“We’re a relatively small company but that makes us very personable. Every customer and every bike we build is so important to us.”
Speaking over a video call from his office in Taiwan, Jeff Webb has an easy manner that suggests he’s just as comfortable solving problems in the workshop as he is sitting around a boardroom table in his role as CEO of Fara Cycling.
Canadian-born, when he was 19 years old he travelled to Europe to pursue a dream of racing his bike professionally before subsequently settling in Norway. Following a successful career as a sports photographer and years working in the sporting goods industry, Jeff founded Fara Cycling in 2015 with a vision of building a bike brand for a new breed of cyclists. One that’s inspired by adventure, emotions and nature.
“When I first started Fara Cycling, it was typical me—bullheaded in the face of a lot of naivety but just going at it and not feeling that I was prepared to back out. And right from the off, I wanted to make people feel comfortable and do away with any sense of intimidation, elitism and snobbery. You go to a trade show and it’s awash with all these images depicting gritted teeth and hollow-eyed faces. And I’m really not sure who these brands are talking to because at Fara we’re so far away from that. We never mention lactic acid or FTP—that’s not our world. What we do focus on is how the bike allows you to enjoy all these amazing places and experiences.”
Although Fara Cycling is based in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, Jeff has spent the past six months in Taiwan overseeing the final pre-launch phase of the company’s new bike model: the F/GR.
“Because of the various travel restrictions and the need to hotel quarantine on arrival, it makes sense to remain for a longer period rather than travelling back and forth. And Taiwan’s a nice place to be—the climate is warm and there’s so much great riding to choose from.”
With Fara wanting to own as much of the value chain as possible, their Taiwanese facility allows easy access to component suppliers – SRAM are located just down the road – and the convenience of overseeing vital finishing touches such as paint.
“We decided to keep final assembly in-house which is a little unusual in the bike industry. Even the paint we use is purchased by ourselves from the supplier who’s also just round the corner. So all this gives us a pretty unique level of control over the various stages of manufacturing.”
Now that it’s a little over five years since the dream of creating his own brand became a reality, Jeff recognises how the time he spent travelling the globe as a photographer provided the inspiration that eventually led to Fara Cycling.
“I did a lot of work with small skiing and snowboarding brands—allowing me to see from the ground up how they created their own market. So I took all these insights and started Fara in Norway – this fascinating location – because I’ve lived there for the past 25 years, I speak the language and feel socially immersed in every way you can imagine.”
“In Old Norse,” Jeff continues, “At Fara means to journey or venture. So we have this cultural thread that ties together the whole brand and I truly believe that recognising this identity was a key moment in our growth. Something that really drove us and continues to do so.”
With this initial inspiration provided by the winter sports brands he was photographing, it was the years Jeff spent heading up sales management for a large sporting goods corporation that proved equally as motivational when it came to launching his own company.
“The more I worked in this corporate world, the greater the belief in me grew that we could do things better. That we could grow a brand that spoke more directly to the customer base.”
Determined to start his own company according to these firmly held principles, Jeff contacted his friend Kenneth Pedersen—the owner of highly respected brand design agency ANTI and also a keen cyclist.
“If you peek behind the curtain,” suggests Jeff with a smile, “you might be surprised at what we’ve managed to achieve with a relatively small team. We’ve recently expanded in response to the demand for bikes during the pandemic but it wasn’t that long ago – a little over two years – that I was the only full-time employee. I was building bikes during the day and answering emails at night.”
With teams now based in Oslo and Taiwan together with a handful of employees working remotely, not only has the Fara workforce increased in numbers but the model range has grown to encompass riding styles that range from road to gravel adventure.
“We’re heavily influenced by our immediate surroundings,” Jeff explains. “So we design bikes that work in the landscapes where we ourselves ride. Which is why we had a gravel bike from day one—before gravel was even a thing. And the idea for our all-road bike, the F/AR, came about when we wanted a bike that could go anywhere. A bike that’s fast and fun that you can ride really, really far. That really resonates with me and influences the way I myself ride. We weren’t looking to dumb down the ride experience—slow and sluggish was never an option.”
“Riding gravel – or whatever you choose to call it – is very much a social scene too. I regularly see groups of riders heading out of Oslo on a loop before stopping off to chat over a coffee or beer. A very different way of riding compared to ten or 15 years ago. And we saw this as an opportunity to design the whole brand – the concept and messaging – around this new style of riding.”
Another recent trend in the cycling industry is the enormous growth in online sales with Fara opting for a direct-to-customer sales strategy. A working model that sees Jeff taking a turn on customer services and replying to messages on his Instagram account.
“A couple of years ago we were contacted by a customer who had a bike that was making the most terrible noise. He’d taken it to his local bike shop but they couldn’t help so I loaded up my car with tools and spare parts and drove three and a half hours to this guy’s house. It only took 15 minutes to diagnose and fix the problem – the rear axle needed re-greasing – but taking care of this customer’s problem was well worth the time and effort.”
“We’re a bit of a ragtag bunch at Fara and I believe that one of my skills is to recognise the potential in people. So if I come across someone I feel might prove a good fit in our journey, I don’t hesitate in talking to them. I very much appreciate how everyone in the Fara team is so passionate about cycling and also the brand. And with that comes our uncompromising approach to the highest level of customer service—making sure that everyone is treated well and has the best possible consumer journey. After all, your customers are your most important ambassadors.”
Not only is Jeff concerned with implementing a robust system of customer support, his vision of building bikes that are fun to ride but also supremely capable has led his design team to explore issues of rider comfort and convenience—the recently developed integrated luggage system offering a clever method of fixing bike bags using a series of magnets embedded in the frame.
“It may appear deceptively simple,” comments Jeff, “but it’s a response to a set of circumstances familiar to many of our customers. You’re on a multi-day trip, pulling up at your overnight stop with frozen hands and you’re struggling to remove the straps of your bags. There had to be a better way.”
“So in the design phase of the F/AR – because we knew it would be used for this kind of adventure riding – it just felt like a wasted opportunity if we couldn’t find a way of integrating the luggage system. Yes, we wanted the bike to look great with or without the bags, and now that we’ve designed our first version of the system, we just need people to use it and enjoy it and then we’ll see where we can take it from here.”
For customers able to visit Oslo, the various aspects of the customer journey have been distilled into the Fara Cycling Experience Centre—the online process of picking a model to fit a particular riding style before selecting components that work with a customer’s budget complemented by in-person advice and the opportunity to see before you buy.
“Our Experience Centre offers a warm welcome and advice to everyone. We don’t care how long your socks are, if you shave your legs or whether you want to ride thirty kilometres or three hundred. All of that stuff doesn’t concern us—we’re all about the joy of cycling and that everyone should feel welcome. So the first thing you’ll hear as you walk inside is ‘hi’ followed by ‘do you want a cup of coffee’?”
