The Blackburn Rangers


My first serious road bike was a Specialized Expedition. It was a take-no-prisoners touring bike meant for people disinclined to leave a forwarding address. It was a bike for people with ambition. On that bike I crossed the Continental Divide seven times in a single trip.

Like I said, it was meant for people with ambition. I didn’t say anything about brains.

In addition to the one big tour I did through the Rockies, I also did several shorter trips through New England. I commuted on that bike, raced ‘cross on it and bombed more than a few gravel roads. That bike helped me learn how fun touring can be. My disposition is such, though, that the bike may not have been necessary. I seem to be partial to touring, whether I have the touring bike or not.

Bike touring, though, isn’t the hip end of cycling. The touring bike is the pocket protector of the bike world. It’s not fast, and as a result lacks the sexy je ne c’est quoi that we automatically attribute to racing bikes. I get the attraction of the racing bike, but I must confess that I also get the attraction of the fully-loaded touring bike. It’s a bike with possibilities, a bike that’s prepared and maybe it’s just the Eagle Scout in me, but I resonate any time someone suggests that I should be prepared.

All this is to say, I have a very soft spot for bike touring.

It is with that in mind that I point your attention to the ad at the top of the home page, the one for Blackburn. Recently, they came to me and told me about a promotion they were doing. They were sponsoring a bunch of riders to go out and tackle ambitious tours. These weren’t two-day trips from Boston to the end of the Cape, no these were doozies. Canada to Mexico on the Pacific Coast Highway, and the Great Divide Route.

Can we just go over that again? Blackburn is SPONSORING riders to go on long tours. How amazing is that?

They call them the Blackburn Rangers. Little sheriff’s stars seem in order. The idea is a simple one: If you make touring gear, what better way to test your products than with people who will really put them through their paces. Lots of companies have a select roster of riders who comprise their torture chamber. What’s different about Blackburn Rangers is that they are riding completed products, so their role is less to test the product and make sure it works than to demonstrate proof of concept.

All that sounds nice, but then I got an email from Blackburn asking me if I wanted to intercept one of their riders coming down the Pacific Coast Highway and ride a bit.

Is Amanda Bynes cray-cray? Hellz yeah!

I met up with Jennifer at the Manhattan Beach Pier. She was actually on a rest day, which meant that she was likely to ride less than 30 miles that day and with less than her full load on the bike. She’d started her journey back in mid-June and as you read this she’s probably boarding a plane to head home to Seattle. She’d had the good sense to allow herself plenty of rest days, something on the order of every fourth or fifth day she took as a rest day.


Jennifer has been riding that Voodoo for more than 10 years, mostly as a bike commuter, but she’s also done some supported rides like STP, the Seattle to Portland ride. The rig, while serviceable, was nothing fancy: steel frame and fork, nine-speed drivetrain, double chainrings (not compact, no triple) and only a rear rack. No computer. I’m not sure I’ve met a more capable cyclist less concerned about equipment. What a trip.

Of course, that wasn’t where our conversation began. My first question was how she managed to find six weeks to ride her bike. Did she have a really understanding boss? Was she a freelancer? Trust fund?

Nope. She quit her job and her husband was chill about it.

She also left behind a chihuahua and when we stopped for chai in Venice, she was easily distracted by one just a few tables over.

When I asked her what the biggest surprise of the trip was she told me it was the people that she met. From other cyclists she encountered on the road to the folks she met off the bike, she was continually amazed by the kindness, warmth and generosity of the people she encountered. What she’d expected to get out of the trip was beautiful scenery, but it was in meeting people that she’d had her must pleasant and surprising encounters.

When I asked her about her favorite stretch she had ridden, she mentioned when she first rode into a Redwood forest, which would have been Del Norte State Forest, on the Pacific Coast a bit south of Crescent City, in far northern California. She talked about how she marveled not just at their massive presence, but how, from the saddle of a bike, she was able to take in the full effect of their size, that she didn’t have car windows letter boxing her view, how the scent of the forest washed over her as she rode and how she could feel the damp air of the forest on her skin.

