Our partner in podcasting, The Gravel Ride Podcast, sits down this week with cycling travel industry veteran, Brad Sauber to discuss the new Alaskan Gravel Expedition trip from Raid Cycling. This point to point trip brings Gravel Cyclists to some of the most remote terrain in the United States for an incredibly memorable ride.
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Automatic Transcription by The Gravel Ride (please excuse all errors)
[00:00:00] Craig Dalton: Hello, and welcome to the gravel ride podcast, where we go deep on the sport of gravel cycling through in-depth interviews with product designers, event organizers and athletes. Who are pioneering the sport
I’m your host, Craig Dalton, a lifelong cyclist who discovered gravel cycling back in 2016 and made all the mistakes you don’t need to make. I approach each episode as a beginner down, unlock all the knowledge you need to become a great gravel cyclist.
This week on the show. We welcome Brad Sauber from raid cycling to the broadcast. Brad is a veteran of the cycling industry. Having worked for a number of cycling travel businesses over the last few decades.
Raid cycling focuses on putting together the most memorable trips to the most memorable destinations. You can imagine. When we get into this Alaskan gravel expedition that we’re talking about on today’s episode, I encourage you to augment your listening by visiting the raid cycling.cc website. To see some of the pictures as most of us can imagine, Alaska is a vast, vast wilderness.
At a scale. That’s really hard to describe. In an audio podcast. So I encourage you to, to take a look at the pictures, listen to the description of this particular trip, because it’s absolutely amazing. Nice. Dais point to point in the Alaskan wilderness.
Culminating with a prop plane trip back to your original starting point, the trip sounds absolutely spectacular. And I think you’ll see from Brad’s description, his whole emo in this cycling travel world has been to create once in a lifetime bucket list trips for his clients. I’m super excited to introduce you to red cycling in this broadcast today.
I’m super excited to introduce you to Brad and raid cycling today. Before we jump in, I need to thank this week. Sponsor hammerhead and the hammerhead crew to bicycle computer.
As I’ve become accustomed to hammerhead just recently sent another update to my career, to computer. They do this, I think every two weeks so they can keep you. In the latest and greatest technology that their minds over there can come up with. I noted in this week’s edition, they’re adding e-bike battery monitoring to one of the screens that optional screen for you.
I’ve got an E gravel bike, supposedly on the way for testing. So I’m excited to integrate that directly into my hammer, head, head unit. So I will know when the battery is about to die. As you guys probably know hammerhead crew too, is the most advanced GPS cycling computer available today. It’s got industry leading mapping navigation and routing capabilities.
That set it apart from other GPS options, it’s got free global maps and points of interest included like cafes and campsites. So you can explore with confidence with on the go flexibility. I recall in my recent trip to Jarana Spain, that before I left, I downloaded the maps of Spain and I was able to use the computer.
Just as if it was in my local terrain here in California.
I recently ran into a cycling neighbor of mine who was telling me about a new route that he had developed. That was a mixed terrain route through some local trails that I hadn’t. Really explored that much. So I went over to Strava, found the route on his profile, downloaded it and saved it. I’m going to put that directly onto my career too, so I can go out there and ride with confidence. You know, if you’re like me, anytime you actually have to navigate, when think about the navigation, it really slows down the overall route.
So having those cues preloaded into my career too, is going to make that ride a lot more enjoyable. Right now our listeners can get a free heart rate monitor with purchase of a hammerhead crew to just visit hammerhead.io right now and use the promo code, the gravel ride. At checkout today, this is an exclusive offer for our listeners. So don’t forget the promo code, the gravel ride. You’ll get that free heart rate monitor with purchase of your career. To go to hammerhead IO today, add both items to your cart and use that promo code.
Without business behind us. Let’s jump right into that conversation with Brad, from raid cycling.
[00:04:26] Craig Dalton: Brad, welcome to the show.
[00:04:27] Brad Sauber: Hey, thanks Craig. It’s great. Uh, great to be here. Looking forward to the
[00:04:30] Craig Dalton: chat. Yeah, good to see you again. I appreciate you reaching out and uh, I love what I’m seeing on this Alaska gravel trip. So, we’ll, we’ll get into that in a minute, but we always start out with learning a little bit about your background as a writer.
Where’d you grow up and how’d you find the bike?
[00:04:48] Brad Sauber: Oh, I’ve lost you there. It cut out. Um,
[00:04:52] Craig Dalton: yeah, no worries. Let me, can you, can you hear me now? Yeah. That was
[00:04:56] Brad Sauber: weird. Wonder why I did that?
[00:04:58] Craig Dalton: Yeah, no worries. I’ll just, uh, I’ll just start off again and I can, it’s easy to, it’s easy to cut. Things like that. Hang on one second.
Cool. All right, shall we? Yeah. Okay.
[00:05:10] Brad Sauber: Brad, welcome to the show. Hey, thanks, Greg. This is, uh, exciting to be here. I’m looking forward to, uh, the conversation.
[00:05:16] Craig Dalton: Yeah, it’s good to see you. It’s probably been a couple years since we first connected in, in Mill Valley or shared somewhat
[00:05:23] Brad Sauber: hometowns for you backyard.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. That was a good day. We went out for a ride. I remember that.
[00:05:27] Craig Dalton: Yeah. So I’m, I’m, uh, really excited to get into the Alaska gravel Expedit. Seeing it, reading the overview just looks spectacular. But before we go there, yeah, let’s just get a little bit about your background. Brad. Where did you grow up and how did you discover the bike originally?
[00:05:44] Brad Sauber: Yeah, so I’m from the northwest, uh, Seattle is where I would call home. Um, lived my first 30, 35 years, um, in the Seattle metro area. Um, started out in high school as a, uh, as a baseball and basketball player. I, I preferred, uh, being on the bike, so I picked up the road bike a little bit and then, uh, kind of that early, early nineties, late eighties, uh, when mountain biking was blowing up.
