Category Archives: Interviews

Shannon Galpin: Riding to Revolution in Afghanistan

Shannon Galpin Mountain Biking Afghanistan
Shannon Galpin mountain biking in Afghanistan. Photo by Deni Bechard.

Most cyclists would agree that the bicycle is far more than the sum of its parts. As a means of transportation it has implications for climate change, socioeconomics, equity. As a sport it is medicine for our mental and physical well being. As a culture it connects us to people far and wide. And though it touches so many facets of our lives and is an important tool for change, most of us in developed countries would stop short of saying that bicycling is revolutionary. In a country such as Afghanistan however, bicycling has the potential for revolutionary transformation. It is, as Shannon Galpin discovered, a metaphorical and literal vehicle for improving the lives of women and girls living in a country consistently ranked among the worst on women’s rights.

Galpin first traveled to Afghanistan in 2008 as as founder and President of Mountain2Mountain, a nonprofit focused on women’s rights in conflict zones. Her work initially involved a wide array of arts and education projects. Then in 2009 she brought her mountain bike to the country, went for some rides, sparked the sort of conversations with locals she needed to have about why women weren’t allowed to bike, and found the new focal point for her mission. The intersection of bicycling and Afghani women’s rights was further solidified in 2012 when she met the newly-created women’s National Cycling Team. Now Galpin is working to support the team and use cycling as sport to shift the cultural taboos about women biking for transportation and fun. Along the way, she has written a memoir, helped produce a documentary, given TED talks, and continued advancing Mountain2Mountain’s mission. I spoke to Galpin about her work in Afghanistan, breaking norms as a woman on a bike, projects with Mountain2Mountain, the National Cycling Team, and much more.

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Alastair Humphreys: Epic Adventures are for Ordinary People

Alastair Humphreys Portrait
British Professional adventurer Alastair Humphreys. Photo by Alastair Humphreys.

For most of us, the idea of a months- or years-long expedition feels like an unrealistic dream. Maybe an extended bike tour or thru hike across mountains is appealing, but we convince ourselves it’s what other people do. It’s for someone with more time, more money, more expertise, special circumstances. If Alastair Humphreys is to be believed, however, adventurers are just ordinary people who put a departure date on the calendar and stick to their guns. Given that his accomplishments include riding his bike around the world on a four year tour, rowing across the Atlantic Ocean, walking across India, hiking and packrafting across Iceland, and dragging a specially-built cart across the Arabian Peninsula’s Empty Quarter desert, he’s probably a credible source.

Recently, Humphrey’s has worked hard to elevate the notion that adventuring is for everyone by encouraging people to take microadventures. Microadventures are meant to be easy and accessible for all. Leave from work, sleep on a hill under the stars somewhere just outside of the city, get back in time for your morning meeting. For his efforts advocating for everyday adventuring, National Geographic named him a 2012 Adventurer of the Year. I spoke with Humphrey’s about his lifetime of travels, the inspiration for pedaling around the world, how he’s managed to make this into a career, why people should take microadventures, and much more.

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Jeremy Powers: Life at the Top of American Cyclocross

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Jeremy Powers under the lights at CrossVegas. Photo by Motofish Images courtesy Emily Powers.

Jeremy Powers likely doesn’t need much introduction to The Bicycle Story’s readers. He is almost unquestionably the best American male cyclocross racer of his generation. Powers has won every race he’s entered so far this season save for his impressive 3rd behind Sven Nys and Lars van der Haar at CrossVegas. He’s been similarly dominant the last few seasons notching dozens of wins, two national titles, and a few USGP overall titles. Despite that, success in Europe has eluded Powers. He’s hoping to buck that trend this season and has made some radical changes such as quitting road racing and launching his new one man Aspire team to try and make that happen.

Off the race course, Powers is nearly as ubiquitous in American cyclocross. His popular Behind The Barriers web series evolved into a full-on cyclocross media company with live race coverage, analysis and more. His nonprofit JAMFund charity works with underprivileged cyclists in New England and is developing some of the best up-and-coming US cyclocross pros. Talking with Powers the week before he headed to Europe for the Valkenburg World Cup, it was clear that his success is not just the product of a huge engine and good handling skills (though that’s certainly essential). He’s taken a meticulous approach to all aspects of his career–training, racing, building a team, media exposure, partnerships, developing younger riders, etc–and it’s paying off. I spoke to him about his new Aspire program, his deep history in the sport, the challenges of Europe, what it will take to get Americans on World Cup podiums, the growth of Behind The Barriers and JAMFund, and much more.

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Tim Blumenthal: The National Fight for People Who Bike

Bikes Belong Staff Portraits
PeopleForBikes President Tim Blumenthal. Photo courtesy PeopleForBikes

Bike advocacy is a sweeping term that captures a huge array of work. Fighting for better bike infrastructure on neighborhood streets, building new mountain bike trails, organizing charity rides, lobbying elected officials and many other things fit under that rather large umbrella of advocacy. Some might see that diversity of advocacy issues as a problem–that lots of sub-interests competing for limited funding and public attention will curb success for all. PeopleForBikes sees that variety as a boon to bicycling in America. The national advocacy organization helps fund everything from protected bike lanes to mountain bike parks; lobbies government agencies and elected officials; partners with professional cycling teams; provides grant funding; organizes their own charity ride; and much more. They’re guided by the basic principle that the more people ride, the better bicycling will be for everyone, regardless of what type of riding they do.

With over three decades of work in advocacy and bike racing, PeopleForBikes President Tim Blumenthal is a fitting leader. He got his start as a cycling journalist for publications such as VeloNews and Bicycling, worked with NBC on cycling coverage for seven Olympics, and spent 11 years at the helm of the International Mountain Bike Association before joining PeopleForBikes. I spoke to Blumenthal about PeopleForBikes’ work, his career in the cycling world, the value of combining cycling-as-sport and cycling-as-transportation in advocacy work, the strengths and shortcomings of American bike advocacy, and more.

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Mike Curiak: Finding the Edge of Human Endurance

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Mike Curiak at an Iditarod race in Alaska. Photo by Chris McLennan.

From the early rebels racing down the Repack to today’s craziest freeriders flipping off massive cliffs, every era of mountain biking has needed pioneering figures to push the boundaries of what’s possible on a bike. In endurance racing, Mike Curiak was one of those key people who helped define just how long and far the human body can go on a mountain bike. He is best known for his exploits at Alaska’s brutal Iditaraces. Over his 17 year race career, he won numerous iterations of the 225-mile Iditasport and 350-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational, set a course record on the 1,100-mile Iditasport Impossible, and later completed the 1,100-mile race fully self-supported. He also helped organize the first successful Great Divide race, won the Kokopelli Trail Race, and was a nominee for the mountain bike hall of fame among other palmares.

Curiak retired from racing almost 10 years ago after winning the 2005 Iditarod Trail Invitational. These days he says he’s focused more on fun, though it’s his version of fun, i.e. multi-day bikepacking trips that require packrafting across lakes and down rivers and other adventures like that. He’s also focused on his well established Lace Mine 29 wheel-building business. I spoke to Curiak before he set off on a three-week packrafting trip through the Grand Canyon. We talked about his early entry into endurance racing, endless laps on 24-hour race courses, his experience racing in Alaska, helping create the Great Divide race, his disappointment with the direction endurance racing has gone recently, and much more.

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