Thursday, December 22, 2011

RIDER PROFILE: Ben Evans

Road to the Peruvian Andes. Photo: Jeremy Jensen

Ben Stuart Evans caught our attention when he sent us some breathtaking photos (shot by his riding partner Jeremy Jensen) of his epic trip riding from Oaxaca, Mexico to Caraz, Peru. They estimated to have ridden 3000 miles and gained a total of 50,000 vertical feet. They did these all on fixed gear bikes – Ben on his 2006 fiery red Soma Rush. He took his Rush [he says 'the Rush took him'] over countless mountain passes, through jungles and deserts, cities and hamlets, past glaciers and erupting volcanoes. They even did a 300-mile sailboat voyage across the Caribbean in hurricane season. What also struck us is that Ben is not just a simple adventure seeker, but has a passion for social work/public health. He was doing community health work in Oaxaca before his trip. On Dec. 4th he left the States to do work in Ecuador.

What's your name, age, and education background?

Benjamin Stuart Evans, 27 y.o., Masters of Public Health, Masters of Social Work; hometown St. Louis, MO

Jeremy Jensen; 29 y.o., Bachelor's in Construction Management; hometown Flagstaff, AZ

At the equator.


What kind of work have you been doing the last couple of years? Has it been more work or more exploring this past year?

My work over the past couple years has been a mish-mash of small jobs related to my field of study and totally unrelated work. I graduated in 2009 and immediately left Portland, Oregon for Oaxaca, Mexico where I worked with a couple of non-profit organizations. One of them, Puente a la Salud Comunitaria (Bridge to Community Health), works with families and farmers in rural Oaxaca to reincorporate a native grain, Amaranth, into the diet, agriculture and local markets of the region. My work with Puente, like my work with another organization that focuses on creating a space for children to lead their own community projects, was split between helping with organizational redesign and preparation for field work. I also taught English for a bit. One thing that I loved about each of those jobs was the ever-changing work environment--one day would be an hour-long meeting, the next would be a 16-hour day in the field. Since moving back to the states in December 2010, I've gotten my Wilderness EMT and worked on a fire crew with the Forest Service. [Editor: He is currently spending the winter in Ecuador working with a farming co-operative to identify mechanisms of social marginalization that affect their communities and thinking about how the co-op can start to address those inequities.]


Working with a non-profit in Oaxaca, Mexico

What is more satisfying/rewarding? Social work or riding?

Ay, I don't think I can quantify that one. They sort of feed off of each other. I'm a person who really needs that physical outlet, so I think I'm better able to tap into my creativity for work when I'm riding regularly. The flip side is that I am more motivated to ride when work is tough and I have ideas to process in the saddle. In that sense, work and riding are complementary for me, and mutually rewarding.

Canyon del Pato in Peru. Ben's "touring bike" is a 2006 Soma Rush. Photo: Jeremy Jensen


How did you train/prepare for long distance riding?

Honestly, my training was pretty sorry and Jeremy didn't train at all. I just tried to be in the saddle for at least 2 hours at a time a two or three days a week and ride really hard with weight for about a month leading up to the trip. We knew that the first few weeks of the tour would whip us into shape better than any training regimen, so we didn't worry about it too much. And frankly, sometimes, a midday mezcal was a bit more enticing than sweating up a mountain pass in the Mexican sun.


What ride/tour mistakes did you make you can tell us about to help aspiring touring cyclists to avoid?

Beware of expensive niche gear! I spent a lot of time and money researching the "best" racks for my handlebar bag and saddlebag, only to toss both of those pricy gadgets into a roadside trashcan when they failed two weeks into the trip. Keep it simple, bombproof and versatile when selecting gear. Use gear that you can replace or fix on the road (i.e.: broken plastic brace, not so fixable), gear that can serve a number of purposes, and then carry at least a couple of the most basic "refacciones" (spare parts; ex.: adjustable metal clamps, heavy weight zip ties, duct tape!) to get you through the most barren stretches of riding on your trip.

Avoid trip and route planning like the plague: I know it's hard not to plan, but seriously, just fly by the seat of your pants. The greatest fun on our tour was giving in to spontaneity 100% and enjoying the flexibility of riding for the journey, rather than the destination. Destinations change. Cranking through the rolling hills of Southern Mexico, Jeremy and I were stoked to be on pace for a 150 mile day and bent on making it happen when someone pulled over to chat with us roadside during a snack break. That someone ended up inviting us to stay the night on his brother's extravagant colonial hacienda just behind us--one of the most memorable events in 10 weeks on the road. We thought of the trip as a holistic adventure, not just a cycling one, and were repeatedly rewarded for that outlook. So take a load off, and forget the plan--the unforeseen will probably be far more spectacular than anything you can devise.

Sailing toward Cartagena, Columbia. Photo: Jeremy Jensen

Why did you choose to ride fixed? Just riding a geared bike would've been challenging enough.

