This week on Reader’s Rig, we’re looking at Brian Kesselman’s custom Breadwinner JB Racer. He’s built it up for ultimate versatility, to easily swap between drop bars and a rigid fork or flat bars with a suspension fork. Check it out below…

I’m Brian Kesselman and I’m originally from Northern California, first living in Sonoma and then in Santa Rosa. When I was in high school I spent a good amount of time riding my REI Novara steel hardtail up in Annadel State Park. I never got particularly good at mountain biking but I had a lot of fun. I actually crashed pretty bad on a night ride a few days before I was supposed to ship out to basic training for the Army and I had to delay so my injury could heal.

In 2003, I moved to Portland to pursue a career in graphic design and that’s when my cycling passion really began. I started bike commuting, then I tried out a short organized ride, then a longer one, and then I rode my first century. In the fall of 2008, I met someone at the weeklong Cycle Oregon ride who told me about cyclocross, and after spectating a Cross Crusade race, I was out racing my Specialized Sirrus flat bar commuter the very next weekend. I’ve been racing cross every year since.

Breadwinner JB Racer, Brian Kesselman

At the end of 2008 I was laid off when the tech bubble burst, and after having a conversation with a friend who did a bike tour down the West Coast, I decided to sell my house and my car, built a touring bike, and rode across the country in 2009.

Around the same time, the fixie craze was in full effect in Portland, so of course I jumped on that train. I tried out a street sprint event and ended up winning in the fixed gear category. At the event I met some track racers who invited me to check out the local velodrome at the Alpenrose Dairy. After a few track classes riding my Schwinn Madison, I started racing and was hooked. I eventually got a coach and started training seriously around 20 hours a week in addition to my full time job. It paid off and I ended up winning two national championships, one in 2013 and another in 2014. All the structured training took its toll and I wasn’t allowed to do any off road or longer rides.

In need of a change, I hung up the track bike, bought a gravel bike and a mountain bike, and starting riding all the stuff I wasn’t able to in my track racing days. There are so many great places to ride right from your doorstep in Portland, and after discovering the grassroots adventure riding group Our Mother The Mountain (OMTM), I really started to dig into the gravel scene exploring the backroads and single track in the Pacific Northwest and throwing down in the great gravel races we have here.

  • Breadwinner JB Racer, Brian Kesselman
  • Breadwinner JB Racer, Brian Kesselman

Last year, with my work sabbatical approaching, I wanted to do another big bike trip and was intrigued by the off-road Trans Am trail route, but couldn’t get enough time off to complete it. After a convincing talk with my friend Tom who had raced the Tour Divide the year before, I decided to go for a tour along route. The trip took me 30 days to complete, and despite being choked out with wildfire smoke for half the route, having a bailer tine skewer my rear wheel in Rawlins, Wyoming, and getting shingles a few days from finishing, its was an amazing and awe inspiring trip and it really opened me to up riding longer than I ever have before.

I officially became a sucker for steel bikes after riding a Cielo Sportif 10 years ago, and got hooked on its plush ride quality, so I knew my bikepacking bike would be steel. I went to the Handmade Bike and Beer Festival in Portland in the fall of 2016 looking for the right person to build my rig and decided it would be the local company Breadwinner after a good talk with Ira Ryan.

Breadwinner is the collaboration of two master frame builders, Ira Ryan and Tony Pereira. The name JB is actually named after Jeff Bates, one of Tony’s best friends who died from skin cancer. Tony mentioned to me after my tour that Jeff would have been proud that a bike bearing his name made such an epic journey.

My inspirations for the bike were the Salsa Cutthroat and the Moots Baxter, both really cool drop bar bikepacking rigs. My problem with them was that both of those bikes can only be run in a drop bar configuration because of their shorter top tubes and steeper head tube angles. I wanted a bike I could easily swap between drop bars and flat bars. I worked with Ira at Breadwinner and settled on the JB Racer, but with custom geometry that would allow for both configurations without any real compromises.

