If Sweet was an activity, it might just be adventure biking.
We like biking. Who doesn't? We bike to the park, we bike to work sometimes, we bike across the bridges between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Sometimes we visit other cities, and we bike in those, too. And once, a few years ago, we put our bikes on a crowded Metro North train and struggled with them up steps and down escalators to ride in what seemed at the time a lot like the countryside, but was actually a suburb off the commuter line into New York City.
We also like, unequivocally, going on adventures. Not the Metro North kind, necessarily, but the kind where a walk around your own neighborhood can turn up unexpected treasures you'd never noticed, or a kayaking trip in the south of France can lead you down a tributary so long that you have to unexpectedly pitch a tent in an ancient forest until dawn breaks and you can figure out more or less where you are.
Anyway, adventure biking combines these two passions—and they are passions, truly—into one activity that's so perfect, it's practically sublime. When we started poking around in the adventure biking world we quickly realised that one online publication, Yonder Journal, really had the whole scene on lock and moreover Specialized, the bike company and a longtime supporter of Yonder, seemed to be making some of the best adventure bikes on the market. The fact that they even have an adventure bike section on their website speaks to Specialized's love for this riding niche. So, we rounded up the two co-founders of Yonder Journal, Kyle von Hoetzendorff and Daniel Pasley, and the head of Specialized's adventure brand, Kevin Franks, for what turned out to be an extremely illuminating discussion.
Alright chaps, let's dive in! What is "adventure biking"?
Kevin Franks, head of brand—Adventure, Specialized: Since our very first days on the bike, adventure has been at the very heart of the ride. It meant striking out to the furthest outskirts of the neighborhood, but as we grew, so did life's enormity. The bike, however, has always been able to break down these borders. At its core, adventure riding allows us reconnect to the essence of riding and being alive.
Adventure is where the best-laid plans are completely sideswiped by nature, where resourcefulness and lateral thinking are the keys to survival, and where Strava KOMs [ed note: Strava is a biking app and a KOM—or a King of the Mountain—is an accolade users strive to achieve] have absolutely no meaning whatsoever. Adventure can be small, sneaking down some ravine next to the freeway, or adventure can be Shackleton-huge, the kind of thing to tell your grandkids about. Adventure encompasses high fives at sunset after a fun route off the beaten path, as well as grimly watching wet shoes steam in front of a meager campfire, in a total state of fatigue.
We are drawn by the irresistible gravity of adventure, heedless of all cautionary tales that warn us to remain somewhere known and comfortable and safe. We seek adventure, and in so doing we embrace self-sufficiency, getting lost, finding our way, asking strangers for directions, aiming for the horizon, bagging peaks, crossing deserts, discovering new landscapes, discovering ourselves, bidding farewell to normal, finding new ways of commuting to work, telling stories, taking photos, and meeting new friends.
Our tactile guides can be triggered by the scent of sagebrush carried on a Santa Ana wind, or wet pavement after a sudden rain, or a whiff of Jasmine in the neighborhood at night; felt in the crust of salt on helmet straps, the crunch of gravel under tires, the ripple of goosebumps on bare skin; heard in the murmur of running water, wind bending the trees, the sound of foreign voices; glimpsed by the light of a full moon and navigated via the stars in an inky night sky.
As broad and ambiguous as adventure is, there are physical touchstones that define it for us. There are no starting guns, no finish lines. There are paper maps, compasses, and road signs in many languages. There are bad roads and good trails. There are tents and campfires, warm sleeping bags, comfortable shoes, functional fenders, wide tires, wool jerseys, well-built and thoughtfully packed panniers, and there is sunscreen. Never, ever forget sunscreen. Deserts, forests, mountains, beaches, snow, sand, gravel, potholed asphalt, and Roads Less Traveled are all part of the backdrop.
We believe in the bicycle as a tool, as a toy, as a robust and efficient mode of transport, as a way to see the world, as a way of life, as a vehicle for self-realization, as a healing force to salvage our souls. We believe in adventure, from the mundane to the grand. We trust that casting into the great unknown is the best way to find ourselves.
Daniel Pasley, founder, editor, and photographer of Yonder Journal: In order to evolve into the thinking, building, producing, consuming, ordering, planning, texting creatures we are today, sometimes we needed to pioneer over some mountains. Any pioneer will tell you there is always something good on the other side of a mountain.
But why a bicycle? Why not a donkey, a motorcycle, a helicopter, sailboat or simple pair of hiking boots? Because bicycles are the most pragmatic, useful, and efficient means of personal transportation ever invented! They cover ground at the perfect speed, are dependable, simple, and adaptable.
It is our opinion that bicycles are the perfect vehicle for experiencing the world. They travel at the right speed, they can carry an essential amount of gear, and they use the wheel, which, last time I checked, sits in second place behind fire in the list of man's best inventions ever. Plus we have hit a tipping point, with more and more people realizing just how good bikes are for adventure—your choices have never been better! We want to see what's possible, how far we can go. Rivers, trails, elevations, weather, bring it on.
What's the difference between "adventure" and "mountain biking?
KF: One could certainly adventure on a mountain bike. But Adventuring oftentimes means spending days, sometimes weeks, rambling around the landscape. Popular terms are "bikepacking" and "lightweight touring," and these experiences mandate specific bikes and gear.
