After years spent working in the cycling industry, Ian Hughes decided it was time to channel his knowledge and experience of distributing brands into developing his own. Together with son Trevor, the pair launched Vielo in 2017 with a shared desire to place honesty and integrity at the forefront of their conversations with customers.
First with a gravel offering before following up with road, what connects both bike models is the absence of a front derailleur—a dedicated 1x set-up that pairs the range of 12 and 13-speed group sets with a boutique approach to frame design that negates a requirement for two chainrings.
A conversation between Ian and CHPT3 founder David Millar added the next intriguing twist to the Vielo story with a limited-run of the V+1 gravel frame paired with mechanical Campagnolo and a unique paint design—a collaboration described here in their own words and culminating in three magical days of photography and film set against a backdrop of Girona’s finest gravel trails.
Ian I knew David from back in my Scott days when he was riding the pro tour. He went off and did his thing with CHPT3 and I worked on launching Vielo. I’d heard that David was in London doing a commentary for ITV4 and I suggested we meet up so I could show him what we were doing with our bikes. He explained how he was looking to do a collaboration with a UK-based bike company to complement a dirt range of their apparel and this led us to discuss ideas for a gravel bike based on the V+1.
David When I first saw the bikes, I just fell in love with the concept. Both Ian and Trevor come from mountain biking and they were approaching gravel from this point of view rather than a road cycling perspective.
I can appreciate steel bikes – Speedvagen and all that super hipster shit – but at heart I’m a pro bike racer and I like hardcore performance. And Vielo bikes are super edgy, multi-purpose and carbon.
So we began talking over the idea of CHPT3 doing a gravel bike—how it should be beautiful, fast and well-engineered. A stunning design with some mountain bike heritage but also doffing its cap to road. Once we had these founding principles agreed, we then thought about how we could give these beautifully engineered machines some personality.
Ian We knew that Campagnolo were bringing out their 13-speed Ekar group set. And when it came to the CHPT3 bike, that had a nice link because David used to ride with Campag back in his pro tour days.
David I got into bikes from BMXing in the 1980s and then mountain biking in the 90s. Michael Barry and I used to ride gravel around Girona on our race bikes. So we kind of hid a chuckle when gravel became a thing because we’d always done that.
We have three categories in our CHPT3 range: road, dirt and street. Road’s fast, dirt’s all purpose – it’s adventure, discovery, getting lost and then found – and street is flow and elegance. Fashion almost. But dirt is the one that’s most versatile and allows you to cross over between disciplines. You can’t go street to road or road to street. Put all this into a Venn diagram and dirt is the meeting point. The crazy place. A little bit fuck you.
So with Vielo, I was choosing a bike that fitted my style of dirt riding. And Campagnolo just made absolute sense. It’s the most mechanical thing that exists in cycling—a sense of realness, super tactile and you can feel the gear shift. And with the paint job, it was a case of just making every single bike individual. They look smart when they’re dirty and dirty when they’re smart.
Ian We got this excited call from David after he’d visited his painter Eduard. They’d used the colour palette from the CHPT3 Dirt collection – sprayed randomly over the frame followed by a layer of black – and then Eduard was hand-sanding this outer coating to reveal the colours underneath. And the beauty of this paint scheme is that every bike is unique and we’re strictly limiting them to a run of 50.
David This bike is very much grounded in Girona. I’ve been here for years and I see other peoples’ bikes and the trends that come and go. And the paint was my cheeky little rebellion against all of that. Anti-fashion, in a way. And then when you go and ride it; holy cow, it’s just incredible.
Ian As a brand, we needed to do a ride photoshoot. Normally we would choose a UK location but Antonio who looks after all our graphic stuff suggested that we really ought to do this in Spain. After deciding on Girona because David is based there, we began drawing up a wish list of who we wanted to take with us and I’m looking at the numbers and thinking OMG. But both Trevor and I could see how it just made total sense and we set the wheels in motion.
We’d rented this lovely farmhouse so the whole crew could stay together. When we first arrived, a deadpan Chris [Auld] – after years of mixed experiences with accommodation on shoots – immediately commented that it was another shit place booked by the client. Our videographer Chad was loving it, as were Antonio and Claire from the agency The Traveller and the Bear. I’d already made the decision to step back and let them work their magic with the direction of the shoot and I loved the moments when both Chris and Chad showed us some of the content and I could see the excitement in their eyes.
Each evening we’d go back to the farmhouse, share some food and talk over the day—random things like Antonio getting his drone stuck up a tree and it taking us so long trying to retrieve it that the local police turned up to ask what we were doing.
David CHPT3 is a soft goods company – we make what people wear – so we normally partner with companies that legitimise our decision to also make hardware. One of the ways we do this is to work with partners that are super authentic and, for me, Vielo absolutely nails that brief. I love what Ian and Trevor are doing so much—it’s a proper collaboration. A mutual appreciation society.
Calm and relaxed despite the upheaval of cardboard packing boxes in the Café du Cycliste headquarters, Rémi Clermont is looking forward to joining his friends for a gravel ride. Taking time out from organising an office move, the co-founder of the French Riviera-based cycle clothing company reflects on a decade of designing, why he’s more than happy to have a hood on his cycling jersey and how the brand’s lifestyle spirit reflects the way we ride our bikes.
cyclespeak So how’s your day going?
Rémi I’ve been busy sorting out our office move. Here in Nice we have the café on the port – the best place in the world – with our headquarters only 500 metres away. But this is the last month we’ll be spending in this office because we’re moving. Our team is growing and we’ve outsourced our logistics. Until very recently we were shipping everything ourselves so we were surrounded by boxes. This operation has now moved to the north of France and freed us up to find a nicer office that reflects our needs over the coming years.
cyclespeak Not to dwell too much on the past but when your cycling friend and work colleague Andre Stewart quit his job to open a café in a small village to the west of Nice, it took another two years before you also left the company to join him.
Rémi Andre was the boss of the IT company I was working for. Network security. But when you start working in a new job, you don’t often get to talk to the boss except if you cycle and the boss also cycles. And in this situation, the barriers between boss and stagiaire are not insurmountable [smiles].
cyclespeak So you became friends through riding.
Rémi That’s right. And when Andre quit, I had no real plans to leave the company. It was hard work and very fast paced but I liked the job, the salary was good and you could go to the office in flip-flops and shorts. But then my direct boss changed and everything changed with it. That was the point at which I decided to leave and the thought just came to me that I could join Andre at his Café du Cycliste and do the clothing. So no real plan—just a series of unrelated circumstances.
cyclespeak Before launching your first range of cycle wear, I’ve read that you visited a host of trade shows and asked millions of questions. In hindsight, are there any questions you now wish you’d asked?
Rémi I’m still learning every day but there’s nothing I discovered later that I thought, shit, if I’d only known that at the beginning. But the one thing I didn’t realise – maybe fortuitously – was the time scale of what I was getting into. I was 35 and changing careers to get closer to my childhood pastimes of kayaking and mountain biking. And when you start something new, it has its challenges and difficulties which requires time and effort. And it took at least four or five years until I understood the complexities of structuring the company and the need to hire the right people instead of me doing everything. And that’s also when I finally acknowledged that it would take the same amount of time to see the project to a point where it was commercially viable. So not knowing all this at the start was possibly a good thing or I might have decided to stay in IT [laughs].
cyclespeak But then we wouldn’t have your Café du Cycliste designs.
Rémi What I enjoy about cycling apparel is that whatever you like, you can probably find it. Whether that’s big flashy pineapples on your jersey or something much simpler. When we started, that wasn’t so much the case. You had the race and performance focused brands and there was Rapha with their classic, understated aesthetic.
cyclespeak But you feel times have changed?
Rémi The hardcore cyclist still exists who thinks a jersey should be pure racing in the spirit of past decades and anything else is a fashion brand. But the fact that we’re doing things quite differently today is not so much of an issue because a technical jersey is still technical even when it’s presented with a certain design spirit. It’s not a contradiction [smiles].
cyclespeak So you’re not afraid to challenge design conventions?
Rémi What I love about cycling is that everyone has their own opinion and their own reason for riding a bike. Which is as it should be.
cyclespeak Even the hardcore cyclists [smiles]?
Rémi In the beginning of Café du Cycliste I would send my Dad a lot of our products. And I would call my Mum at the weekend and ask if he was wearing them. And she’d tell me that he was out riding with his club mates and wearing Assos.
cyclespeak I like that you called your Mum.
Rémi But clearly the market in cycling has shifted over the past decade because now it’s totally the opposite and my Dad is wearing our products and all his friends are asking him for discount codes. And my Dad and his friends are nearly all in their 70s—possibly the hardest customers to convince. So when they change their minds about what it takes to look cool on a bike, then things are really moving forward.
cyclespeak Have they changed or has your brand changed?
Rémi They’ve changed. And the interesting question is why? You take my Dad—in the past he would only ride road but then he bought a gravel bike and now he’s also got a mountain bike. So his attitude towards cycling and his vision of what it means to ride a bike has clearly altered. And I’ve also noticed that when you’re getting to know someone they might tell you they’re a cyclist in the same breath they mention how they teach in a school or work in a factory.
cyclespeak What was once a hobby is now a lifestyle?
Rémi It’s the same in surfing, skateboarding. In mountaineering.
cyclespeak If this is the case, who would you say are your customers?
Rémi Geographically, they are truly international—we sell less than 10% of our product in France. And the American continent, the Far East and northern Europe are particularly important markets. Perhaps even more interesting is that we sell 30% to women.
cyclespeak So how do all these different markets determine your design decisions?
Rémi To be honest, for the first ten years I’ve been designing for myself and the essence of that approach hasn’t fundamentally changed. The brand was born with the vision I have of cycling—there’s no real secret. What I like in life and what I like in cycling—clearly you can see in Café du Cycliste. And I’m an outdoor person – I come from a background of kayaking and mountain biking – so all of these different aspects feed into what the brand represents.
cyclespeak You mentioned expanding the team?
Rémi Until very recently I was the only person designing the products – a very simple way of working – but we are now building a design team and a marketing team. And what’s important is that everyone understands who we are and where we’re going. It’s not rocket science—it’s the DNA of the brand. But this process is made easier because we all spend time together riding.
cyclespeak Where do you look for inspiration before sitting down to design a collection?
Rémi Most of the time it’s anywhere but cycling. For the technical aspects we need to understand how a product will work on the bike but there’s a million reasons that people choose to cycle and those reasons need to be translated into our clothing. So we might look at a vintage tracksuit from a certain period and then use this as inspiration for a small collection that captures the same spirit. And from the very start, we’ve used the Breton stripe in our designs. Being French, being by the sea, it works very well.
cyclespeak This might be a difficult question to answer but do you have a favourite Café du Cycliste product?
Rémi I think it’s the gravel hoody. For me, this is a product that says it all. People might question why the hell we put a hood on a cycling jersey—it’s going to catch the wind after all. But who’s riding so fast they need to worry about the second or two they might lose not being aero? And having the comfort of a hood – off the bike or under your helmet – represents our move to a different vision of cycling.
cyclespeak Is it stressful or a rewarding process to continually reinvent your collection?
Rémi Sometimes I do question whether it will be a problem one day. For the moment it’s really fun and the reality is we’re not a fashion brand with the requirement to deliver a completely new collection every spring and autumn. I see no point in reinventing everything, every year, for the sake of it. We’ve now reached a balance with a few new products and a good chunk of the collection being carried over.
cyclespeak In 2015 you moved into a new café location in Nice. A former art gallery. How do you feel when you walk through the door?
Rémi In many ways a brand is intangible, so having the café allows our customers to touch our concept of cycling. It’s the flesh on the bones so to speak. So I feel proud and because I still ride all the time, I enjoy experiencing the atmosphere of cyclists going out to ride and coming back happy.
cyclespeak It sounds to me that you value this interaction?
Rémi I live on the opposite side of the port to the café and I love to call in for a quick coffee before I go out for a ride. I might have a little conversation with a customer or bump into someone I know. The café breathes a love of cycling in a sense that’s separate and distinct from the business side of the company. Anyone who runs a business on a daily basis has a certain degree of stress but the part of my professional life that is always cool is when I spend some time in the café.
cyclespeak Quite a few times you’ve mentioned people. Is community an important aspect of your brand?
Rémi I suppose it’s the reason many of us cycle—not just to push the pedals. But it’s also something of a challenge because although we have our cafés in Nice and Mallorca – London is more of a retail destination – up to 85% of our sales are made online.
cyclespeak Can I respectfully disagree? Because the way you frame your web content – the photography, the journal stories – I think it is possible to build a community remotely. Surely if any aspect of the media you create inspires an individual to go out and ride, then there’s a connection being made. This might be at a physical distance but it still suggests a relationship with your brand and what you stand for?
Rémi All of the articles that we do, they only exist because we do them with people. So I suppose, in a sense, you are right. And I hope more people ride because they’ve been inspired by something they’ve seen or read, than to know how many watts they can push. Which can be fun in itself but, for me, is not the reason I ride [smiles].
cyclespeak Does the reason you ride include gravel? Because you have an online guide for routes out of Nice.
Rémi When the concept of gravel riding was first conceived, I spoke to Victoire* and they built a custom steel gravel bike for myself and my Dad. At the back of his bike the bridge between the seat stays has a dash and mine has the opposite so when you put the two bikes together they make a V for Victoire. But to be honest, this style of riding wasn’t new to me. When I was a kid I rode a mountain bike because road cycling was so uncool. And then, when I saw people riding gravel bikes, I immediately wanted to ride that way too.
*A French bespoke bicycle brand
cyclespeak And the way people are riding is reflected in your products?
Rémi When we started Café du Cycliste, road was so far away from mountain biking and bike packing was so far away from road. If you toured by bike you were a loser. If you were a mountain biker you were the enemy. But now? Everything is coming together and we see a lot of people using our gravel collection on the road. Why not? It’s only in your head that you have to wear a certain type of jersey to climb Col d’Eze. So for us, we love riding gravel but we also love the free spirit it brings to how we choose to cycle.
cyclespeak When you aren’t riding, is there a typical work day for Rémi Clermont?
Rémi I still touch base with a lot of elements in the company so every day is different. And very busy [laughs]. I do focus a lot on product design and development—probably 50% of my time. Then there’s the brand and what we do and who we are. And of course we mustn’t forget the office move [laughs]. But ultimately, there’s nothing that makes me happier than finalising a new product. From a cool design on paper to constructing a prototype—and to loving the prototype so much that you want to keep wearing it. That’s what makes my day.
cyclespeak Speaking of these processes that you love, what most excites you about the future of Café du Cycliste?
Rémi A slight movement away from being purely a cycling clothing provider. That’s what’s exciting—a shift towards more of a lifestyle spirit. I believe that it’s better for everyone – for our health and wellbeing – to view cycling as more than just a sport. And hopefully better for us as a brand [smiles].
cyclespeak For me, a good day is when I can ride. And performance is great but there’s so many other facets of riding a bike.