Uh, I took to that quickly growing up as a kid, I was on BMX bikes all the time in the neighborhood and enjoyed a little bit of that, of, of racing, but then really got into the mountain biking quite hardcore. So, Early nineties, um, a lot of big adventures on the, on the mountain bikes. And, uh, a lot of the 24 hour races, a hundred mile endurance events and things like that really led to a love of cycling.
Um, and then, yeah, once I went off into college, um, fell in love with, uh, more road riding, more crit racing. Most of that was just to kind of stay fit for you can do bigger mountain bike races and such. And then that led me into 1992, decided to take off to New Zealand, um, with a buddy of mine. We got a six month visa and we took our mountain bikes and pan years and, uh, went and did six months of riding on the gravel roads and craziness and dirt roads in, uh, in New Zealand and hiking all over that amazing country.
And, and as a result of that, I thought, man, I’ve gotta figure out how to do this for a living. I just fell in love with being on the bike guiding. doing all sorts of wonderful adventures and came back and applied for a, uh, uh, a degree program at a small state college in Washington called Central Washington University.
They had an outdoor rec program, um, and then also a travel and tourism, uh, degree program. So I jumped into both of those and they were, they basically allowed me to create my entire curriculum around cycling and cycling. So even my senior thesis at college for my bachelor’s degree was, um, about international cycling and international cycling tour operations.
And then that just led from there one amazing adventure after the next, um, at a cross-country trip that I guided, um, boy, it was a 2006 or so across the United States, uh, that was 60 days of a small. . And then that just led to, uh, starting another mountain bike travel company. We ran that for a couple years and sold it.
And yeah, that just kind of led into more expeditionary type stuff through Asia. Um, spent, um, quite a few years working, uh, in India, Nepal, Tibet and the Himalaya for a number of years, back and forth. Uh, doing mountain bike trips, cycling tours through India and um, some more high altitude trekking and things like.
You know, I’m going back quite a few years, but you know, we’re, I’ve been in this business for about 30, 35 years at this point, but that then finally led to me starting another, um, a travel company called Brad. So destinations, which I ran for a couple years until 2001. When nine 11 happened and it kind of shut that whole destination and that whole region for me down, I was focused on India and Nepal and those kind of areas, but unfortunately with uh, nine 11, I had to, uh, shift and kind of reinvent myself.
And that’s when I found a small bike touring company at the time called Bicycle Adventures. They were founded in 1984. Just the year after, um, Tom Hale started Back Roads and, uh, they were hiring tour guides. So I went through their hiring weekend and was hired. You know, in 1999, uh, 2000 and started guiding for them.
Um, and that led to my goodness, uh, about six or seven years of full-time guiding about 150 to 200 days a year on the road. Um, working with anywhere from 250 to 300 clients each season on, uh, multi-day, uh, bike tours and multi-sport tours all over the western us, Canada, Hawaii, New Zealand. And then finally in 2003, 2004, they asked me to come on and run the operations for the business.
And that was a booming time, 2004, 2005. If you remember back then, that’s when Lance was, uh, doing quite well. Cycling was huge. And um, our business then went up to about 170 departures with over 2000 clients. So we had a lot of trips, a lot of equipment, and I was running the whole operation back in for the owner at the time.
Uh, who was, his name was Bob Clark. And I did that all the way up until about 2011, um, you know, building that business up. Uh, then they decided to, uh, sell the, the business. Um, and I kind of moved down. I did move down to California with my wife at the time. who, and I had met actually on a bicycle Adventures tour back in 2004 and she was based in the Bay Area.
So I moved down there and, um, met, uh, Joah Cara, who was an ex-pro, uh, living in Mill Valley. And he and I started riding quite a bit, getting to know one another. And one night, um, on a napkin at Beer Works in town, I said, listen, we should start a bike tour company. And his experience was, uh, training in Kiati in.
and, um, he said, look, I’m gonna take some buddies over there. Why don’t you to come and we’ll have a look at this experience. And so we spent six days with a few people, uh, riding the roads that he used to train on, and we came back. We both basically quit our jobs. He quit LinkedIn and I had just had resigned from my role at Bicycle Ventures and we started in gamba.
So that would’ve been, oh, probably 2011 was when we basically started that business and it was self-funded. We had a third partner, but Joel and I, Joel and I were the ones that basically got that thing up and running. And that was an amazing experience. You know, it was basically a, um, you know, a fantasy camper cyclist.
We had all these amazing pros that were around us on all these cool trips in, in Italy. And then I was branching out into, uh, in France as well, doing some things around the Tour de France, and then also bringing some of the tours back, the United States. And, um, he had a great time. Um, but it was hard to self-finance a business.
It was hard bit of a, you know, hard road as a, as a partnership as well. And at that time in, um, you know, after founding in Gamba, I’d had, uh, reconnected with, uh, Simon Matram over at Rafa, and he and I first met back in like 2004, uh, 2005. He’d just launched the Rafa brand and I did a small private ride with him in California when he came over to look at one of their first, uh, retail spaces.
Studio Velo actually actually was the bike shop that was one of their first companies that carried their brand. And we went to dinner that night in Mill Valley. He en slated Olson and I and a few others. And I remember looking at him and saying, Hey, listen, I think you’re primed to do some sort of a, uh, lifestyle travel vertical, if you ever want to do that within the Roth of space.
You know, keep me in mind. So that was literally 2004, 2005. And then crazy enough when um, you know, Joel and I founded in Gama there 2011, 2012, um, that’s when Simon reached out and said, Hey listen, we’re ready. We’ve got a bunch of capital we’re taking on Team Sky as well that same year in 2012, and we want to break into more of a lifestyle concept.