Regarding adventure bikes—no matter the terrain, weather, location, or type of riding that gets you out of bed in the morning, adventure bikes will be there for every turn of the pedal. They serve up confident handling, ample storage capacity, and near bulletproof levels of reliability, so all that's left to worry about is whether or not you brought enough snacks.
Kyle von Hoetzendorff, partner, editor, and writer at Yonder Journal: At its heart, mountain biking is a part of adventure riding—that is, the need and desire to get out and explore the world. That said, mountain biking and mountain bike culture have a feeling of being too tied to speed and competition; it's also 100% about being off-road, and on trails.
Adventure riding is all about the experience, and therefore it's much more personal and introspective; whether riding along gravel roads in rural northern California, following misty covered trails in Bolivia, or exploring the rural jeep tracks around your own hometown, the goal is to experience your world, see something new, and push your own limits. That means you're not just limited to trials. Your adventure might take you on a lost highway, on some beat-up gravel roads, or along miles upon miles of dirt tracks—it's your experience that matters.
Wow, OK—those are some of the best answers we've ever had for any question, ever. But they were quite long. Can you explain adventure biking in one sentence?
KF: Exploration by bike with intent to wander.
KvH: What Kevin said!!
What about three words?
KF: Exploration by bike.
KvH: Experience, and self-reliance.
Is adventure riding the new hot trend? Be honest.
KF: By no means is adventure riding new, but it's certainly become extremely popular over the past couple years, and all indications point to continued growth. It's a very accessible and super-fun way to ride a bike, and its appeal is bringing an entirely new cross-section and generation of people into cycling.
KvH: It seems to be that the desire to see and explore the world is at an all-time high, and the interest in adventure biking is a result of this. You don't have to be a die-hard cyclist to be into adventure cycling, you just need the interest and the will to see the world; this, combined with the latest bicycle and camping technology, has definitely made adventure biking "so hot right now."
Tell me a bit about Yonder Journal.
KvH: Yonder Journal is "a quasi non-fictional study of contemporary recreation, 1000% of the time." We want to put a lens over all aspects of contemporary recreation and find those people and cultures that are dedicated to their own particular recreational activity. If you have access to the Internet, you have access to Yonder Journal.
A cursory survey of some of your adventures have us wondering if you do in fact have the best job on the planet. Are we right in thinking that?
KvH: We wouldn't be able to do this if there wasn't an appetite for the stories that we cover. This job boils down to finding and talking to people who are 100% invested and committed to their personal pursuits. That level of dedication is enthralling. There is definitely a ton of work that goes into creating each story, but in the end it's satisfying on many different levels. The high adventure and global travel is pretty wonderful as well.
OK, we're interested but where do we start?
KvH: Well, you'll need a bike, some gear, and some time. Take account of what you've got. Essentially, you're going to strap some camping gear to your bike and go for a ride. I'd suggest heading to your local bike shop and asking the staff or asking your friends, chances are you'll quickly find someone with adventure riding experience who is more than willing to help you get started. We've got a ton of resources on yonderjournal.com you can use, too. Check the Lord Nerd Beta pages for our pack lists and packing tips.
Do we need a lot of money to do it? Because, tbh it's spring and you know that means we need lots of new outfits.
KvH: Not necessarily, though our experience tells us that you get what you pay for. Take account of what you have: if you don't have a bike or any camping gear you'll need to invest in some things, but don't worry—it's worth it.
If we don't have a lot of money, do we have options? What are they?
KvH: Adventure biking is basically backpacking on a bicycle with the will to experience the world. Some communities have camping gear lending libraries, and bike shops have bike rentals: utilize your resources! You'll find that you can get a taste for adventure biking with very little investment, but be careful, because it's addictive.
What are the biggest misconceptions about adventure biking—is it even established enough to have misconceptions?
KvH: That's an interesting question. I think the thing that is hard for people to understand is that adventure cycling is not about how fast you get somewhere, it's about the experience you have getting there. Adventure Cycling as a concept is, at its heart, about exploration and possibilities and therefore it doesn't really lend itself to the hard and fast rules that can lead to misconceptions.
Tell us about some of your craziest, most amazing adventures!
DP: Oh man, there are so many: Facing down a grizzly bear in British Columbia; struggling over a 17,000-foot pass during the middle of a snowstorm in Bolivia; hearing the pavement crackle as it melts under your tires in Australia; marching up a river in the middle of a rainstorm in New Zealand—the list goes on and on. Our curiosity and audacity tends to get us in trouble, but that also makes for good storytelling, so why stop!
We're feeling quite late to this party. Let's get practical: Where can we do it? What are your favorite places to do it around the world?
KvH: Anywhere, truly anywhere. We talk to people who have amazing experiences just riding from their own front door: you can head out for a long weekend and see areas around you that you never knew existed. As far as favorite places, Bolivia is amazing; it's really rugged and tourism isn't huge in the country, so you feel pretty out there. Northern California, the Trinity Alps, and the Marble Mountains are pretty special, too; there is just hardly anyone around and the scenery is jaw-dropping, it's hard to believe it's in California.
Bolivia is far: How can we work it into our daily routine?
KvH: Being cycling fit can really help you enjoy your bike adventure. There's nothing worse than being the most tired person in your group. So make cycling part of your exercise routine and you'll gain confidence about your riding and a better idea of what can be accomplished by bicycle. The planning is nearly as fun as the actual trip. Start thinking about what you want to do, where you want to go, and then get to planning. There is so much to see!