Rémi I know road cyclists that look in envy at the person taking their kids to school by cargo bike. And it’s good to see more bike shops and cycle cafés opening up—even though from a business perspective it would make sense if we were the only one [laughs].
cyclespeak There’s now more competition?
Rémi At the beginning I thought, shit, there’s another and another. But at the end of the day, if people are getting out on their bikes rather than driving their cars, then we all get to benefit.
cyclespeak Talking about getting out on a bike, when is your next ride?
Rémi I’m actually going gravel riding tomorrow morning but I’ve absolutely no idea what my friend Stefan has planned for me. He regularly models for us – the guy with the big moustache – and all I’ve been told is we’re meeting at 9:00am at his house. But I do know it will be fun [laughs].
Constantly on the move – camera in hand – from one project to the next, when photographer and filmmaker Sami Sauri decided to commit 100% to her own production company, little did she know what a whirlwind year she would enjoy.
Reflecting on this period of transition in her usual candid manner, Sami considers life’s simple pleasures, why storytelling underpins her way of working and how failure can be a mechanism for growth.
cyclespeak You’re just back from shooting in Austria. It looked fantastic.
Sami It was for next year’s Jack Wolfskin spring / summer range.
cyclespeak But it was snowing.
Sami I know [laughs]. They chose Austria for the location – which was very nice – but maybe next time we can go to the Canaries? Because the first day it just rained and nobody wanted to wear shorts [laughs].
cyclespeak Did you expect to be above the snowline?
Sami No. Not at all. I’d packed a rain jacket but I was wearing normal shoes. And the main story behind the women’s campaign was a hike to a hut at 2100 metres and then down the other side. We were going to spend the night at this altitude – the story was amazing – and the whole crew was female. I turned down two projects just so I could do this shoot.
cyclespeak But the weather wasn’t helping?
Sami We had a mountain guide with us and she advised us to postpone for a couple of days. But when we did finally start to climb, on the first ridge we had snow. But I wasn’t going to stop there—this story wouldn’t make sense if we hadn’t got to the hut [laughs].
cyclespeak So it all worked out in the end?
Sami For me, I had a wonderful experience—I love those kinds of adventures.
cyclespeak The last time we caught up, you were listing all your various mishaps. Your foot had been in a plastic boot and you later tore some ligaments when you were out trail running. How’s the summer been in terms of staying in one piece?
Sami I’ve probably done less this summer than for the last five years. Not because of my foot but I’ve had so much work that I couldn’t find the time for intense bike trips. But I have started running again and trying new sports like motocross.
cyclespeak Your road to recovery after injuring your foot brought to mind the issues you had with knee pain during the Route 66 and Big Land films.
Sami The knee pain comes from riding fixed gear. You can’t help falling and it always seems to be on the same side. And I find it interesting that you get used to sleeping in a position that’s comfortable for your hip and your knee—your body quickly adapts to what feels best.
cyclespeak So it’s something that you can now manage?
Sami I feel that everything comes for a reason and when I started physio, I discovered that I’d been riding all those years and not using my glutes. There was very little muscle and this was the main reason my knee was hurting. So I now realise that I need to exercise in different ways to help relieve the pain—using bands or a simple 20 minute yoga session every morning to activate my body.
cyclespeak So that’s your morning routine sorted?
Sami I’m somebody who finds it very difficult to have constant things in their life [laughs].
cyclespeak That doesn’t fit well with your personality?
Sami It’s more my lifestyle right now. So busy and always on the move.
cyclespeak Is racing the fixed gear scene something you miss?
Sami I definitely miss that sense of community. And I’ve realised that I’m quite competitive. Which is why I often ride alone because nobody is watching and I can go as fast or as slow as I like and really enjoy it. When I go out with friends, I find myself looking back and wondering where they are [laughs].
cyclespeak I saw a recent post where you were riding near Girona and someone had a bloodied knee?
Sami The mountain bike ride? When I put my friends through hell [laughs].
cyclespeak That’s the one.
Sami I felt so sorry for them. I convinced these two girls – one of them is my physio – that we should take out our mountain bikes and just do some easy, smooth trails. Well, oh my god, we had some proper gnarly downhill stuff [laughs].
cyclespeak When you aren’t shredding local trails, you spend a fair proportion of your time on the road filming. What do you miss most about home when you’re away?
Sami I do miss my own cooking. Every time I come back home, the first thing I do is make a plate of my pasta. Maybe this comes from my childhood but I need that plate of pasta.
cyclespeak Do you have a particular recipe?
Sami Parmesan, olive oil and salt. That’s it. I don’t need anything else to make me happy. And I might put on some vinyl and turn up the volume [smiles].
cyclespeak Simple pleasures.
Sami But after three days, I’m already looking forward to the next adventure [laughs].
cyclespeak From the moment you receive a phone call or a message, how fast can you be packed and out of the door?
Sami It doesn’t take me long. 30 minutes?
Sami I pretty much know what I want and what I need—and I don’t need much. But I do always take a pair of cycling shorts because no matter where you are, you might get a ride [laughs].
cyclespeak You sound very organised?
Sami Before, everything was super tight with the packing and arriving at the airport. Massive stress [laughs]. Now, I pack two days before I’m due to leave and arrive at the airport at least two hours before my flight—something I never used to do. And when I get to the airport, I’ve figured out a good spot for breakfast, where I can work. And it means I don’t arrive sweating [laughs].
cyclespeak What would you tell someone just starting out taking photographs or trying their hand at film making?
Sami I do get messages about that—people wanting to change their lives. For me, I was just handed a camera and told to shoot. And I said, ‘Shoot what [laughs]?’
cyclespeak That sounds like good advice.
Sami The first thing I always say to people is just go and do it. Do it, do it and keep on doing it. And fail and do it right and fail again and then see if you like it. You’ll never know when that will be – or whether you will or won’t – until you give it your all.
cyclespeak And where do you see yourself on that journey?
Sami I’ve still not completely figured out what’s my vibe. I didn’t think I’d like commercial photography but these last two shoots for big brands I’ve absolutely loved. They were wonderful clients in giving me free rein – I didn’t have a shot list – so it felt like they’d put their trust in me.
cyclespeak You enjoy an open brief?
Sami Yes. It’s like for a recent cycling collection I’ve just shot. Super commercial but I gave them this idea that we could rent a motorhome, go to the desert, camp out and ride bikes. Basically shooting on the go.
cyclespeak Personally speaking, how much is a sense of storytelling and narrative an important element to these projects?
Sami For me, it’s super important. For the brands, they don’t always ask for it but they all want it.
cyclespeak I love that.
Sami Right now, this storytelling style of shooting is mind blowing. Everybody’s doing it.
cyclespeak Whenever you’re pictured outside – walking, riding, running – very often you have a brilliant smile that lights up your face. And this made me think about a post from earlier this year when you referenced much darker thoughts and feelings.
Sami I’ve spent time on both sides. I’ve been the happiest person ever and the saddest. And I can think of certain people that wanted to drag me down the wrong path but I think that happens to a lot of people. And the only thing that got me through, was opening the door and going outside. Not necessarily to do sports but sometimes it was a matter of just being out in the fresh air. To find my true self, it’s never going to happen inside a house. I could stay inside – alone with my thoughts – and look at the same wall for a million hours and not feel any better. But if you go out and talk to somebody – your friend, your dog, your horse, even someone you don’t know – then this can make a real difference. It’s like a door that opens or stays closed.
cyclespeak I guess an open door lets in light? Which brings me to your recent collaboration with Megamo bikes—a custom Sami Sauri paint job for one of their full-suspension mountain bikes with a theme of ‘sunset’.
Sami I suddenly got this idea in my head about painting a sunset on a bike. To me, the best time of the day because I just love all that colour—not so much on me but definitely on a bike [laughs]. I’m good friends with Megamo and they’ve been super helpful over the past year. Just before I went to Egypt, one of the guys on the trip broke his frame in Barcelona by crashing when we were eating pizza. We got a bike from Megamo in under 12 hours so the trip could go ahead and all their generous help made me want to return the favour.
cyclespeak So what is it about sunsets that you love so much?
Sami I’d much rather ride in the evening. In the morning I’m very active mentally and in a creative mood and want to get things done. But when I finish for the day, I can go out and ride into the sunset – it sounds a little like a movie – and that acts as a reward or a pat on the back.
cyclespeak You’re always on the go – always busy – so how do you unwind?
Sami I’m not sure I do switch off [laughs]. Maybe when I sleep? And part of me thinks that if I stop, I might miss something [smiles].
cyclespeak I think that’s a state of mind a lot of people would recognise.
Sami But I have started reading again—time with no phone or screens. And that’s why I like going on holiday to somewhere simple that doesn’t take lots of decisions to enjoy. Somewhere I can surf or go hiking.
cyclespeak So do you prefer a 5 day, 5 week or 5 month plan for living your life?
Sami Hmmm. Fuck. It has to be 5 day because nothing ever goes to plan [laughs]. I can receive a call today and I’m leaving for somewhere else. It’s crazy!
cyclespeak There’s a post from earlier in the year where you write, ‘Do what you love and love what you do.’ Is that a fair description of how you’re currently living your life?
Sami It’s not like I’ve always known what path in life I will take. But then somebody handed me a camera to film, photograph and ride at the same time. So I’m grateful for those special people that I’ve known—the ones who after years still see you as you are.
It’s not been easy – there were times when I was working three jobs just to eat and put a roof over my head – but I’ve made it this far and I want to live every moment as if it was the last one.
Take even the most cursory glance at Lael Wilcox’s social media feed and the one constancy is her smile. Wide enough to crease the cheeks and crinkle the eyes, this ultra-distance racer and bikepacker exudes a love of riding bikes that proves infectious. To such an extent that hearing Lael enthusiastically describe her incredible exploits crossing countries and continents and you just can’t help smiling back.
But not every ride or race ends as Lael originally determined it might. And this year’s Tour Divide proved the exception to the rule in leaving tears rolling down her face as raging wildfires forced Lael to abandon her record attempt.
A few days after scratching from the Tour Divide, Lael sat down to talk about managing adversity, finding a sense of joy in the outdoors and how, ultimately, love makes every day feel special.
cyclespeak Can I start by asking how you are? I saw images of the smoke from the Tour Divide and it didn’t look good.
Lael I knew beforehand about the wildfires but it didn’t hit me until I was riding just how serious it would be as far as the air quality. It looked and felt like the apocalypse—the end of the world. So, yes, it was sad that I had to stop my ride. But getting into the thick of it, I realised that I simply couldn’t carry on. It was the only choice I could make.
cyclespeak I can only imagine how difficult it was to call it a day.
Lael More than that, it was just so depressing seeing these places ravaged by fires and the effect this is having on the communities that live there and the wildlife too.
cyclespeak Speaking of wildlife, I believe you bumped into a mountain lion?
Lael It was incredible. I’d always thought it was super rare to see them because they’re so hyper aware of people and other animals. And then coming up a climb, my bike lights reflected off this pair of eyes and I stopped, thinking it was a raccoon or something. But then I made out the outline of the mountain lion’s body and its tail.
cyclespeak So quite a surprise?
Lael It was midnight, I was already sleep-deprived and really motivated to get to this small town where I knew I could sleep in the church. So I’m thinking, oh dear, now what am I supposed to do?
cyclespeak And what did you decide?
Lael Not knowing how they usually behave, I weighed up whether it might attack me if I tried to get past. So I just stood still and started talking to it—trying to convey the idea that I wasn’t menacing by telling it I just wanted to get by. I could hear some other sounds which I think were its cubs and as I slowly began to move along the path, the mountain lion came out from the trees and was walking in front of me along the trail for 10 minutes or so before disappearing off into the bushes and leaving me to ride down the hill. But it didn’t end there. A little further on there was another animal on the trail in front of me and my bike light picked out this white stripe along its back. And I’m like, that’s a skunk and I’m going to get sprayed! Fortunately it darted off to one side but there’s me thinking, what next [laughs]?
cyclespeak All this excitement after a hard day’s riding.
Lael I finally got to the town but I didn’t know where the church was. I turned on my phone to look it up but of course there wasn’t any cell reception. Then I passed an old covered wagon – kind of a tourist town display – and I’m thinking I can always sleep in that but then I saw the church. I pushed my bike inside, it’s warm and there’s power outlets and a bathroom. What else do you need [smiles]?
cyclespeak I’m surprised you were able to unwind enough to sleep.
Lael After riding 170 miles that day, it was quite a night. But that’s what makes it exciting. So many unknowns and everyday is packed full of these obstacles that you quickly forget about because you’re so focused on getting where you’re going.
cyclespeak You already hold the women’s Tour Divide record* which you set in 2015. And on this attempt you were aiming to beat the overall record set by the late Mike Hall in 2016. For such a mammoth undertaking, is mental preparation just as important as the physical?
*Lael covered the 4,418 km in 15 days, 10 hours and 59 minutes.
Lael For me, the main thing is wrapping your head around the need to maintain a level of urgency for two weeks. Because when you get tired, are you going to have that drive to keep pushing forward? If the weather’s bad or you’re in pain – maybe you see a mountain lion [smiles] – all these different things can crack at you and potentially slow your progress.
cyclespeak So what’s the secret to maintaining your momentum?
Lael You just need to ride the best that you can through these moments until they pass—that’s the most important thing. In a sense, more important than speed. Speed plays into it but if you only ride 15 hours a day, realistically it doesn’t matter how fast you travel because you’re not going to have the record. It’s just not possible.
cyclespeak Your smile – on and off the bike – is so recognisably a part of your outward persona. And I was wondering whether the positivity that you radiate is a key to your success? Because I watched your film with Rapha that shows you racing this year’s Unbound Gravel XL – 358 self-supported miles that you covered in under 27 hours – and you never looked like you weren’t having fun.
Lael I definitely ride better and stronger if I feel good. And I feel good most of the time because I’m actually doing something I enjoy. Of course there are moments of hardship but, looking at the overall picture, even if it’s hard, even if it hurts, I’d still rather be there, trying to achieve my best result.
cyclespeak And it’s like you said, these issues rarely last forever?
Lael We all have negative thoughts—I’m not fast enough, strong enough, this isn’t working. But it doesn’t help you ride better. So I’ve learnt over time to just not get into that downward spiral of negativity. To find the positives in those moments until it starts to get better again.
cyclespeak I’m guessing it helps if you’re naturally positive. A glass half-full kind of person?
Lael I do think that’s my natural state when I’m moving outside. And I just extended that feeling to a 24 hour race and then a 2 week race. Still connecting to the same joy that comes from riding my bike.
cyclespeak That’s an interesting choice of word: joy.
Lael I feel that’s the greatest gift we have as humans—getting to experience places and cultures, terrain and weather. And for the most part, it’s all free. Which is why I find these wildfires so devastating because it steals that away from us.
cyclespeak As we’re speaking about positivity, can you talk me through your decision to scratch on the Tour Divide? How you manage these situations when circumstances are beyond your control?
