Cargodoggo: JC, Zaina, and Basquiat’s Omnium Cargo Bike
We talk cargo bikes, Border Collies, and tree planting with JC, Zaïna, and Basquiat – aka Cargodoggo. Find out how Basquiat and JC found each other, how Zaïna’s identity as a BIPOC rider has shaped her newfound love of bike touring, and how the Cargodoggo team got into dogpacking. Plus, check out a gallery of their photos from the San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour and glean sage dogpacking advice, should you be inspired to do the same…
Perhaps you can imagine my surprise, and delight, when I received a text message from my buddy Ron here in Mexico, reporting in with news – and a photo – of a Canadian cycling couple he’d met in the Oaxacan countryside, travelling with their dog.
Being at the beginning of my own dogpacking learning curve with Huesos – the stray we’ve recently taken in – I was stoked when they later dropped me a line, as I was able to hear their story and learn about their setups. The latter was doubly exciting because Ron’s photo revealed that they were piloting an Omnium, one of my favourite cargo bikes, up and down Oaxaca’s steepest dirt grades!
Being the dry season, we wasted no time in arranging to meet up for an early morning ride – the perfect excuse to both hang out and run the dogs. Shortly after, we enjoyed a local overnighter together, a shakedown trip before the three of them headed out to ride the San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour, the first time it’s been completed by both bicycles tyres and paws, as far as I know.
We all hit it off straight away (both humans and dogs), talking bikes, travels, tree planting, and more. Find my short interview with them below, as well as a gallery of photos from their tour and some dogpacking advice.
First questions first. Tell us a little about yourselves…
JC: My name is Jean-Christophe. I go by JC, it’s easier. I was born in Montréal in the beautiful province of Quebec, Canada. A Nordic-French speaker. I’ve started my adulthood on a bike, delivering letters and packages around the city. I was a bike messenger for five winters. Those early years really forged my attachments to bicycles. Afterward, any activity that wasn’t on a bike didn’t really seem worth it.
I quickly began to travel internationally, always with a bike as a means of transport. Looking around for those bike communities and events. I never took any pictures but I remember lots of pretty cool stuff. From the Canadian east and west coast to Europe, Asia to Australia, I used to be more of a slick tire and fast pavement kind of guy. One day I was racing an Alleycat in Victoria, BC. Someone that night told me something along the lines of, “You would be a good tree planter.” Two weeks later, I cycled up north with a CX bike and minimal setup and I started a tree planting job without really knowing what I was getting involved in.
I was pretty used to piece work and I enjoyed the outdoors, so it was a good fit. I’ve now been in the industry for almost a decade. I’m the foreperson of a beautiful crew of 12 planters and couldn’t be happier with my life decision. Tree planting is, in my eyes, the most Canadian experience you can get. You’re out there in the bush. Most likely covered in mud, with the bugs, pounding in the ground thousands of baby trees a day, making money and memories with a bunch of people who will often become family. It is seasonal work, so I pretty much have eight months off a year to keep pushing the pedals around the world. It’s not always been an easy lifestyle, but it works for me.
Zaïna: And I’m Zaïna, also from Québec, Canada. Where to start… I am a wanderer, traveler, ciclista, curious brujita, always ready to jump on another adventure (as cliché as it sounds)!
I began my absence of a career in Latin America a decade ago. Since that first beautiful cultural dip in the mountains of Ecuador, I have had an insatiable need to move, bouncing between jobs in Montreal-Quebec-Canada, also known as my home base, to another city-country where I could expand my horizons. From cook, to barista, to tree planter, balancing dog walking gigs with herbalist online classes and German lessons, I’ve simply tried to expand my knowledge and assets to the maximum. I am very grateful for where I am from and aware of the privilege that comes with it, and I always enjoy going back to Montreal. It’s just that I always feel curiosity for what’s happening over there, and there, like JC, I’ve now embraced the seasonal tree planting work that gives me that irreplaceable freedom the rest of the year.
As for bikes, I can’t remember not having one by my side. I’ve been riding my old Norco road bike for more than a decade and it felt just like an old friend I would go everywhere with. I was always more of a city road commuter, comfortable cruising between cars on the city streets I know by heart. I was never a geek about bikes though. It’s only in the last few years that I really took the time to learn how to be more autonomous with my loyal ride. Because – or thanks – to my love of riding, I hate the subway and I only got my driver’s license a few years ago.
In 2020, I spent almost all year in Senegal, reconnecting with half of my roots. Returning to the western world in which I grew up, my eyes opened to how underrepresented people of color really are. And how underrepresented women of color are, and even more, women of color on bikes! Realizing that now, I am very proud of being out there cycling, somehow representing BIPOC women. Biking has become my own identity revolution.
