can see here. With cam-lock straps, you can dial in that tension to exactly what you need or what is appropriate for the gear you are strapping. Not everything can (or should) handle the tension that rubber straps provide.
Rubber straps do what they do well. I won't throw them totally under the bus. However, cam straps can be multi-modal with loads of in-camp uses that rubber straps will simply not be able to do. For example, hanging food bags in a tree overnight, maybe. 🧸🌲
I'll admit, I had to look up the full definition of the word 'austere'. According to Google, there are two definitions: “severe or strict in manner, attitude, or appearance” and “having an extremely plain and simple style or appearance; unadorned.” These definitions initially sound harsh but given the context, both of them seem to frame Uriel and his products well.
At $24.95 per strap, Austere Manufacturing's cam-buckle straps are not the cheapest option on the market. However, they are the fattest, easiest, lightest, strongest, and best-looking straps I have used to date. They are lighter than plastic buckles and arguably safer for our gear than rubber straps. That alone should be enough for any of us to buy into.
If you want want a better peek into the world of Austere Manufacturing, check out Bikepacking.com's interview with Uriel here. Also don't miss the Austere Manufacturing Instagram account for a better look at how the buckles get made.
|Super fast usage|
|Easily dial in the perfect tension|
|Strength that you need to try|
|Can be used off the bike|
|Can be trimmed to desired length|
|Not the cheapest|
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