Lael Scratching from this year’s Tour Divide definitely hit me hard. I felt I was doing well and even though there was a lot of smoke, it was manageable. But then it got to a point where it wasn’t. Crossing this one city of Butte in Montana, I was riding towards a massive wildfire – smoke and flames – and in that half an hour I could hear myself start to wheeze and feel my lungs labouring. At that moment, I did feel incredibly sad and started crying as I was riding my bike. Because I knew I had to stop and I just hate giving up. But as we’ve already talked about, part of this racing is overcoming barriers or challenges and sometimes it’s out of your hands.
cyclespeak Over the past year and a bit, we’ve witnessed a wave of individuals re-engaging with the outdoors—possibly prompted by a desire to stay local and enjoy the fresh air.
Lael I feel that’s one of the best outcomes from the pandemic. People realising that this is something they can do, that makes them feel better and helps them process the other, potentially hard aspects of their lives. And it doesn’t have to be riding the Tour Divide. It can be engaging with the outdoors in any way that’s real to them. Going just that little bit further than they’ve been before and how empowering that can feel.
cyclespeak For me, lockdown encouraged me to ride from my doorstep and rediscover my immediate environment.
Lael I went back to Alaska where I’m from. I’d done a project in 2017 where I cycled all the major roads—something like seven or eight thousand kilometres. Some of these routes were pretty remote and I saw animals and mountains and not a lot of people out there. But I did that alone and I’ve since thought how nice it would be to revisit this trip but make a film with my now-wife Rue. I’d told her about these places and she shoots photographs and video so that’s what we did.
cyclespeak Your relationship with riding started out as transport. You commuted to your job at a brewery when you were 20 and it went from there. So now, after all those years and thousands of kilometres, when you see a bike leaning up against a wall, how does it speak to you on an emotional level?
Lael I’ve never learned to drive a car and the bike is a huge upgrade in transportation from walking. Easier to carry equipment and it’s such a simple machine that you probably won’t break down. And it’s also part of our culture—you’re a kid, you learn how to ride a bike and that offers your first real taste of freedom. You can now go further, easier, faster. And that immediateness of hopping on a bike offers such a sense of liberation. I still feel that way every time I ride my bike.
cyclespeak I can see how it can extend your horizon—allowing you to journey through the landscape because you can go that little bit further than if you were walking. Something you do on a multiple-thousands-of-kilometres scale?
Lael But that’s just me compressing more into less time. And people should ride the way they want to. I sometimes get criticised for not taking enough time to stop and appreciate the view [smiles].
cyclespeak I think humankind is rather too fond of passing opinions when it really doesn’t materially matter to them.But advice can be useful so I wanted to ask what you’d say to someone contemplating taking up cycling?
Lael To ride somewhere real.
Lael Ride your errands, commute around town, ride to your friend’s house. That way you’re actually riding for a reason. And if you want to build up your distance, take a bus or a train and ride home. Because that way, the closer you get, the more familiar it feels when you’re beginning to feel a little tired.
cyclespeak The races you take part in, by their very nature, offer plenty of thinking time in the saddle. What kind of thoughts enter your head or are you too focused on the task at hand?
Lael I just let my mind go free and think whatever I want. My first two times riding the Tour Divide, I also rode from Alaska to the start…
cyclespeak I love that. Because the Tour Divide at 4,418 km just isn’t long enough [laughs].
Lael At that time, I only had a flip-phone so no music or podcasts. So I was there, alone, riding for weeks at a time—making my own decisions, being whoever I wanted to be. Since then and after racing thousands and thousands of kilometres, I like to listen to audio books. Riding through the night, you can get really engaged in a story [smiles].
cyclespeak In the Rapha film, you mentioned that night time can be tough. Do you thrive on these aspects of adversity or does discipline and the promise of dawn light see you through?
Lael I always look forward to the sun coming up. In the dark, it’s just harder to be alert and ride fast. You can’t see as well and that’s when you feel tired. Especially when it’s cold, there’s an instinct to just stop and sleep.
cyclespeak Which is what the vast majority of the human race does at night time.
Lael The strategy I use on races like the Tour Divide is that, if I feel tired, I’ll just stop and sleep for four hours and then wake up and carry on—even if it’s the middle of the night. Because regardless of when you sleep, you have to ride in the dark at some point to cover the miles.
cyclespeak A little bit of a segue but you mentioned your now-wife Rue. You recently got married…
cyclespeak Your wedding sounded really wonderful—I love the idea of the scooters.
Lael I’m just happier than I’ve ever been before. I’ve always loved spending time outdoors on my bike but now I have Rue with me for the rest of my life so every day is good.
cyclespeak The pictures you share on Instagram of you with Rue are incredibly life affirming.
Lael Rue rides but she also shoots so we can do projects together. What a gift—it’s just amazing.
cyclespeak Whenever I talk to bike racers or industry creatives such as photographers and filmmakers, I sometimes get a sense that they’re never satisfied. They’re always looking to go faster, to take a better photograph or try another film edit. Where do you sit in saying to yourself, ‘Job well done?’
Lael I think if I give it my best effort – and I’ll know if I have or not – then I do have a sense of satisfaction. And with ultra-distance racing, you have a lot of time. So maybe you don’t feel great but you’re still moving so that’s your best effort at that particular moment. And then a few hours later you feel great so you pick up the pace. At the end and regardless of my finish, if I tried my hardest then I’m happy.
cyclespeak And when things are out of your control like this year’s Tour Divide?
Lael If something goes wrong – a mechanical or I get sick or unforeseen circumstances like the fires – then I have a reason to go back and give it another go [smiles].
cyclespeak I mentioned how riding a bike started out purely as transport to get to work…
Lael I was commuting and then bike touring and then ultra-distance racing—frustrated because I was working two jobs to pay for these things.
cyclespeak I do wonder how much of that drive and determination influences your current success?
Lael I suppose it shows that I’m doing something I really, really want. Otherwise I would’ve just given it up because I spent years doing that. Working 12 hours a day and worrying when I’d get to ride my bike. Or when I’d get to sleep [laughs].
cyclespeak The way you ride, the distances you cover, the results you enjoy—do you feel a sense of responsibility that you’re a public face flying the flag for female participation in bike racing?
Lael It all adds to my level of motivation. That I can race against the men and go for the overall. In other disciplines of cycling, that just isn’t possible. Women and men are competing in completely different categories but in bike packing, we all get to line up together and whoever gets to the finish first, wins. I find that super exciting and motivating because I want to be the winner and I know it’s possible. And it’s not just about pure power or speed—there are so many other aspects like recovery and efficiency that come into play. How you feel on Day 10, how you react to seeing a mountain lion [laughs].
cyclespeak I’m guessing you also need to minimise the chance of mechanicals during the race?
Lael The thing with ultra-distance is that everything breaks or falls apart—your bike and your body. So I want to start out with both myself and my bike in great condition because I know that by the end of it, we’ll be trashed.
cyclespeak I suppose over time you get to know what works and what doesn’t?
Lael My gear choices are mostly for comfort. Going into a race, I’m very aware that at some point I’ll be experiencing a lot of pain so maybe I’ll pick a larger tyre, a fork with more travel or figure out a range of hand positions. Basically, what’s going to keep me happy on the bike for the longest. You want to pack light but what do you actually need?
cyclespeak You’re constantly on the move with your racing schedule so I wanted to ask about your concept of home?
Lael That’s definitely Rue. Just spending time with her wherever we go—being together. We’re currently living in Tucson, Arizona, and thinking of buying a house. I’m 35 and never thought it would be something that I’d want to do but it would be a nice place to spend time in the winter.
cyclespeak Can I ask why Tucson?
Lael It has great winter weather and beautiful mountains. It’s pretty inexpensive and you can ride up Mount Lemmon to over 9,000 ft—from saguaro cactus to pine forest in a 20 mile ride.
cyclespeak And it would be good to have a base for storing bikes?
Lael I love to change them because I spend so much intense time on one bike that I want to ride something completely different. If I’ve raced my mountain bike, I want to ride road. If I’m racing road, then I want to ride a full suspension mountain bike. Swapping between them puts my brain in a different place and keeps me motivated.
cyclespeak Looking forward, do you have a five year, five month or five day plan?
Lael Somewhere in between? Two months is pretty good [laughs].
cyclespeak Is that your comfort zone?
Lael It’s enough time to puzzle things together.
cyclespeak And the best thing about being Lael Wilcox?
Lael I’m very fortunate that I pretty much get to do exactly what I want, every single day. And I’m so grateful for that. I wake up and if I want to go for a bike ride, I go for a bike ride. I just get to follow my dreams and I can’t believe that’s my life.
My result at Unbound surprised me for so many reasons. One of the first big races that I’d done in several years and a return to racing with a completely different mindset. The distance was an unknown quantity but I approached the event with this sense of pure enjoyment. I’d spent so much of my professional career never getting that solo win and then – just when I’d stopped caring about that – I crossed the line in first place. Kind of ironic but in a very good sense.
Growing up in Bend, Oregon, with dreams of one day riding the Tour de France, Ian Boswell rode La Grande Boucle with Team Katusha–Alpecin before suffering a heavy crash in the 2019 Tirreno-Adriatico that forced an untimely end to his World Tour career. Announcing his retirement from road racing at the age of 28, a role in athlete liaison with Wahoo complemented his ‘Breakfast with Boz’ podcast before racing once again came calling in the shape of the North American gravel scene. Here, Ian talks about his transition from the professional peloton, putting down roots in Vermont with his wife Gretchen, his win at Unbound and how some life-defining events can even surpass riding 200 miles of dirt roads in Kansas.
cyclespeak You raced at the pinnacle of the sport with four years at Team Sky and then latterly riding for Team Katusha–Alpecin. For the majority of that time you were based in Nice on the French Riviera. Does living so far from home bring with it certain challenges?
Ian Regardless of how long you live in France or Spain, you’re only there because of the cycling so it can feel like you’re always working. Someone like Alejandro Valverde, the majority of his races are a two hour or less flight from his house. He’s at a race on a Sunday and he’s back home with his wife and kids the next day—maybe even the same evening.
cyclespeak With all the support his family and friends offer?
Ian I often used to think just how different an experience it is for riders having loved ones on a different continent. And it does force you to live in a cocoon because you’re there for a very specific reason and there’s a sense you should put all your focus into that one thing. Which is interesting now that I’ve returned to racing but on the gravel scene. I’m still training, resting and eating well – just like in my World Tour days – but I’m also doing all these other things that bring me joy and enhance my riding.
cyclespeak It always intrigues me when road racers describe how deep they have to go in a stage. Just how hard does it get when the peloton is going full gas?
Ian There’s this very unique sense of risk / reward that’s tied to suffering in professional cycling. Whether that’s winning a race, getting a new contract or just the fame and glory—very different from most peoples’ perspectives on how to achieve success. Usually, our natural instinct is to stop if something hurts. But with cycling you have this sense that if you hurt yourself, then you’ll achieve something. And sometimes you’ll see examples of this when the outcome is a win but there are other times when it can result in a terrible crash and a rider finishing a race bloodied and battered. Almost an accepted aspect of the sport and the nature of how you move up the ladder and achieve success. Everyone hurts whether it’s Peter Sagan, Julian Alaphilippe or your everyday weekend warrior. What sets the riders apart is how much pain they’re willing to handle.
cyclespeak You were 28 when you announced your retirement. Was there a feeling of shifting your own sense of identity?
Ian The circumstances of how I came to announce my retirement were dictated by the crash I had and then spending a season away from racing. If things had been different, then I imagine I would still be racing professionally on the road today. I did have the opportunity to carry on…
cyclespeak I believe Israel Start-up Nation were interested in you riding on their team and you had a contract offer from Rally.
Ian I looked at my career to date and still felt it would be great to return to racing and maybe try and win a stage at the Tour. But the path of continually trying to succeed and impress never really ends. And that’s regardless of who you are. So I came to the realisation that, hey, I’ve pretty much done everything I wanted to do and it was time to be happy with that. Very much a mind shift that I was still young enough to pursue other things in my life that would bring me happiness.
cyclespeak Would you have felt differently if you hadn’t ridden the Tour in 2018?
Ian Probably so [smiles]. For whatever reason, it’s still the standout moment of my road racing career. I guess because I grew up in this very prominent era in American cycling with Lance Armstrong. So getting to ride the Tour, it was the icing on the cake even though I knew and accepted I would never get to wear the yellow jersey into Paris [laughs].
cyclespeak But you still got to ride down the Champs-Élysées after three weeks racing through France.
Ian That was a pretty special moment. And, in a sense, I had a perfect Tour—no crashes, no flat tyres and without getting sick. Such a good race that it would be almost impossible to go back and have a better experience. Especially as there’s a tendency in professional cycling to finish one race – and that might be on a high – before immediately starting to think about what’s next and how you can go one step better. So that period in 2019 when I was recovering from my crash gave me the opportunity to reflect on a lot of things.
cyclespeak Your retirement was kind of forced on you through injury but is the question of ‘what next’ generally discussed between teammates?
Ian It’s seldom mentioned. Riders will talk about other things that they’re interested in but there’s so much focus on performance and results that the minute you start to have other thoughts or ideas, there might be a perception that you’re spending energy elsewhere. And for me, I was 28 when I announced my retirement and my friends Larry Warbasse and Joe Dombrowski – fellow Americans that were also living in Nice at the time – we didn’t talk about it because, in our minds, we were going to race our bikes until we were 35 or beyond.
cyclespeak What’s the one thing you miss most from your years in the World Tour?
Ian What I miss is also what I enjoy so much now. The preparation for events was so well-organised that you almost didn’t have to think about it. You just had to focus on yourself because the mechanics sorted your bike, your laundry was done, the team chef prepared all your food. But interestingly, what I really enjoy now is being solely responsible and looking after my own equipment and mixing up my own bottles.
cyclespeak When did the idea of moving to gravel racing first surface? Was this a way of riding you were familiar with?
Ian In a sense, it was totally random. I’d seen this explosion in gravel racing from over in Europe. And after moving back to the States and making Vermont our home, probably over 70% of the roads are dirt so I was riding them anyways without necessarily thinking I was riding gravel [smiles]. And then I took a full-time position with Wahoo in January 2020 and as a brand they were going to many of these events as either a sponsor or they had an expo space. They told me it would be great to have me along because I was a recognisable face and oftentimes my colleagues would ride the event—they’re there, so why not get to ride.
cyclespeak So you decided to join in the fun?
Ian And then 2020 happened and I didn’t get to go to any events and that changed my perspective even more. Looking back, my mindset was still a little leftover from road racing and I was training through the winter – doing intervals – to stay fit. But, as it turned out, to stay fit for what?
cyclespeak So, once again, another period of reflection.
Ian That year without racing – road or gravel – allowed me to move another step away from my past life. And because we weren’t travelling to events with Wahoo, I took on more responsibility in my day-to-day job with less opportunity and time for riding. I’m still very much learning how to balance everything and that might mean sneaking out to go for a quick hour’s ride and rather than worrying that I’m not maintaining my training block, just being happy with that.
cyclespeak A very different mindset from your professional years?
