Rider and Rig: Franzi and her Bombtrack Beyond Plus
As the writer and photographer behind Tales on Tyres, Franzi Wernsing has spent the last few years wandering the world on two wheels. After following her popular Instagram feed, Cass Gilbert finally got the chance to catch up with her in person on the Trans Alp bikepacking route, to get the full lowdown on her Bombtrack Beyond+, dig deeper into her passion for photography, and find out how she and her partner Jona juggle life on the road…
Many readers of this site are likely familiar with Tales on Tyres – aka Franzi and Jona’s global bike adventures – be it the website or Instagram feed. And if you’re not, you’re in for a treat; both are packed with beautiful imagery from the saddle and personal insights of simple living whilst bikepacking. Franzi has contributed several articles to this site, including her guide to moving from panniers to bikepacking gear, as well as thoughts on touring as a couple.
After exploring much of Latin America, Germany-born Franzi Wernsing and her partner Jona Riechmann have now returned home to Europe. The two have downsized aspirations of buying a home and settled upon the living confines of a converted van. Whilst hurdling the various mountain passes that straddle the Alps between Germany and Italy, Cass finds out more…
Before bikepacking, and even bike touring, you were travelling as backpackers. Tell us about how one led to the next…
We left Germany with the idea of travelling the world in 2012; before that, I was an apprenticing as a photographer and Jona, my partner, was a carpenter in Hamburg. We began our world tour with backpacks but switched to bikes in India, as we became tired of public transport and wanted to be more independent. We realised we were less interested in the touristy places than spending time outdoors. So we switched to bikes and cycled from Iran to Mongolia on two hybrid bikes that we bought in India, with homemade panniers.
Once we realised we liked it, we decided to invest in better gear and ride the length of the Americas. We actually stopped in Vancouver, Canada, for one and a half years to save money and get our bikes.
It seems like this new direction in both your travels and your bike travels happened along the classic Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. What inspired you to ride it in the first place?
The more we traveled on our bikes, the more were inspired to ride dirt roads, because with these dirt roads came the remoteness that we enjoyed. We weren’t intrigued by the popular coast paved Highway 1 that many bike tourers follow, so we decided to follow the Divide instead, as a way of getting down to Mexico to continue our trip. There, we met people with bikepacking setups for the first time. Riding the Divide made us realised that this kind of dirt and gravel riding was what we wanted to do. And in turn, to push that way of riding even more, by changing setups and travelling much lighter than we did previously.
It wasn’t an immediate and obvious change though, as the Divide can be ridden with all kinds of setups, even racks and panniers as we were doing. When we met bikepackers, we tried to figure out if we could make our gear work. And we were contemplating if it even made sense for us; what system works best can be a fine line. But, we made the decision to sell the two Truckers and all our racks and panniers in Flagstaff, gear we’d spent so long saving for, to partly finance new bikes and gear, which had made locally by Rogue Panda. It was a big move, as we’d invested so much time and money into those bikes, working a whole winter in Canada to set them up.
So, you decided it was time to lose the racks and panniers and invest in new gear. How did you settle on the Bombtrack Beyond +, given all the options out there?
We looked at around at all kinds of bikes, but then heard about a small German brand that was new to us, Bombtrack, who were planning on releasing a model called the Beyond Plus. And the bike sounded great – rigid and ‘plus’ size – that was perfect for our needs.
Given that we were in Flagstaff, Arizona, and Interbike was held in nearby Las Vegas, and Bombtrack was attending… we wrote them a cheeky email, asking if we could buy the bikes after the trade show. We went with the intention of doing that, got chatting with them, and to cut a long story short, ended up being sponsored by them. We returned to Flagstaff with our new bikes, where Rogue Panda built us custom bags.
After that, we bikepacked the Baja Divide, our first ‘real’ bikepacking experience with the new setups and bikes. Then, we crossed to the mainland, headed down to Ecuador to ride TEMBR, crossing Peru and Bolivia. It was definitely the right move; we’ve ridden a lot of stuff now that we couldn’t have done before.
How do you decide on new places you want to explore?