And he asked if I was interested in. Leaving my wife in Mill Valley and moving to London and starting a travel vertical for Rafa. And that’s really where everything really came together for me in many ways. It was an, an amazing experience, um, to have that kind of a mentor working side by side of Simon and it really refined.
I guess for me, all those years of working in the, uh, multi-sport travel space, it, we just wanted to create really inspirational, hard and unique cycling trips around the world, and that’s what we did. Our first season at Rafa, we launched five trips and they sold out overnight. Which was quite a surprise to me.
Usually it’s a bit of a hustle to get people to travel with you, but overnight, uh, we launched the website and in the morning we, uh, woke up and they, the sales had literally shut down the site. So we had to think about, geez, how can we do this? So off we were running on that very first year with five trips sold out, and in our five seasons of running tours, we worked our way up to over a hundred departures.
So it was quite a bit of growth. All in-house, running the whole show out of our London office and building it in just all inside with our own team, all our own resource. We didn’t outsource anything and we didn’t work with any other contractors or vendors. Uh, we did everything in-house, so I helped build an an assemble, an extraordinary team of people.
uh, in-house all the way from, uh, accountants to, you know, assistants and, uh, office staff, all to all the staff and guides out in the field. And then we started branching out, uh, all over Europe, the us, uh, Asia Pac, running trips in Japan. Um, and then it just kind of kept going from there. So it was a busy, uh, few years for me.
Uh, and then I finally moved back, um, about 2000, uh, 2000. late two thousands I guess. Um, and finally Simon ended up, uh, selling the, the business. And so that just kinda led to me, uh, thinking about what else I wanted to do. And we had all these incredible people that came out of the Rafa travel space and they said, look, can we keep this going?
And I said, sure, let’s do it. So we started raid cycling at that point.
[00:14:39] Craig Dalton: Got it. There’s a, there’s a ton to unpack there, Brad.
[00:14:42] Brad Sauber: Yeah, there’s a lot
[00:14:43] Craig Dalton: there. . Yeah. Yeah. No, I think, I mean, it’s, I appreciate you sharing that story because I think it’s super interesting, at least to me, to sort of look at the travel industry from.
What it’s like to be a guide to what it’s like to operating the business and to what it’s like to operate a business at scale. Yeah, and as you’ve described, you’ve played all those roles, so just maybe to, I mean, to set the stage a little bit, guiding is something that a bunch of athletes do, typically, a young person’s vocation, you get.
Handhold and take care of the guides. Ideally share your local knowledge and your love of the sport. But typically people are staying in that role for, you know, I would guess like two to five years. Right? Does that sound
[00:15:29] Brad Sauber: right? Yeah, that’s right. I mean, that’s how I started out in my early twenties guiding, uh, but I always knew that I wanted to do something more.
My background really is more operational, uh, and logistics. That’s what I kind of enjoy more. I of course, like being out in the field, I. Training staff. I like working alongside of them, but I also like to get them to that point where, , you know, they’re just super confident. They have a lot of autonomy, they have a lot of freedom, and then they can run with it and run their own experience.
And then I kind of, in the background, of course, working on other new departures, creating new trips. That’s, that’s kind of my sweet spot. Um, yeah, so I kind of left the full-time guiding, uh, thing, you know, probably by the time I was 30, 32. Um, I was in the background running, you know, a very large operation for many years.
And then, back with Rafa Travel. I trained an amazing group of people, worked with incredible staff. They pretty much ran all those trips. And I would kind of be in the background and I’d float around a fair bit. Um, but
[00:16:21] Craig Dalton: yeah. Yeah. And when you talk about the logistics, just so the, the listener is crystal clear on this?
Yeah. You, you’re typically get, you’re going to have some local infrastructure, whether or not you’re providing bikes, you’re gonna have vans, you’re gonna, you know, have to arrange hotels. There’s a ton of work that goes into creating these experiences. and it has to be done pretty far in advance in order to lock down the accommodations, et cetera.
Can you just go into some of like the logistics of what it was like at a bigger organization? What was that? What was the footprint of the, the logistics side of the organization? What did that look like?
[00:17:00] Brad Sauber: Well, if you go back to bicycle adventures, I mean, that was, um, one of the largest players in the bike travel space.
You know, 170 departures. We had a. 12,000 square foot facility, 700 bicycles, 18 custom vans, uh, 20 custom trailers, and all the equipment that goes along with each one of those, um, kind of operations. It’s a moving bicycle shop. It’s got full racks for all, every, you know, we carry 20 bikes on these R vehicles.
You carry 15 people, A lot of equipment, a lot of investment into that overhead. So that was just a constant, you know, maintenance cycle on all of these vehicles and equipment. You’re always moving bikes in and out of that operation and it’s, it’s pretty intense. The, the unique experience for me was when I went to Rafa and, um, you know, Simon said, Hey, we need to get some vehicles, let’s get some Jaguars and, and Land Rovers.
And I thought, wow, I didn’t know we had the budget to do that. And he’s like, well, what do we need a budget for? Let’s just bring them in for a meeting and ask them for free vehicles. And I have to say, I don’t think that happens with many of the other companies out there. I, I don’t think, um, any of the other big players have ever been able to, uh, just call on any car manufacturer, especially one, um, , you know, like a Jaguar and ask for a whole fleet of private vehicles.
And that’s what we did. It was, it was quite unique because of the name and the brand recognition that Rafa had from around the world. You know, in walks the team from, uh, you know, Jaguar and they said, yeah, what do you guys need? And in exchange, really, they just wanted to have access for our client base a little bit.
We would brand, you know, It was kind of a brand partnership deal. Um, but that first two years, what happened was because we were the main sponsor, clothing sponsor for Team Sky, Jaguar was supplying them all their vehicles. Well, they had to provide new vehicles to the team, team Sky every season. So then they would just take those custom vehicles from Team Sky and give ’em directly to us.
