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The Vaast Journal

MEET THE COLLECTIVE: Brian Owens

MEET THE COLLECTIVE: Brian Owens

The “Meet the Collective” series serves up interview style conversations with VAAST riders all over the globe. At VAAST we are driven and inspired by our community of riders, whether they are grand tour pros, first time bikepackers, experienced long-haul cyclists, Strava KOM hunters, or casual riders in it for the mid-ride café stops and post-ride suds. No matter the amount or type of distance you cover, there is a story here for you. And, perhaps, the story is yours. After all, we’re all on this wild ride together.


VAAST: Tell us about yourself and your earliest riding experience(s). How/When did you learn to ride a bike? Do you remember what it meant for you?

Brian: I’m a 40 year old guy in Baltimore, MD. I’m married with a seven year old son. I purchased an Orbea road bike when I turned 30, and have been riding more and more each year over the last decade. I can remember the first day I rode a bike. I actually didn’t have a bike of my own, but when I was five I was at my cousin’s house and he had a bike. He let me try it and I was riding by the end of the day. Where I grew up riding on the roads wasn’t really safe for a young kid (no sidewalks/very rural). So, riding as a kid was mostly about riding with friends at their houses, or a quick trip down to the corner store. As I got older, it was a way to get to your friends’ houses without having to get a ride from your parents. I don’t think this is original, but a bike for any kid gives them a sense of freedom. We had the training wheels off my son’s bike about a year ago, and we just finished a six mile ride together a few weeks ago while we were on vacation. He felt so accomplished as we ticked off each mile. It reminds me how far away you can go just with a bike, and watching my son discover that has been really special over the last year.

 

VAAST: Tell us about a recent ride/race/adventure. What was the hardest part? What was the most exciting part?

Brian: The Dirty Kitten in Rapidan, VA was my first gravel race, and I had a great time. I arrived down in VA Friday evening so I had time to get dinner and get some good sleep. I woke up, got ready, and had breakfast with a racer from Raleigh who was doing the Master 55+ race. He did the pre-ride and warned me that the gravel was very loose. After about 100 meters of racing he was proven right.

I entered the 60 mile open category which they describe is for cats 3-5 which seemed about right. At 8:30 the flag dropped and about 80 riders in my cat headed out from the start pen.

Going into the race I had about 65 miles of gravel riding experience so I knew I wasn’t going to be technically better than a lot of the fast guys, but I’m in shape and felt like I could hang with the front so long as I stayed in the pack and didn’t put too much effort out. I thought a top 20 finish was doable if I didn’t crash out or have a mechanical.

The course map showed a small climb about 1.5 miles in and I made it my goal to use the climb as the way reach the front group. From the pen I got stuck behind a few riders at the start, but tried to weave my way through, and when I hit the climb I put my head down and went for the front group. By the top of the climb I was in the front group. I tucked in around 8th wheel and tried to stay upright.

Vaast rider post race

The gravel in this race was super shifty. You really had to find a good line or your tires would get squiggly on you in the deep gravel. It was definitely not like riding on a packed dirt road. The corners were crazy difficult, but especially so in a long paceline. I couldn’t see the best line and just followed the riders in front. They would brake as they went into the corner then we’d get a nice slinky effect going where you’d have to sprint out of the corner to close the gap.

About 8 miles into the race the front group was down to 11 riders. We all stayed together until mile 12 when we hit the main climb (more like a climbing torture device). The Kitten Crusher is so steep and full of loose gravel and grass so if you didn’t take the right line you’d spin out and have to walk. On my 3 times up, I only saw 1 person do the whole thing on the bike. Basically, everyone walked up it each lap. During the first time up a group of 6 from our 11 broke away and I was left behind with 2 other guys (Peter and Matt). We stayed together until the start finish line at the end of the first lap. I stopped and grabbed some new water bottles and stuffed some gels in my pocket.

When I hopped back on the bike, I knew I was in the top 10 so I put my head down and tried to catch Peter and Matt. I picked up Matt about 3 miles later who had bonked a bit and then by the time I got up the Crusher the second time I had passed Peter too. So with 32 miles done and 26 more to go I was sitting in 7th and feeling ok. I worked with a few different racers that I came across the rest of the lap just to help pace and carry the workload. However, at mile 40 about halfway up a climb I got my first hamstring cramp and jumped off the bike to walk it off. By the time I reached the top it was gone, but I tried not to make any super hard efforts the rest of the race.

At mile 51 I hit the Kitten Crusher for the last time, and about halfway up Matt from earlier came by me. He had made a great recovery and was motoring up the climb. I put my head down and walked as fast as I could up this damn hill and by the time, I reached the top he was just leaving from the aid station. I tried to push on the descent and about 1 mile later I was back on his wheel. We talked and worked together the rest of the way to the finish. With about 100 meters to go we passed one of the guys who was in the front group. I gave a fairly pathetic sprint and was able to come in 7th overall, and just under 4 hours. Not bad for a first race!

