Roberto and his Jamis x Surly Baja Rig
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Think you need to spend a small fortune for a Baja-worthy rig? Think again! Roberto-Apolinar Martinez tells us how his dinged-up 2006 Jamis hardtail, mated to a modern 27.5+ Surly fork, saw him successfully ride a chunk of the Baja Divide… teamed with bags he made himself, good coffee, and the spirit of adventure.
Of Venezuelan descent, Canadian-born Roberto-Apolinar Martinez designs and makes commuting and bikepacking gear for Atwater Atelier. We caught up with him on the Baja Divide, where he was tackling rough and tumble trails, sandy arroyos, and some classic Baja jeep tracks aboard his trusty 2006 Jamis hardtail…
Hi Roberto! Firstly, can you tell us a little about yourself?
I live in Montreal, Canada. Last year I graduated from industrial design school at the University of Montreal. Before that, I studied classical guitar for about 12 years at the Conservatory in Gatineau, Qc, my hometown.
I got into bikes when I was about 15 or 16 through mountain biking. One day I wanted to take apart my dad’s old Bianchi mountain bike and build it back up. I eventually went to a bike shop near our place and the owner saw how motivated I was, I guess, and just offered me a job! We lived about 10 minutes away from a giant regional park where I’d go to ride singletrack as much as possible.
Now, being based in a bigger city, on an island, makes access to good riding a little trickier. I used to pedal my mountain bike straight to the trailhead, whereas now I need a car. That said, fun gravel rides aren’t too hard to find around the island.
And your bike… how did that come to be? It looks to be a classic frame with a modern twist! Does it in some ways sum you up as a person?!
I bought it in 2009 off of a fellow mechanic at Bicyclinique, the first shop where I worked when I was a teen. I’ve raced it a handful of times and it’s my dedicated mountain bike that I decided to adapt for the Baja Divide. It’s my favourite bike! It’s so fun, and steel XC race bikes lend themselves pretty well to bikepacking as it turns out…
I like to think that this bike has followed me as my riding style has evolved. It doesn’t really have any shiny bits, it has a bunch of scratches and dings (conveniently masked by bags, dust and dried mud) from choosing wrong lines and paying the price, but it just works. Maybe it’s the Reynolds 853 tubing but the bike feels amazing and it climbs insanely well.
The bike originally came with a 3×9 drivetrain, 1.9” tires and much narrower bars. I swapped the fork to a Surly ECR 27.5+ for this trip to have more mounting points and have room for a plus-sized tire. The Surly has the same axle-to-crown as the original 80mm suspension fork so the handling wasn’t at all impacted. I’m really enjoying this current iteration so I will definitely keep it like this for the coming mountain bike season!
And how about your bags? Tell us more about them…
The handlebar and saddle bag are the very latest from Atwater Atelier and I sewed them myself! They are the L and XL Marauders and I’m pretty happy with how they performed. They definitely took a beating on the rough roads but they compress quite nicely so there was almost no swaying or bouncing. Rolltops are great for easy access and the G-hooks with extra-long straps are really good for strapping things on top of the bags! The XL at the front is an early version, the current model has some hardware and sizing updates. The size L fits between about 12 to 23 liters unrolled while the XL fits between 15 to 28 liters unrolled.
I also ride in an Atwater waistpack. I pretty much always had it on me, but the straps can be tucked away and the loops in the back can be used to attach it directly to the handlebars or to the Marauder.
You rode most of the northern section of the Baja Divide. How did both you and your bike fare?
Surprisingly well! Somehow no flats and no major mechanicals on my part. Others in the group weren’t so lucky; one person in our group saw her rear rack eyelet snap under the weight of her panniers while going downhill. We went to an autobody shop where someone drilled a hole through the rear dropout and installed a longer bolt…
My plus-sized tire up front felt great. The 2.2” at the back did make it harder in the big sand pits but it was all still very manageable. Besides the fork and front wheel and tire, I kept everything pretty much the same as I would for trail riding. My gearing was a 32t chainring with a 10 speed 11-36 cassette in the rear. Having a little lower gearing would’ve been nice at times, but I also find pedalling with a slightly lower cadence to be more stable over rough stuff. Next time I’d like to get a slightly more upright handlebar, I found myself to be a little hunched over the bars at times, especially towards the end of the day.
Was the route as you expected it to be?
The route was harder than we expected. Easily some of the hardest days on a bike, personally, but the views were simply stunning. The toughest and simultaneously the most rewarding day was when we rode from Colonet to Rancho el Coyote. It had it all; super-rugged ATV trails, long, steep climbs and seemingly endless sand pits. The Rancho at the end of a day like that felt like finding an oasis in the middle of nowhere.
The whole northern section that we managed to do was incredible but finally reaching the Pacific coast after the long descent into Eréndira might have been my favourite moment. Seeing the ocean was such a reward after spending a few days in the mountains. The weather was such a nice departure from the -20C back home, though some nights did go below zero. Conversely, the sun would get pretty intense during the day so a good sunhat was key!
Typically, we would manage between 50 and 65 kilometers a day (30-40 miles). We weren’t ever really in a rush so we’d take our time leaving in the morning and definitely make lots of stops for pictures and snacks. The sun would set at about 5:30pm so we’d start looking for a good place to camp about an hour before. Pretty simple routine really.