JC and I have known each other for more than a decade. Living our own adventures here and there. Catching up for a few hours or days in our home town if we were lucky enough to be there at the same time. We are now sharing the road, cruising along as a team.
And how did Basquiat come into your lives?
JC: Basquiat is a 15-month-old male Border Collie and I adopted him in February 2021. It is pretty natural for a tree planter to end up adopting a little furry friend. They’re everywhere in our line of work. They are useful, safety-wise and emotionally. They make great companions for those long and lonely workdays. You’re outdoors all day, every day, so it’s pretty ideal for them. Long story short, my brother and coworker Yann adopted Coco one day, an adorable little Collie mix from a farm he was living on.
It was my wake-up call, it seemed like the ideal situation to both be raising a dog at the same time. Sadly, there was no dog in that litter for me. I did a quick research online, and found someone out about someone who was getting rid of a 10-week-old Border Collie, “a little trouble maker,” I was excited to go meet him, so I went that same day. As soon as I got there, I saw how ridiculous “Banksy’s” situation was, as he was called back then. The lady and her Afghan Hound were simply not a good fit for little Basquiat, as he became known from then on.
Border Collies, in my experience, are an all-day-every-day kind of dog. They are not problematic dogs. They simply need a job. They want to be with you, by your side, doing what you’re doing, pleasing you. Basquiat had never really been outside before I got him. He is not a rescue dog, but I definitely feel like I rescued him.
That very first day that I met him, I loaded him into a backpack and we rode away. We haven’t been apart for more than a few hours since we started our journey. He even follows me to the loo at times. Early on, I freaked out a little. It lasted a few weeks. I wasn’t sure if I was gonna keep him. After all, I’m a cyclist. I ride bikes. I travel the world. That’s what I do. Can I handle it? How big is he gonna get?
Well, he never got that big ;) Once he grew out of the backpack I got him a cargo bike, a used Omnium Cargo Classic. As I said, we made it work for each other, and now we’re a team. This is how Cargodoggo was born.
Why Mexico? And how did you get your cargo bike over from Canada?!
JC and Zaïna: Mexico? Why not! After tasting the Canadian winter longer than expected, we wanted somewhere warm. Not too far, as it was Basquiat’s first flight, and there was still a bit of a pandemic madness. Cargodoggo never made as much sense. Basquiat flew in a crate as luggage (they do have a little safe area for dogs down there) and everything went super well. He was calm and happy to see us after the flight. He even chose to get back in his crate a few minutes later for a little snooze.
As for the bikes, we were never sure we were gonna bring them. That decision was taken last minute, and we do not regret it. In fact, the whole Mexico adventure was a very spontaneous project, with little organisation involved. We have big bike journeys in mind, from the Great Divide to Mongolia to Senegal, so why not start now and go test our rigs before grander adventures ahead? JC had his Omnium. Zaïna had found herself an adventure bike not long before. So bam! We were ready to go.
But then… we had to pack those bikes. As if carrying a dog crate wasn’t enough, we had to find a two-meter-long bike box for the monster cargo bike. After trips to several bike shops (lots and lots of bike shops) we ended up finding the box. THE box. That thing was huge. It was some sort of E-MTB monster box. We were in business. We took everything apart – wheels, derailleurs, fork – and managed to fit both bikes in that box! Yop, two bikes, one box. We happily saved $150 of luggage fees. The dog crate and the magical box are now sitting at an Airbnb we rented at the start of our trip. The owner is kindly keeping them for us for the length of the trip.
In fact, tell us more about the amazing Omnium…
JC: Omnium bikes are just great. I think they are the best cargo bikes out there. They’re fast, really stable, and they ride amazingly. And with that removable rack, they actually pack up relatively small. I’ve been wanting to get one of my own for a long time. I managed to pick that one up in Montréal from a friend, who also bought it from a friend. It seemed like that cargo bike had been ridden and had seen more than one local delivery.
Basquiat quickly learned how to surf on top of it. Getting up and down was easily mastered. As much as he wanted to run, at first he spent a lot of time lying on the cargo bike. Being young, we’ve had – and still have to – manage the amount of time he spends running. But damn he can run.
He first learned to ride the bike as it comes. No crate. It’s easier for him to get on and off, and good training for his stabiliser muscles. For this trip we added two crates, random ones we found on arrival. The crates are mostly for safety and comfort for those long hours spent on the bike. One crate is the dog and one is for luggage.
Have you made any modifications to the Omnium for dirt road touring?