 

VAAST: How did you feel when you hit gravel or trail for the first time on your VAAST bike?

Brian: Honestly, I was a bit nervous. I hadn’t ridden on a surface other than tarmac since I was a kid. We don’t have a ton of gravel in Baltimore, mostly some single track that mountain bikers use so I was nervous that I’d be overmatched. After 14 miles of trails and some road I had had so much fun. I was laughing during the ride as I tried to keep it rubber side down on a few sections. I fell over twice and was actually laughing while riding through areas I never thought I’d explore on a bike. I think that’s what I’m really excited about owning a VAAST bike because it brings in this new environment and this new skillset that I haven’t really had to use while road cycling.

 

VAAST: Describe your process behind training/riding. Are you preparing for races or big events, riding for fitness, just spinning around town? What inspires you to ride?

Brian: Over the last 2-3 years I’ve built a routine of riding everyday either outside or on Zwift. I’ve been averaging around 7-9k a year so it’s really a daily part of my life now. I’ve never ridden with a training plan in place. I just really enjoy getting on the bike every day and training seems so formal and regimented. I try to listen to my body and take an easy day here or there as it feels necessary. I had planned on doing my first race last year, but you know Covid, so as things opened up in Maryland this spring I completed my first TT, and since there aren’t any road races yet here, I figured I try out gravel racing. I think the main two reasons that push me to get on a bike every day is staying in shape and getting to enjoy time with the new friends I’ve developed over the last decade.

 

VAAST: What is one common myth about cycling that you hear from non-cycling friends that makes you laugh?

Brian: I’d say the biggest myth I hear from non-cycling friends is that cycling is boring. I kinda get it, but I think once you’ve ridden and start to understand what’s going on you quickly understand that it’s not boring at all.

 

VAAST: Are there any family, friends or riding partners that deserve a huge callout?

Brian: First and foremost, my wife. When I was 29 I weighed about 165lbs. I had played college soccer, but over the previous 7-8 years the pounds had started to add up. So, I started going to a local gym and took a spin class. One of the instructors really designed his classes around actual cycling rather than all the standing up and down constantly. So, after a few classes I decided to get a road bike when I turned 30. After 10 years I’m down to 135, and I’m riding more than ever. My wife has always supported this hobby now obsession, and I’m so appreciative to her for that. It’s not easy on the family to actually increase the amount of time you spend on a bike from the first year your child is born to six years later, but we’ve made it work.

 

VAAST: On a scale of 1-10 how nervous does the thought of a flat tire in the middle of nowhere make you?

Brian: Not really that nervous. 3 maybe.

 

VAAST: What do you wish you had known when you bought your first higher end bike?

Brian: God, higher end is such a hard thing to define. I’ve had 3 road bikes over the last 10 years. I started with an Orbea Terra 8sp, and used that for the first four years. Then I upgraded to a Ridley Fenix and used that until this spring when I purchased a brand new Scott Addict RC 10, and upgraded the wheels to carbon. This thing is so much faster than the Ridley. I’d say the Ridley was the first nice bike I purchased, and my recommendation to anyone would be to really do your research and try to future proof the bike as much as possible. I was really lucky that the Ridley came with disc brakes and an 11sp ultegra groupset. It’s really hard for newer riders to know what to get so talk to a bunch of people, read online, and then make a purchase. It’s kind of the same story with the VAAST, as I did my research and looked at my budget (around $2500) I could either get a carbon bike with lower end groupset or an aluminum bike with a nice groupset. The VAAST checked the boxes for weight and groupset that other bikes couldn’t match.

 

VAAST: What would you change, if anything, about your experience with cycling? Why?

Brian: I wish I had started cycling earlier in life. I remember watching Miguel Indurain winning the last few of his Tours and Bjarne Riis winning then Lance in the late 90s. I always really enjoyed watching the Tour every summer, but riding a bike for exercise where I grew up, was something I had never seen. So I never gave it much thought. I think knowing someone who rode a bike for enjoyment and exercise would have pushed me to get involved earlier.

 

VAAST: How have you changed as a cyclist over the years? Are you getting more or less competitive? Upgrading equipment? Focusing on longer rides, harder training sessions, different terrain and different bikes or just fun cruises with local groups.

Brian: I don’t think I’ve really changed personality wise as a cyclist. I’ve definitely always been competitive, but I’ve been able to meet stronger and stronger riders as I’ve gotten better. I’m excited to jump into gravel now that I have the new bike. I think I will always love riding on the road, but it’s nice to have a bike where I can explore new places.

 

VAAST: Explain your perfect day on a bike or tell us about your proudest riding memory.

Brian: My perfect day on a bike would be a nice long 4-5 hour ride on lightly traveled roads with a group of friends. The route would have some longer climbs with some nice sweeping downhills. Maybe something like the Blueridge Pkwy near Ashville, NC.

1 month ago