Ian When I was racing and living in Europe, a few hours of riding was all I had to do in a whole day. Maybe I’d go to the grocery store or spend some time on the beach—but now I’m getting my kit on as I’m finishing up a call so I can get out of the door before the next one.
cyclespeak Watching the Wahoo Frontiers content – which I really enjoy – it references the sense of friendship that exists between rival racers.
Ian In the gravel world, I’m very close to certain individuals like Pete Stetina. Part of my job in athlete liaison with Wahoo is to manage these relationships—negotiating their contracts or sorting out the gear they need. Which is kind of funny because I also race against them. And there’s still this sense of communal support like the day before the Belgium Waffle Ride when I had a spare tyre and offered it to Colin Strickland—giving him a resource that could potentially help him beat me in the race. If you look at that front group on this year’s Unbound – Pete, Colin, Ted [King] and Laurens [ten Dam] – we were racing so that the strongest rider would cross the finish line in first place on merit alone. Maybe that isn’t always the case in road racing and I think that’s where a lot of people in gravel are scared and a little bit sceptical about the future. Whether it will become more cagey or if team tactics will help decide the outcome. But right now, it still feels very pure. Everyone is happy that the strongest rider gets to win on any given day. At the 2021 Belgium Waffle Ride that was Pete and I was super happy for him.
cyclespeak Looking back at this year’s Unbound Gravel, the field was packed with talent. And I’ve enjoyed listening to you quiz past winners on your podcast. Did you line up at the start with a win in mind?
Ian No, not at all. I’d never done this race before so there were so many subtle aspects to the event that I wasn’t aware of like tyre pressures and equipment choices. But even though I wasn’t holding out any hopes for a win, I did feel that if I got a clean run, then I could at least do well. And there’s so many things that can go wrong. Flat tyres, bonking, mechanicals—little things like the tyre plugs that people use if they’re riding tubeless.
cyclespeak I guess there’s always an element of luck if you’re racing 200 miles on dirt roads.
Ian My main focus – regardless of my placing – was to ride hard and have fun. As things turned out, I didn’t have any issues with the bike, I didn’t crash and I managed to make all the selections that put me in with a chance to sprint for the win.
cyclespeak I watched Colin’s video where he talked through his Unbound bike setup. So dialled in and I wondered whether you also naturally embrace this level of detail?
Ian The technical stuff, no. I probably was carrying too much stuff and in the wrong places. There was one point where the five of us were off the front and Colin punctured. He put a plug in the tyre as we slowed up for a couple of minutes and then caught up with us. It would’ve taken me 10 minutes to figure that out [smiles]. Whereas he’s so meticulous on having his equipment to hand, if it was me with a flat then my CO₂ was underneath my hydration pack and I would’ve needed to unzip three pockets to get to it. The gas wasn’t even screwed into the valve because I didn’t want to waste it. In hindsight, really stupid because it’s less than a dollar to buy a new one.
cyclespeak I guess we’re all learning and this was your first time riding Unbound.
Ian With the nutritional side I think I’m more tuned in. Having spent those years at Team Sky – working with their sport scientists – I’ve got a fairly good grasp of how to fuel a ride and I was pretty much dialled in when it came to feeding and hydration. But mechanically is where I’m still at a huge disadvantage.
cyclespeak You mentioned having a clean run. Did you set out to ride your race in a particular way?
Ian I rode to my ability—never overextending myself trying to close a gap and riding more cautiously through the technical sections compared to others in the front group. And you’ve got to bear in mind that it’s a long race so there’s plenty of opportunity to make up time.
cyclespeak Were you riding to power?
Ian I was on a Wahoo Roam for Unbound and I did have power visible but, to be honest, I never really looked at it. I think I’ve spent enough time riding with a power meter and know my body well enough to manage my output. More recently I’ve been riding off speed and it’s funny that most of the races I’ve done this year have all averaged between 20 and 21 mph. So this is far more an indication of effort than my power reading and I can use this in my training—going out on a 100 mile loop with the goal of averaging 20 mph. Power is still useful but if you’re in the Little Egypt section of Unbound and Pete’s attacking, are you going to sit back because he’s riding above your planned pace? It’s a do or die moment and power doesn’t really matter. You either make it or you don’t.
cyclespeak Crossing the line in a sprint against Laurens ten Dam, what emotions entered your mind?
Ian What’s interesting is that, apart from a team time-trial at the Vuelta, I didn’t win any races in my professional road career. So I threw my hands up in the air because I was super happy to win a sprint. To be honest, I didn’t fully realise the size of the event and just how much attention that it had until later. At the Tour you have fans lining the roadside, cars and motorcycles in front and behind, helicopters above, race radio in your ear—you’re always aware of what’s going on and the pressures and expectations of the race. At Unbound, for the vast majority of the route we didn’t see anyone. No fans, no cars, no noise—just us. In my mind I was out on a group ride with Ted, Pete, Colin and Laurens—a bunch of incredibly strong riders that I have so much respect for.
cyclespeak I was talking to Gus Morton a while back and he mentioned that when his brother Lachlan raced the 2019 Dirty Kanza [as Unbound was previously known], his team Education First got more views on social media for this one-day race than the whole of the Giro d’Italia.
Ian I finished Unbound and I had over 2000 messages on Instagram. And I was like, what the heck is going on? Richie Porte was riding the Critérium du Dauphiné at the same time – which he went on to win – and he messaged. And that just didn’t make sense because, in my mind, the Dauphiné is one of the biggest races in the world and I’m riding dirt roads in Kansas.
cyclespeak I say this semi-seriously but maybe all your World Tour friends are a little jealous? Because everyone who rides Unbound seems to have so much fun? They’re competing, giving it everything and still having a good time.
Ian I do sometimes wonder whether professional teams look at Unbound and consider all the attention it gets. And I was speaking to my good friend Larry Warbasse who rides for AG2R Citroën – one of the best teams in the world – and he’s going to altitude camp, riding intervals and watching what he eats—all this commitment and sacrifice but nowhere near the same level of recognition. In my opinion, the World Tour is still the pinnacle of cycle racing but maybe we’ll see more road riders lining up at the start of these gravel races.
cyclespeak You’ve touched on the future of gravel racing in your podcast. With pro teams looking to get involved – I’m thinking EF and their alternative calendar – is this a good thing or are there concerns?
Ian I’m not sure I’m the right person to answer that as it’s my first year but the gravel scene is very unique as the people participating are determining what gravel racing is—the unwritten rules in much the same way the etiquette of the Tour was set out in the first half of the 20th century. Time will tell whether that changes if gravel racing attracts more money, prestige or media attention. At present it’s still very grassroots in terms of culture.
cyclespeak Alongside your gravel racing – and I need to mention that you won a stage at the Migration Gravel Race two weeks after Unbound – you work for Wahoo in athlete liaison and also have your podcast—of which I’m a huge fan. Professionally speaking, what’s the best thing about being Ian Boswell at the moment?
Ian Goodness. Where do I start? I’ve been really busy since Unbound and that’s after 12 months of finding a nice balance in my life. I joined the volunteer fire department in town, my wife Gretchen and I got a dog and keep chickens. And then all of a sudden everything changed.
cyclespeak I imagine life must feel like it’s ramped up a gear?
Ian I suppose I’m really trying to figure out how to make all these different aspects meet in the middle. You take the Amani project that Wahoo supports and how that led to me going to Africa for the Migration Race. Hopefully, we get to have the East African athletes travelling over to the US so they can race some events.
cyclespeak And it feels good to be involved in projects like these?
Ian Cycling has brought so much positivity into my life and I feel that maybe I’m now in a position to give back as much as possible. So I just want to put my heart and soul into things that I’m passionate about and things that I love and that bring me joy and inspiration.
cyclespeak Talking of inspiration, you have a very engaging style of delivery with your podcast.
Ian Initially, back in 2020, it was meant to be 12 episodes over the course of the year. But then the pandemic happened and we decided to make it a weekly thing. I had the time because I was at home and not racing and the more episodes I did, the more relaxed I began to feel with the medium. When I first started – recording an intro – sometimes I would have 50 versions of the same 20 second segment [laughs].
cyclespeak I love that.
Ian But as you go on, you begin to realise that a lot of these things – mistakes you might call them – aren’t even picked up in conversation. We kind of edit them out and that’s how I now approach the podcast.
cyclespeak And often it can be quite endearing because it sounds like you’re actually having a conversation and everything isn’t scripted.
Ian Other than piecing it together, I’ve probably made less than ten cuts out of the entire series. Very little gets left out.
cyclespeak Considering the name of your podcast, I feel it would be remiss of me not to ask if you have a favourite breakfast?
Ian I have been known to enjoy an extravagant breakfast but that can change day to day and seasonally. Gretchen and I made this French toast sandwich which I particularly enjoyed. And sometimes it’s good to start the day with a simple bowl of oatmeal.
cyclespeak Your barn occasionally features on your social media feed. It must be useful to have so much storage?
Ian Gretchen and I got married there so we spent a lot of time prior to our wedding cleaning it out and making it look nice. We do harbour a desire to host events in the future but at the moment our chickens live there in the winter and we have a small tractor, tools and whatnot. And living in Vermont, there’s always free stuff on the roadside and it can be hard to say no when you have a big barn to put it in.
cyclespeak And plenty of room for bikes. What’s the first one you reach for?
Ian I do have an e-bike that I’ve been riding a lot recently—a Specialized Creo which is very similar to the Diverge. It’s pretty hilly where we live and Gretchen and I will often jump on our e-bikes after work and go on a 15 or 20 mile spin which always brings a smile to my face. With the e-bike, I can just wear my basketball shorts and some tennis shoes and not think about getting all kitted out.
cyclespeak I do wonder whether that choice will surprise some folk?
Ian I really think that e-bikes have a lot to offer to a lot of people. My Mum visited a couple of weeks ago and we got to ride together and she was dropping me on the climbs [laughs].
cyclespeak These post-work rides wouldn’t happen to involve ice cream?
Ian I do love ice cream – probably too much – and whenever I go with Gretchen, I try to convince her to get a bigger size so I can eat the rest. It can be a little awkward going to the counter twice within 20 minutes to ask for another two ice creams, knowing that I’m going to eat them both [laughs].
cyclespeak How else do you unwind if you’re not visiting your local ice cream store?
Ian Since it’s summertime, my most relaxing thing is jumping on my tractor and mowing our fields. It’s very therapeutic—a distinct start and end and aesthetically it just looks so good when you’ve finished. Sitting on the tractor is so peaceful and offers a lot of mental release.
cyclespeak I think sometimes the simplest things can be the most rewarding so I guess we all need a tractor. And I kind of wanted to finish up our conversation on a high and mention the very end of your Unbound Gravel film for Wahoo when you shared the super exciting news that Gretchen is expecting a baby? As I watched you fighting back the tears, it made me think of the frontiers tag but one that will be totally life-changing.
Ian The people behind the camera on the Wahoo shoot are my close friends and they hadn’t a clue what I was about to say. And when they asked me about my frontiers – about what was next – it just came out. Part of me was thinking that I’d better run this past Gretchen [smiles].
cyclespeak Well, I’m glad it was left in.
Ian Even during the race – and it’s a long race – I was thinking about how having a baby will change our lives—that this might be the last time for a while I race Unbound with the same level of focus and preparation. But if that’s what it takes to try and be the best father I can be – to be present and available – then it will far exceed any desires I might have to be a pro racer and defend my title at Unbound.
In conversation with Crystal Haggard, I’m tempted to wonder when (or if) she ever sleeps. With a year home schooling her son Forest and a senior position at Zwift that became seriously intense as the world took to riding indoors, Crystal’s ever lengthening to-do list is bookended with regular rides and wild camping trips to the national parks that ring the family’s California home.
‘To the End of the Universe’ sees all these connecting threads beautifully interwoven in a perceptive and heartwarming film that explores Crystal’s relationship with Forest through the window of their adventures together. A theme that continues here, as Crystal talks candidly about managing the pressures of parenting and how the family use their bikes to find balance and a sense of togetherness in a changing world.
cyclespeak I was wondering whether you’re still working from home?
Crystal We probably won’t be returning until September. The schools are still not fully back in session so I think until childcare returns to normal, they won’t require people to go back into the office.
cyclespeak How do you feel about this new normal? Will you miss any aspects of the social restrictions?
Crystal Previously to COVID, depending on traffic it took me 45 minutes to two hours one way to drive to work. But even though it’s been nice to reclaim these hours, when life returns to normal I’m excited to get out of the house and work in a different environment a couple of days a week. There have been challenges with working remotely and there are things that I’m just way better at in person.
cyclespeak Such as?
Crystal I’m responsible for developing all of our soft goods and accessories at Zwift. So if I get a sample of a sweatshirt, then I have to mail it all around the country rather than simply walking it over to someone’s desk. A process that used to take 20 minutes can now take weeks [laughs].
cyclespeak I saw from some of your posts that you were home schooling.
Crystal We spent about 14 months doing virtual school from home and I think we did a good job of turning it into a positive situation. With my son Forest remote learning over Zoom, we could just go somewhere for a week and do everything online.
cyclespeak I do wonder whether there’s a capacity in human behaviour to adapt and make the most of a situation?
Crystal One of my colleagues hates change, loves consistency. So they’ve really struggled. But I’m like, where’s the weirdest place that I can work?
cyclespeak And where was that?
Crystal I did a lot of work in the car using a hotspot while we were travelling to places and there were a couple of campsites where I called in for stuff using a Zoom background. Not that anybody cared but I just didn’t want it to be a distraction that I wasn’t at my desk [laughs].
cyclespeak There’s some scenes from these camping trips in your recent film ‘To the End of the Universe’. Was the project filmed and edited by your husband Jordan?
Crystal Yes. That’s right.
cyclespeak So a family affair?
Crystal It was a really hard project emotionally for both of us. For me, it’s a lot easier to tell other people’s stories than your own.
cyclespeak It’s beautifully filmed and you can’t watch it and not see the joy in yourself and Forest as you’re pictured cycling together through the landscape. And I was wondering whether the narrative came first or the imagery?
Crystal The filming came first but I was taking notes the whole time. Jotting down little moments or feelings. But I actually wrote the narrative two days before the film was due when I ended up in the Emergency Room with an allergic reaction. That was the first time I’d been by myself – properly alone – in a very long time. Over the course of the past year, there were many moments when I really struggled as a parent. Being together 100% of the time, keeping on top of a demanding work schedule, guiding Forest through remote learning—we never had a break. We lost all of our balance and both Jordan and I were emotionally and physically exhausted. So that moment in hospital – just by myself – allowed me the time and space to think about the way I actually feel as a parent.
cyclespeak I’ll admit that I was relieved my own sons were too old for home schooling.