Although it’s clear that Jeff still relishes every available opportunity to engage with his customer base, a typical working day as CEO can depend on a number of disparate factors with his current Taiwanese timezone proving a prime example.
“The mornings are generally quiet over here so I can go for a ride before things get a little crazy after lunch when Oslo wakes up. Then I’ll work into the evening – usually until midnight – but I don’t consider myself a typical executive. I’m just a bike guy and feel very fortunate to have lots of really talented and inspiring colleagues along for the journey. As the founder of the company, it’s really touching when other people buy into your vision.”
“Everybody in the Fara Cycling team works so hard which makes my job so much easier,” Jeff concludes. “And in return, I want to give them a great place to work and the feeling that they’re part of something that’s really cool. Money is money but a sense of collective achievement is priceless.”
I’m a racer for hire. Kind of a lone wolf mentality.
Sandwiched between racing Liège–Bastogne–Liège and the Tour of California, Pete Stetina lined up at the 2019 Belgian Waffle Ride in the colours of his World Tour team Trek-Segafredo. A 133-mile gravel race out of San Marcos, California, his first place finish set in motion a seismic shift in the way he now rides a race bike; Pete swapping team buses for van life as he balances the demands of training with negotiating sponsor deals and maintaining his social media presence.
Engagingly honest and self-aware, Pete sat down to take a deep dive into the reasons he races and the reality of life as a gravel privateer—a candid conversation that freewheels from flights of beer to family time on the couch.
cyclespeak It’s eight in the morning for you. Have you already got a ride in?
Pete God, no! My wife works a normal 8 – 5 so we’re up at 6:30am getting the coffee going and walking the dogs. The usual morning routine. And then come 10:00am, if the weather is good I might head out. Old pro habits die hard [laughs].
cyclespeak You’re out on the West Coast?
Pete That’s right. Northern California; about one hour north of San Francisco.
cyclespeak Quite a kind climate?
Pete It’s Mediterranean. Where all the Napa Valley wine comes from. So it’s vineyard riding and steep coastal hills. You get a lot of rain in the winter and a big temperature swing but you can ride 350 days a year.
cyclespeak On your Instagram bio you describe yourself as a bike privateer—a term I really enjoy as it sounds kind of outside the law, almost swashbuckling. What does it mean to you?
Pete It can be a little bit of that. I suppose it denotes a way of riding outside the traditional format. A little bit mercenary, I guess. I’m a racer for hire that contracts out to different companies. I’m not beholden to a set template so I can do what I want and make ends meet that way. Kind of a lone wolf mentality.
cyclespeak A new concept when applied to bike racing?
Pete It’s always existed – especially in mountain biking – although no one particularly used the term privateer. But then I did this film project during the 2020 lockdown called ‘Let’s Privateer’ that talked about following your heart. And it’s funny, once I started to promote this attitude, how it kinda grew to be an industry-wide term [laughs].
cyclespeak And how does the term apply to you?
Pete I’m a team of one. I’m doing my own contracts, my own deals, my own logistics.
cyclespeak That’s an interesting point you make – you being a team of one – especially considering you enjoyed a 10-year career as a World Tour professional with eight Grand Tours along the way. Is there anything you miss from that time?
Pete The camaraderie you get with your teammates in a Grand Tour—you feel like you’re going into battle together and long-standing friendships can be built on those shared experiences. And I do miss the simplicity of World Tour life. And when I say simple, I don’t mean that in a negative way. But your job is your body and you just have to be fit and pedal—everything else is taken care of. So whilst it’s very hard physically – the suffering, the diet, the monk lifestyle – it is simple.
cyclespeak I get the impression that what you do now is anything but?
Pete It’s so vast [laughs]. I was recently having to do some documents that involved entering my weekly hours and it’s not unusual for me to do a 70-hour week. So I’m doing pro hours training for these ultra-distance events but then everything else on the back end. Emails, social media and all my sponsor obligations. But like they say—it doesn’t always feel like work if you love it.
cyclespeak Did the World Tour feel like work?
Pete Towards the end, I did begin to feel a little disillusioned with some of the politics. Constantly having to deal with team managers who act friendly but, come contract time, try and undercut you to get a better price with your agent. So the whole business side of things did begin to grate on me. I don’t mean anything negative about that system but I’m more effective doing it my own way and definitely feel in a better place.
cyclespeak Does that translate into performance gains?
Pete During my best climbing days I was doing top ten finishes on mountain stages but I was never going to win a Grand Tour. And just because someone has a bigger engine doesn’t at all mean they will succeed at gravel at the moment. There are so many other factors that influence whether you’re successful. With this whole privateer model and how it fits in with gravel and its anti-establishment roots, you have to be entrepreneurial.
cyclespeak You made gravel racing headlines with your BWR [Belgian Waffle Ride] win in 2019. A pretty awesome achievement and I was wondering how it felt to cross the line in first place?
Pete I honestly didn’t realise how big it would be. I was still racing professionally with Trek-Segafredo and had it in my contract to do three of these alternative races. BWR was the first one and, living as I do in California, it was this super big gravel race. The week before, I’d raced Liège–Bastogne–Liège and was flying back to the US for the Tour of California. My team director wasn’t at all happy that I was returning a week early for some gravel race. And I remember he dropped me off at the airport in Belgium, looked at me and said, ‘You better win’ before shutting the car door and driving off. And I was like, ‘What the hell?’ [laughs].
cyclespeak But you did win.
Pete Crossing the line in first place, I guess it was a feeling of relief in that regard.
cyclespeak And, in a sense, life changing?
Pete It was an amazing day on the bike and I loved every minute of it. But I never expected it to be this catalyst for changing my career. And then afterwards, the attention it got was like this lightbulb moment when I finally realised that something had shifted. A feeling confirmed a week later as I’m going up a climb in the Tour of California – swinging off after helping Richie Porte – and people are yelling, ‘There’s the Belgian Waffle winner!’
cyclespeak That’s so cool.
Pete It helped me to understand that people care and that got the gears turning. And then my second place at the 2019 Dirty Kanza – or Unbound as it’s now known – just acted as confirmation. But it was the BWR repeat in 2021 that was a much more emotional moment.
cyclespeak Was there a lot more pressure lining up as the previous edition’s winner?
Pete A lot. Mostly internal but there was public pressure too. I was the guy who’d jumped away from the World Tour and staked his career on gravel racing. But then 2020 didn’t happen with all the races being cancelled, so 2021 was my first, full gravel season. And the reality is that I’d sold all my sponsors on my ability to perform and win some of these races—that BWR 2019 wasn’t a fluke and just down to World Tour watts.
cyclespeak A lot of mental baggage to carry?
Pete I’d put all this debilitating pressure on myself to do well at BWR 2021 – especially seeing as Canyon was the headline sponsor – and then the race went so poorly with stupid issues that I thought I was out of it five times or more.
cyclespeak Is that just the nature of gravel racing? The unpredictability?