So we got them a year after they were used by the team. So we had all these amazing, uh, Jaguar sport breaks, which were actually custom made vehicles from the ground up. They didn’t even have VIN numbers. They were so unique. Um, these were vehicles that were made specifically for the Swanee team, uh, that worked at Team Sky and they had all these regulations on the width of the backend and how bad the, how tall the hatchback would come up.
And so these were incredible, unbelievable, top of the line Jaguars. And so then they just gave us the whole fleet of these vehicles and we’d rebrand them, uh, under Rafa Travel. And then a few of the, uh, the most expensive high-end, um, you know, range Rovers as well. We had on board to pick people up and, and.
Ferry people around on these experiences. But it was pretty amazing to have the Team Sky vehicles. You know, we always had a lot of issues. We had all these low profile racing tires I’d often pull into, in the middle of the tour, uh, I’d meet the team mechanics for Team Sky. I’d call ’em, I’d say, Hey, listen guys, I’ve, I’ve got these low profile wheels.
They don’t work very well on our trips. And they’d like, Hey, bring ’em in. We think the coolest things and we’ll just swap ’em out. So there were a few times we’d show up and, you know, stage four of the tour niece and with three, four vehicles in the middle of. And I’d rock up and we would just swap the, the wheels and tires right off of their vehicles and put ’em on ours,
It was pretty amazing to have that sort of relationship, uh, with Team Sky back in that day. So that was quite unique. But, you know, we had vehicles moving around all over the place. Um, I remember one time we had a vehicle breakdown in Corsica, uh, but the local Jaguar dealership wouldn’t talk, it, wouldn’t touch it because it was a, it didn’t even have a VIN number on it, so they didn’t even know what the heck this vehicle was.
So they actually had to send a truck all the way from London, um, down through France Drive, take the ferry all the way over to Corsica to actually pick the vehicle up as it sat there for about a week and a half on the side of the road. And it was broken down. So there was a lot of logistics moving vehicles around, um, and having.
You know, delivered into France. We had a big service course in, um, in Italy, and then also one in, in East as well. So bikes and gear moving around. It was, it was quite unique with, uh, Rafa Travel. Yeah,
[00:20:46] Craig Dalton: it sounds like it. So, as you’ve described this kind of personal journey in the bicycle travel industry, you’ve, yeah.
You’ve started out as a guide. You’ve, you’ve gone into a big enterprise with bicycle adventures. Then you had an opportunity to work with Rafa, which sounds like, would it be considered sort of a, a mid-sized. Travel. Provider at that point?
[00:21:07] Brad Sauber: Well, you know, five season in into it, we became one of the, one of the larger bike travel companies out there that mainly just focused on bicycling tours.
I mean, a hundred departures is a pretty good size, uh, operation. You know, that was literally in about the sixth season that we ran. Um, , we hit those kind of numbers. It’s nothing compared to like the back roads, which are up a thousand departures a year. But they’re very multi-sport and they do other things besides, uh, just cycling.
Um, but I would say that Rafa Travel at the peak was probably one of the top one or two, uh, companies out there as far as size and in destination, um, you know, expertise. And we were kind of all over it. We were practically on every. From Africa, south America, um, AsiaPac us and so we were running quite a large operation.
[00:21:51] Craig Dalton: that point. Got it. My line of questioning is really around, as you as the Rafa travel experience had to wind down for reasons totally unrelated to its success or presence in the market. Obviously when you moved over and decided to start raid cycling, you had seen big, small, you’d grown companies from small to big, et cetera.
Sure. What was your, what was your vision for. ,
[00:22:18] Brad Sauber: well really raid came out of, uh, the, the combination of all those years, uh, guiding out in the field, working in a lot of the multi-sport things. I, I enjoyed those experiences. I, I think, um, working with people and, and facilitating really fun, uh, experiences for folks was really rewarding for me.
But as soon as I got to work with, uh, Simon directly and, um, kind of had his mentorship and his support in taking, um, Rafa travel to exactly that, that. That point that I really wanted it to be at, which was, you know, really stretching the elastic for people, putting them in a little bit out of their comfort zone on the bike, um, but also wrapping a lot of care and attention around it so that people can accomplish something really unique and.
You can do that anywhere in the world on a bike. There are beautiful places to ride everywhere. But I wanted to specifically keep it focused on destinations that had a history, uh, of cycling and cycling. Racing. So in the early days of Rafa Travel, I had a very narrow window of destinations that I really wanted to look at creating departures, but they always had to connect back to the sport of.
Was really the, the endeavor. Yeah. Um, you know, we wouldn’t go to Costa Rica for example. I mean, we, there were places that yes, we could go and ride, but there, if they didn’t have a big, you know, history of the, of the connection to the sport of, of racing, we wouldn’t do it. So Simon really allowed me to craft those experiences and those destinations, you know, being Japan being a really unique experience.
I mean, that was two years of work for me to put together that, that point A to point B experience. And that’s, that’s really what I, I found my niche at, uh, Rafa really allowed me to, I guess, just distill down all those experiences, get very specific about what it is, of the experience that I was looking for and the challenges that I wanted to put in front of people, and we were able to refine it and.
When we shut down Rafa, of course, a lot of people were disappointed, A lot of staff, but also a lot of our clients that have been traveling on this for all those years. I walked away with a lot of people emailing me saying, Hey, let’s try to keep the spirit of this moving forward. And really that’s where RAID came out of it.
And. You know, the third year of, um, Rafa Travel, we actually broke our number of departures down to two different types of verticals. We had, we had a ronay, which is point A to point B. We had retreats, we had these climbing, uh, retreats as well. And then we also designed a, uh, a tour called a Raid, which is a French term for point A to point B cycling experience.
