It was imperative that we stay vigilant against the danger. Our enemy would not discriminate. Young or old, strong or feeble, all were within its sights. It could sink its vicious teeth into our flesh and not release for days or weeks. Few would escape our journey without falling victim to its ruthless aggression.
Our expedition leader and Blackburn’s brand manager, Robin, tried in vain to prepare us for the threat. He gathered us up and spoke in hushed tones.
“It’s important to remember that if you’re not on the trail, you are almost certainly standing in poison oak.”
It was a valiant warning, especially since I’m still scratching two weeks later. I joined Blackburn and its 2016 class of Blackburn Rangers for an introductory ride through the mountains of coastal California. With a little help from Santa Cruz and Big Agnes we escaped from the arid asphalt plains of the San Jose airport parking lot and ascending through sun, wind, mist and fog to a quiet Boy Scout camp perched high in the hills above the city. Tucked beneath the massive evergreens we cooled our heels and warmed our hearts with a campfire and some of Kentucky’s finest.
Blackburn is the kind of brand that doesn’t just spit out products to make a buck. They’re out there using these things—both the employees and the brand’s annual group of Blackburn Rangers. The six Rangers chosen for 2016 will complete some of the most famous bike touring routes in North America. While off-road bikepacking is very on-trend right now, it’s really bike travel of all kinds that Blackburn is promoting, as many of the routes its Rangers travel are entirely paved.
Meet the Rangers
Brian Ohlen – Cody, Wyoming
Brian hails is an avid fisherman and cyclist. He intends to combine his passions and bike-fish his way from Canada to Mexico, in search of the elusive Steelhead Trout.
What is your goal for the route?
“I’d love to catch a steelhead in each of the three states I’ll travel through. Three fish doesn’t sound like much, but those buggers are hard to catch!”
Sorry Laura, this is the only photo of you I took.
Katie Hawkins and Laura Brigham – East Palo Alto, California
Katie, left, and Laura, right, are neighbors in East Palo Alto and decided to apply together to tackle the Great Divide this summer.
What do you hope to get out of this journey?
Laura: “I hope to share the enthusiasm that I have for biking and the outdoors with those on the Great Divide as well as those following from home. I hope at the end of this crazy ‘Canadian gone Mexican’ adventure, Katie and I will leave with unforgettable memories, strong legs, sweet tan lines, and a bunch of awesome new friends.”
Katie: “I see this as a soul-searching adventure for 2 months. I want to be able to get away from my normal 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. job and be on an adventure that separates me from life’s distractions. I want to share my experiences with various biking communities along the route and hope to learn from them, as well.”
Courtney Lewis – Brooklyn, New York
Courtney followed the Blackburn Ranger program for the last few years, and the variety of their backgrounds and approaches were immediate inspiration for her to tackle the same path in her own way. Courtney’s ‘own way’ includes stepping off the bike and hiking nearby summits along the route, and also bringing her dog along.
What do you hope to get out of this journey?
“I’m excited to shake up my routine, and the routines of my friends (and friends-to-be!) along the way. I want to push my limits to get the most out of the time I have, and to learn more about myself.”
Ivan Kilroe – Lancaster, Great Britain
Ivan has a great approach to cycling that is based on sharing beauty and joy with friends that we can appreciate.
Have you traveled by bike in the past?
“In the last year I’ve done a handful of short trips travelling by bicycle and really enjoyed the freedom you feel from carrying everything you need to survive. I’ve definitely got a bad case of ‘outdoorism’ – seeing the sun rise and set everyday, and waking up outside all becomes kind of addictive.”
Photo by John Watson
Christian Ayoob – Watkinsville, Georgia
Christian hails from the robust , but often overlooked, cycling community around Athens, Georgia, and is one of the first Southerners that has been selected as a Ranger.
What do you hope to get out of this journey?
“By the end of this journey, I hope to have collected stories, met as many people as possible, and all around have had fun. Along with doing this, I would love to have a very detailed journal and blog for others to follow and get inspired.”
While the Rangers plan to ride thousands of miles, you don’t need to quit your job and drop off the grid to have a great adventure on a bike. Most of Blackburn’s products are just as useful on a commute to school as they are on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
We also got a look at some of Blackburn’s newest products on the ride:
Blackburn’s unique frame bags ($60 or $65) come in two sizes and are expandable depending on your cargo needs. They’ve been updated with stronger zippers and will soon be available in a limited-edition camo print. The Seat Pack ($120) and Handlebar Roll ($100) will be available in camo as well. All the bags will continue to be available in black.
These little 2Fer lights were one of my favorites. These $25 USB-rechargeable lights have a clip on the back that holds them snug on a loop like you find on backpacks, or on the included stretchy strap. The name derives from their ability to run with white or red LEDs so they can go front or back.