Given the chance to be plucked out of Southern California and returned to any spot on her tour via helicopter, she said that was the spot.

Most of us don’t carpe that diem often enough. I’ll admit that I did more than just covet Jennifer’s adventure, I envied it. And while envy may be one of the seven deadly sins, in this instance I think it may have served a useful purpose in reminding me that it’s a big world. I need to get out and see more.





  1. MattC

    How does one go about getting “Blackburn Ranger” status? I’d LOVE to take a long trip on my bike! (and btw: just what does “Sponsored rider” entail?) I’ve never yet done a mulit-day bike trip…my friends did 2 short trips last year (4 days) and said it was the most fun they’ve ever had on their bikes…

  2. Andrew

    I totally miss having the time to go bike touring. Summer 1992 I looked up at the calendar for the rest of my life and said “hey- this is the last summer vacation, ever”. So my buddy Greg (RIP) and I rode from Seattle to Minneapolis, where we ran out of money and had to stop. This was before I had a credit card. No cell phones. The scenery was awesome, but like the article says, the best part was meeting people. The logging family that took us in out of the sleet in Idaho. The native American woman who offered to let us sleep on her lawn in Montana. The cops in Montana who let us sleep in the old bomb shelter to avoid tornados. The bike shop guys in Minot who put us up for two days over the 4th of July holiday.

    Some day. Some day I’m going to be able to do this sort of thing again…

  3. Eric

    Neat story. I’m jealous of her… hell, I’m jealous of anyone who manages to find the time, convince significant others, etc., and marshal the resources necessary to be gone from home for so long, with or without Blackburn’s help. 🙂

    Thanks for dropping my mind’s eye in a redwood forest on the saddle of a bike. Good daydream material for the rest of the day!

    BTW, unless did it intentionally for effect, it’s “je ne __sais__ quoi”.(

  4. Les Borean

    I haven’t yet done any touring. But following a bike tour blog on a daily basis eventually enticed me into cycling, especially the last day of Ian Walker’s participation, which is linked below.

    This was a day in which he rode 140 miles on a rainy day in the mountains of Colorado. I can’t explain how “140 miles on a rainy day” enticed me, except that I must have contracted the bug over the electronic media.

    It was nice revisiting the blog after some years. I didn’t remember the video of that great descent along a winding foresty road.

  5. Fuzz

    Wow – that takes me back. I once spent five weeks on similar bike in the Rockies, crossing the divide 19 times, and I’ve done the Oregon and CA coast. But as they say, you can carry a heavy load or a heavy wallet, and after doing a few supported tours, these days I prefer the heavy wallet. But that makes me no less jealous of the Blackburn Rangers.

  6. scaredskinnydog

    That last paragraph was spot on. I still have my old madden panniers, hmmm…..maybe another bike tour is in order. Although my recollection is thats its about equal amounts agony and ecstasy.

    1. Author

      Another Madden owner. That’s how you know you’ve encountered someone who took their touring seriously in the ’80s and ’90s.

  7. brucew

    With little vacation time, all I can do is envy touring riders.

    I feed the envy on my commute. I start work just after lunchtime and enjoy the luxury of commuting on a section of Adventure Cycling’s Northern Tier route. I leave early most days to intercept passing touring riders. I either slow down or turn around to ride and chat for a while.

    Retirement is only 11 years and counting…

  8. Jeff T

    As an avid tourer for the last 9 years (and a road rider for 40 years), I have to agree on 2 points. 1) Definitely the biggest surprise to me was how cool people are when you’re touring on a bicycle. Especially when you get away from the cities (e.g. Texas) people would go out of their way to help you and make sure you were OK. I finally figured out that it was their way to be part of your adventure. And, 2) — still remember the first time I rode through the redwoods. Same feeling of being part of the forest as you ride, rather than just passing through in a speeding vehicle. Definitely my favorite area from Canada to Mexico.

  9. Khal Spencer

    Most of us can always find excuses not to take a month or more off and ride a heavy, laden bike. We lose. Jennifer wins. Now, will I actually come up with the brass balls to tour on that touring bike I built last year?

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