Words and photos by Benjamin Handrich (@pedals_packs_and_pinots)
My name is Ben Handrich, and I am a high school counselor by day and ultra-endurance athlete by night (and early morning and most weekends). I have been bikepacking for years now, having completed the Colorado Trail in 2017 and the Oregon Timber Trail in 2018, but I really caught the Grand Depart race bug back in 2019 when I did my first grand depart, the 650 mile BC Epic.
I learned a lot in this “race.” I had never ridden late into the night or early morning, I’d never put in 200 miles a day for three consecutive days, and I’d never experimented with super lightweight packing. The BC Epic provided a gateway to all of this and more, and after racing hard and finishing in a little over three days, I was hooked.
Unfortunately, COVID halted my ultra-endurance aspirations for a bit, and I stuck to local overnighters and multi-day rides with friends in 2020. The pandemic provided the mental space to build my own ultra-endurance event alongside my friend Seth: the Odyssey of the VOG. The VOG (Valley of the Giants) gets its name from the 51 acres of massive old-growth forest found on the North Fork Siletz River at the western edge of Polk County in Oregon. The race is 350 miles and winds its way through the Oregon Coast Range on seldom-used gravel and dirt roads, showcasing much of Oregon’s beauty, including the rural Willamette Valley, the rugged Coast Range, and the expansive Oregon Coast. The VOG takes place every Memorial Day weekend and starts on Saturday. You should probably do it next year.
Seth and I put on the inaugural VOG in May of 2021, and we both did an ITT of the route a few weeks prior to the grand depart. In addition to this ride in 2021, I raced and won the inaugural Oregon Timber Trail and the Big Lonely, a 370-mile multi-surface race in Bend, Oregon. It was a busy year!
This year, I plan to push my limits in the Tour Divide and hope to be at the pointy end of the race, but you never know with such a deep field and so many seasoned riders. I’m just excited for the opportunity to be out there in the wilderness doing what I love for so many days in a row.
Alongside training, part of my Tour Divide prep this year included reaching out to a few local bike brands to see about building a bike for the Divide. I settled on a local builder named Rob English, out of Eugene, who specializes in custom steel bikes known for their aesthetic curves and light weight. Rob and I had a lot of dialogue around bike geometry, weight, fork design, and parts specs. And, even with all of the parts shortages happening globally, we were able to put together a pretty impressive spec for the bike.
- Frame/Fork English Cycles Custom
- Rims Industry Nine Ultralite 280 carbon
- Hubs Industry Nine Hydra
- Tires Rene Herse Fleecer Ridge 29 x 2.25″
- Handlebars 46 cm Enve Compact Road
- Headset FSA Premium ZS44
- Crankset SRAM XX1 Eagle DUB SL 170
- Pedals Garmin Rally XC Power Pedals
- Cassette SRAM XX1 10-52
- Derailleur SRAM X01 Eagle AXS
- Brakes SRAM Red hydraulic
- Shifter(s) SRAM Red
- Saddle Specialized Power Pro Mirror (143mm)
- Seatpost Ritchey WCS Flexlogic
- Stem FSA CSI
- Front bags Kaibab Customs
- Frame bags Kaibab Customs
- Rear bags Revelate Designs and Apidura
- Accessory bags Apidura Top Tube Bag
- Other accessories Seat Stay Light Mount, angled fork bottle mounts to be cool and aero
The finished product is a bike weighing around 21 pounds (with bottle cages and pedals) that’s the perfect balance for my riding tastes. It has a comfortable but aggressive geometry, sitting somewhere between a gravel bike and a drop-bar mountain bike with its positioning. Since the two other bikes I own are gravel and mountain bikes, I differentiate this as my “dirt” bike.
My packlist and setup have seen numerous iterations depending on my goals for the ride and, similar to the parts specs on my bike, they’re a combination from various bag companies and vary depending on my goals for that day.
Shortly after building my bike, I reached out to Rob English’s local bag-maker, Brian of Kaibab Customs, about making a custom bolt-on framebag for my bike as well as a handlebar bag with a whole lot of features. The framebag will live on my bike for every ride I go on, and the handlebar bag will be used on fun social weekender rides as well as winter rides where I need as much capacity as possible. They are both incredibly high quality and hands down my favorite bike bags I own.
But as I said, my bag setup varies depending on the ride. From my lighter setup for the Stagecoach 400, to my light-ish Tour Divide setup in a couple of weeks, to my “kitchen sink” social ride setup with friends on the weekend, things will change to meet my riding needs. Sometimes, I am thinking about being as aero as possible for marginal gains; other times I am thinking about a cockpit with as many things accessible as possible while riding. Not pictured are times when I simply need as much space as possible to stuff my winter coat, tent, and down booties because I know I’m heading out for a weekend full of mistakes and regrets (aka winter riding).
Since this is a custom bike build, it didn’t come with a name. It’s just got the “English Cycles” label on it – that’s it. I knew I wanted a name that represented my Salem, Oregon, roots, and after thinking through numerous Salem obscurities, a moment of clarity reminded me of the “Attack Owl” that made the Salem news for attacking innocent Salemites out for an early morning run at Bush Park. We actually have signs in the park now warning (joking but not joking) people to look out for the attack owl. And my home literally looks into this park.
It was a no-brainer that Attack Owl was the name of my new bike, and with a little help from the Graphics Design teacher at my school for graphics and the choir teacher’s Cricut for the vinyl cutting, the logo for my bike was born.
You can see more from Ben on Instagram Benjamin Handrich.
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