Brett Davis’ Salsa Blackborow: Sand and Snow
In part two of our Rider and Rig Blackborow double feature, we take a look at Brett Davis’ rig. With a custom set of Bedrock bags, this Blackborow was built for exploring the sand and snow around his homebase in Durango, Colorado.
Brett Davis, a Salsa Cycles athlete, outdoor educator, and multi-talented adventurer, has been exploring on bicycles since well before the term “bikepacking” was popularized. Growing up a military brat, his family moved every few years, and perhaps that instilled in him the adventurous spirit he still has today. Brett works as an outdoor educator at Fort Lewis College, conveniently tucked up against the San Juan Mountains, not far from southeast Utah’s expansive desert.
It seems that bicycling alone doesn’t satisfy Brett, who typically combines multiple outdoor sports to accomplish his missions. The Salsa Blackborow, complete with custom Bedrock bags, appears to be the perfect bike for these multi-sport adventures. On one such trip, Brett loaded up the lanky rig with ice climbing equipment and we set off on a long, snowy road to access a backcountry ice route. On another short endeavor, the Blackborow donned skis via the purpose-built Bedrock bags and we rode to the bottom of the local ski hill, where we traded bikes for skis and skinned up to the college. Although Brett has been on big bikepacking excursions across the globe, he wholeheartedly embraces mini adventures like this ski/bike commute or simply adventurous outings to the grocery store.
Give us a quick overview of some of your past expeditions, on bike or otherwise.
In many ways, my life has been one long expedition, as I seem to go from one trip to the next. A large part of this lifestyle has to do with my occupation as an outdoor educator, as well as my never-ending desire to explore the wild places of our planet. I have had the opportunity to do adventures on nearly every continent—nearly all of them by human powered means, whether it be slogging up big peaks, kayaking down wild rivers, skiing deep powder lines, climbing steep cliffs, groveling down slot canyons, or biking for days across a remote landscape. I am still managing to do all of these things, but as far as cycling goes, in recent years I have been exploring the lands above the arctic circle via fat bike and packraft. Additionally, I have been exploring the amazing environments within striking distance of my hometown of Durango, CO—such things as retracing the “Hole-n-Rock” expedition or other historical routes.
What do you typically use this bike for?
The new Salsa Blackborow is built for going long and far. I received the bike in the late fall with a specific master plan to put it through its paces. In preparation for the trip, I worked with the talented Joey Ernst and Andrew Wracher at Bedrock Bags to create the bags I would need for the mission. Upon their completion, I have been doing various missions that call for the ability to carry lots of equipment—i.e. riding into the San Juan Mountains and scaling a multi-pitch ice climb or making grocery runs from the house. The Blackborow has the capacity to carry everything including the kitchen sink.
What’s a dream trip for this bike?
As I alluded to before, my grand plan for this ultimate expedition machine is to complete a bike packing/backcountry skiing tour through the rugged San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado. This trip has been on my list for a long time, but for one reason or another, I haven’t been able to pull it off. The plan is essentially to find a highly skilled partner in the realms of skiing and mountaineering, who can also suffer a little bit on a bike, and depart my home for a 16-day tour around and through the mountains, skiing big lines along the way. Due to our low snow year, it looks like the trip will be postponed yet another year…which is a bummer, since I have been waiting so long and finally have the ideal bike and bag combo for success. Despite the conditions, I have a mini version of the trip planned for later in the spring, which will be a good shakedown for the big one to take place next winter.
Besides the bags, the bike looks mostly stock. Do you typically leave bikes this way, and why?
I guess you could say I am a simpleton when it comes to bikes. I don’t tend to geek out too much on what caliber of parts I have on a bike or how to cut the bike’s overall weight. As a rider for Salsa Cycles, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to work with this great bicycle company—so when my bike for the year arrives on my doorstep, I just build it up and go ride. Though I have a garage full of bikes, nearly all of them are still stock as Salsa shipped them. Why change out parts and pieces when they are built to be bomb proof for the adventures that I tackle? I have ridden a Salsa bike down the Great Divide, along the Arizona and Colorado Trails, across the interior of Iceland, among the tussocks of the Brooks Range in Alaska, and many other bike adventures, and have yet to have an issue with any of my bikes. So why change them? I think Salsa engineers and specs their bikes for those of us riders who they know will test them to their limits, so if they can withstand a trip down the remote Northern Lost Coast of southeast Alaska, the typical consumer will have no issues with whatever Salsa bike they choose.