Pete I kind of view a race as a test. If I prepare and do everything just right, then I ace the test which translates to me winning. A very analytical approach that I get pleasure out of. So once again crossing the line in first place, I’m not a very emotional bike racer but it felt like this huge weight that I’d been carrying since 2019 had been suddenly lifted. A sense of brief euphoria that I’d made good on what I’d sold to my sponsors. A very emotional win and something that still gives me a lot of pleasure to look back on.
cyclespeak Hypothetically, would you swap your BWR wins for a stage victory in the Tour?
Pete I don’t know if I can answer that. Maybe but…
cyclespeak I realise they’re very different.
Pete A stage win in the Tour—the one bike race everyone follows [laughs].
cyclespeak It’s what many professional cyclists spend a career seeking?
Pete But those stages happen 21 times a year, every year. So it’s huge for a day but in terms of your job as a bike racer, I’m not absolutely certain it moves the needle that much. Whereas, being the early gravel adopter and then going on to win the BWR twice—that’s been more of a career defining moment.
cyclespeak You come across in the Wahoo films as a chilled, relaxed kind of chap.
Pete It’s all a charade [laughs].
cyclespeak No. Really [laughs]?
Pete I think the relaxed figure that you see is my natural persona when hanging out. And I think, right now, I’m able to be more comfortable in my own skin. The perception of me was very different as a World Tour roady—because that’s what was needed of me to get the most out of myself. I had close friends in my professional racing days and people that probably didn’t like me that much. I wasn’t mean but very, very focused.
cyclespeak And now?
Pete I sometimes wonder if people think it’s a big act but it’s not. I feel I can let my hair down and be my own, organic self. But saying that, it’s also hard to switch off too. You think about the demands of social media and the need to have an online presence with the positives but also the negatives. And that’s something myself and my colleagues living this hybrid lifestyle do struggle with.
cyclespeak You recently posted a reference to another struggle. This year’s race calendar.
Pete The gravel race calendar is a headache in itself [laughs]. It’s a good headache because I’m very much a supporter of an unsanctioned gravel world. It doesn’t need a heavy-handed UCI influence—it’s healthy enough on its own.
cyclespeak I’m sensing a ‘but’…
Pete But the flip side to that is race organisers just checking their permits and choosing their dates. I’ll get texts about a new event in Utah and they’ve decided on the same day as the biggest existing gravel race in Utah. And I’m like, go a week before or a week after. Don’t fight over the same race entry. Just think [laughs]!
cyclespeak So how did you go about building your own race calendar?
Pete It involved a whole bunch of research on small grassroots events that would be fun in a storytelling kind of way. But also the big ones that demand your attention. And then this massive jigsaw has to come together to make sure I can physically get to the races. Because, as a privateer, that’s on you. And if you do miss the registration? Then you have to beg, borrow and steal to get that spot.
cyclespeak You mentioned the UCI. As an ex-World Tour racer, what’s your take on their interest in gravel racing?
Pete I don’t see how they’re going to help. I’m pessimistic and see it as a money grab. On the one hand you have this rapidly growing segment of the sport that’s unregulated and free of handcuffs. And the UCI see how they’ve missed the boat and want to come in because it’s lucrative.
cyclespeak Is it a question of the UCI imposing their own vision?
Pete You take mountain bike racing as an example. There’s a healthy scene in Europe but gone are the days of big, long loops. It’s a spectator sport on a short circuit with grandstands and concessions. But at the same time, we need to welcome inclusivity and recognise that Europe is very gravel-curious from a racing perspective. And it’s all about community so who am I to say what anyone can or can’t do? I’m not the gatekeeper and if the UCI creates events that people want to race, then good for them. You vote with your registration.
cyclespeak When you’re not travelling to events and racing, do you train or just ride your bike?
Pete Both [laughs]. This might be a relatively new race discipline but people are training as hard as they can. And road racing in the US is not particularly healthy at the moment so a lot of riders from the road scene are coming over to gravel. Not so much the sprinters because they have crit racing but if you’re an endurance specialist, you’ve got to do gravel.
cyclespeak So that means more competition?
Pete Gravel is only getting faster and the racing is so hard—I’m hitting career-high numbers that eclipse my World Tour days. Which means I do have to train but that’s only half my job. I don’t have a coach and I have to fit in training around media commitments and sponsorship calls.
cyclespeak So what does your training look like?
Pete You see this relaxed guy riding the Lost Coast and at home he’s really doing trainer intervals everyday? You’ve got to live what you preach and this sport was founded on adventure so a lot of my training is off-road—feeling the dirt and just being happy riding my bike.
cyclespeak I was hoping you were out, doing long rides into the mountains.
Pete These events, they’re all attrition based. Six, seven, ten hours. So, in a sense, going out on long rides is training.
cyclespeak Looking at your race calendar, you’ll need to cover a lot of ground to attend these events. So can you talk me through the various stages of your van life?
Pete Coming from the World Tour, it was always planes, hotels, team buses. And when I started gravel, my plan was to just keep on doing that—have a bike bag, fly in, rent a car from the airport. The van life never interested me. It just seemed like a lot of work, having another automobile.
cyclespeak So what changed?
Pete COVID happened, air fares were sketchy and I needed a way of providing value for my sponsors. So I looked at the van thing again and decided that if I was on the road, sleeping in the back, then I’d be free. I wouldn’t be locked down—I could go anywhere in the great wide, western US.
cyclespeak Sounds exciting.
Pete I did my research and bought a very used van from a friend. And it immediately opened up this door of possibility. I love the lifestyle of freedom—you’re not beholden to air travel transfer times, lost luggage. I can drive into the evening, carrying all my gear, before sleeping somewhere quiet on my own memory foam mattress. And secondly, it’s fun. Every square inch of space in that van is used with infinite possibilities to customise it to your individual needs.
cyclespeak So you were off, exploring wide open places.
Pete And then my van broke down. Multiple times [laughs].
cyclespeak You mentioned it was very used.
Pete Being a privateer, that was a big headache. But one of the benefits of the gravel scene exploding is other industries beyond cycling seeing promotional opportunities. So I landed a van sponsor and now get to drive a very swanky rig [smiles].
cyclespeak I saw your post that showed the integrated bike racks. Very cool.
Pete It’s this custom tray that fits beneath my bed that holds three bikes. My road, mountain and gravel bikes neatly slotted together without needing to take the seats off.
cyclespeak Do you ever suffer from trailer envy when you see Colin’s* Spartan?
[*Gravel racer Colin Strickland]
Pete I’ve never hauled. That just seems like another headache [laughs]. I like that I can parallel park my van downtown at the market.
cyclespeak Speaking of Colin, I watched a short video he made before last year’s Unbound when he talked – in some considerable detail – about every aspect of his bike build and race prep. Do you also delight in the details?
