Mariska is one multi-talented cyclophile – when she is not organising cycle tours for women, she is making bike bags through her company Pieta Designs! I recently caught up with her and asked her to share some insights into her work and her love for all things bicycle…
To begin, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I run a company with my sister, Nerise, called Safari Susters where we organise tours for women. We had this idea that we wanted to get more women feeling confident in the outdoors, whether they are hiking, biking, camping or kayaking. I also own and run Pieta Designs where I make custom and production bikepacking and hiking bags.
You might say I have a bicycle obsession. For me, a true gem is finding an old steel frame and restoring it to its full glory. In my garage (or shall I say spare room) is a classic step through single speed, a 1980’s Peter Allan with its original 105 groupset, a dual suspension, a road bike and a gravel bike!
Can you tell us about what inspired you to start Pieta Designs?
When Nerise and I got gravel bikes we soon realised the amazing micro adventures one can go on with them. We love our freshly made coffee in the outdoors, so we have quite a stash when we want to make a cup. Grinder, beans, hiking stove and gas bottle, Bialetti, and mini blikbekers… I said to her we need to get a frame bag to put all this in! My mom in law had a 1980 Empisal, so I asked her if I can borrow it. I looked at a frame bag picture on the internet, bought some canvas fabric, thick needle and thread and there I sat in front of the machine!
So a bit of history, my great grandmother on my mom’s side was a legendary seamstress. She made clothes as a profession, even for the likes of John Orrs and the famous boxer Gerrie Coetzee! She had one of those poppe [dolls] to tailor the clothes on which we found fascinating as little girls. Her name was Ouma Pieta. She would let Nerise and I sit under the big dining table where she would sew and make us press the foot when she was ready. Much to our delight! This was before kids had cell phones haha!
I figured maybe I have some of her genes? I had to figure out how to make all the flat pieces of fabric into a 3D object! This is always the most fun part for me, as I am more practical minded it comes naturally to me. And my very first frame bag was produced! It came out pretty cool and everyone (including me) was surprised! The seed was planted, I wanted to start a small bikepacking bag making business.
Can you share a bit more about the bag design / manufacturing process?
Much of my research starts from Instagram. There are so many cool bag makers out there and the so called cottage industry (small business bag makers) has really sprouted. Generally, I’ll start with a sketch from either a photo I saw or an idea that I have on my own bike, I mean there’s not really anything new under the sun but one can still personalize it to a degree. I think also the technical details one adds to a bag makes the difference. For instance I use a lot of high density foam inserts between the fabric layers, this helps the bags to keep their shape on the bike as well as protect the stuff you put inside the bag.
I would then work out measurements of what I think could work on a bike, add external and internal details such as daisy chains, zips etc. And then I start to cut the fabric! This can be tedious and I work in our spare room currently so my space is quite small… From there I move to my machine (not the Empisal aka Empisukkel anymore). I got a very nice industrial machine made for heavy fabrics and even leather. It’s a dream to work with. I also have done a lot of research in different fabrics and have sourced good quality Cordura nylon which is very strong and water repellent. Generally I’ll make between 3 and 5 prototypes before I’m happy to sell it. Family and friends get all the rejects!
What’s the most popular bag that you’ve made or do you have a personal favourite?
To date the Hip Pack has been most popular with the Top Tube bag right behind it. I think the Hip Pack appeals to both cyclists and hikers. My personal favourite that I’ve made is the Saddlebag with a roll top closure. It’s taken me a while to think about how I’m going to design the pattern and then how to put it together that it will stay in place even when it’s fully loaded and you’re gunning down a single track. I must say I’m pretty happy with how it has turned out!
How did you get into cycling?
Golly, I can’t remember a time without a bike. We started on the farm with my dad taking off one of the small wieletjies and then you quickly progress to no small wheels. I bought my first “serious” mountain bike after school. It was a very heavy 26” Schwinn hardtail and I took it down the old canary single track in Jonkershoek and thought this is one of the best things I’ve done! I was hooked.
Do you have a favourite bike that you ride?
Yes, I will definitely have to say my gravel bike – it’s very versatile! I’ve taken it down some pretty gnarly single track and it doesn’t feel like a slog when you hit the tar.
What has been your greatest cycling experience or adventure?
My husband and I took our mountain bikes to Scotland one year. We rented a car from Heathrow and drove up to Scotland stopping at amazing wild places to explore with our bikes. On the Isle of Skye, we went up the Quiraing mountain with the bikes, some magazine said one could, it must’ve been a wild Scotsman because there were only hikers up there and they looked at us as if we were mad! And we had heavy hardtails (my husband inherited the Schwinn haha!). This was before Instagram and there were no crowds, it was misty but then opened up as we were on top, the view was truly epic!
What are your dreams for the future of Pieta Designs? Is there anything else you want our readers to know?
I would like Pieta Designs to become a well-known brand in South Africa for all things bikepacking. We have such amazing backroads here, especially in the Western Cape, and there are a myriad of epic bikepacking adventures to be had. Instead of importing bikepacking bags, which are expensive, I’d much rather want us to support local small businesses and grow our own scene here. I recently did the intro brazing course with Dave Mercer from Mercer Bikes and I’d love to also start a boutique steel frame business where I can build custom bikes for the discerning rider and kit them out completely with bags for those micro or epic adventures alike!
A Safari Suster bike hub is in the pipeline for later in the year, in Wilderness. Where we invite you to stop with your bike and have a coffee and talk all things bike and nerd out on what’s happening in the biking world.
Women bikepacking and bike slugpacking trips are also in the making so keep an eye out on our social platforms. Thank you for the interview and exposure.
Meet Mariska, the maker behind the cool, new bike-bag brand, Pieta Designs.
Win two tickets to this year’s Bicycle Film Festival – Cape Town!
Win an Enjoy ProXision kit (bib shorts and jersey) in our latest Gear Giveaway. Find out how to enter here…