You’ve been an outdoor educator for many years. What’s that like?
I have been exposing college students to the power of the natural world for over 20 years. To me, I have one of the best careers an outdoor guy can pursue. Currently, as the director of the Outdoor Pursuits program at Fort Lewis College, I have the privilege of working with college students every day—teaching them basic outdoor skills and more advanced skills such as whitewater kayaking, backcountry skiing and avalanche education, rock and ice climbing, mountaineering, and canyoneering. More importantly, though, through these pursuits and our daily interactions I get to mentor and help them find their place in a complex and quickly changing world. In so many ways, I am a life coach to young adults. Educators are predominantly undervalued in the important role they play in helping future generations succeed in their lives. Having had opportunities to work on Wall Street and in other parts of the financial industry, I feel lucky to have found my true calling and to be able to inspire others to do so as well. Plus, working with 18 to 24 year olds every day is keeping me young and up to date with all of the new lingo and trends.
Have you taken students bikepacking? What impact did you see in them?
Years ago fellow Salsa rider Kurt Refsnider (professor at Prescott College) and I were in a race to see who could develop the country’s first collegiate bikepacking program. I am proud to say that Fort Lewis College crossed the finish first, with a ride along the first 300 miles of the Arizona Trail during a spring break trip. Kurt quickly finished a close second with the creation of a month-long bikepacking geology course around the Colorado Plateau. What a great college course! Since the Arizona Trail adventure, we continue to offer bikepacking trips to our students, exposing them to this amazing way to experience life on two wheels. Additionally, I am a coach for Durango’s youth cycling development program (DEVO), and work with junior high and high school students. We have weekly practices where we explore the local trails of Durango, which helps us prepare for a weekend bikepacking trip. It is amazing to see the growth in confidence and self-esteem that comes from completing a lengthy bikepacking route, whether it be in college students or middle schoolers.
Lightning Round – Short Answer
A piece of non-touring equipment that always comes along?
A lightweight wind shirt. My original Wild Things wind shirt is still going strong after over 20 years. It has been worn to the top of some of the world’s highest peaks and been ridden down lots of epic single track. It is a great lightweight intermediate layer that blocks a biting wind or provides protection from an unrelenting sun. In my most recent trip with the college, I left my old friend at home and was regretting it the entire trip.
Rigid or squishy?
Rigid, as these bikes are my go-to for the types of adventures that I pursue. Suspended bikes are a lot of fun and I ride them on my local trails nearly every day, but when I go deep into the backcountry, I want simplicity with few additional parts to break. Keep it simple.
Solo or with a riding partner?
I have done my fair share of solo escapades, but I prefer adventuring with others. When it is the right group of people, a team can accomplish more than a single individual. Choose wisely, though, as it can easily go the other way. I have been there and done that.
Are bikes tools or toys?
Both. Bikes have the ability to impact the world. I bike commute nearly every day, lessening my carbon footprint. I grocery shop and run errands on my Blackborow, saving myself money and the wear and tear on my vehicle. Additionally, I find great joy in swooping through flowy single track or cresting a massive mountain climb. When the stress in my life is high, the bike acts as my therapist and provides an escape. It also connects me to the natural world in a way that is authentic and raw. I plan on pedaling in some fashion until it is my time to depart this world.
Bedrock Bags custom built Brett’s set of bags for ski touring and desert missions. Look closely to see the sandstone towers stitched into the fabric. The rear slots were built to accommodate skis in an A-frame mounting position. Typically, folks carrying skis by bike have had to strap them to their backpacks or top tubes, both of which aren’t ideal for a multitude of reasons. The panniers are designed to fit ski boots and the occasional 12 pack. Brett uses the frame bag to carry extra layers, water, or food. The bag between the rack and seat stay is the perfect size for a pair of ski skins.
Find out more info about the Salsa Blackborow in our first ride report and check out yesterday’s part one of this Blackborow Rider and Rig double feature, featuring musician and poet, Ben Weaver. Also, check out the site visit to Bedrock Bags. And, last but not least, make sure to follow Colt Fetters on instagram @coltfetters and Brett Davis @brettrdavis.