Pete Certain details. And with gravel racing, it’s so detail orientated. From how many tyre plugs and where to carry them for fast access. A much more holistic view on bike racing than just pedalling. And Colin’s a good friend but he’s an engineer in a bike racer’s body. So he likes making his own stuff and doing his own mechanic work. I’m not that way inclined so I have Big Tall Wayne rolling with me. We’re best buddies, he’s an amazing mechanic and we travel the circuit together, drinking beers.
cyclespeak One notable date on the circuit is for Paydirt, your own event?
Pete You could say it was part of my move to gravel. It started life as Stetina’s Sierra Prospect out of Lake Tahoe. I live up there for half the year in a little cabin—it’s where I do all my altitude training. I thought it would be good to have my own event and I wanted a way to give back to the community after my shattered leg in 2015 and the consequences of my Dad’s traumatic brain injury after a car / bike collision. So I created this road Gran Fondo with a local charity that supports brain and spinal cord injuries as the beneficiary. But I was still riding the World Tour and the team managers weren’t that into me having other non-racing interests.
cyclespeak So you switched things up?
Pete As I was transitioning into gravel, I would go out exploring this range called the Pine Nut Mountains just down the way from Tahoe. It truly is the Wild West out there so I decided to swap the road Sierra Prospect to a gravel format and because mining is a feature of this region, Paydirt was a fitting name for the event.
cyclespeak It’s a great name.
Pete We support the High Fives Foundation and it’s my idea of what an amazing day on the bike looks like. Instead of sprinting for seconds on the road, we have a mechanical bull at the finish line and you ride it for a time bonus. We’ve had two years of postponements with COVID and the Californian fires so it’s third time a charm for this year’s event.
cyclespeak On a more personal note, you’re recognisable for sporting a luxurious moustache. Whenever I go down that route my wife gives me hell. How do you navigate these important issues of individual style?
Pete You could say the moustache was born out of public pressure. I came out of off-season in 2017 with a very robust, winter beard. Travelling to the Tour Down Under where it’s 40℃, I went to a local barber and asked him to clean it up but he left the moustache. I still had it in the spring at the Giro but then I got sick during the second week of the race and had to go on antibiotics. I was on this one particular hour long climb and my nose was running and dripping into my moustache and it was so gross. So I shaved it off and the next day when I signed on, everyone was booing me. So I brought it back and it’s kind of become my calling card. And in gravel, a sense of individualism is appreciated.
cyclespeak I haven’t signed-on at the Giro so can’t use that as an excuse.
Pete If you keep with it long enough, it might grow on her? Maybe then it will become weird if it wasn’t there [laughs].
cyclespeak I know that you’re passionate about craft beer and have your own namesake brew. I believe this hobby raised a few eyebrows back in your World Tour days?
Pete The beer – Pete’s Secret Stache – was created for the event I had in Tahoe. I teamed up with a local brewery and the proceeds were going to the charity. And to have my face on a beer can was a point of pride. It’s better than a Tour de France stage win [laughs].
cyclespeak So why was your team upset?
Pete Every time I saw it at the local store, I’d take a picture for social media. But the team didn’t like that—they considered it unprofessional. And then later that year, I got a top ten result in a Fall classic and the team was really surprised. They assumed I’d just been partying and drinking beer [laughs].
cyclespeak But now you don’t have a team to answer to.
Pete Craft beer and the IPA thing is definitely big in the US and I’ve always been a bit of a beer geek. It’s kind of like fine wine, in the different varieties and tasting notes. Maybe not the best passion to have second to bike racing in terms of performance but there’s always a time and place. And with all the gravel travelling I do, there’s always a brewery where you can sample the local beers.
cyclespeak Are you by nature a rule breaker? Does challenging the norms come naturally?
Pete I don’t know if I’m a rule breaker. I’m a practicalist if that’s even a word [laughs].
cyclespeak Well, it is now.
Pete If something makes sense to me then I’ll do it. If it doesn’t, then I probably won’t.
cyclespeak So what are the basic elements of life that you seek to be happy?
Pete In terms of my career, a happy racer is a fast racer.
cyclespeak And in more general terms?
Pete Beer makes me happy. Hanging out with family at home makes me happy. The little things in your relationship or job that, when you add them up, make a big difference. Whether that’s making sure you give your significant-other a kiss when you leave the house, it’s these little things that bring a lot of joy and satisfaction. And I’ve learned that I need to stay true to myself—I have to follow my heart. Sometimes that’s uncomfortable but, so far, it seems to have led me in the right direction.
cyclespeak What would be a pretty perfect day for Pete Stetina?
Pete A really nice coffee in the morning. Preferably black—I think if you have to add milk, then you’re trying to hide something. And then an adventurous gravel bike ride followed by a flight of beers at a well-respected craft brewery. Just a three or four ounce taste of every beer they make that you can enjoy with some friends. And the day ending with some family time with my wife and the dogs on the couch at home. I do that a lot and it’s always a good day.
Postscript / A few days after I sat down to chat with Pete, he flew out to Colombia ready to race the Transcordilleras—an eight stage, bike packing gravel rally that traverses the Andes. Over 1,000 km in length and ridden at high altitude, Pete came away with three stages and the overall win.
When artist and adventurer Krysten Koehn slammed into the ground on a Hamburg bike path, the immediate consequences of a badly broken hand stretched to postponing a planned bike packing trip through Slovenia. With a move back to Amsterdam in time for the start of a new teaching position already arranged, Krysten decided to return home to Colorado and recover with the help and support of her family. But once reacquainted with the mountain landscapes of her youth, she quickly arrived at the realisation that this emotional reconnection with her homeland was questioning her sense of place.
‘Maybe it takes a stark contrast to unlock your understanding because it soon dawned on me how I’d underestimated the incredible beauty of Colorado. I’d spent so long living in a wet and windy Amsterdam – which at the time I loved – that I’d forgotten what it was like to have the sun shine over 300 days a year and the mountains right on your doorstep.’
With the decision to stay made, Krysten started to search for a temporary teaching job and almost immediately found a suitable position. A brief visit to Europe saw personal belongings packed ready for shipping and her bike boxed for the return flight—Krysten now recrossing the Atlantic as a returning resident rather than temporary visitor.
A few months on from this homecoming and we’re catching up over a video call. It’s just after 5:00am in Colorado but despite the early hour Krysten looks happy and content as she punctuates gaps in our conversation with a spoonful of oatmeal. I comment on the brightly coloured design of her closed curtains and immediately a smile lights up her face.
‘My belongings were sent from the Netherlands to London and 5 months later they’re still sitting in a warehouse waiting to be put into a container. The curtains were given to me by a friend who was moving and she kindly donated a bunch of stuff I could use in my new apartment. She found them in a thrift shop and now it’s my turn to use them.’
Although unsurprisingly frustrated at the shortcomings of transatlantic shipping, having her gravel bike to hand means weekends are now filled with rides as Krysten rediscovers a physical relationship with a landscape that prompts flashes of memory from her childhood.