Crystal Oh my gosh, it was so hard! Forest is in 2nd Grade so luckily, unlike younger children, he can read. At least that gave him some form of autonomy.
cyclespeak Even so, it must’ve been difficult for him to stay focused?
Crystal Forest thinks he prefers remote learning because all his toys are within arm’s reach. And I’m glad he’ll look back at this time with good memories and without feeling traumatised. But now that he’s back in school, we’re all so much happier [laughs].
cyclespeak In the film, you describe Forest as a bender of time. Can you talk me through what this means to you?
Crystal Before I had a kid, life felt very linear. And people always tell you that having a child gives you the longest days and the shortest years—which is so true. So I was kind of borrowing from that idea and looking back to the decade before he was born when it seemed to go on forever. And then we had Forest and you blink and almost another decade has passed. And I really don’t know where it’s gone [smiles].
cyclespeak I was scrolling through your Instagram feed and ever since Forest was very small, he’s joined you on rides. In a bike seat, sitting behind Jordan on a cargo bike, riding with you on his tag-along. Was this always the plan to include him? Was it ever a question that he wouldn’t?
Crystal There’s a couple of answers to that question—one influenced by my own childhood. Before my parents had kids they were pretty adventurous. They were both big skiers, hikers and cyclists. My Mom went into labour with me – two months early – on a motorcycle ride in the middle of Death Valley and had to be medivaced out. But after they had kids, they stopped a lot of these activities. So I didn’t really know this side of them. Shortly after we moved out of the house, they started doing all that cool stuff again. And that’s when I found out just how much they both loved the outdoors.
cyclespeak Do you feel you kind of missed out?
Crystal I didn’t start exploring or camping until I was in high school and my photo teacher took a core group of students on some pretty amazing camping trips in some desolate corners of California. It unlocked something inside of me and made me fall in love with having new experiences and finding beauty in overlooked places. It made me wonder why my parents stopped doing the activities that brought them joy?
cyclespeak And you feel this has informed your own view on raising Forest?
Crystal I knew as a parent that I wanted to share the things that bring me joy. I also think my generation is having kids later so your identity is a lot further developed by the time you start a family. So I was always very nervous about losing that side of me. And we don’t have family that lives super close so there isn’t anyone around the corner that we can just drop the kid off for a day or two. Jordan also travels for work so much that if I don’t bring Forest with me, I’d be missing out on a lot of these experiences.
cyclespeak Which makes you unhappy?
Crystal I’m not good at sitting down and doing nothing. Or just hanging out in the house. So there’s definitely a want and a need that Forest is included.
cyclespeak There’s another quote from the film that resonates: ‘Being a Mom is my greatest adventure but unlike others, this adventure came without a guide.’ And I wanted to ask whether you’d choose to have a guidebook if one was available?
Crystal I’ve read so many books on parenting and none of them totally resonate with me. But maybe that’s a good thing? That parenting shouldn’t be too prescriptive? For me, going on some of my crazier adventures before having Forest, prepared me for the fact that you can’t prepare for everything. And things going wrong often leads to things going right in a better way than planned.
cyclespeak Have you an example of this?
Crystal I once rode my bike across the States from New York to Los Angeles. This was before bar-mounted GPS units so we’d print out our itinerary each day. And there were often times when the roads you were expecting didn’t exist or you’d miss a turn and you’d end up relying on help from strangers to find your way. There’s a loss of control – a sense of vulnerability – that can feel very liberating. And rather than a sense of confrontation, it taught me to understand that strangers can care about you and that most people are inherently good and interested in what you’re doing.
cyclespeak Did these experiences impact on you as a parent?
Crystal It helped me to realise that you can’t be in control all the time and things don’t always go to plan. That it’s okay to rely on other people or go with the flow. And oftentimes these are the memories that I look back on most fondly.
cyclespeak And that we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves?
Crystal From my own experience, Forest is a notoriously terrible sleeper and I literally saw every sunrise for the first two and a half years of his life because he always woke up before 4:30am. I remember reading through all these sleep books and trying everything to get him to sleep longer or through the night and nothing worked because we travelled too much and couldn’t keep to the strict routines suggested. I felt like I was failing until I read a piece by a doctor that ultimately said it’s okay to be flexible and do whatever works best for your family. We’re all different with different needs and having someone in a position of authority say this – to give us the permission we needed to stop being so hard on ourselves and embrace our situation – that really opened up our world.
cyclespeak Maybe it’s a case of the expectations we place on ourselves?
Crystal I think, especially with young kids, we have all these milestones. How much your kid should weigh, what they’re eating, are they sleeping. And I remember someone telling me their kid was sleeping through at six months. And there’s me, thinking that at six months my kid slept two hours and I was thrilled [laughs]. So I can only offer empathy when it comes to sleep but I do believe there’s advice I could offer on camping with a family or how to start riding with your kid. Which trailer or bike seat and why. Little bits of my own experience that I would be happy to share.
cyclespeak There’s a societal compulsion to compare ourselves but I think you’re safe with camping advice.
Crystal With the story in the film, I really didn’t want to put anything out there that people would feel they had to live up to—or give families unrealistic expectations of what parenting is. We simply wanted to share a true look into something we often do as a family.
cyclespeak I found the film to be a very honest portrayal of parenting. You don’t shy away from the fact that it can be incredibly hard work. And I also feel it’s good to see a parent and child sharing time outside together and having fun. At its simplest level, that for me is very inspirational.
Crystal I’m glad to hear that [laughing].
cyclespeak Has your relationship with cycling changed in terms of all these pressures on your time?
Crystal Before having a kid I could go out on a ride and just empty my tank before coming home and crashing out on the couch. Now, I have to pace myself knowing that the moment I walk through the door I’ll have to start building Lego and it will be three hours before I get to shower. So I do miss that feeling of having no other responsibilities.
cyclespeak Time’s behaving very strangely at the moment with people saying last year but actually referring to the year before. But I saw on Instagram that you moved house not too long ago…
Crystal It was nearly a year ago.
cyclespeak There you go. It feels a lot more recent.
Crystal And it was terrifying to buy our first home right as lockdown hit [laughs].
cyclespeak Can I ask how you define your concept of home?
Crystal In my adult life – before we had Forest – I’d never lived anywhere for much more than a year. I loved moving, loved change and almost felt like I was my own home. I guess I’m not very attached to physical things. I think the necessity of a home has now changed with having a family, but, to me, it’s essentially a place to store the toys that we use when we’re out there [pointing to the window]. I suppose you could say home for us is a base camp and we do most of our best living outside of this physical space. Our house is small – which I like – but in a perfect world we’d still have the same small home but with twice the garage space [laughs].
cyclespeak With your bikes all lined up.
Crystal All the things that unlock the world we love.
cyclespeak Being based in Los Angeles, how easy is it to ride?
Crystal Part of the reason I live so far from work is our house is situated in a corner of LA right on the edge of city limits. Probably not even 10km to the base of the Angeles National Forest. My thinking was that either I have to get in a car and commute to work or commute to ride. And work may change—that isn’t a constant. But riding and getting out in nature is always going to be a priority.
cyclespeak How do you balance all the different pulls on your time?
Crystal To some extent, the busier I get, the better I manage everything. If I have a lot on my plate, then I make time to schedule it all in. If things are a little more relaxed, I have a tendency to procrastinate. And I like experiencing as much as possible. That makes me feel like I’m actually living life. I don’t want a year to go by with me looking back and not knowing what I’ve done.
cyclespeak It’s important to have those memories?
Crystal That’s one thing I love about Instagram. I can look back at what was this COVID year and think, wow, we actually did a lot of really cool stuff. We did good, we had fun.
cyclespeak Last year – that we kind of assume was a little lost – was my biggest on Strava for quite a while.
Crystal It was by far my lowest [laughs]. Between facilitating home schooling and my own work and never having a break from either, my days were really full and I was struggling to focus or find the time to do much else. Most nights I was working late into the evening after Forest went to bed. My job at Zwift got really busy because everyone wanted to ride virtually during the lockdowns and we were burning the candle at both ends securing enough inventory and solving supply chain issues. But Forest went back to school a couple of weeks ago and both Jordan and I have ridden every day so far [laughs]. It’s starting to feel like we’re finding balance again.
cyclespeak You describe Forest as your inspiration, your ultimate challenge and your biggest adventure. What are you looking forward to as your story together unfolds and what do you think you’ll miss as your relationship inevitably changes and evolves?
Crystal When he was an infant, he was really colicky and the only time he didn’t cry was when he was in a carrier and we were walking. I actually lost my job right after he was born so I was unemployed and had the time to really get into hiking as a solution for both of us. We’d disappear off into the Angeles National Forest and even though Forest wasn’t aware what was happening, he was comfortable and we were both happy. And maybe it kind of primed him for what was to come [laughs].
cyclespeak They sound like special times.
Crystal When he grew out of that baby carrier, I felt so sad—the only physical thing that I mourned giving away to the next person. And I was left with the question of what next? But that was around the six month mark so we were able to start riding as he had enough head stability to go in the trailer. And then when he was too big for the trailer, we put the bike seat on the back and then we got the tag-along and we now do 40 mile rides at our pace and effort but with him right there with us. And what’s cool is that, over time, I’ve realised that there is always something to look forward to. That every single time Forest has grown out of something, there’s an opportunity to try something that’s even more fun.
cyclespeak An attitude which I think is beautifully portrayed in your film. And I was wondering if working on this project helped you to understand when you’re happiest?
Crystal One of the things that makes me happy is when my preconceptions turn out to be wrong. When it’s better than I imagined. I’m learning not to limit my expectations on what we’re going to experience. And that was one aspect of last year’s lockdown that was surprising – this sense of the unexpected – when we were forced to stay local and explore our neighbourhood and we found so many cool little dirt roads that we never knew existed. We’d switch the Wahoo to map mode on Forest’s tag-along and he’d just shout out the turns he wanted us to make. And it made me fall in love with the city in a way that I didn’t expect. Just one of the things that brought me a sense of joy.
After setting out from Eastern Europe to cycle across Asia in 2019, Sabina Knezevic and Robin Patijn are currently based in Sweden and training for a postponed Atlas Mountain Race. Having amassed a wealth of stories on their travels, with Farawayistan the couple aim to inspire cyclists from all over the world to embark upon their own adventures—big or small. Here they discuss how the seeds were sown that led to a life-changing journey, their experiences on the road as a couple and how, when it comes to chasing society’s consumer goals, less can indeed be more.
cyclespeak So where did your cycling stories start?
Robin I was the cyclist before we left on our around-the-world tour. It’s the classic tale of playing football and then, when my knee was injured, my father encouraging me to try cycling. So I went out on his road bike, loved it immediately and with my very first paycheck bought my own bike. Years later, I met Sabina…
Sabina On Tinder [laughs].
Robin Quite a modern way of meeting, maybe?
Sabina I was scrolling through Tinder – because that’s what you do when you’re single – and there was this profile of a guy who looked kind of interesting because of all these travel photos.
Robin I must just mention there were no photos of me in lycra [smiles].
Sabina When we started dating, I didn’t ride a bike but I was very sporty. Crossfit five times a week, surfing, yoga. But I had this certain idea in my mind about cycling because in the Netherlands road cyclists have a very bad reputation. We have a lot of cycle lanes that are very busy and road cyclists don’t have bells and can be complete assholes.
Robin It’s a stereotype.
Sabina So I was absolutely certain that Robin would never get me into lycra. But, in the end, it only took about a month before I tried his mother’s bike and it was, fuck, this is so much fun!
cyclespeak And that, in turn, led to the idea of making a trip by bike together?
Sabina Right from the start, we’d always really connected on the travelling part but after a few months as a couple we decided it should be a cycling trip. Perhaps a little risky as the only experience we had before we left was a small test trip in the Netherlands. Riding in a full-on storm [laughs].
Robin Typical Dutch spring weather.
Sabina There was a weather warning but we figured why not just go for it. And we still had fun despite the awful headwind which we thought was a good sign.
Robin That was the very first weekend we’d assembled all our kit – the tent, stove, sleeping bags – and we wanted to test everything.
cyclespeak You’d already decided to quit your day jobs, sell all your belongings and start exploring. Was it difficult to break ties with your regular lives and all your physical belongings?
Sabina At that time we were already in a place where we were really into minimalism.
Robin We were living in a house that the municipality had scheduled for demolition prior to building new ones. So we knew we could only stay there for one and a half years.
Sabina And we were both quite frustrated with our jobs so that also made the decision a lot easier.
cyclespeak Just out of interest, what were your jobs?
Sabina I was working at a publishing company as the editorial manager for a couple of magazines.
Robin My job as an air quality engineer was quite technical.
cyclespeak From breaking these professional ties, you arrived at the concept of Farawayistan. So I was wondering how you define ‘faraway’? Does this necessarily imply a physical distance or is there also an emotional element?
Sabina Robin was already enjoying photography and I have a communication background and really like sharing stories. So we were brainstorming about different names and Farawayistan started out as more of a joke. We wanted to travel far away and ‘stan’, as a suffix, means a country. So you combine the two…
Robin And also, at family meetings, everyone asked where we were going. So we’d reel off Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan – all these ‘stan’ countries.
Sabina There’s also an element of escapism. Which for us meant getting away from the everyday, consumer aspects of life.
Robin But this can be a few miles from home. You don’t have to go to Uzbekistan to go faraway [smiles].
cyclespeak I read your journal piece on persuading your girlfriend to go bike touring. Over time, has that dynamic changed in the sense of who has the ideas or chooses the direction of travel?
Robin I’m a thinker and Sabina is more about acting. Just going with it.
Sabina I can have an idea and straight away say, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ Half of the time not fully realising what I’m getting myself into.
Robin For example, riding the Annapurna Circuit was an idea I was thinking and talking about but Sabina said…
Sabina Let’s just do it.
Robin And it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.
Sabina But when we first got together and were getting to know each other, it was something we both had to learn how to deal with. To balance out these different aspects of our personalities, so we could make our relationship work.
cyclespeak So what’s it like to spend so much time travelling together as a couple? Does it strengthen or test a relationship? Or maybe a little of both?
Sabina I think I moved in with Robin within a week of becoming a couple and we’ve been together ever since.
Robin Especially now as we’re both working from home. And the weekends are the same as we like to go on short camping trips.
Sabina We’re kind of dependent on each other [laughs]. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not but it works.
cyclespeak It sounds a good thing to me.
Sabina I mean, we do fall out. Especially when we’re cycling and hungry and there’s a headwind. But you talk it out and it’s fine again.
cyclespeak In terms of preparing for your travels, how did that process unfold?
Sabina Robin had been planning this trip for six years. Long before he met me.
Robin Maybe dreaming is a more accurate term [smiles].
Sabina I do remember, well before we left, having a big discussion about panniers versus bike packing bags. On this point I followed Robin’s gut feeling and accepted we needed to carry a certain amount of kit so panniers would make sense. But maybe we didn’t need quite as much kit as we took [laughs]. And then, mid-way through the trip, I changed to bike packing bags and let him carry most of the stuff.