The new Switch Mini multi-tool is a bit of a crossover between something that stays packed away with your bike stuff and your at-home tool kit. There are four pieces with a tool at each end that can be held either perpendicular or inline with the handle. The rounded ends make it useful when working in tight spaces where you can’t hold the tool perfectly inline with the bolt. It includes a 2.5 mm, 3 mm, 4 mm, 5 mm, 6 mm, T25 Torx, T30 Torx and a flat head screwdriver that all pack away in the included case, with room to spare for an ID and a couple bucks.
My favorite item introduced was the new Chamber HV floor pump ($80), the highlight of a whole new line of floor pumps. Designed for big tires, it has a high volume piston and a HUGE gauge that only goes to 50 psi. Some trick features include a bleed valve in the head for precise pressures, a bottle opener (natch) and a 31.8 mm clamp for the handle that lets you bolt on an old set of handlebars for some custom flair.
The yearly pilgrimage to Sea Otter is always bittersweet. I go to a huge bike event, but often never actually have time to ride bikes while I’m there. Fortunately, for the last four years, I’ve been having adventures before or after the event to make up for the lack of ride time at the Marine Marmot itself.
This year Blackburn invited some media types to its “Ranger Camp.” It’s a gathering of Blackburn Rangers, the brand ambassadors for the 40-year-old adventure company.
We met in the parking lot of the San Jose airport and started loading up. Most of us media folks knew each other but this was the first time most of the Rangers met outside of the virtual world.
Over the next few days we rode up into the mountains above Santa Cruz. Camped out. Drank some drinks. Had a BB gun biathlon. Bashed around on dirt roads. Ate lunch at Pie Ranch. Surfed. Spent large amounts of time outside cell phone range. Tried out some of Blackburn’s bags and racks. Watched as a very hard working video crew capturing footage for an upcoming video.
Bike setups were as different as the riders, and showcased the wide array of possibilities with Blackburn gear. We also got to check out the forthcoming expanding frame bag, part of its Outpost line of rackless bikepacking bags.
I took my own ride, the new Zen Fabrications AR45, below. This is a terrible pic, and I somehow must have gotten too relaxed on the trip to set it up for a proper shot. I’ll fix that soon with a full first impressions post.
Its interesting seeing a company like Blackburn adapt the light and fast touring style that is becoming the norm with a new generation of riders. We’ll have a full review of the Outpost bags in an upcoming issue (and here on the web), but so far we’ve been impressed with everything.
I’ve been touring in an around the Bay area quite a few times, and it never grows old. Here’s to hoping they can keep the water on long enough for another generation of riders to experience the big trees, big beaches, and mellow vibe. Thanks for the invite Blackburn, and hope it is one that is extended every year!
Check out the full gallery of images from the trip below:
Now in its third year, Blackburn is recruiting cyclists looking to get “Out There” as part of its brand ambassador program. Known as Rangers, the six members will test Blackburn products and share their experience with the world while they conquer some of the most iconic cycling routes in the country, including the Pacific Coast and the Great Divide.
The Pacific Coast Bicycle Route covers 1,852 miles from Vancouver, British Columbia to Imperial Beach, California. Consisting of beautiful roads lining the Pacific Ocean, Rangers will use touring bicycles and Blackburn racks and panniers to carry necessities along the way.
The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is an off road route that was originally mapped by the Adventure Cycling Association, from Banff, Alberta to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, a distance of 2,740 miles. Great Divide Rangers will ride mountain bikes, whether rigid or suspended, and use bikepacking bags strapped to their frames, handlebars and saddles. Lights, pumps and computers from Blackburn will keep them rolling and safe.
To become a Ranger, present your best experience on a bike, or why you want to ride from Canada to Mexico to Blackburn. Upload a short video to YouTube, using the hashtag #beablackburnranger2015, that embodies who you are and showcases what will make you stand apart as a Ranger. You must also inspire others by sharing your adventure. After submitting your application, get your friends, family, and community members to endorse you via social media.
For more information on the Blackburn Rangers and the “Out There” program visit the Blackburn website.Tweet Print
This summer Blackburn’s Rangers spread out across the United States in search of adventure. Sam and Kurt set out along the Great Divide route, and while the Tour Divide race gets most of the attention, not everyone who rides this route is racing.
“Truth is, if there is any flint of an excuse to stop, we will do it.”
And they’re choosing some awesome spots to stop. By saving grams on creature comforts, they were able to bring along their climbing gear, and hit some great lines along the way.Tweet Print
Created in 2012 to embody the culture of adventure, the Blackburn Ranger program supports cyclists that the brand admires on their journeys along the Pacific Coast and the Great Divide. This year, the brand has added four new adventure cyclists into the 2014 Blackburn Ranger “Out There” program.
To continue the legacy and spirit that Founder Jim Blackburn built in 1975, the Ranger program is created from a simple and effective people-and-product-first approach with everything it touches. This no-nonsense style provides in the field product development feedback that gets fast-tracked for future innovation and also places community first. Ultimately, the program encourages everyone to ‘get out there.’Tweet Print