‘I can remember being on the trail with the sun shining through the branches of pine trees—walking next to a stream with tall grasses parting as my legs pushed forward. And then, as I grew older, those experiences carried more weight and became more salient. My sense of being was formed by this landscape and when I left for Europe, I had this visceral longing for the mountains—like they were a magnet for future experiences. A compass for my life with the mountains at true north.’
Delighting in this process of rediscovery, Krysten nevertheless describes herself as a puzzle piece that once fitted neatly into a bigger picture but now has edges a little roughened from the passage of time.
‘Returning home, there was this sense of reverse culture shock. Even in the wilder parts of Europe, you’re never that far from some form of civilisation. And that’s just not the case in Colorado. Nature is so, so big and it’s taken a while to get my head round this lack of constraints. To ride out and the only thing that references the presence of other people being the tyre tracks left on the gravel trail you’re following.’
This boundless freedom that Krysten documents so beautifully in her Instagram posts and stories has now prompted a new chapter in her cycling journey. Taken aback by the overwhelmingly positive reactions to her social media snippets, Krysten has distilled her love of these landscapes and passion for community into Portage Cycling—a company offering custom cycling adventures that benefit from her unique insights into the best riding experiences Colorado has to offer.
‘I came to the conclusion that I want to be working towards something rather than simply standing still. So why not be really intentional about how I live my life and spend my time. And what really brings me joy – where the air comes from – is creating things, experiencing nature, riding my bicycle and making meaningful connections with people. Combining these four pillars is where Portage was born.’
With the dream of one day opening a cycling guesthouse that focuses all the elements of Portage into a physical space, Krysten is busy launching her new venture as a point of departure for this ultimate goal. A process that required her to name the initial concept and cause for another broad smile.
‘I deliberated for months—scrolling through endless lists of cycling terms to spark ideas. And then I landed on the name Portage. French in origin and meaning to carry but also a colloquial term for carrying your bike. And because gravel riding in Colorado can be pretty gnarly, on occasion you do find yourself hike-a-biking. But, to me, that means you’re truly on an adventure.’
Not limited to a literal translation, another connotation applies to Krysten’s desire to carry people through an experience so all that remains is for guests to relax and truly enjoy the riding.
‘I want the trips I organise to be highly customisable. Maybe you want to eat sandwiches on the trail before heading back to Boulder for dinner at a Michelin starred restaurant. Maybe you only have a weekend and want some sample routes to follow. However you want to ride, whatever you want to experience, I can accommodate that.’
With the process starting over a conversation that enables Krysten to drill down what her guests really want from the experience, with oatmeal now finished and a cup of coffee to hand, I ask her to describe a typical Portage day.
‘It would involve all of the things that you want and none of the things you don’t—highly specific to your individual ideas. A day that starts with a cup or two of really good locally-roasted coffee. And then picture a bowl of homemade granola or a giant plate of Eggs Benedict with bacon and homemade biscuit. We’d then head out on a ride together and discover magical views over endless mountains with red-dirt roads stretching off to the horizon. Lunchtime would see us stopping at a little general store before the ride continuing into the afternoon. Arriving back at base, after showering we’d enjoy a lovely farm-to-table dinner that’s made with locally-sourced, in-season ingredients.’
With a boundless energy and joie de vivre – undiminished even by the pre-dawn challenges of our transatlantic call – as a practising artist, Krysten’s desire to make artworks is inseparable from how she consciously chooses to live her life—a bike ride drawing imaginary lines on the landscape and the act of building Portage from the ground up, both outlets for her irrepressibly creative spirit.
‘To me, bringing an idea into existence and creating something from nothing is an artistic act. And my intention is to show people this awe inspiring land in the hope that, faced with its beauty, they have the same ache in their hearts that I do.’
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.
All my holidays involve riding bikes. I simply can’t sit still and I’m always on the quest for the right type of epic.
Mentally exhausted and with holiday plans in disarray, Saskia Martin looked to the desert wilderness of Andalusia to force a reset. Heading south to ride the Badlands route with her friend Cat Karalis, the redemption Saskia sought proved elusive but she did discover a sense of self and a way of once again moving forward.
Illustrated with her own beautiful photography, Saskia offers a warm and honest reflection on the healing properties of friendship and the freedom of the road.
As a senior product developer for Rapha, my job is to make our designer’s dreams and concepts into a reality. But as it’s a very fast-paced role – which I love because I thrive in chaos and under time constraints – that brings with it a certain degree of pressure and I was close to burn out.
With this feeling compounded by both work and home life revolving around bikes, I woke up one morning and didn’t want to ride. I was still commuting by bike but even that was exhausting. A physical tiredness but also an emotional sense of weariness that was devastating—I was basically going through a break-up with my bikes.
These issues couldn’t have come at a worse time because I’d signed up for the Atlas Mountain Race with my friend Cat. So when this was postponed and still having a window of annual leave to fill, we decided to book a flight to Málaga to see if I could rediscover my cycling mojo by riding the Badlands route. A fuck-it attitude of let’s see how we will do.
My friendship with Cat grew through working together at Rapha. From Regent’s Park laps to weekend bivvying, we’re always searching for our next cycling adventure and have a shared Excel spreadsheet permanently detailing our packing lists. All sub-categorised, a tick underneath each heading tells us who’s bringing what.
Just getting our boxed bikes to the airport proved one of the trip’s biggest challenges. Cat was taking her Cannondale MTB so her box weighed in at 30 kg – my Juliana gravel bike a relatively svelte 25 kg – but both proved a burden as we pushed and pulled them across London’s Tower Bridge at 5:00am in the morning.
Landing in Málaga saw us building our bikes outside the terminal before riding to the train station and, unbeknownst to us, a train strike. With no news on a resumption of services, we decided to take back logistical control and ride to Granada and the start of the Badlands route.
Messaging my friend to ask if he could make us a route, he sent one through but warned us not to question the elevation as he’d just done an A to B on Komoot. It was Day Minus One and we had 130 km to cover with 2,500 m of climbing—no problem!
From the outside, our hostel in Granada looked really dodgy but proved to be a palace. Which added to our guilt when we got the camping stove going in our room to brew up our morning coffee. As we’d planned to bivvy each night, this would be our last taste of luxury until our pre-booked Airbnb in Colmenar. I’d used Google Maps to pinpoint each evening’s placement for our makeshift camps but that didn’t exactly go to plan either.
Setting off from Granada we got our first taste of the terrain with a few tumbles to fuel our adrenaline levels. Stopping to spend the night on the edge of a small town, we were pitted against a torrential downpour and gale force winds. These meteorological challenges prompted a shockingly-bad attempt at fixing up a shelter to protect us from the elements. With a tarparline stretched over our bikes, we resorted to supporting the centre of our ‘roof’ with a stick in an effort to divert the rivulets of water away from our heads. Surprisingly, considering the climatic conditions, I slept like a log—Cat, not so much.