Robin When we left from Tbilisi in Georgia, on the very first hill we knew then we were carrying too much kit. Books, extra pairs of shoes…
Sabina I had never in my life cycled up a hill – let alone a mountain – and in my naivety I thought, how hard can it be? Just go a bit slower. But I soon found out [laughs].
cyclespeak You obviously got the hang of it.
Sabina Overcoming all these obstacles – that seem impossible at the time – is part of the journey. And knowing that sometimes it’s OK to just hitch a ride [smiles].
cyclespeak You must have so many memories and stories from your travels?
Sabina Hundreds. And not necessarily about me and Robin.
Robin We caught up with two friends we made in Tajikistan over Zoom yesterday and we were talking about our adventures and one of their stories in particular that still makes us smile. James, this British guy, was cycling by himself up a mountain pass just a few days behind us. He had severe food poisoning and was delirious so couldn’t go any further.
Sabina It was already dark, he had a puncture and he was completely exhausted so he just stopped and set up his tent. Next morning, he woke up feeling better, zipped open his tent only to find a group of people wearing bulky, protective clothing and carrying metal detectors. And it turned out he’d spent the night camped in a minefield.
Robin He was OK so it’s quite a funny story.
Sabina But looking back on our own experiences, there’s all these little things that made it so special. Like realising in India that tuk tuks are the perfect way to draft.
cyclespeak Your stories often include photographs of the local population from wherever you’ve been travelling. Is this engagement important?
Robin I really like different cultures and interacting with the people we meet. And even though we often don’t share a common language, you can laugh and smile and shake hands and try to have a conversation.
Sabina If I leave him alone for five minutes he’s making new friends. Even here in Sweden in the supermarket and Sweden is well known for people not talking to each other.
cyclespeak So you’ve met some interesting characters on your travels?
Sabina I really enjoyed hitchhiking because we’d spend this time in a truck with someone who genuinely just wanted to help us. Which I suppose is funny because there’s such a misconception that hitchhiking is dangerous. For the most part, these people are alone all the time and they see these weird cyclists by the roadside and they’re just curious even if we don’t speak the same language.
Robin Those moments were really special. Sitting in the cab with the driver and he’s making a phone call to an uncle somewhere who speaks a few words of English and he puts the phone to your ear. Showing photos of his wife and children. Super personal even though you’re with a total stranger.
Sabina There was one particular truck driver who wanted Robin to try chewing tobacco and he got so high [laughs]. He was sweating and had to lower the window to get some fresh air.
Robin But those moments of interaction are, for me, the most valuable.
Sabina Yes. The warmth of the people inviting you into their homes. I think you only get that when you’re hiking or cycling. Travelling in such a manner, people very often treat you so kindly.
cyclespeak Perhaps you’re seen as being vulnerable so people want to help?
Sabina This one time when we were cycling in Georgia’s wine region Kakheti, it was so hot that I was having a hard time. Admittedly it might have been after a wine tasting which kind of explains why I was having a hard time. We couldn’t find a place to pitch our tent so when we saw this family sitting on their porch, I basically just crashed to a halt in front of them before asking for some water. They immediately invited us to join them on the porch where they were shelling hazelnuts from their farm. So I was sitting there helping the family with this task and, at the same time, they were asking family and friends over for a barbecue.
cyclespeak It sounds like members of the local population were overwhelmingly hospitable.
Sabina I think it’s about the simpleness of the way we were travelling and not the clichéd Westerners quickly coming in to look at all the hotspots before immediately departing for the next. When you’re cycling, you experience everything in between with all these aspects of daily life.
cyclespeak So is Farawayistan a job, a passion, a calling?
Robin It’s a passion and I think it will always be so. To start with, it’s something we like to do. We enjoy taking photos and writing stories…
Sabina And inspiring people. To show what fun it is to go out and explore. And, yes, if you travel to Tajikistan you’ll probably have more interesting stories to tell but it doesn’t mean that’s the only way you can have adventures.
Robin It’s not our main source of income but it takes quite a bit of time – maybe even the same amount as a fulltime job [smiles] – and we’re not earning a lot of money.
Sabina From time to time we do a photoshoot and write up a story for different cycling brands. We usually get ‘paid’ by keeping the products that are featured. And we also have a freelance gig at komoot where we write Collections for them.
cyclespeak Komoot and you two must be a match made in heaven.
Sabina It’s a cool company and we really like what they’re doing.
Robin They’re keen to have more personal experiences and not a series of route guides written by somebody sitting behind a computer.
cyclespeak And now you’re both training for the Atlas Mountain Race. That’s pretty gnarly.
Sabina Ultra-endurance racing is something that Robin has always been pushing in my face [laughs]. And the Lachlan Morton videos have also proved inspirational. So being at home now and not cycling as much as we’d like, we decided we needed a goal.
Robin At first I was thinking about riding solo but now we’re going as a pair.
Sabina I’d asked Robin whether he wanted me to join but wasn’t really sure if he was holding back his true feelings. And I still don’t know.
[No response from Robin]
Sabina You see? He doesn’t answer [laughs].
Robin No, no. Of course I want you to be there. I think I can really use your mental strength during the race.
Sabina But I don’t think I’ll be able to draft on that terrain [laughs].
cyclespeak I’m guessing you won’t be using the same Avaghon bikes from your world tour on the Atlas Mountain Race? Maybe the 3T bikes that I’ve seen pictures of you riding?
Sabina To be honest, I was a little sick of my bike because it felt so slow and I just wanted to go faster. But I did really enjoy riding off-road so the 3T Exploro seemed the perfect fit. Really fast but also able to handle gravel and trails.
Robin The bikes we rode across Asia were around 18kg even without luggage.
cyclespeak Nice and sturdy?
Sabina They were perfect for a world tour as my bike did fall off a moving bus in Nepal and it survived.
cyclespeak With the pandemic having an impact in so many different ways, I do wonder whether it’s causing people to reassess what’s really important. Have you any advice for individuals wanting to make a radical change in how they live their lives?
Robin I’m not sure about offering advice but we would encourage everyone to get outside as much as they can. It’s not only fun but it’s also healthy for the mind and body. I do understand that it can be hard when you’ve had a full day and you’re tired and maybe just want to rest in the evenings or weekend. But if you come into our house, at the front door we have a closet that holds all our camping stuff.
Sabina Ready to go.
Robin So it’s super easy to take that spur of the moment trip.
Sabina But if you do want to make a radical change and there’s no extreme financial or emotional fallout – then just go for it. Because, usually, making changes is for the better.
cyclespeak Are there any aspects that you miss about your previous lives?
Robin I’d like to see more of my family but basically I have everything here that I need. I have a few bicycles, I have forests and cycling friends, and I have my camera.
cyclespeak And have your experiences changed you? Are you very different people compared to when you first set out?
Robin Sometimes, when people travel the world, they talk about re-discovering themselves but I wasn’t 18 or 19 when I left. I was 29 and an adult. Yes, I do look differently at things but I wouldn’t say that I’m that much changed.
Sabina Maybe it’s another cliché about getting to know who you really are? That also happens when you get older but travel can speed the process up.
cyclespeak Is it important to be planning the next journey, the next move?
Robin For me, personally, it is. Like we’ve mentioned, I’m a thinker and always daydreaming about the next adventure. I really need that to feel positive and well.
Sabina And I need a challenge. Working towards something that might initially seem impossible is part of that sense of escapism. Like me finishing the Atlas Mountain Race [laughs]. But the ultimate goal for Farawayistan? I can picture us living out of a van with the bikes on the roof, creating nice stories and just making enough to keep on the road. That would be the dream.
Part community, part production company, part creative partner. Ask Gus Morton and Isaac Karsen to define Thereabouts and you’re offered a number of varied responses. What is abundantly clear, however, is a passion for storytelling and the narrative of their collaboration with Crust Bikes is an exemplar of the Thereabouts vision. Rooted in the Australian Outback and culminating in a Utah desert testbed; a tale that encompasses talk of farm tractors, friendships forged on the trail and a belief in the bike as a tool for journeying.
cyclespeak Looking back on the genesis of this bike build, where were you in terms of the riding you were doing? What was your mindset at that time?
Gus I guess the idea has always been there ever since that very first Thereabouts ride to Uluru in 2013. Back then, your only option for endurance or rough-road riding was a cross bike. But they’re very upright and the bottom bracket’s quite high. They suit cross, they suit jumping over things, they suit those twitchy kinds of conditions. But there wasn’t really a bike with geometry that matched riding on gravel roads in the strictest sense.
cyclespeak And this got you thinking along those lines?
Gus On that trip we wanted to ride on different types of terrain. I just had a basic cross bike but Lachy* knew that his team issue Cervélo S5 wasn’t exactly capable of doing that [laughs]. So all credit to his foresight, he called up Mosaic and got them to build him a road geometry bike that could also handle gravel with an Enve fork that could fit a bigger tyre. He kind of created a road bike for dirt.
[*Gus’ brother, Lachlan Morton]
cyclespeak And that got you both thinking?
Gus After that first experience riding through the Outback, a whole bunch of product ideas came into our heads. And we’d already been playing around with the ways of riding a bike that weren’t being serviced. So after Uluru we were thinking how we’d go about making a bike and that it would look like this or this or this. And we’d talk about it and draw up designs. Eventually this led to a bike frame under the name Outlands. I think there’s ten of them floating around and I’ve still got a couple in my garage at home.
cyclespeak But the process never went any further?
Gus It takes a lot of time and experience to do original stuff – whether that’s a bike from scratch or even a piece of clothing. We’d been talking to some people in Hong Kong but it was like, fuck, we don’t know what we’re doing here. And this was back in 2015, 2016 when both Lachy and I were professional athletes and didn’t have a huge amount of time to dedicate to going over and spending a couple of months in Hong Kong.
cyclespeak So what’s changed since then?
Gus Those ideas were floating around from the very beginning of Thereabouts and people have always asked when we were going to make stuff. And then when Isaac and I got together, I guess the act of bringing in an outside perspective with all this other world experience kind of opened up our thoughts. That maybe we coulddo this in collaboration with smaller brands. And it was Isaac who created that impetus and had the technical know-how.
cyclespeak You each come at things from your own perspective?
Gus I’ve said this to you before, I’m very utility focused. I’ll just do whatever I can to make something work. I enjoy that but I’m really only using the tools that I have. Isaac is much more about the right tools for the job and acknowledging that there are people with the expertise to make this stuff. And so, with Isaac on board, we decided to make a bike. Yes, I had connections with people, but it was his knowledge of equipment and his perspective on riding that created the impetus for us to be like, well, who would we want to partner with? What do we want to make?
cyclespeak Thinking along those lines, Isaac, when you see a bike leaning against a wall or outside a coffee shop, what do you see as the potential in that collection of tubes and components?
Isaac I’m not sure whether this will answer your question but in advertising, which is what my full-time job was before coming onboard with Thereabouts, you’re basically a commissioner. You make decisions on the director and the film editor, the visual FX and the music. You lead with your team – this collection of collaborators – and I guess my brain just works that way. So when Gus and I first got together and discussed all the possibilities for projects, we began by figuring out all the people Gus knew and had worked with.
cyclespeak To build your team.
Isaac And in a similar way to a collection of ideas and a collaboration of minds, bikes are so exciting because you personally get to choose all the parts. What wheels you want and what tyres will work with the riding you’ll be doing. And I guess I really enjoy figuring out how all these separate elements can come together. In a sense, working out the tone and the character. Which is just as true for a film as it is for a bike build.
Gus And that’s what’s interesting because we were only talking yesterday about what’s changed with Thereabouts since Isaac and I got together. I’m someone that if I see something, I’ll ask myself whether I can do that too. And if I can’t, I won’t do it. Or maybe I can see a way I can learn that skill and take on that task. But I’m not someone who reaches out for help.
cyclespeak And Isaac?
Gus He’s very much no, no, no. We’ve got to do this properly. Isaac’s more for finding the right person, reaching out to them, engaging with them and bringing them in. And the balance of those two outlooks has really launched Thereabouts massively forward. Whereas before, if it couldn’t just be done in-house then it wasn’t going to happen. And that’s where I was blocked.
cyclespeak This sounds like quite a profound change in your way of thinking?
Gus I wanted to do all these things but didn’t really know where to start. The bike, the film projects, the podcast. All these new facets of Thereabouts have come about because of Isaac’s whole other approach to thinking that balanced out my own in a really powerful way.
cyclespeak So the idea for the bike has been there from the early days of Thereabouts and you’ve referenced before, Gus, that you see a bike as a tool for moving and for journeying. And Isaac, I know you share that viewpoint, but you also come at it from a form and function perspective. Do you both feel the project benefited from these different approaches in bringing the process to fruition?
Gus To be honest, I was always onboard with making a bike but it was Isaac’s desire to see it done properly that proved the deciding factor. Left to my own devices, I would just ride what I had and stick a rack on it or tie a bag on. Often things that weren’t really meant to be used in that way but I would modify them to just make it work with the shit that I had. And from that regard, the equipment was always an afterthought. But having done that for a long time, all of a sudden someone comes in and tells you, no, there’s a product for that. Or the potential to create something to do that particular job. And the Crust bike is a perfect example. When I rode it for the first time I was like, oh shit, that’s what it feels like to ride something that’s meant to be ridden in those conditions. It’s so much easier and so much more enjoyable [laughs].
cyclespeak I love the idea that you don’t see the bike purely as a possession. It’s all about what you can do with it. Where it can take you.
Gus Exactly. All of a sudden you’re like, holy shit, if we really wanted to, we could hang three gallons of water on this bike and survive in the desert for multiple days without re-supplying. And that’s straight where my mind goes. Riding the Crust, all of a sudden this whole new world opens up.
cyclespeak Isaac, you mentioned the process and I was wondering whether there were other framebuilders in the mix or was it always going to be Crust?
Isaac I was still living in Downtown LA at the time and I only had a road bike. Just riding in Griffith Park and wasn’t really able to get out any further from a time perspective. But I’d lusted after a Crust bike for ages. And especially the Bombora which was the frame we’ve used on our build. And we have to give massive credit to Cheech and Matt for what they’re doing with Crust because they’re building just the coolest bikes. Really owning that category of frames and doing it their own way.
cyclespeak I like the idea that you’re a fan. How there’s an emotional element to your choice of collaborator.
Isaac So I mentioned to Gus that it would be cool to do a Crust and we should get in touch somehow. And he was like, oh, I know Matt. And I’m like, we should hit them up now. And Gus just sent him a message.
cyclespeak With all these different strands coming together, would you say there’s an element of Matt and Cheech in the Thereabouts build?
Gus Absolutely and it’s funny you should say that as I was thinking about my relationship with Matt. Because when you’re riding a bike professionally, you get introduced to all the big names on the race circuit. Just by virtue of you simply being part of that world. But to be honest, for me, I’ve always been most at home with the dude at the bar that you meet when you’re out riding. That’s where my engagement lies and where my love of this sport is based. Whether that’s down to my inability to make it as a bike rider, I’m not exactly sure. But I’m definitely more comfortable with the more anonymous side of things.
cyclespeak And you feel this relates to your friendship with Matt?
