Rider and Rig: Jefe’s El Jefe
Since 2006, Jefe Branham has been tackling some of the most challenging self-supported bikepacking races out there. However, one that he’s yet to check off that list is the full Arizona Trail Race, an 800+ mile ride from Mexico to Utah. In our latest Rider & Rig video, Neil catches up with Jefe to learn about the race, his signature Why Cycles El Jefe, what he’s bringing along, and how he plans on carrying his bike through the Grand Canyon…
Back in 2011, when I was just getting into mountain biking, a friend showed me a cool tracking service called Trackleaders.com. We were at work one day, and he motioned me over to check it out on his computer. Little did I know, what he was about to show me would change my life forever.
I walked over, and he told me about this self-supported race from Canada to Mexico called the Tour Divide. Living in the Gunnison Valley at the time, he mentioned that two locals were racing—Ethan Passant and this guy named Jefe—and they were in the top three. Over the next week or so, I was glued to the dots. Eventually, Jefe would finish first in the singlespeed category, and Ethan placed third overall. Over the next few months, I would frequent the bike shop he was working at to pick his brain about bikepacking and try to get a glimpse into these races.
In 2012, I participated in the AZT300. It was an incredible experience, and I was hooked. I attribute a lot of my motivation for getting into the sport to Jefe and his accomplishments. I also wanted to see what my body was capable of, and I found that it was much more able than I thought. Despite work, family, and now having a kiddo, Jefe continues to race and inspire, and he still motivates me to get out there, to ride further, faster, and test the limits of what I can do.
Fast forward 11 years, and I finally got Jefe in front of a camera before he was setting out on the Arizona Trail Race. Watch the video below as he talks through his bike, kit, and all he’s learned over the years.
I pedaled the Jefe’s El Jefe around Gunnison between photo opportunities and I was like, “wow,” this bike is the real deal. Often times when I ride someone else’s bike, I feel strange, but the El Jefe was just perfect, the bike was so dialed for its upcoming adventure, the attention to detail from the tape everywhere to brake alignment, perfectly cut zip ties, to a tight and sturdy kit, it felt and looked better than my bikepacking race rigs to be honest. It’s a sign of a veteran, who has done this a lot of tinkering and has a lot of experience. Read on for Jefe’s summary of how it’s built.
Words by Jefe Branham (@jwookstar)
The El Jefe is not here to kick back or mess around. It holds no quarter when it comes to competition. Thus, it is built to persevere through the gnar and keep going. It’s not about being light on the scale.
Up front, it has a 130mm Pike Ultimate for plushness and control. Guide G2 RSC brakes with 180mm HS2 rotors for quality braking power and modulation. Revel R30 rims laced to a SON dynamo front hub and a Paul Word rear hub, clad with Maxxis Rekon 29 x 2.6″ tires—EXO front and EXO+ with a tubolight tire insert in the rear. XO1 cranks with a Wolf Tooth 30T chainring, CT Pedals, SRAM PC1091 chain. White Industries 22T freewheel for a solid drivetrain. I wanted a dedicated singlespeed rear hub, and almost none exist with Boost 148mm spacing. Paul made one, and the White industries freewheel is well loved by singlespeeders. So, I got it all and built them up. Been on them for most of the summer and it has been great.
Drivetrain and Wheels
- Fork: Rockshox Pike Ultimate, 130mm
- Crankset SRAM XO1, Wolf Tooth 30th chainring
- Freewheel White Industries 22t
- Chain SRAM PC1091
- Rims Revel R30 carbon rims
- Rear Hub Paul Word
- Front Hub SON 28 15 110
- Front Tire Maxxis Rekon 29 x 2.6″, EXO
- Rear Tire Maxxis Rekon 29 x 2.6″, EXO+ with Tubolight Insert
Truvative stem with built-in GoPro mount for one of my Fenix BC26s and the Klite Pro Dynamo light. The second Fenix BC26 is atop my helmet with a homemade mount. Fasst Co flex bars, customized Ergon Grips, inner bar ends, and bar wrap on everything makes for a comfy and variable cockpit. OneUp 150mm dropper, Wolf Tooth Valias, Ergon saddle for supporting my butt.
- Handlebars Fasst Co Flex
- Grips Customized Ergon Grips and inner bar ends
- Seat post OneUp 150mm dropper, Wolf Tooth Valais
- Saddle Ergon
Bags are all time-tested and so good. Homemade frame bag for extra batteries, food, and water. Homemade seat bag for my canyon crossing kit; extra straps, etc. Homemade downtube bag for tools, tubes, sealant, spokes, brake pads, etc. JPaks Supreme Barrito for bivy and clothing. JPaks footlong for food, JPaks RukSak for my BeFree filter. Bedrock Tapeats for phone, cache battery, cords.
- Frame bag Homemade
- Seat Bag Homemade
- Downtube Bag Homemade
- Handlebar Bag JPaks Supreme Barrito
- Top tube Bag JPaks Footlong
- Stem Bag 1 JPaks RukSak
- Stem Bag 2 Bedrock Tapeats
- Backpack Osprey Stratos 24
I also have an Osprey Stratos 24 backpack for carrying the bike and all this stuff across the Grand Canyon. In it, there’s a hygiene kit, a 3-liter bladder, and a Spot Tracker. Two 1-liter Zefal bottles, the BeFree, and a 1-liter Platypus bladder round out my seven liters of water capacity.
Navigation responsibilities are up to the trusty Etrex 20 with Gaia app on my iPhone as backup. While finishing this massive beast of a ride is priority number one—as it has been on my must-do list for 11 years—I’m hoping to go as fast as I can push my mind and body. After all these years, I am still on a quest to test the limits of what I’m capable of.
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