Our Reader’s Rig of the week comes from Todd Nisbet, who was the lucky winner of a Raleigh Willard as part of the 2018 Swift Solstice Campout giveaway. Get to know Todd, his bike, and the role bikepacking has played in his life here…

Words by Todd Nisbet (@concretetrails), photos by Kristin Chen (@adventureblanket)

I’m Todd Nisbet and I want to start by saying thank you to the community on the website and the bikepacking community worldwide. I’ve lived in New York City for 15 years, first in Queens and then—since early ‘06—uptown in Harlem. When I first started bike camping with two friends in early 2016, we had some pretty primitive setups, very DIY. A lot like you’d see in the Bikepacking 101 section: gear still on our backs, panniers, rear racks, dry bags, you name it.

Todd Nisbet, Raleigh Willard

I found a couple of campsites in Brooklyn and East Hampton, Long Island, and we would ride or take a combination of train and bike depending on the distance. Although it’s over 100 miles away, Cedar Point County Park was very enticing due to the fact they have a bike hostel area where you can stay for free as long as you arrive via bike. My favorite campsite to this day is Camp Gateway in Brooklyn, a 27-mile ride from my door to the woods.

I was adopted at birth. The Nisbet family—my family—are originally from Rockland County, NY, but trace their heritage and name back to Scotland. Years ago my father took me to visit the incinerator plant near White Plains where his father, Bill, grew up with his siblings in one room with one bed where they slept head to foot. He explained that my grandfather’s family worked at the plant and everything they owned was from combing through the trash before it was burned. Everything from clothing to toys to furniture. All of my grandparents have passed away at this point, but I was fortunate to grow up knowing and loving them. I remember my grandmother, Selma, who was born and raised in the Bronx in the 20s and my other grandmother, Elsa, who was originally from South Africa. Everything I’ve grown to know about unconditional love and family is through my parents who raised me and my older sister.

I was born in Queens, but I won’t say I’m a native New Yorker, since I grew up in New Jersey. Being adopted has a lot to do with who I am. It is my truth, so to speak. I never knew my background growing up as a kid, and in our family race and nationality didn’t mean much to us. Still, it was a challenge to try and fit into a world that seemed so concerned with race, religion, and what your heritage was, and sometimes I felt I just didn’t know the full story of mine. Most times, when people can’t categorize someone they tend to be nervous and afraid of them. And I in turn was nervous and afraid of everyone’s concern to categorize me.

  • Todd Nisbet, Raleigh Willard
  • Todd Nisbet, Raleigh Willard

Culturally, my home on 147th Street is my favorite place. We have every food you can imagine right here in a two-block radius. There’s an elementary school across the street, a funeral parlor on the other side of the street, plenty of coffee shops, bars and restaurants, new and old. My neighborhood has a balance of new life with hundreds of children, many beautiful families, but also the opposite end of the spectrum: the obstacles of poverty, violence, and drug abuse. Like all major cities, it’s congested, increasingly expensive, and very stressful at times, but it gives me purpose and never ending inspiration to advance. I feel you’ll never find positives in life without a negative and vice versa, everything is balance.

Professionally, I work in the fashion industry, which is constantly struggling and evolving to keep up with faster trends, advancing technology, and customer buying patterns.The ideals of what people need and want have changed tremendously in this past decade, especially with more global awareness and visibility through social media channels. These challenges are driving people away from the profession and retailers are going out of business daily. Looking back, it was the pure self-expression aspect that originally attracted me to fashion at an early age. I was introduced to many clothing brands through skateboarding culture, which was not as socially accepted then as it is today. The brands and fashion that accompanied the sport were unique and unusual compared to the mainstream brands the majority of people wore in the early 90s.

There’s a fashion to bikepacking, too. It’s very niche and also function driven, being attached to the larger worlds of cycling and outdoor culture. There’s already so much opportunity for individual style on a bike. When we add components and bags, we’re talking quite a full ensemble with endless possibilities. That’s fashion and self expression at it’s finest.