JC: I have made a few changes to the Omnium for the trip. A dog means dirt roads, and so does Mexico. A week before our flight, I decided to swap out a 650b wheel in the rear to be able to run a fatter tire – the Omnium frame was designed around a 700 x 37mm, and the 650b allowed me a wider 43mm. But yep, the whole rear of the bike dropped by a few millimeters. The bottom bracket is now too low for riding off-road, so I should probably be running shorter crank arms. But I’ve learned to deal with it.
I’ve also upgraded the flat bars to some H-Loop Jones Bars. Wow, these bars are comfortable. I matched them up with a long stem extension to get them as high and comfy as possible. After arrival, I converted the rear tire to tubeless as there are so many thorns here, and I will never look back. I’ve still got to deal with some pinch flats on that front 20″ from time to time though. I am looking at upgrades, but I’ve got to say, that 20″ Maxxis Holy Roller 2.2 tire feels great on the road.
Still, I didn’t want to invest too much in my current setup as I quickly realised that this OG Omnium isn’t the perfect Cargodoggo bikepacking rig. Basquiat won’t need all that space as he’s not that big after all, and I need more clearance for bigger tires. So, I am planning on selling it when I get home, and my dream replacement is the Omnium Mini-Max Wifi. Omnium even has a titanium model and a Gates Carbon Belt option! The Mini-Max is a more compact version of the OG Omnium Cargo that I have—shorter wheelbase, snappier turns. It seems like a way more agile and dirt-capable bike. A more modern approach to the frame, thru-axles and all, and a more travel-friendly cargo option. Wifi means WideFit. The frame takes 55mm+ tires, so it’s starting to get MTB tire-friendly. I have talked with a Montréal local frame builder and the plan would be to custom build a fork that fits a 3″ tire for the front 20″ wheel. Make it as off-roadie and comfy as possible. Basquiat will love it!
Add a dropper post, a dynamo hub, top that up with a sweet set of handlebar and frame bags… Maybe finish it off with a Tailfin AeroPack in the back.
And how was your “new” bike and first bike trip, Zaïna?
Zaïna: In fall 2021, I decided to get a proper bike to get out of the city. (RIP Bebemiel the Norco, good old rusty bike, hope you’re making someone else happy now). After weeks of searching online and debating whether we should build me up a new bike, I found this secondhand Specialized Sequoia Elite.
It was a pretty good deal for a new kid in the game. I bought it very shortly before leaving, with just time to put on bigger tires and buy a second-hand front rack and panniers! As I smoothly enter the world of bikepacking, I’m understand more and more about the importance of being comfortable on your bike, on which you end up spending sooooo much time.
This is my first big bike trip, and it has already taught me a lot about humility, vulnerability, and the art of balancing pushing my limits and listening to my body. Tree planters and cyclists have so much in common. It’s a good fit for me. I don’t think I could ever travel without my bike again. It just makes so much sense.
I am very happy with my bike, but I’m even happier that we are doing this test adventure here before we go on a bigger trip. So, I have a few ideas in mind to step up my game. I will definitely change my handlebar for something more ergonomic, as my hands are still numb from the San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour, and probably all those daily rides we did before. Also going for a smaller chainring to allow me to climb steeper and higher for longer! Thinking of a dropper post and more and more.
You’re no stranger to using a bicycle for transportation. How have your experiences been as you discover a love for bike touring? And have they been influenced by your identity as a BIPOC rider?
Zaïna: Just like any other community, it can be intimidating to get yourself into a new one. Especially as a woman, and even more specifically as a woman of colour. I was amazed at how wonderful the cycling world can be, how easily you can make contact with fellow cyclists, and how enriching those encounters can be if you let them happen.
I noticed how proud and happy I feel to cross paths with other women ciclistas or BIPOC, or minorities, or let’s say someone that looks like me riding bikes. But wow, as I immerse myself, I also realise this doesn’t happen often. I feel empowered to be where I am and what I am doing. I am privileged to have these opportunities and I want to use that as a tool for breaking stigmas and enlarging the community with more diversity of human bodies on bikes. One push at a time.
Now that I am travelling by bike for the first time – and experiencing the beautiful challenges of bike touring, the ups and downs, the complexity of a world I never really thought I’d belong – I find it crucial to share and cherish the endless amounts of joy. That sense of freedom and pride of being a woman of color cycling out there. And, maybe try to challenge and transform the stereotype of what a cyclist should look like.
You’re all just back from a 400km trip, following the San José del Pacífico Grand Dirt Tour. How did that go? And, thank you for sharing your gallery below!
JC and Zaïna: That trip was truly amazing. The San José del Pacifico Grand Dirt Tour will take you to some wonderful places, from desert to countryside ranches and tiny little tiendas, all the way up some crazy steep hills, to some busy-ish town, down again, and up again through some beautiful pine tree surrounded communities, then dry and harsh desert, to a mirage-like oasis town at the bottom of a valley—and we could go on. The trip definitely has its challenges. Our bikes were not always a perfect fit for the terrain. But hey, bikes are bikes and routes are routes, so we made it work.
