Buffalo Bags: In The Workshop
Since 2020, Buffalo Bags has been creating bags small and huge from its headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand. We spoke with the company's founder, Be, about how Buffalo Bags started, their flagship bag called the Big Buffalo, his crew of self-proclaimed bike nerds, and how Thailand is likely the next best cycling destination. Let's go.
Over the past couple of years, I have had the opportunity to get to know a bunch of makers and builders from around the world. Every maker I have met to date has inspired me in one way or another. A few of them have even become friends and I would put Be from Buffalo Bags in this latter category.
The cycling culture in Thailand seems to be strong and through Be (and his crew) I have been getting exposed to it more and more. Even though I have visited Thailand many times over the years I was never there to ride. It feels like the country could become the next big backpacking destination with its amazing food and hospitality, steep hills, and beautifully rugged terrain.
Be and Buffalo Bags seem a bit different to me than most makers. In my opinion, what sets Buffalo Bags apart, is the bag they produce called the Big Buffalo. The bag is huge and might even be all the volume you need for short trips. In an industry that is continuously fraught with the trappings of endurance sport, the Big Buffalo stands out as a beacon of slow-is-ok biking. But knowing Be and his crew, this is not a gimmick or marketing trick. It's how they live and ride.
How did Buffalo Bags start?
A little boy wanted to see more beyond his hometown and wanted to do it by bicycle. He wanted a bag to put stuff in while riding. He made and brought an ugly prototype of a bag to a friend. The little boy's friends own bike shops around town. They go out riding, riding, riding, and Instagramming, Instagramming, Instagramming. Notifications start to appear on the little boy's phone. Shit! That little boy turns into a bag maker and his friends turn into Buffalo Bags dealers.
My name is Chatchaphong Kamoolsakpitak (but you can call me Be). I'm the founder, bag maker, email responder, janitor, and whatever else Buffalo Bags needs me to be. In 2020, Covid hit Thailand hard and everything shut down. Suddenly, I had a lot of free time to spend, and bikepacking just made a lot of sense to fill the time. I was hooked. I like to ride. I enjoy riding my bike with my everyday outfit of sandals, beach shorts, and a t-shirt. What can I say? I love having a bag on my bike for carrying camping gear or other stuff.
You recently moved locations. Can you tell us more about that?
Buffalo Bags Company has grown as a company. The old space no longer had room for me to roll around when I'm tired or lazy. The original space wasn't originally designed to be a workshop, it was an old dressing room that was 5 x 4 meters wide. Yup, some bathrooms are bigger than that. The new location has enough space to fit a large working table, more sewing machines, and room for a bike, and even allows the team to work here. Previously, our team was working in a different location. It was a real pain when something went wrong and we had to communicate by text or I dragged my ass to be there. It's great that we can work in the same space now and get drunk together after things are done (or not)...
What makes Buffalo Bags different?
My ego tells me to say “it's one of the best”, but that would sound stupid because I have not seen or used all the bags out there and it's better to stay humble. When making bags we focus on:
Functionality - The best bags don't cause any inconvenience. The function of the bag should be designed to meet the needs of use. Compartments should be designed for things the user plans to use. Imagine, if you kept your chopsticks in your shoes. You could, but why?!
Durability - Equipment that breaks during a trip is annoying so durability is extremely important. Every material in our bags was chosen for a reason. Don't get me wrong, going down on a rowdy trail can fuck shit up for sure. But when it breaks it should be able to be repaired, not just thrown away like a tissue. Products that are friendly to the environment are necessary and I am trying hard to design all of our bags to be long-lasting. A bag that you can pass to your grandchildren sounds eco-friendly to me.
Tell us about the Big Buffalo.
The Big Buffalo was our first model of Buffalo Bags. I wanted to try something that had more room than a pannier, and be able to fit a bunch of stuff in it. The Big Buffalo is available in three sizes: small, medium, and large. The large size might be able to fit a kitchen sink in it. I know ultralights are a thing now and nobody brings a sink camping anymore, you dummy. But who knows, maybe next season it might be the thing to do. The medium-sized Buffalo is my favorite. Not too big and not too small, perfect for when I go on a trip longer than two nights and need sleeping gear. The small Buffalo is cute. Well, small isn't so small…. if you know what I mean. Wink wink.
If those examples confuse you, check this out. A small is 18 Liters, a medium is 26 Liters and the large Big Buffalo is a whopping 30 Liters. Thank Buddha for the variety of wide handlebars out there. We recommend a 700mm+ flat bar to mount the small size and 750-800mm for medium and large. For drop bars, 440mm at least for small and 500mm+ for medium and large. The Big Buffalo also comes in three options of fabric: canvas, CORDURA,, and XPAC.
Buffalo Bags looks like a gang. What can you tell us about your crew? How do they influence the brand?
My friends and I have similar tastes when it comes to bikepacking and riding in general. When out on a trip I always carry a camera with me and friends who use my bags naturally become brand ambassadors, haha. Sometimes it makes people misunderstand who the owner of Buffalo Bags is... which is good! I take that as ego-reducing therapy.
These guys are serious with their gear, it is useful to hear comments based in real-time. They sometimes say things that make no sense but end up turning into great ideas. I do appreciate the feedback and I need it as well.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Inspiration comes from my passion which is injected into the design of my bags with an emphasis on a unique user experience. I believe my bags speak to people who have similar lifestyles and activities. A lot of inspiration comes from stories of people I ride with and the places I have traveled through. All the people inspire me to create a bag that supports their journey. Naturally, my thanks go to my customers and their continuous support!
As someone who earns a small profit from this vast ocean, I appreciate all that happens in this community. It keeps this boat afloat. I'm especially thankful for the media, who play a big part in driving the bikepacking scene continuously. It is not the norm that a small business receives media attention properly and sustainably.
What is the adventure cycling scene like in Thailand?
Currently, most of the routes are spread by word of mouth in local bike shops. Gravel bikes are hot. Dirtbag wanderers are still small. This place is still a diamond that hasn't been polished yet. It's common to see 'Farung' (a.k.a Western people... also, this word is not racist. It's quite cute, actually.) riding bikes all over the place, especially in the northern part of Thailand. Winter is the best time of the year to ride in the north. Not crazy hot and no smoke in the air. One thing I've heard from a foreign friend is “no matter how cruel the day is, at the end of the day, it is not hard to get comfy”. That dude has a Chang Beer in his hand every night. I confirm it.
What's in the future for Buffalo Bags?
My short-term plan is to add more models of bags for every part of the bike. However, one idea that has my interest is a weaving technique. Thai people have always known and used weaving as a way of creating things. Every family used to weave their stuff and I wonder if it could be used for bag making.
Also, there are many factories in Thailand with good machines and experienced workers. It is a pity if we only produce mass products from this potential. In the future, I want to build collaborations that create fabrics of high quality to be used in Buffalo Bags. Digging deep, understanding the whole process, and working with factories to create new products.
Follow Buffalo Bags on Instagram here.