Mountains are a key component for us… so we start by searching around for what trail networks can be found there. Often, we look at existing routes and try and find ways to connect them. Sometimes it’s a photo on another traveller’s bike blog that inspires me. Of course, we look on Bikepacking.com too! More and more, we’re searching out remote dirt roads and singletrack over any form of asphalt road. As an example, we randomly found the Trans Provence route by chance, after searching the internet, which has turned into one of our favourite routes in Europe so far, and one we’ll be writing up for this site. We prefer places that are close to where we are and don’t require too much driving. Weather plays a part too.
What’s motivates you to keep your website and Instagram feed going? It seems the creative process of doing so is important to you.
As much as I like the bike travel aspect, I love documenting it too, through words and images. Taking photos is a big part of a trip for me, and something I look forward to. To me, biking and taking photos belong together; I don’t think I’d enjoy my time on the bike nearly as much if I didn’t.
“To me, biking and taking photos belong together; I don’t think I’d enjoy my time on the bike nearly as much if I didn’t.”
It appears that you’ve now set your sights on areas that are more local to your roots… where have you been exploring in Europe and why does it appeal?
When we finished the trip, we thought we were done with travelling. We were tired of the constant movement and living off the bikes. We went back to Germany, as we hadn’t been there for 5 years, with the vision of buying some land and building a tiny house. But… we didn’t know where we wanted to settle, and we weren’t ready to commit to that without seeing more of Europe. So instead we bought a van, with the intention of making lightweight bikepacking loops in areas we really wanted to explore, rather than just riding from A to B for the sake of it.
This summer, between work commitments, we rode the Trans Provence route, Tour de Mont Blanc, as well as some riding in Slovenia, and most recently, the classic Trans-Alp route. Along the way, I also met up with another female rider, Neza from Slovenia, and we planned a tour of the Dolomites, while Jona was racing the Navad1000 in Switzerland.
I bet people are curious… How do you make living in a van permanently work for you?
During the years we travelled on our bikes, I set up and ran a website, Tales on Tyres and contributed to publications in Germany. We’re now sponsored by Ortlieb, Bombtrack, WTB, and Katabatic Gear, which has helped keep our running costs down. Otherwise, much of the gear we use, we’ve owned for several years, like our Hilleberg Anjan 3 person tent. To finance our travels, we stop along the way. At one point, I made and sold bike caps and wallets, or I’ve worked in cafes, and I write for magazines and work as a photographer. We’ve attended some events for our sponsors, as well as working on a project documenting Lael Wilcox’s race of the French Divide. A carpenter by trade, Jona converted the van himself. It’s an ongoing project; the next step is to winterize it.
We’re both used to living on a tight budget. We try and make our gear last as long as possible and only buy stuff we really use, as space is really limited in the van. We don’t have any storage apart from the one box of personal items at my parents. But that’s it.
Any future plans?
I definitely want to ride my bike in Morocco. But for the most part, I’ve found not making plans the best plan!
Franzi’s Beyond + Build Highlights
- FRAME: Bombtrack Beyond Plus 2017
- FORK: Bombtrack
- HANDLEBAR: Jones H Bar 710
- SADDLE: Brooks B17
- GRIPS: Ergon GP1
- CRANKS: Sram NX
- PEDALS: PDT 8000 (clipless and platform with pins)
- CHAINRING: 30T
- CASSETTE: 10-42T
- SHIFTER: Sram NX
- REAR DERAILLEUR: Sram NX
- BRAKES: Avid BB7
- RIMS: WTB Scraper i40
- HUBS: Bombtrack
- TIRES: WTB Ranger Tough 2.8
A rundown of Franzi’s bags, past and present…
Our gear is mostly made by Ortlieb, as we find it hardwearing and water resistant, which is really important in Europe. I have a medium roll bag (though I used a small version for the Trans Alp), a small seatpack, the cockpit bag, a Crumpler pouch for my Canon 5D camera with 50mm 1.4 lens, which is housed in an Ortlieb accessory pack – I run a strap underneath to keep it extra stable. My friend Neza – of Blind Chic Budapest in Hungary – made me a waxed canvas stem bag and a hip bag recycled from a Thermarest sleeping mat. A Bike Buddy secures our fuel bottle. Our original Rogue Panda bags that were made for us in Arizona when we moved to a bikepacking setup are actually still on the road… We gifted them to a guy in England – aka Rolling On Two Wheels – who also wanted to make the move to a bikepacking setup. The last we heard, they were somewhere in Iceland…