Carousel images by JC and Zaïna.
Basquiat loved it. Being a tree planting dog, he’s used to dealing with intense situations and changing weather. We started at one of the driest and hottest times of the year for the region. We had to face some serious heat and dust clouds. Lots of water and food, and power naps here and there kept him going. It kept us all going.
This route is filled with beautiful and accessible hidden spots where you can pitch a tent and rest for the night. Locals were all interested and impressed with the whole dog on bike situation, and how obedient, courageous, and affectionate Basquiat is. Traveling with a dog (and a huge, weird bike) will definitely get you a lot of attention and it will open doors to some great conversations and friendships.
It’s been wonderful seeing how Basquiat and Huesos quickly formed an impromptu pack when we’ve all ridden together. They protect each other and give each other confidence. With so many off-leash dogs here in Mexico – both roaming the countryside and in town – have you had any issues? How do they react to Basquiat, and he to them?
JC: All those dogs are usually pretty curious and alert when Basquiat passes by. Basquiat isn’t fixed, which probably adds to the dynamic. Most encounters are usually street dogs, and they own their streets. In many ways, cultural differences are also a concept that applies to them. Mexican dogs bark a lot. All day, all the time, for whatever reason. It’s hard to always know their intentions, but they make their presence and your presence obvious.
We weren’t sure how to deal with them around Basquiat at first. We tried the leash, we tried picking him up. We put ourselves between Basquiat and the dogs, lots of “psssst” (they kind of react to that sound and walk away). Another trick was to fake picking up rocks from the ground, as I guess they usually know them as projectiles. These days, we leave Basquiat to mostly make his own calls. We keep an eye on his body language and on the situation. Call him back and keep him close if we’re on a busy street or on someone’s property. Basquiat is off-leash 90% of the time. He was raised that way. He can move around, sniff around, and be more aware of his environment.
Toward other dogs, he usually assesses the situation and either stays close or goes say hi. I think exposing Basquiat to a lot of situations and scenarios was key. He got snapped at once or twice, but also made lots of buddies on the way. It’s often surprising which dogs will be friendly and which ones will be aggressive. But allowing him to experience those interactions, I believe, allowed him to grow as a decision-maker; go say hi, keep walking, or seek help.
Have you had any issues finding places to eat and stay, travelling as you are with a dog?
Travelling with a dog in Mexico is mostly easy for us but can have its challenges. People are used to seeing them everywhere, and they fit super well in the rural and the urban environment. Drivers are used to dodging them on the roads, and no one really minds if you bring them inside shops and restaurants, as long as they’re muy tranquilo. Some people are a little scared or careful with Basquiat, which we don’t mind. It feels like we have a little furry bodyguard. And other locals are super affectionate and friendly, you get a bit of everything. In both situations, it always feels respectful towards him and towards us.
But the thing to watch out for is finding pet-friendly accommodation outside of Oaxaca city. It can be really complicated. We would suggest not rocking up in a town last minute expecting to find easy accommodation for you and your pup. Hotel owners assume dogs bark and don’t want them in their establishment. We are both used to pure spontaneity—we just have to be a little more prepared now.
Cargodoggo’s Dogpacking Advice
Bike touring with a dog quickly becomes just bike touring. Dogs, especially Basquiat, quickly adapt to whatever situation you put them in. “Life means bikes now, so let’s have fun.” I believe a good balance and a give-and-take approach is the way to go.
- Feed your dog good protein food, plenty of it. We often crack an egg on his usual “croquetas.” But once in a while you’re gonna have to maybe skip a meal, or give him a whole tlayuda. Things will happen, and it’s okay.
- I recommend carrying “Dog Sled Boots. They can seem ridiculous, but they’re super practical if your dog’s paws get injured. Clean him up, put them on, and hopefully finish the day. They also give Basquiat a lot of confidence on certain harsher terrain.
- I strongly recommend having a way of carrying your pup. Front or rear basket, a trailer, or even a backpack for the little guys. A dog shouldn’t run all day, not every day.
- Harnesses are a great addition, as they allow you to have a quick hold on your dog in case of emergency. Having a handle on your dog can also become useful if they need a little help jumping over something at the end of a long day.
- Just like your ride, make sure you and your co-pilot are ready and have different resources and options to get you through the day. Patch kit, First aid kit. Keep an eye on him, his health, and his level of energy.
- My final and best tip would be to stay positive and patient, give your dog lots of love and attention. Keep on with appropriate training that will suit your journey and your setup. Things will fall into place. Remember that every dog is different.
- Oh, and lots and lots of water!
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