And so I took. Kind of from the, the Rafa travel side of things is I like the spirit behind what the word ray, what, what the word Ray means. And that’s how we founded that. And most of the team from Rafa Travel came over with me. My, all of my Japan staff that have been with us since 2000, well boy, 2014, 2015, they’re still with me to this day.
They’ve ran every departure that we’ve ever done, both as Rafa Travel and as as Raid. And we’ve developed new trips over there, uh, just for the RAID brand as. And then a lot of the US team, the Ben Lie’s, um, a lot of the, kind of the guys that have been with Rafa for many years are still with me to this day.
Um, you know, yeah, they’re all, they’re all there, they’re all available. We, uh, run trips all the time. So that was really the, the impetus to starting raid was just after, uh, we shut down Rafa Travel.
[00:25:30] Craig Dalton: Nice. Let’s talk about when you started to see gravel become something interesting for you and how, obviously with Rafa you were known for creating unique, challenging experiences, which undoubtedly touched a little bit of dirt here and there, but when did you start thinking about gravel as its own unique opportunity to kind of create these adventures you like to.
[00:25:54] Brad Sauber: You know, it’s interesting. Um, I was hesitant in the beginning. Um, I harken back to my days of trying to develop a mountain bike travel company and we did that with a company called Bike Trucks International. Not many people had probably ever heard about it, but you know, we really struggled for a few years.
The old saying that, uh, the old saying that goes, that has always stuck with me is the more specialized you r in your activity, the more independent you. , and if you apply that to cycling, mountain biking is a very specialized activity, and typically the people that love mountain biking, love the outdoors, love to be in remote locations and like to do it alone.
right? Yeah. When we go out on these big adventures, we want the challenge, but we also like that solitude and so to create, um, mountain bike tours, there’s only been a few companies in the world that have ever done it and done it well. You know, Western Spirit’s probably the best name out there, and they’ve been doing it for 30 plus years.
It’s really hard to take that type of activity, which is more technical and create it for the mass. . Yeah. So, yeah, so when, when we really started seeing gravel come around and I started seeing all these huge events happening, um, you know, I think early on when I started doing some of the Grasshopper events, the early grasshoppers there in, uh, NorCal, which I know you’re familiar with, you know, a lot of those were showing up and we were, you know, port road bikes through small creeks.
We were hitting single track trail. You know, and finishing on, uh, Willow Creek on Little Dirt Trails and I thought, wow, this is really interesting. More road cyclists are kind of coming for these events. And that’s when I started to kind of see an uptick in it. And I thought, why don’t I include little bits of this in some of these Rafa travel experiences?
But you also have to know that Rafa’s travel, Rafa Rafa’s history with gravel riding goes back quite a few days back in the old continental days, what were called the gentleman’s races back in the day, the first, you know, one day. A hundred to 200 mile races that they used to put on. They always used to throw in a little, little touch gravel, little bit of technicality.
And so when we finally did the whole Rafa travel thing, that’s when I said, look, we should probably look at adding and peppering in these experiences with some of the, uh, the dirt roads that we used to ride in the continental events and things like that. And, you know, it worked pretty. Um, but y you know, I still experienced a lot of Hess hesitancy from people.
Even though people were strong writers, they could ride 150 mile days. Yeah. You put five miles of gravel on them and they were like, wow, that’s intense. I don’t wanna do that again. . And then, you know, then we built a, um, uh, a Utah trip which had some, you know, 15, 20 mile sectors of gravel and they would come out of that going, wow, that’s enough.
I don’t want any more. And then that just kind of led me to going into, into, uh, with raid cycling, let’s, let’s actually try to do some gravel specific things. So three or four years ago we launched our LA and Catalina Island Gravel Experience, which literally was a hundred percent gravel. And we had a great response and wonderful group of people that, uh, have done those trips.
And that’s when I kind of started seeing that as a result of the big events, the steamboat events and things where these thousands of people would show up. , it became somewhat the norm then for people to actually ride, uh, these styles of bikes on the roads
[00:28:57] Craig Dalton: and trail. Yeah. It’s certainly not without its challenges.
I imagine just, you know, with, with road climbs, like everybody’s gonna make it up the road, you know, they might be slower or faster that there’s so many elements of gravel riding. You not just have to get up the hill, but you have to be confident going down the hill. Yeah. People’s technical abilities, it always shocks me.
You know, I can bring someone who’s 10 times the athlete I am out on, on the road, bring ’em on the trail. All of a sudden I’m dusting them. They can’t stay with me. Right. Yeah. So, I mean, I gotta imagine it’s like it, it would’ve taken time for gravel travelers or cycling travelers to really understand what’s ahead of them.
To your point, experience things like S P T Gravel, do these big events and start to understand, like I’ve got, now I’ve got the skills to sign up for the LA to Catalina trip, for example.
[00:29:48] Brad Sauber: Yeah, I mean, I’ve had a few trips where, you know, we’ve put, uh, people that are extremely strong cyclists. These are people that we’re, uh, doing a hundred, 150 mile days with, you know, 10 to 15,000 feet of climbing and, and then we throw in five miles of gravel and they, they fall apart.
We’ve certainly seen that on a number of experiences, but I think now with the level of bikes and the gearing that’s out there, that’s really made a big difference. Size of tires you can run. Um, I think it’s just a fantastic sport and I’m noticing more and more people want to do it. Hence, you know, we’ve moved into the, uh, kind of Alaska experience and, um, yeah, we’re really looking forward to these strips.
[00:30:23] Craig Dalton: Yeah, I think that’s a great segue to this Alaskan gravel expedition, such an ambitious itinerary. I’d love for you to first start off by just like give a, give the short overview of what this trip’s
[00:30:36] Brad Sauber: all about. Well in Covid, uh, one of my ride leaders, ride captains, um, Sean Martin, who’s a native Alaskan from Anchorage, um, you know, our business basically shut down.