We set off as a group of four and it was great. Once we figured out the balance between wanting to cover long distances and wanting to take it easy it got even better! Then about two weeks in we met Alex, Laura and you! Riding together as a bigger group for a few days was a really nice way for my portion of the trip to come to an end at Cataviña.
What bikepacking trips have you enjoyed previously?
This was actually my first off road tour and by far my longest tour to date. A good friend of mine got me into bike touring and took me on my first tour a few years ago. We rode along the Saint Lawrence river in the Charlevoix region of Quebec for a week. It’s a really beautiful region and it was pretty nice to camp on the beach almost every night.
I hear your community has a great local bikepacking and gravel riding scene. How often do you guys get out and how do you plan your group trips?
I met everyone through C&L Cycles, the bike shop where I worked for a few years after moving to Montreal. They organize really fun rides throughout the season. The big seasonal rides (like the Spring Fling and the Fall Frolic) can go up to like 40 riders and are usually on dirt roads in the Eastern Townships, about an hour south of the city. They’re a really good time and always at a pace that’s comfortable for everyone. There is obviously a #CoffeeOutside chapter here as well with weekly gatherings that started last year. The Solstice ride is another fun tradition where people ride through the night of the summer solstice to a set destination and come back the next day.
When planning our winter escape, we were originally eyeing Peru as a group of about 7 or 8. We were all set on doing the trip in February as it’s the worst month of winter here in Canada. Half of us were sceptical as it’s also the worst month for rain in Peru, so the group split up. We decided on Baja because we wanted warmer weather and a more remote, backcountry setting. The others went to Peru anyway so now we get to do show n’ tells of each others’ trips! While we don’t have future trips planned yet, I know we’re definitely going to go back to where we left off in Baja and finish the route one day.
This summer I really want to do more overnight rides to get out of the city more. There is also the second edition of Grinduro in Charlevoix, Qc, this summer that I want to try out. I missed out on last year’s edition but apparently it was super fun. Otherwise this fall my dad is going to do a coast-to-coast mountain bike race in Panama with my uncle that lives there and I’m tempted to join…
Back at home, how does cycling feature in your day to day life?
I think Montreal is a pretty good city for cycling as far as big cities go. Winters can be challenging with the snow, slush, ice and -20C to -30C temperatures, but every year I notice more and more people choosing to commute by bike! I live and work at pretty opposite ends of the city and Mount Royal park is pretty central geographically with some fun hidden singletrack trails so I try to cut through there as often as I can.
You currently work at Atwater Atelier in Montreal. Tell us a little about the business, what you do there, and where you see things going?
Atwater Atelier is a local bag-making brand run by Narek Papian. He’s a really passionate and extremely hard working guy that started off mostly making heavy-duty messenger bags, commuter bags and bikepacking accessories. I joined last summer to design new products, including the Marauder for bikepacking, and to help with production. Everything is done under the same roof from design, fabrication, photography, online work, branding, testing, etc, so days at the shop can be quite varied.
Montreal used to be a powerhouse in the textile industry many years ago so it’s nice to see Atwater be part of a resurgence of local softgoods / clothing brands, especially local design and manufacturing brands. Running a small manufacturing business has a ton of challenges but there are lots of fun things currently in the works and I think the company has a very bright future!
And lastly, I know you enjoy a good cup of coffee in the morning! Talk us through how you like to make it, backcountry-style…
Ok, I’m by no means a coffee professional! But I will say that Aeropress, regular method (the metal filter really helps), is the best and, frankly, the only way to make really good coffee in the outdoors. For this trip I brought along some locally roasted coffee from Cafe 1880, where my girlfriend works, and used denatured alcohol and a Vargo Triad stove, or the campfire. This is the recipe I follow that an actual coffee-smart friend showed me.
- Bring a cup of water to a boil and let it sit for about a minute
- Add espresso-ground coffee to taste
- Set timer to 2 minutes
- Start timer as you start pouring
- Stir gently
- Place the plunger in position
- After 2 minutes remove the plunger for a moment to stir once or twice
- Press down the plunger!
If all goes well with the extraction the grounds should end up forming a mound at the bottom of the chamber and be easy to clean.
- Frame/Fork 2006 Jamis Dragon Pro / Surly ECR 27.5+
- Rims Mavic 317, Stan’s Sentry
- Hubs Shimano M525
- Tires Maxxis Ikon 26×2.2, WTB Ranger 26×2.8
- Handlebars Salsa ProMoto
- Headset Cane Creek
- Crankset Truvativ Noir / Blackspire 32t chainring
- Cassette 10sp 11-36 Sram
- Rear Derailleur Sram X9
- Shifter Sram X9
- Brakes Avid Juicy Five
- Saddle Brooks Cambium C17
- Seatpost Salsa ProMoto
- Stem Salsa
- Front Bag(s) Atwater Atelier Marauder XL
- Rear Bag(s) Atwater Atelier Marauder L
- Accessory Bag(s) Atwater Atelier Forager stem bags
- Other Accessories Atwater Atelier frame bag, Atwater Atelier Waistpack