Hecho en Tucson: Hubert’s Custom Bikepacking Machine
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We head out for a night bivying under the skies of southern Arizona with Hubert d’Autremont, framebuilder and tortilla maker, and find out about his custom bikepacking rig…
If you’re a talented and experienced framebuilder, building your own bikepacking machine offers an empty canvas on which dream bikes can be drawn. Having worked with bicycles since his college days, Argentina-bred, Montana-born, and Arizona-raised Hubert D’Autremont definitely classifies as such a framebuilder. On an overnighter in southern Arizona, we find out about Hubert himself, his new Tucson-based brand, Madrean Cycles, and check out his personal prototype bikepacking rig.
Before you tell us about this bike, can you share your backstory? What inspired you to become a framebuilder?
I’ve always been a maker. I always wanted to build or design bike parts or climbing gear – climbing is another passion of mine. In 2004, I took a semester off college in Vermont and built my first frame. After college, I undertook my first big tour and eventually ended up back in Vermont. I started building in a friend’s garage and then became part of a collective workspace that gave me access to machine tools. In 2010, I moved to a new shop and officially started my first business, Cycles d’Autremont. I mostly built cyclocross and randonneuring bikes at the time, but eventually burned out and took a break from building, and started a tortilla factory with a friend from high school, along with another local food producer.
In late 2016, I moved back to Tucson, where I was brought up, and started setting up shop again, with a lot more insight into running a successful, small business. The goal this time around is to focus on small production runs of two models of bikes, with the primary one being a bikepacking rig, alongside a gravel model.
You recently rebranded to Madrean Cycles, and from what I understand your personal bike, seen here, is a prototype of the one you’ll be offering to the public. Tell us more…
The goal with Madrean Cycles is to be a production shop focussed on bikepacking and gravel, with the idea that at some point it may be more than just me working there. A big part of what I want with a production shop is to have space to go and ride, do R&D, and use my own travels as a component of marketing.
Coming from the randonneuring side of bike building, I really appreciate complete, thoughtful, practical integration. When it comes to bikepacking, most companies have just adapted existing bikes, and as a result, most of the gear is made to work around that. Nothing works quite as well as it could, in my opinion. Instead, I wanted to see what I would create if I started from the ground up. Compared to some of the bigger brands, I don’t need to make that many bikes to be successful, and I want Madrean to be for the most dedicated bike tourists.
I always used to do brazed bikes, but I’m switching over to TIG welding, with the aim offering titanium frames, too. Eventually, I would like to offer custom bikes again, but only as a small part of my business.
Anything you’d like to point out, with regard to this beautiful bike we see here?
As a shorter rider, there are a lot of challenges to setting up a good bikepacking bike. I wanted to optimize frame bag space, so the bike is non-suspension-corrected and features a curved downtube to achieve that. The front rack is really meant to act both as a light mount and a bag support. Many systems either hit the front tire on a small bike or flop around a lot. Even if they are stable, most likely you have to lock out your fork. The rear rack is still a work in progress, but will hopefully achieve a similar goal.
How about the geometry? Anything to share? And what about those amazing handlebars?
The geometry on this bike is definitely pretty long and slack, inspired partially by modern mountain bikes and the idea of forward geometry. The rear end is short, but ultimately this may change on the next bike because of heel clearance for people running panniers.
I love 90s mountain bike style, and the handlebars’ aesthetic definitely draw from that. But they were also designed to solve some problems. I wanted a long straight section, given the accessories that are often mounted to bars. The bullmoose shape offers more places to mount additional bags and the interior space give you a nice place to route cables so they don’t get crushed by bags. On these particular handlebars, the sweep is a comfortable 30 degrees, but could really be custom.
Between building bikes for other people and the more industrial welding projects you take on, do you get much time to get out and bikepack? Any favourite spots close to home or further away? Any aspirations to bikepack somewhere particular in the future?
I love getting out on short trips, and luckily, there are many areas in southern AZ still to explore! Sarah Swallow’s routes around the Sky Islands are amazing. The Arizona Trail is a great resource; I’d really like to explore around the Galliuros.
