In 2015 I befriended Nicholas Carman who had a blog Gypsy by Trade. I loved reading about his bikepacking travels and offered to make him a frame. I could tell he had an interest in custom framebuilding and would be a great ambassador for Meriwether at a time when i was starting out.
I offered him this because I knew he would test out the bike and give me the exposure I couldn’t get on my own, a product tester basically. At first he wanted to come help make the frame having an interest in making his own frame, but in the end he decided that was for another time and I just built what we had come up with over email.
The initial design was based on the Surly Krampus he was riding. He wanted it to be a little slacker in the head tube, shorter in the chainstays, and a little longer top tube. It would need to fit 3” tires for desert sand riding (the yet to be created Baja Divide) so we chose to use Paragon sliding dropouts so a 2.4 would fit with the sliders forward and a 27.5×3 would fit with them slid back.
One interesting new feature Nick wanted on this bike was a portage handle, something I’d never seen before on a bike. Nick was riding cross-country and stopped by the American Cycling Association (ACA) in Missoula, Montana and noticed a touring bike hanging on the wall that was built by a local Missoula framebuilder named Sam Braxton. Nick told me that he was getting a tour of ACA and was shown “…a mid-80’s ATB with custom front and rear racks. It had a strange tube in the rear triangle and (he) asked me what I thought it was for. I guess it was structural, for strength. And then he simply described it was for carrying one’s bicycle. At the time, I’d not done much bike-carrying, but in the next few years as my unpaved adventures evolved, bike-carrying became routine. And then i designed a bike for myself…and it necessarily had a portage handle.”
Check out the ACA Braxton bike a reader found on Flickr!
With front and rear loaded racks you can imagine how useful a handle would be to help pick up the bike that is lower than the top tube. In the 80’s many mountain bikes had a Jandd Sling n Pack bag in the main triangle to be able to comfortably shoulder the bike. It’s an indication how the bikes were ridden was back then — mountain bikes were carried pretty often since trails were not built for bikes and we were riding fully rigid frames and forks with huge front triangles. Similar in function, Sam must have seen the advantage for picking the bike up and over logs and up or down steep rocky trail sections with the addition of this little tube on the frame.
The pink frame in the photo below is Nick’s frame with (I think) the first portage handle since Braxton’s bikes. The second handle was put on his purple fatbike. It didn’t catch on for my customers but seemed like some bikepackers really liked the idea. Skyler’s Daambuilt was the second one i saw, and Corvid recently made two frames with the first Titanium portage handle that I’m aware of. Waltworks has made at least one I know of here. I just saw Tyler fillet brazed two handles on an amazing BTCHN frame. (There are more since 2021 but I haven’t kept track.)
They’ve been called Portage Handles up till now but seems like Sam Braxton should be honored in some way. So how about calling it the Braxton portage handle? Or the Braxton handle? If anyone has a photo of a Braxton frame with a handle please send along as i’d like to post it on this blog. Also, if Sam wasn’t the first to put a handle on a bike frame I’d like to know and get the history right. For now, go read about the late Sam Braxton, his shop, and custom built touring bikes with integrated racks. You’ll notice in the link how the rear rack is attached to the seat tube on both sides creating a two handles. Was this the initial inspiration for the single handle Nick saw on that 80’s MTB at the ACA? We’ll never know but I’d like to thank Sam for creating a seemingly insignificant thing that makes a great addition to the touring bicycle.