Waking up on Day Two, I felt refreshed but Cat had slight bivvy eyes. Automatically slipping into my efficient mode, I prepped breakfast and quickly packed up everything for the off. Naturally we immediately began to climb—a rutted track that was so steep we were forced to push our bikes with outstretched arms and bent knees. Finally reaching the top, any sense of elation was immediately quashed by a British cycle-brand busy with their photoshoot.
Leaving behind the models on bikes, photographer, art director, assistants and cars – so much for seeking out the wilderness – we found our way through a series of gorges that sliced through the arid hillsides. A mini Grand Canyon with wild goats and an isolated monastery adding a touch of local colour—also provided by my Garmin and its coded difficulty ratings on the climb profiles. Ranging from a benign green through yellow, orange and finally a heart-palpitating dark red, I would shout out our colour zone at every opportune moment.
Feeling the need for some creature comforts, we decided to book a hotel for the night. On arrival – after we were passed on the road by the photoshoot crew – this establishment proved curiously reminiscent of a Hollywood film set. Embracing its quirky charms and taking the opportunity to wash out our kit, we slept without the need to take turns holding a stick and both woke ready to greet the next day’s challenges.
With this restful night providing an added vigour to our riding, the off-road trails gradually transitioned into a section of forest—both of us enjoying the changes in shade and light and a part of the trip where the chatter of our conversations proved particularly resonant. With our voices and laughter held in this timber-like lattice, it reminded me that what I love about bike-packing is the sound as you ride—the hum of tyres on smooth tarmac or the crunch of gravel on a trail. Very unfortunately I’d been advised that it would be okay to fit these really cheap disc pads and they were screaming whenever I slowed down. To such an extent that I dreaded descending and anyone who knows me, knows that I love to descend. All I wanted to do was climb because at least that meant I could avoid the anxiety of coming down again.
In the forest, however, this wasn’t so much of an issue as my style of riding at home meant I could confidently pick my line and brake less. And it was here that we first spotted through a gap in the trees, the white domes of the Calar Alto Observatory.
Struggling to work out the distance to this landmark, the road inevitably began to climb until I was finally sitting, eating some sweets, and taking in the architecture of this incredible mountain top cluster of buildings. Wishing we could stay and camp out under the stars, I also knew we faced a long descent and that my brakes would scream all the way down. Sure enough, the noise was so loud that when I finally reached the bottom I was crying—no fun at all and with an added sense of losing my thing. Because my thing is descending.
Searching for somewhere to spend the night, we decided on a lay-by next to a motorway. Admittedly it was a bit grim and we were bedeviled by swarms of mosquitoes but the sky was clear so we didn’t need to be covered by our tarp and we fell asleep under a blanket of stars.
Dawn saw us rising with the sun and counting our mosquito bites. Cat almost immediately had a puncture so, once fixed, we sought comfort in a café. Here I experienced one of the highlights of our trip – the shouts and laughter of the customers, the bustle of orders being brought to tables – and what I love about my rides in and around London. Lapping Regent’s Park isn’t exactly exciting but you do it with friends and go to a café afterwards. It sets you up right for the day—which was what I was witnessing in that little corner of Spain.
On our way again, this was the day we’d be crossing the Tabernas—the only official desert on the European continent. My favourite day as it turned out because the terrain was so technical that it cleared my mind of other concerns. We were riding tiny tracks with a drop off to either side and the knowledge that if either of us made a mistake the consequences could be severe. And although a barren landscape, the colours were truly vibrant and we loved carrying our bikes across rail tracks that disappeared either way into the distance.
Closing in on the end of our sojourn, in some ways I was feeling a little deflated. We were always behind in our plans due to the problems with our transfer from the airport and this meant we’d cut out some sections of the official Badlands route. And there was this voice in my head telling me that we should have done more. Cat patiently pointed out that we were on holiday and should only do what we want to do and not worry about the rest. It took me some time but eventually I managed to get to that place and this process was helped by our time at a campsite by the sea. We rented a plot and there were toilets and showers – such luxury – and you fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing on the beach.
To ride the route with Cat – an experienced ultra-distance racer and one of the most wonderful people in my world – was why I kept on moving forward. Every time I doubted or questioned, she was there with a gentle reminder of how to be present and embrace the moment. And what struck me as we wound our way back in the direction of Málaga and our waiting Airbnb, was the constantly shifting landscapes we’d ridden through. Road, desert, forest, beach, rolling coastal-California—jaw-dropping visual surprises like the desert train tracks and flamingos in a lagoon. Views and vistas that I tried to capture with my camera as an added reminder of the joys we had both shared.
In all honesty, I use cycling as therapy—I run away from my problems by riding my bike. But when we returned home and everyone was asking how we got on, I had to put on this front and tell them how amazing our trip was. Because I really wish I could say that I found my cycling mojo in the Badlands of southern Spain but I didn’t.
What I did find was a desire to ride my bike a little more. And our trip gave me the time to reflect on what’s actually important to me and what makes me happy. Everything in life shapes you to one degree or another—the next time you go and do something, you do it as a different person. We’re always growing and I do understand that Badlands has changed me. I just haven’t as yet figured out how.
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.
It’s 7:30am and the sky is brightening. The forecast rain has failed to arrive and the day promises to be dry. A fact not lost on the riders as they roll up outside The Service Course in Wilmslow ready for an epic day in the nearby Peak District. Signed on and with coffee in hand, talk soon turns to the route and tyre choice. With an entertaining mix of trails and moorland pathways all stitched together by quiet country lanes and a profile that suggests every gear ratio will be required, this will prove a challenging day in the saddle but one that offers stunning scenery, a sense of shared purpose and the reward – on finishing – of a pie and freshly pulled pint.
Vinny / The Service Course
Riding: A brand new Open U.P. in raw carbon. It was only built yesterday which might be a little bit of a no-no.
Gravel Bonanza is a big thing for me personally, and for The Service Course Wilmslow. To do events like this is such a privilege—to see people sign up because they want to ride with us. And this is just one event out of a number that we have planned. Kind of a nod to the future but inspired by rides that started in Girona. Yes, our version ends at a brewery—which might suggest it’s got a little of me on it.
Riding: A Specialized Diverge with some random bits and pieces that happened to be in the cellar.
I actually live over in Bradford so this is a new area for me to ride. A good excuse to check out some new trails. What I love about a gravel bike is diving down those little hidden pathways you notice out on a ride—not gravel with a capital G but it’s off-road and entertaining. What more do you need?
Ali / Wahoo
Riding: A borrowed bike from The Service Course. It’s a very beautiful Curve and quite possibly beyond my gravel ability.
We’re here representing Wahoo to help out with our bike computers. And for the good vibes [smiles].
Sarah / The Service Course
Riding: No bike for me today as I’m staying at the shop to look after our other customers.
I wasn’t a cyclist when I started working at The Service Course. But I soon saw first hand how cycling brings so many people together. They meet here over a coffee before heading out on a ride—a real sense of community. So now that I’m also riding a bike, I get to join in and I really love it.