And so we just kind of turned inward and started looking at maps and started thinking about where these destinations that we wanna ride. And he kept saying, Alaska, Alaska, this is where we need to go. You know, we need to look towards the, uh, this Great Northwest destination. And I thought, okay. I’ve only known a few businesses.
There are companies that have ever ran trips there. They kind of focused on certain destinations within Alaska and did small, kind of four to six day trips. And I specialize in point A to point, kind of point B destinations. So I wanted to look at the distances. I wanted to look at all these gravel roads that, uh, existed there and see how we can kind of connect them and make them a more well-rounded experience.
And because my clientele is, is global, they’re from all over the world. I needed to be, I needed it to be more of a challenge than say four to six days of riding. So when I started penciling, this whole concept together with the help of Sean and peering out over all these maps and learning about some of these dirt roads, it all came together in a nine to 10 day package.
And that’s a really good fit for people to invest the time and energy to fly here from London or. Copenhagen and wherever a lot of these people are coming from Australia, New Zealand, it’s gotta be enough for them to invest that time of energy and then money to get there. So it came, it came together quite easily once we kind of opened up our mind and looked at the grand distances between a hotel to hotel and, and, and in Alaska there, you know, there’s one section, there’s 165 miles of gravel road and there’s only one.
And so it just kind of landed in my lap that, wow, this place actually exists and I could book it and, um, we could break that 135 mile day or whatever it is, up into 2 65 or 70 mile days on gravel, which makes it quite approachable. And it just kind of fell in my lap. And then the further west or the further east, we kept looking, um, to the Wrangles St.
Elias National Park, which I’m ashamed to say I didn’t even realize was the largest national park in the United. Um, I thought, wow, this is amazing. And then learning about the McCarthy, uh, road, which is 65 mile gravel, one one way road out to a dead end to this extraordinary, uh, vast wilderness. It’s possibly one of the most remote road roads in, in North America, um, to this little hamlet of McCarthy, uh, which then sits right next door to Kennecott, which was an old gold mining destination in the early 19 hundreds.
Um, and it just started falling together for us. And, um, we added in, of course, the Denali Road inside the park. and I was just blown away, uh, by what this experience could do. Why these hotels
[00:33:16] Craig Dalton: even exist
[00:33:17] Brad Sauber: up there. , well, they’re actually hunting lodges. Um, okay. You know, outside of Denali and, um, kind of that, that region that’s just north of, uh, Anchorage, of course, that’s a lot of bus tours and, and train goes up in Denali.
People come to go to Denali. But once you go east on the Denali Highway, which is this, you know, dirt road, it’s 135 miles of dirt. There’s only one hotel out there. And. , you know, I called them up and it’s a hunting lodge where they literally hunt for bear and caribou and moose. And it’s a small family that run this place.
They keep it open most of the year. And uh, I asked about two different dates in July and August and they said, yeah, they’re available. So I had to book out the entire property. They’re gonna be
[00:33:57] Craig Dalton: scratching their heads when a bunch of like reclad cyclist
[00:34:01] Brad Sauber: show. Exactly. I know, exactly. And I have a, I’ve had a great story.
I actually met someone recently who had stayed there and he says, oh, it’s an amazing experience. He said, one morning I woke up and I went out into the dirt parking lot and there was a guy Skinnying a bear. You know, in the parking lot, and it’s a pretty wild experience, but I’m really looking forward to the wonderful people that own it.
It’s a family operation. You know, when we arrive, we’re gonna have a big family dinner in their little, it’s like their home. And they have a beautiful tavern inside this, uh, old, um, hunting lodge. And, uh, we’ll have a great dinner. And the rooms are simple. The staff are actually sleeping in bunk beds, um, outside in an unheated, uh, no power.
Little, little shack, uh, but the clients are inside the main lodge and they all, they’ll have some nice clean, uh, ri for them as well. And then the other property, uh, that we go to on the next day got, Kona Lodge was built in 1914. It’s actually the oldest Roadhouse in Alaska. Again, it’s a family, uh, run operation.
Um, Husband and wife run it with their small daughter, their young daughter. And this place has a lot of history. You know, back in the early 19 hundreds it was a gold mining, uh, rush there. And so it was just amazing adventurous and people that came to that region looking for gold, copper. And so we’ll spend the night there and, uh, have a great glass of whiskey and a killer dinner that night.
A big, um, beautiful festival of, uh, dinners that evening. I think the family’s really looking forward to having this group there. And then the last two nights out in Kennecott is inside the national park at this old mine that the, you know, the national Park has, um, remodeled and made into this really, really cool um, I’d say semi luxury property, but have a great restaurant on site as well.
And so we have to book two nights there cuz it’s two night minimum. Um, but yeah, I was just kind of blown away by the whole itinerary and it’s just come together so well. I mean, the distances are quite long between hotel to hotel and that’s kind of what, how I advertise my trips cuz they’re point A to point b, hotel to hotel.
So yeah, we might have a distance of 130 miles from hotel to the next hotel. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re gonna ride every inch of that. Um, but I think most days people are gonna be riding anywhere from 80 to a hundred miles each day. It’s kind of what most people come to do. Um, and of course with all the, the sunlight.
You know, we have plenty of daylight hours to, uh, tackle as much distance as they really want to. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:36:12] Craig Dalton: That’s great. That must be a luxury to have though. So much daylight hours. . Yeah.
[00:36:16] Brad Sauber: I’m a, I’m nervous. I’ve never had that before. .
[00:36:18] Craig Dalton: Yeah. I don’t know how you guys are gonna sleep, but question. So you arrive in Anchorage, Alaska, and Yeah.
Are you riding directly from Anchorage to start, or is there a
[00:36:30] Brad Sauber: transfer? Yeah, so day one actually on arrival, um, we’re going to take people, Sean’s gonna take people on a little local loop of some single track and some kind of back country riding around Anchorage. It should be really cool. And then that evening we’ll have a great dinner in town, but then the next morning we have about a a 45 minute transfer.
