Biking in Blaq

Laura Lofgren

Blaq Design Limited creates a variety of bags for local bikers

Aaron Painter (left) and Paul Johnson (center), both former Kent State students, sit with Kent State graduate student Jeremy Neal in their home in Kent with bags they have designed. Depending on size, the bags range in price from $35-$155. Cailtin Sirse |

Credit: DKS Editors

Sitting back behind the Twin Star Lanes in Kent resides a large white house inhabited by cats, a spunky dog named Duke and a group of local bicyclists. The workspace for Blaq Design Limited sits there, nestled inside the residence.

The hardwood floors are covered with bags and papers that have been dispersed at random. A sewing machine sits in one corner, a screen-printer in another. A tapestry hangs overhead while posters, sculptures and a few beer cans line the walls. The guys of Blaq use the space as both a home and work station.

“It’s hard to run a business out of the same house,” co-founder Aaron Painter said.

With the increasing emergence of bicyclists in Kent, the businessmen of Blaq Design Limited took the opportunity to reach out to the city and create a local bicycle bag company.

Blaq began with brothers Jon and Jeremy Neal, along with friends Paul Johnson and Painter. The group’s shared love of bicycling led the young entrepreneurs to start building bikes under the “running name” of Gonzo in 2007, but they soon shifted to making bicycle bags for the riders in the surrounding community.

One element that differentiates its bikes from competitors’ is the use of bamboo, which, Painter said, didn’t work out too well.

“It takes awhile for the bamboo to age and become durable,” Painter said. “It’s very difficult to work with.”

While Gonzo has taken a backseat to Blaq, Jeremy said the team will begin work on bamboo and carbon fiber bike frames within the next year, but for now, their focus remains on courier bags and accessories.

Boasting eco-friendliness, Blaq Design Limited uses recycled seatbelt buckles they find in junkyards, as well as seatbelt webbing and other material that could be of potential use.

Johnson said 1,000 denier cordura, which is used by the army for fatigues, is the fabric of choice for the outside of the bags.

Truck tarp is used on the inside to create a “floating liner,” which makes the bags double-waterproof and eliminates seams. Both fabrics create a strong, durable bag that ensures longevity.

Blaq also uses compression straps that easily adjust, so there’s no movement from the bag.

“It hugs your body well and helps distributes weight well,” Jeremy said.

Jeremy said Blaq has received one complaint from a woman in regards to wanting the chest straps on some of the bags higher.

Aside from comfort, Blaq strives for creativity with its bags. Using a vinyl plotter, the guys are able to make custom artwork that can be screenprinted onto the front of the bags.

“The vinyl plotter is used to cut stickers, too,” Johnson said.

Within the next few weeks, Blaq’s Web site,, will have a feature for potential customers to upload their own designs for the bags they want. Blaq can then take the design and tweak it to make it fit on the bag.

A variety of fabric and string colors are available to create a customized bag to suit any personality. Black, burgundy and royal blue are a few to choose from, with more colors on the way.

Additional pockets, dividers, padded areas and secret pockets are attainable at additional costs, Jeremy and Johnson said. Potential customers can also choose what shoulder orientation, left or right, they want for their new bag.

Like any company, there are a few hang-ups Blaq Design Limited faces.

One of the toughest parts of starting up the company, Painter and Johnson said, was putting all their own money into it.

“We’ve invested $10,000 of our own money,” Johnson said.

Not using loans, the guys “bootstrap” everything and put in a lot of time into the syndicate, hoping for recognition and sales through their own means.

Other than the fact that Blaq Design Limited is a business, the guys said it is not all work.

“My favorite part is the whole process,” Johnson said. “Doing events, meeting people, alley cat (bike race challenges). It’s all fun.”

Ultimately, Blaq Design Limited wants to expand outside of the Kent area.

Johnson said there’s a two-year goal to move out west, but in the meantime, they will be looking for a bigger place to work and grow.

“It’s a lifestyle goal; we want to work and play at our own pace,” he said. “We want to expand in other markets.”

Sponsoring events and donating bags to races is next in line for Blaq, along with expanding the workspace, updating the Web site and producing bigger and better bags.

“We want to make the best stuff we can,” Johnson said.

The summer holds a plethora of opportunities for the family at Blaq – with nice bike weather on the way, alley cat races and plenty of vegetarian potluck dinners to be sponsored.

Contact features reporter Laura Lofgren at [email protected].