  • Todd Nisbet, Raleigh Willard
  • Todd Nisbet, Raleigh Willard
  • Todd Nisbet, Raleigh Willard

Nowadays, I find myself in my apartment packing a tent, sleeping bag, and food on my bicycle, looking for an even more unpredictable adventure. It’s become my personal self help in which I manifest my struggles in a physical way and see with my own eyes how strong I have become as a person. I ride solo and end up on dark roads often. It’s the same discomfort and fear I feel a lot in my life, but the catch is that these trips are only pushed by me. My biking is self powered and is not dictated by anyone. I’m not forced to go and not forced to return. What happens along the way many times is not what I planned at all. The hills steeper than predicted, my body more tired, but the sights and feelings evoked by the experience are why I do this. I tell myself I’m going to accomplish something and I DO. That’s all that matters to me.

Bikepacking has taught me more about myself than anything I’ve ever done because it’s forced me to trust myself and ultimately believe in myself. I connect with people all over the world online who share this same passion. I may not be doing overseas trips or riding the Great Divide (not yet, at least), but I believe in the people I see engaging in bikepacking worldwide and relate to it. It reminds me of early skateboarding, when the people participating didn’t need huge corporate sponsors, rules, and regulations. They just love our sport and want to see others thrive through its uniqueness.

The backstory of this bike is interesting! I won it in a contest hosted by Raleigh Bicycles and Swift Industries back in June 2018 during the Swift Campout. I had been working at a friend’s Brooklyn outdoor shop, doing retail and fashion wholesale as usual on the side. The owner remains a supporter of my bikepacking interests and he let me co-host a bike campout with his shop back in Summer ‘18.

  • Frame/Fork Raleigh Willard 2
  • Wheels Hunt 4 Season Gravel Disc
  • Tires Panaracer Gravel King SK 700 x 43mm, tubeless
  • Handlebars Specialized Hover Alloy
  • Crankset FSA Omega Adventure 34/50
  • Pedals Kona WahWah 2 Composite
  • Cassette SRAM PG980 9-Speed
  • Derailleur Shimano Sora
  • Brakes Shimano BR-R517
  • Shifter(s) Shimano Sora
  • Saddle Brooks B17 Candy Apple Green
  • Seatpost Zipp Service Course SL
  • Front bags Specialized Burra Burra Harness, Oveja Negra Lunchbox, Bravo Kilo block bag
  • Forks bags 2x Blackburn Outpost Cages with Sealline Blocker Dry Sacks
  • Frame bags Oveja Negra 1/2 Pack Frame Bag
  • Rear bags Specialized Burra Burra Seatpack 20
  • Accessory bags Oveja Negra Snack Pack
  • Other accessories Wolf Tooth Pump Bag + B-RAD 4 Mount, Specialized Burra Burra Cage, Lezyne Power Cage
  • Good luck charms Lego Corn Man and Mayan calendar necklace

I booked four campsites at Camp Gateway Brooklyn for Saturday, June 23rd, from my iPhone while I was at the shop. I later saw on my instagram account that BIKEPACKING.com had posted about the Swift Campout hosted by Swift Industries on that same June 23rd. I had no idea this global bike campout existed until right then. I entered an online contest sponsored by Swift and Raleigh, following both accounts and leaving a comment to the question they asked. “If you could bike and camp anywhere for this year’s Swift Campout where would it be?” My comment was, “I’d bike from my apartment in Harlem NYC to Swift Industries headquarters in Seattle, Cross County USA,” meaning to say “Cross Country”. I then ruled out any chance of winning realizing I probably typed that as if I were eight years old.

A week later, while biking home from work over the Manhattan Bridge (on my old bike), I blew my rear tube halfway up the bridge. I pumped it up and rode down, of course it was flat again in five seconds and I hit every bump with my rear rim along the way. I took the subway home from Grand Street that night and left my tire flat bike in my living room. I woke up the next day to find a DM from Raleigh saying that I won the Contest Giveaway and to email them my address to send this new bike. I did my longest ride ever, almost 90 miles north, later that September.

This is the first bike I have owned that even had drop bars. I didn’t know how to shift the gears my first time on it, so I watched a YouTube video for instructions. What I really remember is that I had been down for so long that year before-hand and lost a lot personally and professionally. This bike and my new longer-distance camping rides made me feel like I was winning again. I’ve kept doing similar rides and winning my self-confidence back each time. I gain more self-awareness and strength every time I leave for a campout from my apartment and arrive back home, sometimes even in a two-day period.

I don’t know if any beginners will have the same luck I’ve had with a contest, but I guarantee this: The personal adventures on your bicycle can be life changing, and you will most definitely get back what you put into this by challenging your personal limits of what can be done with your own will and two wheels.

You can see more from Todd on Instagram @concretetrails.

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