Donnie Kolb: Bikepacking the Oregon Backcountry with VeloDirt

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Donnie Kolb at the Cowboy Dinner Tree, a restaurant along the Oregon Outback route with 30oz steaks. Photo by Gabriel Amadeus. 

Simply stated, bikepacking is backpacking on a bike. Rather than using touring bikes with panniers, bikepackers use mountain bikes with frame and seat bags that allow them to maintain agility on singletrack trails. And though people have been using bikes to explore trails and dirt roads for about as long as bikes have existed, bikepacking’s popularity has skyrocketed in the past several years with new races and events popping up all over the country and long running events seeing record participation. In Oregon, Donnie Kolb is a central figure in the bikepacking world. In his own words he is, “spreading the gospel of dirt and gravel riding throughout the Pacific Northwest.” His website VeloDirt serves as a resource for bikepacking and gravel road routes throughout Oregon, a travel journal for Kolb’s adventure stories, and a hub for loosely-organized, semi-official bike events. In May, VeloDirt is putting on their largest ride yet, the Oregon Outback. It is a wild, 360-mile route tracing most of the distance of the state south to north. I spoke to Kolb about the history of VeloDirt, his love for bikepacking adventures, the unexpected popularity of the Oregon Outback, and the future of bikepacking in Oregon and beyond.

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The Tour du St-Laurent Cycliste

60 Cycles by Jean-Claude Labrecque, National Film Board of Canada

The Tour du St. Laurent was an amateur stage race in Quebec held 12 times between 1954 and 1965. The race varied in length over the years, but essentially followed the Saint Laurence River from Quebec to Montreal and back. Filmmaker Jean-Claude Labrecque made this short film about the 1964 edition of the race. It has an interesting 60s surf-film feel to it with ambient sounds from the race, an electric guitar soundtrack, and almost no talking. If you’d like to learn more,  the Cycleops blog has an in-depth history of the race.

Spencer Paxson: Fighting to the Top as a Working Man’s Mountain Biker

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Photo from konaworld.com.

There’s something of an adoration–occasionally bordering on idolatry–for the working men and women of professional bike racing. We hold high racers such as Erik Tonkin, Tristan Schouten, and Mo Bruno-Roy who put in a full week’s work and still make it to the podium on the weekends. That esteem is, in part, a recognition of their serious dedication to the sports we love and their willingness to sacrifice time to compete at the highest levels. But it is also that we can see ourselves in working pros, unrealistic as that is. Few of us will actually spend the time training to compete at that level and even fewer have the genetics to do so. But their success feels just a little more within our grasp, a little more aspirational to those of us finding time to train and race in between all of life’s other commitments.

And though he eschews the notion that his full time job is a badge of honor or an excuse, Spencer Paxson falls squarely among that top tier of American working pros. He routinely places in the top 10 at national-level professional cross-country mountain bike races, placed 5th at the 2012 cross-country nationals, has made the US World Championships selection, and was on the 2012 Olympics long team. I spoke to Paxson about the challenges of balancing his office job with his bike racing job, what it means to have a career as a cross country racer in the ever evolving world of mountain bike racing, coming up under the mentorship of Erik Tonkin, and much more.

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The Resourceful Cyclists of Havana, Cuba

Cuba’s bicycling culture was born in the economic crisis that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Severe oil and gas shortages gave rise to the use of bicycles as transportation in the country, a trend that continues today. Kauri Multimedia produced a short documentary about bicycling in Havana and resourcefulness necessary to keep bikes running in a country without access to new parts.

Havana Bikes from Kauri Multimedia on Vimeo.

Aaron Naparstek: the Evolution of an Advocate from Honku to StreetsBlog and Beyond (Part 2)

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Aaron and family. Photo by Clarence Eckerson via StreetFilms.org.

In the past decade, New York City has seen a remarkable transformation from one of America’s worst bike cities to one of its most progressive. Like any political movement, the change was a confluence of many, many factors. And Aaron Naparstek seems to have had his hands in a whole lot of them. From Honku–a neighborhood campaign centered on haiku about traffic–to work with Transportation Alternatives to founding StreetsBlog, he has played an important role in New York City’s evolution towards walkable, bikeable, livable streets.

In part one of this far-reaching interview, Aaron discussed his current work as a MIT Visiting Scholar and his recent Loeb Fellowship at Harvard, his roots in neighborhood activism and streets advocacy, and the foundation and growth of StreetsBlog, an influential advocacy journalism outlet in the livable streets movement. Part two continues with our discussion of pivotal moments in the history of New York City’s bike advocacy, the work necessary to continue its growth as a bike-friendly place, and the successes and shortcomings of modern American bike advocacy at large.

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