Riding: A Bellé that I had built up at The Service Course in Girona. A custom frame with a road bias but this adventure mini-mullet set-up is really proving itself today.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I needed to get out of London so I came up to the Peak District. One, I never realised how easy it was to get here and, two, it has great roads, great people and great coffee. Today we’ve done gravel, tarmac, cobbles, some technical single-track—and that’s on one ride. We have nice riding down in Kent and Surrey but it’s not as challenging and the people are kind of mean [laughs].
Luke / Outdoor Provisions
Riding: There’s two of us – me and Christian – and we’re a Manchester-based energy snack company. We’re both big into bikes but, today, we’re providing the food at the feed stop.
We put the route together for this Gravel Bonanza. There’s a few gems on the west side of the Peak District like Macclesfield Forest and the Midshires Way which we’ve included. And there’s also some bumpy bits which people might be upset about later on [laughs].
Riding: My all-in-one Specialized Roubaix. You can be cheeky and put on some 35s with just enough clearance.
I was looking forward to the camaraderie. A ride that’s a little bit more chilled without all the cars—in the Peak District when you’re not on trails the roads are pretty quiet. And if you want to get lost – in a good sense – then this is the place to come.
Nil / The Service Course
Riding: An Open. But it has reverse brakes – I’m from Girona – so maybe a little tricky on the descents [smiles].
It’s my first time riding in the Peak District but if the weather is okay, then everything will be fine. When I left Spain yesterday it was 20°C – sunshine, shorts – so I just don’t want it to rain.
Riding: An Open Wi.DE Ultradynamico Limited Edition on 48s.
I’ve ridden gravel for quite a while and this looked like good fun. Not sure about the views on the route as I’ve been staring at my stem all day.
Riding: An Orbea Terra on WTB Riddler 700c 37s. Beautiful tyres on this terrain.
Back in 2019, I went to ride the Gravel Bonanza in Girona. I met Vinny down there so when I saw The Service Course in Wilmslow was organising their own version, I decided to return the favour. And to show them how to actually make a flat white [smiles].
Riding: A Specialized Diverge. The same one that I rode at Badlands but with fewer bags.
The Service Course is my local bike shop. I call in most days and they’ve become good friends so I wanted to support them with this event. There’s a mix of everything with this route – some fast flat, technical sections with a loose surface – which just makes it an epic ride.
Riding: An Allied Allroad. My first gravel ride with this bike and I still need to learn how the bike handles and when to hop off [smiles].
It’s an amazing route and I’ve always liked what The Service Course does. I live in Southport which is totally flat so this is an opportunity to ride with others and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Matt / The Service Course
Riding: I’m making the coffees at the feed stop.
There’s a far amount of logistical organisation in pulling together an event like this. Having a coffee set-up in the middle of nowhere is the main hurdle to get over. But it was great to see everyone meeting up earlier today—that buzz as they headed out for six hours or however long of riding.
The sense of community that I see through my role with The Service Course is very humbling and quite overwhelming. And a ride like today – seeing that many people at the shop, signing on for the ride, getting a coffee – even though I’m not riding myself, I can still take a lot of enjoyment out of that.
With 85% of the route off-road, Badlands is an unsupported, ultracycling gravel challenge that rewards self-sufficiency. So what happens if things take an unexpected turn under the searing sun of Andalusia?
Cristina Sanser had taken a whole year to prepare before rolling up to the September startline. But finding herself riding through a beautiful but unforgiving landscape, she needed to find the inner strength to stop and say enough.
Why Badlands? I suppose I should start by explaining that I’ve only been riding a bike for four years—and only consistently for a year and a half. With the whole Covid situation, I had to work from home and everything was so boring with no travelling allowed. My friends and I saw the Badlands documentary from last year and when the bars once again opened, we went for a drink and decided why not?
The year I spent training for it, in the back of mind I was doubting whether I would ever be ready. I’m pretty fit but everyone taking part in the challenge is super strong and I’m still working my way up the ladder in terms of technical ability. So in the end, I decided to just treat it as a holiday. I would sign up and whether I finished the race or not, this would be an excuse to visit another part of Spain and have some fun.
I was riding – unofficially – as a team. We entered two as a pair and one more as an individual but the plan was to ride together. Freya had recently moved to Girona from the UK and is super strong with a racing background—very much a mentor to me and really helpful advising on things like bike gearing and clothing. My other friend, Laura, is a sports scientist and cycling coach and my pre-race level of fitness was all due to her help and encouragement.
I was fully aware that we were facing certain metrics—the distance, the terrain, the allowed time window of six days. But we’d prepared well with a first training block that built up an endurance base, a second block with a higher intensity and then a third which combined elements of both. Quite a commitment when working office hours in a demanding role.
In terms of a bike and equipment, budget played a part in the decisions we made. Everything is so expensive but fortunately I managed to upgrade to a BMC URS gravel bike—the geometry works better for me and it gives me more confidence if the surface is poor. And all of these different strands of preparation came together on a test ride in the Pyrenees—lots of climbing, super technical sections and sleeping outside. Mentally, we’d been planning this for so long that it felt settled in my brain. So I suppose, in a sense, I was prepared to suffer. To suffer a lot.
Perhaps inevitably, the closer we got to the start date the more our nerves began to build. I’d never raced before – ever – so the thoughts going through my head involved what would happen if I crashed in the first ten kilometres. Or maybe I wouldn’t be able to unclip and everyone would see me and laugh. And in hindsight it was a mistake to book a hotel outside of Granada’s city centre. We walked a lot before Badlands got underway but then we walked a lot during the race too.
Attending a rider briefing a couple of days before the start, we got to talk to people who had already raced Trans-Pyrenees and the previous year’s Badlands. Very simply, this proved to be super motivating and I left the briefing feeling that, yes, I could do this.
Race day arrived with Laura waking to a painful wisdom tooth. Typically, she cast aside any thoughts of not riding in the time it took to take some paracetamol and we rolled up at a park area to set off as a bunch. Riding amongst all the other competitors during the first 20 km, I was close to tears. What was I doing with all these super strong and experienced riders? But we’d spent 12 months preparing for this moment and that thought carried me through those initial nerves.
Climbing upwards and upwards, the gravel trails gradually became more technical and on some sections we were jumping on and off the bike. But even though the heat was intense and the riding hard, the first day was fun. I even have a picture of me smiling.
With the sun setting in the sky, we rolled into the village of Gorafe. My friends and l felt tired but seeing all the other competitors who’d also chosen this location to snatch a few hours rest gave us an emotional lift. We grabbed some food and then laid out our mats and sleeping bags on the roadside to sleep. Three hours later we woke up – not to say that I actually slept with all the night time noises – and got underway again to hit the desert before sunrise.