  • Breadwinner JB Racer, Brian Kesselman
  • Breadwinner JB Racer, Brian Kesselman
  • Breadwinner JB Racer, Brian Kesselman
  • Frame Breadwinner JB Racer Custom Geometry
  • Fork (Rigid) Salsa Cutthroat Fork with custom fender mounts by Ruckus Composites
  • Fork (Suspension) Fox Float SC Factory
  • Rims 32h Astral Outback Carbon 29″
  • Hubs Shutter Precision PL-8X (front) / DT Swiss 240 Centerlock (rear)
  • Tires Vittoria Mezcal 2.25
  • Handlebar (Drop) Easton EC70 AX 44cm
  • Handlebar (Flat) Specialized S-Works Prowess Carbon
  • Crankset SRAM XX1 GXP 175 (32t DM chainring loaded, 36t DM unloaded)
  • Cassette SRAM XX1 10-42
  • Derailleur(s) Shimano XTR 9050 Di2 with Wolf Tooth Goatlink
  • Brakes Shimano XTR M9000
  • Shifter(s) Shimano ST-R785 Di2 (drop) / Shimano XTR 9050 Di2 (flat)
  • Saddle Brook Cambium C13 158mm
  • Front Bag(s) Bike Bag Dude Anything Cage Bags / Salsa EXP Anything Cradle and Drybag
  • Rear Bag(s) Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion with Salsa Rack-Lock seat collar
  • Accessory Bag(s) Salsa EXP Top Tube Bag
  • Lighting Sinewave Beacon Dyno light with Supernova multi-mount
Brian Kesselman, Breadwinner Cycles, JB Racer

This versatile concept has since proved itself, allowing me to do mountain bike rides and races with flat bars and a suspension fork, and then swap to drop bars and a rigid fork for adventure rides and bikepacking like the Great Divide. I even raced the bike in drop bar configuration in a super muddy singletrack-heavy cross race and placed 3rd, and also won the Skull 120 gravel race on it in 2017.

The frame was built around Salsa’s carbon Cutthroat fork which had everything I wanted except fender mounts. I sent the fork to Ruckus Composites and they added the proper mounts to allow me to run up to a 2.25″ tire with fenders in the winter.

I went into this project never having done any bikepacking before, and after lots of research and talks with my friend Tom, I narrowed down my bag and bike setup. My strategy was to go light but not racer light, and also have bags that were very stable and wouldn’t damage or wear on the frame finish. A big decision was to forego a frame bag. That left me with two bags on the fork legs, a handlebar bag, a top tube bag, and a seat bag to fit everything into.

  • Breadwinner JB Racer, Brian Kesselman
  • Breadwinner JB Racer, Brian Kesselman

I’m not a fan of frame bags because they never fit perfectly to the frame unless you have one made specifically for your bike and often they end up scratching up the paint anywhere they come in contact with the frame, especially on rough terrain or in dusty or muddy conditions. Not using a frame bag also allowed me to use water bottles in a normal configuration on the frame and didn’t restrict me from being able to grab the top tube when portaging the bike over things.

After deciding on this setup, I sent the frame back to Breadwinner and had them add more frame mounts so I could carry four bottles mounted to the frame with side release bottle cages. Getting three bottles inside the main triangle of a mountain bike frame was a challenge, but with the help of Wolf Tooth’s B-RAD adjustable mounts I was able to make everything work perfectly. I also had them add mounts on the top tube for a bolt on gas tank bag. I ended up using B-RAD mounts for the top tube bag since it allowed me to position the bag exactly where I wanted it, provided a flatter more stable mounting surface, and kept the bag away from the frame. I also used the B-RAD mounts when mounting the Anything Cages to the fork because they allowed me to position the cages lower since I was using taller bags than the normal Salsa dry bags.

My bike is affectionately named The Cadillac for its blacked out appearance and luxury ride quality. Between the carbon bars and seatpost, Brooks Cambium saddle, wide carbon rims, and Columbus tubeset, this thing has a plush ride and is truly a luxury SUV that can do just about anything.

Find Brian on Instagram @fairlyunreliable.

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