We rode fixed out of necessity and love... which I realize sounds super cheesy, but it's fitting, really. Have a conversation in confidence with anyone who rides fixed and they'll explain to you the romance in it. It's just a special way of riding. We both had fixed gear bikes and no money to build anything different, but we had this amazing trip idea; it was going to happen. And we did it because we love riding fixed, it's simply an incredible feeling. The bike becomes a part of you. I'll be watching a sci-fi movie and people are jumping into futuristic robotic suits and using crazy mechanical body extension tools and such, and I always think, "Yeah, I already know what that's like." Jeremy had rode fixed from Bend, Oregon to San Diego the summer before, so when I asked him if he wanted to ride to Peru with me, we were both pretty decided on doing it fixed from the outset. The simplicity of it is so appealing on a long, remote tour. There's so little to break on the bike, and we matched our gear ratios so that we could sync pace and draft. And we never worried that we were in the wrong gear. It was the only gear! [Editor: Though he loves riding fixed, he did share that there are difficulties and unique challenges with touring on essentially a track bike, like carrying enough food/water or not having the comfort of fatter tires when riding gravel roads. Mr. Evan's views expressed in this interview are his own and are not necessarily those of Soma.]

10 comments:

Roadscrape88 said...

What a superb attitude for taking a journey instead of just a trip! I love it and try to travel similarly. Hope they publish a detailed account of their travels.

Having done some hiking in the Peruvian Andes, I can't imagine doing such roads on a fixed, much less with a touring load. Even the highway across the altiplano runs 12-14,000 feet elevation.

Anonymous said...

Very inspring guys and great message for the new year!

Nick E. said...

I love touring fixed, I ironically I do it on a fire engine red soma rush as well, and I ride victoria randonear hyper so fatten those tires up and ride with confidence

Raf Lehmann said...

Awesome! Would really like some more detailed info/recommendations on mounting racks to a fixed frame, if Evans or anyone else reading this can help. Thanks!

Benjamin Evans said...

Hey Raf,

Great question, and honestly, racks were the biggest problem for me on our ride, so I'm going to write a bit here...

Both my front and rear racks broke within the first few weeks of riding. I was using a Carradice rear rack that mounted to my saddle rails and (if you can imagine this) dropped an L-shaped tube of aluminum that looped down and hovered over the rear wheel. My saddlebag rested on that tube but gradually bent the tube and rubbed the rear tire... I wasn't big into resistance training at the time, so I tossed the rack in San Cristobal de las Casas. Just a bit down the road, my Jandd quick release rack that mounted to the handlebars and supported my front bag just snapped going over a speed bump. Needless to say, I will never recommend any rack that depends on one or two points of contact to bear the weight of your gear, nor one that your gear hangs from without support from beneath. Of course, Raf, you already are familiar with this crux of mounting racks to fixed frames without braze-ons. So let's get to solutions.

As far as I know, two options exist: (1) racks with long support arms that can be laced through your front squewer or rest on the rear hub bolt and fasten with a couple of nuts, or (2) racks that offer fork or seatstay clamps. On the trip, I had the luck of finding the former--front and rear racks that bolted straight to hub level. These were heavy, but well-worth the stability and reliability gained. Keep your eyes out on craigslist for a rack like this, they could be hard to find new.

Racks that offer clamps to sidestep the absence of braze-ons can be hard to find and very expensive. I don't have any experience with these but there are some bomber-looking options out there. My riding partner swears by this site, www.rivbike.com, and they've got great stuff, no doubt. Mark's Rack, by Nitto is an example of the clamping system.

Bottom line, an extra pound or two for a super strong rack will be worth it on the long road. Good luck in your search!

-Ben Evans

Somacisco said...

Here are a couple of good ones.

http://store.somafab.com/nimamira.html

http://store.somafab.com/nixrtoprera.html

Benjamin Evans said...

Yes, Somacisco! Let's keep it in the family.

And can't believe I forgot Wald. The featured basket/rack on the SOMAfeed right now is an awesome option. Baskets allow for increased versatility, letting you use a dry bag, for instance, if you don't have a proper piece of touring luggage. I'm a fan.

-Ben

Somacisco said...

We're Rivendell fans too. Obviously, since we asked them to design our flagship frame set.

Chris said...

Ben, thank you for the great instructions. Do you mind sharing what type of handlebar bag you used? I like your set up very much, and can't wait for my first trip!

Benjamin Evans said...

Chris, sorry for my slow response. My handlbar bag was the "Touring Handle Bar Pack II" by Jandd... a great bag with a weak plastic mounting system that broke on me early into the trip. I would suggest instead looking into a Wald front basket and using with it a dry bag or similar piece of super tough luggage that can just sit in the basket. That is the set up my riding partner Jeremy went with and he had no problems.

My stem bag however, also from Jandd, is awesome and I highly recommend it as a storage space for items that are easy to access while riding. Check it out:

http://www.jandd.com/detail.asp?PRODUCT_ID=FTOR2