We had just north, uh, where we come up to a little teeny town and we start from there. And our first, uh, major climb is up over Hatcher Pass, which is about a 12 mile climb, and most of that’s on dirt with anywhere from 10 to 14%. Great pitching up here and there. And then we’ll have, uh, on the backside of Hatcher Pass, it’s an all downhill, uh, about I think 12 to 13 miles or so of gravel.
Off of Hatcher Pass. If you looked up Hatcher Pass Road, you’ll see these magnificent views of just this high alpine setting above the tree line, incredibly lush and green. This windy strip of, uh, one lane dirt road that just passes through this region is really spectacular. Um, that’s day one. And then they’ll cycle all the way into tna, which is kind of the, um, the kickoff, um, place for, you know, the climbers that go up into Denali.
So we’ll spend the evening in Ta Kitna, and then the following day, Is an all road day. Um, it’ll be between, you know, 85 and 130 mile day for them as they make their way all the way up the highway, which is called a Parks Highway, which goes all the way up into Denali. And, um, then we’ll spend two nights up there, uh, readying ourselves for our big day inside the park on the, uh, Denali Park Highway, which currently, um, in its current state.
A year or so, year and a half ago, there was a big slide at mile marker 42 on the Denali Park Highway, and it wa it washed out this whole insection of road and it won’t be, um, repaired for another two years. And so it’s actually a good thing for us because I think it’s going to limit the amount of park vehicles that are on the road.
but that’ll be literally an 84 mile out and back road, um, road ride that day inside the park. And about 55 miles of that will be on dirt road and hopefully with just limited vehicles. And it’s an interesting logistic thing for me to consider because I can’t take a, my personal support vehicle inside the park.
And so people are gonna be, um, set up with all the gear and equipment and be prepared for an 85 mile day on their own. And there’s really no water and there’s no food out. And a lot of bears . So they’re going to be, uh, ready with their bear spray and they’re gonna ride inside the park kind of as much as they want or as little as they want.
Um, there is an option where the park runs these, um, little shuttle buses and they each have two bicycle racks on each shuttle bus. And so I’m going to purchase bike passes for everyone. So anyone at any time can jump on these buses and, and move either further out or. Turn around and come back if the conditions get too crazy or if people just have had enough.
But I think most of these riders are gonna ride all the way out to mile 42 and then all the way back, so it’ll be over 80 plus miles with over 10,000 feet of climbing. It’s a pretty big outing.
[00:39:24] Craig Dalton: What type of equipment are you recommending that riders bring with them? Yeah,
[00:39:28] Brad Sauber: it’s just your standard gravel bikes.
You know, disc brake is preferable. Um, the, the dirt roads in Alaska are hard pack and super fast and super smooth under the most ideal conditions. So you kind of have to be prepared for everything from warm days to, you know, possible, you know, high wind. Heavy rain as well. Just never know what you’re gonna experience and weather changes there from, you know, minute to minute.
So as far as gearing, uh, I’m mostly telling people to ride a double on their gravel bike if they can. Uh, there will be some just with a, with a single as well, and probably 700 by 42 at the smallest. I’d probably encourage people to probably go 45 to 48 on the tire size, uh, for the gravel bikes. and I’m not providing any of the gravel bikes.
People tend to bring their own on these tours. You know, when you’re riding a hundred plus mile days, 10,000 feet. I do recommend people have their own bike that they’ve trained on. I mean, just the slightest difference in a saddle position, you know, could give someone a pretty serious knee problem on day three of an experience like this and it just, they don’t have the ability to ride the rest of the tour.
So, yeah, rather than me just providing, you know, bikes, I think people really should bring their own and, and everyone is. So that makes
[00:40:36] Craig Dalton: sense. Is there any technicality in terms of like the descending off some of those passes? Or is it pretty much, you know, as you described, these roads are pretty, pretty predictable gravel and you can, you can open it up without too much concern.
[00:40:51] Brad Sauber: Yeah, I think, but as we all know, you know, driving on and or riding on gravel roads, you get those little marbles that, uh, that, that sit on the sides and down the center of these roots. So you do have to be careful of course, on that. And any of these roads are gonna be, Especially Hatcher Pass on day one.
I mean, people will be excited and ready to really kind of throw down the hammer, I’m sure as often they do on day one. But we really have to keep them, you know, in control and safe and kind of really work with them on that descent. I mean, 10 plus miles on a gravel road is, is never easy no matter what the conditions are.
Um, but you throw in a little bit of rain or something and then it could be turned a little bit slippery road as well. As far as the park road goes, um, it’s always in great condition. They maintain that road quite a bit. The Denali Highway, which is the one that we ride for two days, the next day, that’s gonna be a little different.
That is above, um, the tree line, the entire distance. A lot of tundra, a lot of open wind, a lot of open, um, kind of just exposed scenery. A lot of potholes, I’m sure. Um, they do. It’s not, not many vehicles drive that road. There’ll be a few buses out there moving people around, but it’s a very remote stretch of, uh, dirt road that we’ll see very little traffic.
And then the McCarthy Road is one that most Alaskan, um, rental car companies don’t even allow rental cars to drive it. Um, I’m, I’m expecting, um, you know, lots of gravel, uh, a lot of potholes. Um, you know, all the people that have talked to me about driving that road say, you really can’t drive more than about 20, 25 miles an hour.
And that’s 65 miles of gravel, just one way. So that journey will probably take me three to four hours just to drive up in there supporting people. Um, but yeah, I think in under ideal conditions, these roads are really amazing to ride and really fun. But if we do throw in some, uh, some rain and or some hail, uh, they could be a little, um, a little more difficult.
Little sticky, little slippery, a little more of an adventure.