This proved to be truly an amazing experience. Very technical – especially descending with bike lights – but it felt like an epic adventure. Approaching another small village, we stopped briefly for a couple of quick coffees before continuing. But even though we’d refilled all our bidons and hydration packs, we eventually began to run short of water and needed to ration how much we drank despite the intense heat.
Freya had pushed on ahead – she’s such a strong rider – as the landscape gradually changed from gravel to sand. Really technical to ride but we’d managed to maintain a good race position and our spirits were up. And then, without warning, I crashed. Maybe because I was dehydrated – my Wahoo was reading 49°C – but my front wheel hit a soft patch of sand and I lost control. A silly mistake rather than a tragic accident but I hit my head when the bike went over. Taking a moment to gather my senses, all the good feelings that had buoyed our progress so far seemed to evaporate into the cloudless sky. Climbing back on my bike, for the next couple of hours I was dizzy and disorientated—cresting every rise with the expectation of a village and water but finding only barren nothingness.
Catching up with Laura at the end of a long and draining climb, I discovered her crying. And Laura never cries. A true lover of nature and always happiest in the mountains, seeing her upset made me realise that our race was starting to fall apart. Then Laura’s mum called to ask if Freya was still with us—she’d been dot watching and could see she was off route. I immediately called Freya and thankfully she answered. She’d taken a wrong turn and then had to backtrack – uphill – to regain the route. We’d already booked a hotel earlier that morning so we agreed to meet there and decide what to do. What she didn’t tell us over the call was that she’d been continually vomiting due to dehydration.
We now had a strong headwind and 25 km of super technical riding between us and the hotel. More walking than riding, it felt an impossible task and by then we’d run out of water. But somehow we managed to keep moving until we finally reached the hotel to be greeted by Freya. She’d cooked food for us – such an angel – and when we began to feel more comfortable we talked about our options.
The next day was 140 km with no stops for food or water. Food had never really been an issue but the availability of water in this scorching heat was a real concern. And what Freya and I hadn’t realised – because she didn’t want to burden us – was that Laura now had an infection in her tooth and had exhausted her supply of paracetamol. Weighing up these different factors, we all felt the same and decided to stop.
Will I return to race Badlands again? Looking back from the comfort of home, there’s a part of me that still questions whether we should have continued. I feel tears begin to well-up when I think of all that preparation and how we’d pictured ourselves finishing. But we made the decision together and we cried together.
Sometimes things are just out of your control and it would have been foolhardy to continue with Laura suffering and in pain. And I do recognise that mentally I’m very strong. Who knew – even if we didn’t finish – that I would find myself rolling up to the start line of Badlands? That I’d be happy to sleep in the street? And being able to say enough and accepting that it was the right decision—that proved far harder and took more strength than continuing to ride.
In a year that has seen many of us adapt how we ride in the face of unforeseen circumstances, a new plan was needed when Kirsti Ruud woke to snowfall on the first morning of a bikepacking trip in her native Norway. But rather than any lingering sense of disappointment, the adverse weather conditions ultimately led to an experience that was not only breathtakingly beautiful but underlined the return on embracing the fickleness of forecasts.
Along with her companions Sindre Grønli and Øyvind Brenne Nordengen, the group decided on two separate rides in place of their planned overnight stop. Routes that would take them into the six biggest national parks in Norway and a landscape devoid of cars and buildings—a true wilderness of river valleys and mountain ridges, threaded through by the gravel roads they were riding.
Looking back on this experience, Kirsti reflects on the reasons she rides, how it can be rewarding to brave the elements and why the occasional challenge helps build resilience for when the randomness of life derails your best intentions.
Until 2018, I rode seriously. It was all about competition. I combined a little job here and there with my training but then I accepted a full-time position with the National Cycling Federation. I was getting more interested in working with cyclists than being a cyclist myself and the project I lead involves helping recovering drug addicts integrate back into society through cycling.
So in place of a training plan, travelling and exploring have been more a part of my summers and falls for the last two years. When I can, I cycle the hour and a half each way to work. If the weather is good, there’s no reason to sit in a car stuck in traffic. And because I’ve been working from home due to the pandemic, this year I’ve been cycling more than ever—enjoying riding my bike as much as I can within the restrictions.
After I stopped competing, I hadn’t ridden for months when I was invited to go to Iceland with Rapha. The trip was pretty amazing and it gave me a taste for different kinds of riding. So I asked them to let me know when the next big trip was planned and to count me in. George Marshall – the photographer on the Iceland shoot – had kept in touch, and he contacted me with this plan to ride in the north of Norway. But then he couldn’t come over because of Covid and my friend Marius Nilsen was invited to do the photography. He lives further north than Oslo and works for the National Parks.
The idea was a two day ride with an overnight stop at a mountain hut. That’s how we like to do things – carrying everything we need on our bikes. It’s what makes it a trip. And we’d come prepared with stud tyres in case there was any ice. Usually I don’t use these until December – even with regular tyres, riding in snow isn’t a problem – but we weren’t sure whether it was going to be a mixture of rain and snow and wanted to be sure we didn’t ruin our trip by crashing
But as we left Oslo to drive north, it began to snow really heavily. It was forecast but not that much. Going to bed thinking it would melt the next day, we woke to find 15cm of fresh snow. Figuring that we wouldn’t be able to get over to the cabin before it got dark but still wanting to ride, we came up with a new plan of a different route for each day.
Setting off after breakfast, I was excited. I think the worst part of the year can be the fall when it’s dark and a little gloomy. Because you can’t really tell the different textures from each other. But with the snowfall, the whole day was lit up and the mountains just looked so beautiful. The alternative would have been rain and fog.
Before every trip, I’m kind of worried about my shape. Hoping that I’ll have a good day and not really struggle that much. But even though we had a lot of wind – 17 metres per second which is enough to blow your bike over – we were all happy and laughing and just going with the flow. The light was amazing when we reached the top of a mountain and we just stood there, looking out over the landscape below, as the sun slowly sank behind the horizon.
I think the best rides I’ve had are when we’ve spontaneously come up with an idea. If you plan too much and then the weather is bad, it can be so disappointing. It can take the charm away and it’s best not to be too uptight about how your ride will be. It’s OK to let go of plans and just get out there and ride. To go far or go short—to not really know where you’ll end up.
When I was competing, I had to ride regardless of the weather. Telling your trainer that you can’t go out because it’s raining and 5°C just isn’t an option. Now that I don’t have to ride, I do appreciate the good days when it’s warm and sunny. But you can enjoy amazing experiences because of the weather. If you have the right kit, then you’re able to embrace changing and unpredictable conditions. And I do need some challenges once in a while where you feel like you’re struggling because you kind of come out stronger at the other end.
So I ride now because I want to ride. It’s my free time. My quiet time. An opportunity to reflect on things, for solving problems, to get out any frustration. Just being out on my bike gives me the space I need and I come back feeling like a weight has been lifted. It’s such an important aspect of the way I choose to live my life.