Last summer I started developing a route in Southwestern Montana in the Gravellys, which is where I was born. I did a few 3-4 day scouting trips to figure out what was rideable and what was hike-a-bike, and hope to work on it more this summer.
I would also love to do an international trip this year, ideally South America. My mom is from Argentina, so getting down there to ride would be amazing. Bolivia sounds pretty incredible as well!
Meanwhille, back in Tucson… What is it about getting out bikepacking in Arizona, amongst the saguaros, that makes it so special?
The desert landscape is magical. Much of my youth was focused on climbing and so it took me to specific mountain ranges. Bikepacking is different, because it opens up so many other areas I never explored. With the Sky Island region, each range has something really unique to offer. There is so much biodiversity – which is why I chose Madrean (a region characterized by very distinct flora) as my brand’s name. You can easily be among the saguaros, then ride up into the pines, or be out in the grasslands and quickly be back in junipers. On one ride alone, it’s as if you’ve travelled thousands of miles into different biomes, but really, you’ve just changed elevation.
Also, the people who are drawn to the riding here have been some of the best I’ve met!
Are you a tent or bivy kind of person?
I love sleeping outside if the weather is good, just on a tarp, which is pretty easy to do most of the time in southern Arizona. If I am on a longer trip, I like a tent; when the weather sucks, having a good shelter is a welcome luxury! I used a simple piece of Cuben Fiber for a long time, but the edges kind of fell apart, so I finally shelled out for a Hyperlite Mountain Gear tarp, which is awesome. As far as tents go, I love Hilleberg, they are bomber and visually, they aren’t really gaudy like some tents. They are pretty light, and Hilleberg is an awesome company.
Looks like you’re a fan of more traditional style saddlebags, rather than modern bikepacking gear. Is that a throwback to your days of randonneuring?
I’ve used both kinds of gear and I find I like things about each style. Trying out a lot of setups is letting me figure out which is good for what. I used to make randonneur bags, so making a specific bag for Madrean is the end goal. Since this is a prototype frameset, I want to make sure it can work with different styles and setups, because everyone has different needs and preferences. I do like a front load, but on a mountain bike, you don’t want to make it too heavy. Really, a balanced load is the best way to pack a bike in my mind. Too much in the rear, and it just pushes you around and makes cornering feel weird.
Ultimately, I like a bedroll, with my sleeping bag and pad all rolled in my ground cloth. That lets me keep things nice and tight and pretty waterproof. I will probably switch back to that for the front, but I’m working on a custom bag first. Most of the roll type bags are too small, so you have to really cram stuff in. The Fabio’s Chest (seen in these images) is a great option for a complete kitchen, and food, and extra clothes, and all the auxiliary stuff!
Madrean Cycles Maguey build highlights
- FRAME: Madrean
- FORK: Madrean
- HEADSET: Chris King
- HANDLEBAR: Madrean
- STEM: Madrean
- SEATPOST: Thomson
- SADDLE: Brooks
- GRIPS: ESI
- BAR PLUGS: Madrean/Ultraromance
- CRANKS: White Industries
- PEDALS: Blackspire
- BOTTOM BRACKET: White Industries
- CHAINRING: White Industries
- CHAIN: Eagle
- CASSETTE: Sram Eagle
- SHIFTER: Sram XO
- REAR DERAILLEUR: Eagle
- BRAKES: Paul Klamper
- HUBS: Schmidt/Onyx
- SPOKES: DT Swiss
- TIRES: Onza 2.8
And lastly, we’d love to hear about your favourite place in Tucson to grab food and a beer post bikepacking trip.
Well, I have a serious pizza addiction, so I love Time Market for pizza and a beer. Plus, it’s just a great place meet folks to start a ride!
As soon as it’s up and ready, you can keep track of Hubert’s progress and find out more about Madrean Cycles via his forthcoming website. In the meantime, visit the holding page and sign up for more info!
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