[00:42:39] Craig Dalton: Yeah, yeah, for sure. Yeah. Yeah. We, we’ve sort of glanced over this a little bit, but I wanna make sure to drive the point home how remote. Does it feel when you’re riding these
[00:42:49] Brad Sauber: roads? Oh man, this literally every kind of animal that you could possibly think of from caribou to elk and bear are just gonna be everywhere from what I’ve been told.
You know, when you ride out there on these long expanses of, uh, these dirt roads with very little, uh, vehicle, um, impact. I think you’re gonna see everything from the smallest little weasel to rabbits to some really big intense animals. Uh, I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with, um, Denali National Park Rangers talking about that experience of riding.
Um, and, you know, from the local people that have looked over this itinerary, uh, from Outfitters that looked at it, I mean, people have randomly reached out to me and said, man, this is really ambitious and super exciting to have you guys come up here and, and attempt this sort of thing. and I’m really, really looking forward to it.
And just the expanse of these, these gravel roads, the distances and the remoteness, it’s really something. I mean, it’s so remote that on the last day, on day nine of the trip, I have to charter two private sesnas to fly everybody out in a two and a half hour flight to get them back to Anchorage. So, and, you know, moving vehicles and, uh, 10 bicycles out of there is a seven hour drive just for me to get back to Anchorage while everyone will be riding in comfort in their own private planes.
So two planes will be, um, chartered just to get people out of, uh, out of St. Elias National Park. It’s a pretty remote area. As we’re
[00:44:09] Craig Dalton: riding on these each day, what is the scenery like? I mean, are we, are we sort of far enough off of Denali that we get a perspective of the size and scale of that? Amazing mountain for sure.
[00:44:23] Brad Sauber: will be, um, you’ll feel very small in this landscape. I mean, it’s, it’s every mountain range you could possibly think of up there from the wrangles to the, the Alaskan range. We’re riding along huge rivers like the Copper River. So yeah, you’re gonna be just witnessing these incredible rivers, incredible mountain ranges.
And of course, Dali’s gonna be looming over us for the first three and a half to four days where in every direction that you ride and look, it’s gonna be right there staring. And I mean, when we ride the Denali Highway going into the park, the Denali Park Road, I mean, you’re looking at this massive mountain straight ahead the whole time.
I mean, it’s just right there. So that’s your, your, your North Star. You might say, you know, for Alaska. Yeah. Combine that with just the remoteness and all the wildlife. Uh, this is really, truly gonna be a unique experience for people. And, um, people will feel very small. I think it’ll be as close as you can get to a religious experience on a.
[00:45:11] Craig Dalton: It’s so hard to describe in an audio podcast, , the visuals that I, you know, I’ve just, the, the basic visuals I’ve seen on your website, so I’ll certainly direct people over there to kind of have a, a little visual guide to what we’ve been talking about this whole time.
[00:45:25] Brad Sauber: Yeah, for sure. No, I appreciate that.
That’d be great.
[00:45:27] Craig Dalton: That’s amazing. I, I appreciate the audacity of planning these trips. I can’t wait to hear how the, the first two go off this year. I know, and we don’t have a lot of time for this, but I know you do run a couple other gravel experiences throughout the year. Do you want to talk about those real quick?
[00:45:42] Brad Sauber: Well, you know, I’ve ran them over years, over the years. Uh, we’ve specialized in some pretty remarkable gravel events in Utah along with the national parks. Um, that’s a place I’ve been running tours for nearly 25 or 30 years. I do have a private trip coming up in April in New Mexico, which is one of my favorite destinations.
And after I finished that nine day trip, I’m actually staying on board for another week and creating a point A to point B, uh, New Mexico gravel experience. and um, that is really interesting. Special. Yeah. That’s gonna be connecting Albuquerque all the way through, um, out to, uh, Taos and then all the way to Santa Fe and then all the way back into Albuquerque.
Super cool. Mostly dirt roads. It’s funny,
[00:46:20] Craig Dalton: you know, you hear about it, um, from a mountain bike perspective, a lot of people rave about New Mexico, but it hasn’t really kind of tipped into the gravel market yet, to my knowledge. So that’s, that’s really interesting to hear you explore.
[00:46:33] Brad Sauber: I’m really excited for that place.
I’ve been running tours there for 30 plus years. I absolutely love. New Mexico as a destination. To me, it’s one of the most unique states culturally, um, from a food perspective, the hotels, uh, the history, uh, it just blows people’s minds and especially when people call me from Europe and ask me where they should go.
I first say New Mexico. I think it’s really a, a diverse place and it’s also a place with a lot of value. You know, it’s still not, it’s not that expensive for people. So we can run some pretty affordable experiences there for people and make it very access. . Um, and the gravel riding is going to be, uh, phenomenal.
It, it’s gonna be a really special event. I mean, eight days of gravel riding, connecting, you know, Taos, New Mexico, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, all these remote places. Abaki, we are gonna come on this. We come into the backside of Abaki on a dirt road. Um, that I, from what I can tell and what I’m looking at, is just gonna be one of the finest rides that you could have in your life.
[00:47:30] Craig Dalton: love it. Well, Brad, thank you for coming on and talking about what you’re doing at Raid Cycling. I, I do love your passion and perspective to make everything you put and make available to cyclists incredibly memorable and that certainly shows in like the thoughtfulness of your comments and the trip design.
So thanks for sharing all that with
[00:47:49] Brad Sauber: us. Well, thank you for the time. I really appreciate it. I really enjoyed chatting with you, Craig. Look forward getting back on the bike
[00:47:55] Craig Dalton: with. Yeah, exactly. You’ll get back to Mill Valley one of these days, , for sure. Cheers. Thanks,
[00:48:00] Brad Sauber: Brad. All right. Thank you, Greg. Cheers.
Until next time here’s to finding some dirt under your wheels.