Michael Cleveland is a part of a two person, husband and wife, team who owns and operates SpoK Werks. SpoK Werks is a manufacturer of bikepacking bags and beyond. They are currently based out of Switzerland. We had the pleasure of asking Michael a few questions about his company, bikepacking experiences, and more. Age? 52 Birthplace? Albert Lea, Minnesota Where do you live now? We (my wife & cat) live in Mettmenstetten, Switzerland. As for why, my wife’s job brought us to Germany first and now Switzerland. I’m not complaining. What do you do for a living? For me, that’s a difficult question to answer. I was a Land Surveyor in the States but can’t do that here due to the education rules. I was a tour guide for a summer at Neuschwanstein (the Fantasia castle) and then I was a freelance ESL Business English trainer and administrator for a private school for a couple of years. These days though, I’m the house husband and bag maker. Describe your first experience on a mountain bike? I have an old friend, Wade, who had a mountain bike and he took me to see a small race outside of Lawrence, Kansas in 1993 or so. From the moment I saw the racers, I knew I needed a mountain bike. My first bike was (I believe my brother still owns it) a Haro Impulse Comp in neon Green. I believe I immediately took it to the local Kansas City river trails and the fun has never stopped. What inspired you to take your first bikepacking trip? Jon Stamsted’s first run at the Divide Route oh so many years ago was the initial spark. I love the outdoors and even living in the mountains, I almost gasp when I see the big mountains, even at my age. So, the idea of self-support mixed with riding a mountain bike and to be able to see, smell and experience all the things that there are along the selected route makes me want to bikepack. You have done a lot of traveling across the world, it seems that adventure comes natural for you. With all of your travels, what has been your favorite destination? First, I have to thank my wife for helping me to experience travel. She’s great to travel with and does a lot of the trip planning but we decide on places together. Favorite destination, for food and a possible return for a mountain trip – Vietnam For a purely outdoor experience, Chile and heading down to Patagonia (which we didn’t get to see when we were in South America previously). Being an American, what is it like living in Europe? Interesting, would be a good word. These days, it’s just how we live but once in awhile I have a sudden realization that I live abroad and not everyone lives like this. Often, people and my students are curious and want to know what the States are like. It’s just hard to put that into words as the U.S. is so big and there are so many different types of people and places. I would say the biggest differences are the language (obviously), culture and that people seem to live for quality of life vs. quantity of possessions. By that I mean, people tend to live in much smaller spaces with fewer high quality things and better vehicles. Of course, Switzerland is curious because they have 3 national languages (German, Italian & French) as well as most people speak English and there’s a couple of other ancient languages as well. Also, there’s so much money here that it’s a bit fairyland in terms of everyone having a lot of very expensive toys. You and your wife own Spok Werks, when did you start making bags and what was the driving factor to start the business? Kera has made hats and messenger bags for fun since around 2007 or so and along the way, we acquired a WWII era industrial sewing machine for bag making. One of the first messenger bags she made is one she secretly made for me with the design from one of my tattoos. I got started making bags when I decided to do the Tour Divide in ‘12. At the time bikepacking bags, from anyone, were nearly impossible to buy in Europe. Never one to take no for an answer, I found some X-Pac and other materials, made some designs of my own and then sewed up my bags. They made it through TDR, as did I. I realized that I really enjoyed making bags and that I’m pretty good at it so I’ve kept on making and selling bags ever since. There’s something really satisfying seeing the fruits of your labor at the end of the day as well as the joy of other people using something that you’ve crafted. What type of bags do you specialized in? Custom frame or half frame bags are pretty much the mainstay of SpoK Werks. Although, small bags get a lot of attention and recently, the Cookie Jar food bags are quickly becoming favorites of the customers. I never really thought that being able to choose your colors for a food bag would be quite so popular. What sets Spok Werks apart from other bike bag companies? Hmmm, that’s something I ponder occasionally. Maybe that SpoK Werks is seemingly, moving in more of a ‘custom’/bespoked direction. I make the bags as people order them and given that I now have a regular flow of orders, I don’t have time to build up a stock of bags to sell. Granted, that’s a good problem to have in the realm of problems. Also, I have an engineering background that meshes with my slightly anal nature and a slight tendency toward never being content to say enough with my bags or their design & construction, thus, I’m always working to make them better. In 2012 you finished the Tour Divide, briefly describe your experience. AMAZING and enlightening! I never imagined it would start out being so difficult but then become ‘normal’ to ride so much every day with so much elevation all compounded by being on a singlespeed as well as being my first ever bikepacking trip. The people scared me more than the bears or the wolves (all of which I had some experiences with). A weird thing, I never realized there were so many people with German names in the U.S. (I learned this by reading peoples names on their mailboxes on one whole day). Given that I was living in Germany at the time, it was fun to talk about with my students. How difficult was this years Highlands Trail 550? It seems like it is a very difficult course, especially when it is wet? The ‘roads’ deteriorate to baby head size rocks in many places, that combined with peat bogs and continual rain made my two days on the HT550 pretty rough. In the end, I got really sick and went home to spend almost 1.5 weeks in bed. However, I’m trying to figure how to go back and do the whole thing again. I’ve never quit a bikepacking race before. Frankly, the peat bog was one of the worst experiences ‘off the bike’ I’ve ever dealt with as it was so frustrating to push my bike for 3 hours on flat ground or downhill grades. How is the riding in Europe? What is your all-time favorite European country for bikepacking? Oddly, Scotland seems to have the scenery and friendliness nailed. At the end of next week I can fill you in on how it is crossing the Alps from lower Germany (close to where EuroBike is) across the narrow part of Austria and down to Lake Garda in Italy. We’re bikepacking it and I’m really looking forward to it. What bike are you using currently? Edelbikes 29+, Retrotec Triple singlespeed, Independent Fabrications Ti Deluxe 29’er and Casati Laser roadie. Do you have any upcoming adventures planned? I’m leaving in a couple of days for the aforementioned Alpencross from Oberstdorf, Germany to Lake Garda, Italy. We’re bikepacking it so we can sleep and eat where we choose but also gives us the freedom to stay in the awesome Alpen Huts that are along the route. A second shot at the HT550 might happen in early Oct. or early next year and the Tuscany Trail bikepacking race in ‘15. When I go, it’ll be an ITT. The Grenzstein Trophy and the TDR keep calling for me to make a second run as well. There’s a race in Eastern Europe called the 1000 Miles Race that I’ve got my sights on. It would be a potentially huge challenge as I don’t speak any of the languages that it travels through. The future for SpoK Werks? I’d like to grow SpoK Werks to where we could actually break even and eventually make a little money from it. That’s probably going to take us raising prices on bags a bit but still keeping the work coming in. Also, figuring out a way to sell enough bags to justify ordering the massive amounts of fabric & accessories that companies require you order when you order wholesale. Additionally, I’ll keep coming up with new and/or refined designs (i.e. the Tramp Stamp seat bag is about to be redesigned as there are some things I want to improve upon). Beyond that, we just love seeing our gear being used and loved.