Gus A while back, I was invited on a ride in California and Matt was also on it. He’s this little Aussie bloke – I immediately clocked the accent – but I didn’t know who the fuck he was. And he didn’t know me either. But we’re riding along and chatting and just through talking, all of a sudden, I realised that this is the guy that makes Crust bikes.
cyclespeak And a connection was made.
Gus Here’s this bloke who was a plumber, a surfer, a BMXer. And with Crust he just created his own niche within the cycling world. Really doing it his own way. And there’s no pretence with Matt; he’s super sarcastic and his sense of humour is really similar to mine. So just over the course of this five day ride, I got to know Matt after gravitating to him. The kind of person that doesn’t give a shit about the way that things are or the way things have been.
cyclespeak That sounds a very grounded, down-to-earth approach to business?
Gus Way back, Lachy and I had talked to 3T about the Exploro bike. That was originally going to be called the Thereabouts bike.
cyclespeak No way.
Gus Yeah, we worked with Gérard Vroomen. Discussions going to and fro about the design and the whole, fucking gigantic legal process of royalties. We both thought it would be sick to have our name on a bike but the project kind of stalled. And we then went through a similar process with a number of other companies. Sitting around the table with all these heads of brand and they’d be talking about incorporating what we were doing with Thereabouts into their shit.
cyclespeak But nothing came of it?
Gus I kinda thought that having a bike was impossible. You’ve got to jump through so many hoops and then at the eleventh hour the process reaches a point where it stalls. But with Matt, there was none of that [laughs]. We called him and asked about making a bike and he said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ And it was really that easy. One person, their own brand, doing their own thing and just interested in making stuff that excites them. And that’s like, very rare, I think. Just wanting to get it done.
cyclespeak In the Thereabouts podcast episode that features Crust, Matt says he doesn’t care what the cycling industry thinks.
Gus That’s right. He doesn’t [laughs].
cyclespeak So I wondered where you sit? And whether your self-perception is one of outsiders?
Isaac That’s an interesting topic [Gus laughing in background]. I think to a degree we’re outsiders but, in the same breath, we’re still kind of part of it all. And going back to my earlier point about collaboration, we still need wheels and a group set to complete the build. So, no matter what, you look to different people to help bring your vision to life. And we value and really care about our relationships with those individuals or brands that build bikes and I think it’s really inspiring what people like Matt and Cheech are doing at Crust.
cyclespeak So, after deciding on Crust for the frames, I guess you had a free rein for the componentry?
Gus Exactly. Isaac was like, let’s do this or use this. And that’s sort of how this all works. One of us will come in with an idea – for a film, podcast, whatever – and the other one will either be, that’s great, or no mate. There’s a sense of checks and balances but when it came to the equipment it was very much what’s the sickest thing we could put on the bike. I suppose the best way I can frame it is to ask if you know that much about tractors?
Gus Well, Lamborghini started out making tractors. My Dad used to have a Lamborghini tractor on the farm. And I kind of picture the Crust in the same way. It’s got really fucking fast shit on it but it’s still a tractor [laughs]. You’re not going to race this in the World Tour but it’s specced out like it expects to be. So the thinking went, what’s the most do-anything robust frame? And that’s how we arrived at the Crust Bombora. And then we asked ourselves, what’s the most badass shit we can put on it so we can make this tractor go as fast as possible over any terrain.
cyclespeak It sounds like a fun process?
Gus Just completely unorthodox. And going back to that question of whether we see ourselves as outsiders. From an ideological standpoint, then absolutely, we’re outsiders. We’re talking about using the bike in very different ways but, at the same time, we have to co-exist inside this industry and we’ve got really great relationships with brands like SRAM, Rapha and Specialized. It’s just that we tend to look at ways of using a bike that lie outside the regular realm of riding.
cyclespeak In the film Sometime Thereafter, you explore the idea of a shared journey experienced through individual perspectives. So when the finished Crust was standing in front of you, how did you both feel seeing your name on the bike?
Gus I guess I look at it this way. A bike is greater than the sum of its parts and we were lucky enough to know these people who make derailleurs, wheels, tyres. Who make bar tape and saddles. They’re all creating these elements and there’s all these personalities and characters behind those components. And Isaac was able to pull them all together into an epitome of what we are and what our view of the sport is. And as a result, we put our name on it because it’s a physical representation of where we currently see Thereabouts and what we want to use a bike for. That unquantifiable essence of a bike and how it moves you through space. That’s us, putting our name on it. Like putting an intention to your day [laughs].
Isaac The parts arrived as Covid was happening so the bikes were built up during lockdown in Portland. I drove everything over and then, a few days later, you’ve got a fully-built bike. Which was crazy because they looked way different than I was expecting.
cyclespeak And then you got to ride them.
Isaac It was mine and Gus’ first escape from lockdown restrictions on a trip to Southern Utah. I loaded the bikes into my car and we drove all the way south.
cyclespeak Was this Utah trip a case of ticking boxes – a testbed for the bikes – or more about asking questions?
Isaac It was heavenly.
Gus It was.
Isaac The riding was pretty out there and our bikes were completely fucked up but they survived.
cyclespeak Once again, returning to the theme of a tool for a purpose?
Gus Exactly. In terms of putting your name on something, we’re storytellers and this build fits in a kind of abstract way to that end. A tool that will help us to tell a story and hopefully empower people to make their own journeys.
cyclespeak You mentioned how your Crust bikes were built up during the Covid lockdown. Has the pandemic influenced the direction you’re going with Thereabouts?
Gus Looking back on the past year, having everything scratched gave us time to rethink our approach and strategise a bit. Along the lines of what we want to do and how we’re going to do it. So we spent a lot of time reformatting the business plan. How we can make and tell these stories and get them to the widest audience in the most beautiful way. So we’ve got a lot of exciting things in development and a shitload of work to be done over the next six months. But we’re getting there [smiles].
cyclespeak For many people, the pandemic has been life changing and not always in a positive way. But maybe adversity can sometimes push you to question and reassess how you’re living? To explore new directions and appreciate what we might have taken for granted?
Gus At least from my personal point of view, I’ve always felt the urgency to do things and get them out. The last two years have really changed that for a number of reasons but as a result I feel we now have a more sound perspective which will hopefully help us make a bigger difference in the work that we do. At the heart of Thereabouts, it’s about telling stories that inspire people. We want to show the positive impact sport can have on society at whatever level you choose to engage. Sometimes it feels the way we go about this might not be the easiest way to do it. But, for us, it’s certainly the most rewarding.
With worldwide concerns over mental health never more prevalent, producer and storyteller Sami Sauri’s first independent film production is a clarion call for the benefits of spending time outdoors. Catching up with Sami from her home in Girona, and with a conversation punctuated with bursts of laughter, we discuss the personal nature of this poignant and beautifully realised project, her own lessons from lockdown and how it feels to see yourself on screen. So sit back and enjoy a thrills (and some spills) tour through Sami’s past year.
cyclespeak The last time we spoke over a call was way back in March when Spain was in full lockdown. And I was wondering, looking back over all this time, how was it for you?
Sami Fucked [laughing]
cyclespeak That bad?
Sami I think maybe it’s been tough for most people? And in some aspects, I’ve been fortunate. Lockdown didn’t make that much of a difference because I was already working from home. I’ve since changed to having a co-working space so I can separate the professional and personal aspects to my life. But back when we were in the strict lockdown, I basically had to solve all my problems and had the time to think. To think about a lot of things [laughing].
cyclespeak Possibly too much time?
Sami That, for me, can be very difficult. Because if I have things on my mind, normally I would just throw myself into activities. But we couldn’t even go riding and I’d been training really well. I tried to keep the intensity going but I don’t really like to ride inside on a trainer. It’s not really my thing. So riding-wise I was a little bit down, but I still wanted to move my body, so a lot of yoga. And I suppose the biggest outcome of all of this, is that I really know how to be alone. Before, it was a hassle, but I’ve learnt how to be by myself, in my own space. And as I’ve been injured for the past four weeks, it’s fine. I can deal with it. Before, I would have freaked out by now [laughs].
cyclespeak Over the past year, I’ve listened to a few podcasts featuring professional cyclists who tried to keep to their training blocks but on the smart trainer. And then two weeks became two months and they needed to alter their mindset when it came to their levels of fitness. They found they couldn’t maintain such a rigorous training regime without some defined goals.
Sami Totally. There were some strong people that could do it, but not me [smiles].
cyclespeak Even though the impact of the pandemic has been quite unprecedented, it did encourage people to be very creative in the way they approached cycling—ideas such as Dirty Kanzelled which had a massive impact. An event that you’d actually raced the previous year.
Sami That was Laurens ten Dam. The cleverest outcome from a cancelled race you could imagine. It was insane how much reach he got. Super, super smart and maybe an approach we’ll need to take this year if things turn out the same?
cyclespeak I was fortunate that, even during lockdown, I was allowed to do a solo ride once a day. But you couldn’t exercise outside at all. That must have been difficult?
Sami 52 days in total without outdoor sports. And then, when we could go outside, we had to stay within our own municipality.
cyclespeak And I’ve seen your recent posts with you on crutches and wearing a big plastic boot. What’s been going on there?
Sami As I said before, 2020 wasn’t exactly my best year [laughing]. Back in October, I was going out horse-riding and it was a young horse and he just took off with me on top of him. We were in a parking lot so he could get used to the noise of traffic, and something must have spooked him. His ears were back, which is never a good sign, and he was running towards the road so I tried to turn him and lost my balance and fell. But rather than just falling off, my foot was caught in the stirrup and it was just like a Western movie with me being dragged along [laughs].
cyclespeak I guess it wasn’t so funny at the time?
Sami It took a big hole out of my knee and the first time in my life that I’ve needed stitches. I had to wait 10 days to have them removed before I could ride again. But a few days later I was out on my bike and I was stupidly looking at my phone – swapping it between hands – and I crashed.
cyclespeak So that’s injury number two.
Sami I was booked on a flight to the Canaries a couple of days later but had to postpone the trip. When I did finally make it out there, I had 20 amazing days working on a new video project before flying home. But then my foot slipped when I was out trail-running and I broke some ligaments.
cyclespeak Horse, bike, running. You’re kind of covering all bases?
Sami That was my 2020. And it’s funny because I’ve just signed with Merrell as a partner for their running shoes. Super cool and we were working towards the release of the collaboration and the irony is that I’m on crutches [laughs].
cyclespeak You mentioned a new video project. That sounds exciting.
Sami Well, I’ve kind of got this history of working with video. Both in front and behind the camera. And somebody just suggested that I do something for myself. My first reaction was, naahh, there’s no way. But I kept coming back to the idea for six months until I thought that maybe I should. You always hate your look or your voice when you see yourself on a video but I decided to go for it.
cyclespeak So what was the first step?
Sami I contacted a photographer called Sergio Villalba in the Canaries. He does amazing surf shots, and I knew he was starting to do videos of cycling. So we got in touch and I explained that I wanted to do this inspirational film to empower people to engage in outdoor sports. He was immediately onboard with the idea and we decided to shoot the footage on Lanzarote. It took three days, and we’re now ready to release the film.
cyclespeak You must feel so proud?
Sami It’s really hard when the project is about you [laughs]. And to be honest, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. David Millar helped me by looking over the text but even as recently as yesterday I had a complete freak-out. Asking whether he thought it was correct? If the video even makes sense? Does my accent work, speaking in English?
cyclespeak So you produced and directed the film. Did you script it too?
Sami I wrote a long text with notes about my feelings. It was originally twice as long as the final version. But I decided it needed some gaps otherwise it’s basically just me chatting. And even though it’s still quite personal, there was a lot of insight into my life and it was like, oh shit, maybe that doesn’t need to be included [laughs].
cyclespeak But you still took the decision to refer to your childhood in the narrative?
Sami I feel like a lot of people can relate to this. And one of the most difficult things is not having regrets, right? So this all leads into the message of the project. That no matter what, the outdoors is a healthy way of recovering and filling you up with good energy.
cyclespeak Did you write the script and then fit the shots? What was the process?
Sami The basic idea of encouraging people to enjoy being outside came first. Then I wrote the script before sharing it with Sergio. From there, we worked on a list of shots, and he knew so many amazing locations as he’s from the Canaries. All these different aspects were then tied up to match the mood of the moment.
cyclespeak The result is really beautiful.
Sami We used an actual 8mm camera – that’s not a filtered effect – which looks really cool.
cyclespeak How does it compare producing someone else’s film to your own?
Sami Good question [laughs]. If it’s not your project, you’re not necessarily working with a style you want. On this project, I had the freedom to experiment and try out different approaches knowing that it was my own time.
cyclespeak It’s quite a journey from first featuring in films to now working on your own projects. Does that feel satisfying?
Sami Totally. The idea is that this project will lead to more adventures for me this year. So this film is the first but definitely not the last one [smiles].
Running five businesses and adding a judging role on BBC’s The Great British Sewing Bee into the mix and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a case of all work and no play. But although he admits to working incredibly long hours, fashion designer and businessman Patrick Grant proves to be cheerful and charismatic company and clearly relishes this portmanteau of professional roles.
Illustrated with images from a ride with friends, Patrick took time out from his busy schedule to discuss a relationship with cycling that proves vitally important in balancing a stellar career with the need to relax and reflect.
You rescued Savile Row bespoke tailors Norton & Sons from near insolvency in 2005 and then went on to relaunch E. Tautz as a ready to wear label in 2009. A year later you were awarded the Menswear Designer award by the British Fashion Council and you also have other business interests in Hammond & Co, Community Clothing and Cookson & Clegg. So I really can’t fathom how you get any time to ride?
I was living in Rossendale for a couple of months at the start of lockdown. We kept working all the way through so I was running the factory and living in borrowed accommodation on a farm at the top of a hill. But the weather in April and May was so fantastic that I took every opportunity to jump on my bike. So even when I’m really, really busy with work I can usually find the time to spend at least a couple of hours on the bike.
How do you view your rides? Exercise, escape. Time to think or to switch off?
I suppose in many ways it’s all those things. I enjoy the physical exercise and occasionally I post pictures on Instagram of bits of countryside that I’ve cycled around. People comment that I’d enjoy it more if I got an electric bike. But it’s completely the opposite. I wouldn’t enjoy it at all [laughs].
Does cycling offer more than purely the physicality of riding?
There’s definitely the mental aspect. The clearing of the head and having time to reconnect. I really enjoy just being in those places and the speed that you pass through the scenery on a bicycle seems to be optimal. I love hill walking as well but in five hours on the bike you can move across so many different landscapes whereas, on foot, this sense of journeying is a little more limited.
So the bike is a tool for exploration?
I’m about to move again on Sunday down to London to film Sewing Bee for six weeks. So I’ll have lived in [counting on fingers] one, two, three, four, five different places in four and a half months. And I find cycling a great way to get to know where I am. I’ve always loved maps and feel rather transported by them. I like to visualise the terrain and picture how nice it will be.
Do you like to plan a route or follow your nose?
I’m working from home this week as I’m in isolation ahead of going into a full bubble to start filming. And I was looking out of the window last night and it was so lovely that I just threw some kit on and set off towards the Forest of Bowland. I wanted to try this road I’d noticed but it was very, very narrow and quite apparent that the line of grass in the middle indicated there wasn’t much traffic using it. I got to the bottom where I knew the river cut across only to discover the road was closed. But like most cyclists you ask yourself how closed is it [smiles]? And I quite like that aspect of riding.
Welcoming the unexpected?
On one particular ride with some friends we ended up on a trail with our road bikes. I’m not precious in the slightest about my bike but one of my friends is the exact opposite and he was horrified that we were cycling through gravel and grass. And that was the best bit of the whole day [laughs].
You’re hinting at a slightly rebellious side to your nature. Are you a well behaved cyclist?
Well, I think so. No, I am. But I suppose it depends what you mean. I’m quite happy to climb over a fence next to a road-closed sign to see what’s happening. But when I cycle in London I stop at red lights and I’m a courteous cyclist. But that’s just the way I am in life. And as I’m nearly 50, it’s just not dignified to be behaving badly at my age [smiles].
And when you were younger?
When I was a boy I had a racing bike and I rode it everywhere. Up and down hills. Through rivers. And maybe that’s why I’m such a big fan of the Rough-Stuff Fellowship. I found it all so inspirational that I was a Kickstarter backer of the book. And it’s funny because a friend and I did a coast to coast ride across Scotland with a middle section that included long sections on forest trails. And before we set off he was asking whether I had a cross bike but, as I haven’t, I explained that I’d be OK on my tourer. So I just did it on my Dawes Galaxy and was absolutely fine because the bike is built to withstand anything. There were a couple of tricky downhill sections but you get on with it. And when we were kids you’d ride those sorts of bikes everywhere and you didn’t think anything of it.
Speaking of the bikes that you ride, I was mulling this over and for city riding I initially pictured you on a Brompton but then – considering your engineering background – whether it would be a Moulton?
You credit me with having a) too much money and b) too much time on my hands [laughs]. But no, I ride a big, old Pashley. The classic frame with the double top tube. It’s got big wheels and big tyres and a sprung Brooks saddle. The roads in London are atrocious with potholes the size of your head so I want to be safe and comfortable. And I don’t ride in Lycra in London. I cycle at a pace which means I don’t need to shower when I get to work. The bike is used to dot about all over the place and you can stick two massive panniers on it for all your clutter. And you’re also very tall on it – above the height of most cars – so people can see you.
And what bike for the open road? I was going down the custom steel direction.
I have a couple of things other than the Dawes. My best bike is a 20-year-old Trek. The US Postal, Lance Armstrong era carbon frame. I bought it second hand from a guy in my triathlon club and it’s really lovely. He was the kind of person that when a new bike came out he’d have to get it.
And it’s still going strong?
At the time, it was the best bike you could buy. But it’s got to the point now that when I take it in, the guys in the bike shop are saying, ‘Look at this, it’s a classic.’ But it’s still a beautiful bike and it handles incredibly well. I’ve ridden modern bikes with electronic shifters and, for me, that 9-speed Dura Ace still takes some beating.
You mentioned a couple of bikes?
I’ve also got an early 70s Raleigh Team Ti with Campag Record that’s also rather lovely. But the gearing is terrible if you’re going up a hill and you haven’t got the super slight build of a climber [smiles].
Thinking along the lines of aesthetics, as a fashion designer is there an expectation that you should look super stylish at all times?
I think people are often surprised when they see me not wearing the same clothes that I wear on Sewing Bee. Because that’s where most people know me from and, on the telly, I’ve pretty much always dressed the same way. A shirt, a tie, a jacket and a pair of trousers and I look reasonably smart. But funnily enough, people don’t really recognise me when I’m not in that gear [laughs]. Most of the time I wear a t-shirt or sweatshirt with a pair of jeans. And my facial hair changes every six months so I manage to live almost entirely incognito.
And on the bike?
Again, it’s not that I don’t care. It’s just that I haven’t got time to be worrying about cycling clothes. I’m very fortunate that I know David Millar and I’ve a few nice pieces of Chpt3 kit. Lovely bibs and jerseys and they make great socks [smiles]. But I’ve also got a bunch of dodgy old team jerseys that I bought on Wiggle. So I suppose a little surprisingly – considering my business interests – it’s not a fashion parade at all.
A time when you’re not thinking about that aspect of your life?
I like wearing functionally great gear but I’m not standing in front of the mirror making sure I’m fully coordinated. It’s funny because I get asked what I see people wearing that makes me cringe and I always answer, ‘Nothing!’ If you look forward to putting on your box-fresh socks and matching your outfit to your bike, then absolutely go for it. More power to you. And I do have an old woollen Raleigh Ti team jersey which I wear for Eroica where it’s about the look as much as the ride.
I was speaking to your friend Stuart Clapp and he has some very opinionated – and very funny – views on the do’s and don’ts of cycling attire.
Stuart’s very funny about everything [laughs].
He also has access to a lot of gear as Desire editor for Rouleur. And you mentioned another friend of yours, David Millar, who was speaking on his podcast about wearing a pair of socks with a pattern on them and how they should line up correctly. But I’m guessing you don’t prescribe to on-the-bike etiquette and rules?
If I’m wearing something, I’ll wear it properly. And I say that I’m casual about it but it’s probably not true [laughs]. Even to the extent that if I throw something on and I’m wearing a black jersey and black bib shorts, then if they’re not the right shade of black I might just reach for another one out of the cupboard. So I’m probably more fastidious about it than I’m admitting to. And Stuart is always very well turned out but he must have 75 pairs of cycling shoes. He’s wearing a different pair every time I see him. I’ve got a road pair that I’ve had for years and a crappy old pair with SPD cleats that I use for the tourer. But it’s like all my kit, I’m not going to buy more until something wears out. I like to use things until they stop being useful. And if I can, I’ll fix something. I’ll patch and repair so I’ll still be wearing the same kit when it comes back into fashion. If shit 90s graphics are ever in again, I’ll be right there in the sweet spot [laughs].
In a sense, cycling can seem rather tribal. Serious roadies, mountain bikers, the fixie scene, retro. Do you feel defined by a label?
No, not really. I cycle with a few friends and other than that, I’m out by myself. At the moment I don’t have a lifestyle that allows me to be a regular club rider. When I was living in London I was a member of Dulwich Paragon and I’d go out on Saturday rides with them and some track at Herne Hill. I’ve got a really nice steel Pete Matthew’s track bike which looks very odd leaning up trackside amongst all the whizzy carbon frames.
So maybe a foot in different camps?
I do a bit of whatever comes along. The Dirty Reiver a couple of years back and the London to Newcastle 24. But I also like to get out into the mountains and l find the idea of carrying all my gear with me very appealing. I’ve got a lovely little Terra Nova tent that packs down really well.
Your brand E. Tautz originally made a name for itself manufacturing sporting goods. I believe Winston Churchill was a customer but had a problem paying his bill?
He did pay it eventually [smiles].
Any plans for a line of cycling apparel to continue that sporting heritage?
E. Tautz & Sons – as it was known then – did actually make bicycling clothing. They designed specific breeches for all sorts of sports and cycling was one of their lines. But the truth is, we wouldn’t want to do this on that brand just because there’s lots and lots of people doing really good cycle wear and I think you’ve got to be fully committed to that. But there is a chance we’d do something cycle related through Community Clothing which is the other ready-to-wear business that I do myself.
I believe it’s got a very innovative business model?
The brand supports British manufacturing through the work that we give them. We use UK factories and we sell our products at a very affordable price. It’s all about creating really simple, high quality everyday bits of kit. Until now we’ve done this with clothing but there’s no reason why collaborating in producing a bike wouldn’t be quite Community Clothing. Because what we do have is a growing audience of people who like supporting homegrown companies and we’re a go-to place for nice simple, well made stuff.
Thinking once again about the time you spend on the bike – everything simplified down to the turn of a pedal – I was wondering whether this allows you to balance the demands of all these different business interests?
It is great thinking time. And I don’t use Strava. I choose to disconnect myself from all that sort of stuff as well. I carry my phone because I like to take photographs and it’s a more convenient size than my camera. And in my job, I’m on the phone for sometimes six or seven hours a day and receive constant emails. A steady stream of interruptions to any train of thought so it’s difficult to think about one given thing at a time. And because we have five different businesses, I’m constantly juggling between one and another. So the only time I get to really step away from all of that is when I’m cycling. I find I have a very busy mind but that all dampens down a bit when I’m riding and allows me time to reflect. And of course, once you disconnect, your mind takes a moment to suppress itself before it starts to wander. And from there, well…
As Komoot’s community manager for Spain, Sami Sauri has recently settled down to a comparatively 9-5 routine (if you count Sufferfest collaborations with Wahoo and making plans to ride with Specialized as everyday life). And finding she had some vacation time over winter but wanting a holiday rather than a new project, Indonesia was decided on as the destination. With no filming schedule or post-production commitments – Sami just taking a camera to capture her days on the road – this was to be a biking holiday with her friend Jack and an opportunity to soak up and experience an unfamiliar culture.
Now back in Girona but housebound due to the Coronavirus lockdown, Sami took time to reflect on her trip and chat candidly about the intense heat, her interactions with the local population and why it’s perhaps inadvisable to eat in low lit restaurants.
Oh, man. I enjoyed every single moment of this trip. Well, nearly every minute [laughs]. It was my first time in the Far East and my first time riding in such a humid environment. And they drive on the other side of the road which also took a little getting used to. So everything was very different but also incredibly photogenic. I just wanted to stop everywhere to take a picture. Which can sometimes get a little tricky if you actually want to complete your journey [laughs].
But if you see something amazing, you kind of want to document it?
It’s a balance because we did have a plan. An A to B route with a flight to catch when we got to our final stop. So we couldn’t not get there.
How did the idea for the trip come about?
I’d talked to Jack [Thompson] about going somewhere over winter. He rides as a living so is fairly flexible and I was owed some vacation time so we just decided to go for it [laughs].
And why this particular destination?
Jack had a good contact in the Bali tourism office and we thought it would be fun to spend Christmas somewhere sunny. Not something I’ve ever done before. And because I had a few spare days we also planned to have time on the beach so that I could surf. So we had 10 days for riding and another 5 for Christmas and just chilling out.
You mentioned that Jack rides bikes for a living?
On Instagram he’s @jackultracyclist. He thinks up these crazy challenges like doing three Everestings over three days in three different countries. Or riding 1,200 km from Girona to Portugal in 56 hours non-stop.
With Route 66 you’ve done some pretty big rides yourself, so riding together on this trip, how did your personalities bounce off each other?
To be really honest it was interesting because all my other long trips have been with Gus [Morton] and we’d be filming and working on a project. Indonesia still had the element of photography but it was like starting from zero and learning about each other. And we did have one little meltdown.
Of course [smiles].
Yeah, of course [laughs]. It happened before when [Gus and I] were filming Thereabouts and I think it would still happen if it was just two friends. You’re a little tired and irritable and you need some space but that’s hard to do if you’re travelling together. So we had this one night and then in the morning it was fine again. And Jack’s a very easygoing person in general and he speaks Balinese – is that a language [smiles] – or is it Indonesian?
That must have come in handy.
He was speaking with the locals along the route which was really cool.
Your photographs show a variety of very different landscapes. Farmland and rainforest but also arid and rocky highlands.
Jack had this route figured out that linked together all these volcanoes. The first one we rode up is the most active volcano in Indonesia. Impressive because people are just living right below its ridge. All these little houses and places to eat jumbled together and the most recent eruption was only in 2011.
That’s quite recent?
Yeah, right [laughs]. And we rode right up to the top.
So you had this route planned out but what were your first impressions when you flew in?
It was 9:00pm at night, I wasn’t even moving and I’d started sweating. So I was, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die.’ So hot that I was really concerned whether I’d be able to ride. But then we took a taxi and as we drove away from the airport you could see the people in the street and all this life going on outside. So energetic and vibrant that this sense of excitement took away any worries.
It’s very noticeable that many of your photographs feature the people you saw on the road or talked with in the towns and villages.
Thanks to Jack it was a little easier to communicate. And the first three days we were still in modern Indonesia. There’s a lot of tourism on Bali island so you get the recognisable restaurants and supermarkets. But then we took the boat across to Java. And suddenly, no tourists.
That must have been quite a contrast?
Indonesia has lots of different cultures and religions and in the fishing town where we were dropped off you could see evidence of this in the sights and sounds of everyday life. And then we pitched up and I’m wearing a t-shirt and shorts – it’s super hot – and girls would stop and ask to have their photograph taken with me as this was the first time they’d seen a woman with tattoos.
The centre of attention?
Absolutely. We’d be riding and people would pull over their car to take a photo. Some of them could speak a little English and everyone says hello. Wherever you ride in Bali and Java; hello, hello, hello [laughs].
The colours in your images are also incredibly vivid.
The landscape was super varied as we rode. A lush green that gradually changed to the oranges and browns of rock and sand the higher we climbed. A very sensory environment with woodsmoke and the smells of cooking from early in the morning.
Is travelling by bike a common sight?
There’s an established community of cyclists in the big cities. But in the more remote areas, sometimes they’d spot you and shout the whole family to come out and see.
And you were stopping off and eating on the road?
I’ll be honest. It was hard. For me, it was the first time I’d ever travelled to this part of the world. So I didn’t really know what to eat. Jack had more of an idea and he’d recommend this or that. And we ate a lot of ice cream to cool us down [laughs]. One evening we were in a restaurant on the beach and it was pretty dark. We’d ordered this plate of rice mixed with different types of vegetables. Everything is usually covered in chillies and I’d asked if they could keep them separate. But then what I mistook for a carrot…
I can see this coming.
…was this huge chilli. And I hate spicy things. I just can’t deal with it. And this blew my mouth wide open and next morning I woke up with a massive allergic reaction. My face was blown up like a balloon. And this was also the same day I had the meltdown with Jack [laughs]. But we had a flight booked so I had to keep riding and then we had this torrential rain so it really couldn’t get any worse. Rivers of water flowing down the streets; it was impossible to ride. So we just took a taxi and headed back to Bali where I enjoyed a few days of surfing. A nice way to end our holiday.
Looking back at the whole trip, what were the most memorable moments?
The friendliness of the people definitely stood out. As for the riding, we had some steep-ass climbs but then you’d get an awesome downhill section. An unbelievably beautiful landscape where we’d turn to look back and see a volcano rising up out of the rainforest below. The spicy food I’m not going to include in this list [laughs] but everything else was pretty amazing.