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?
Gabriel: I’ve had a circuitous route to education, but I’ve found my dream career now in being a public educator out in Colorado teaching middle school social studies. Most nights, I ride after school and during summer days I like to joke that I’m a semi-pro cyclist because I ride all day and the school district sends me a paycheck each month. The bicycle has always been a tool of decompression and exploration for me and after a long day at school it quickly brings me back down to earth while showcasing what to be grateful for.
I can’t recall with clarity when I first scraped my knees riding a bike, but I did get a road bike at age 10 which happened to be a women’s Fuji because it was the only frame small enough to fit me at the time. My father got me clip ins the next summer and told me, “It’s not if you’ll fall, but when.” I still bestow that credence to all my friends getting into cycling.
VAAST: Tell us about a recent ride/race/adventure. What was the hardest part? What was the most exciting part?
Gabriel: Last summer, during the height of Covid, I was fortunate enough to ride up Mt. Evans with a good buddy of mine while the road was closed to motor vehicles. We staged in Idaho Springs, CO which meant the total climb ended up being about 29 miles up with 7,500ft of climbing in one go. From Idaho Springs to the Echo Lake Lodge you’ve got traffic, but then you make a right hand turn up the final road at the lodge and we had 14 miles of unimpeded high-alpine climbing. It’s the highest paved road in America which always makes you feel like a badass when you reach the summit. My friend had to turn around at about 13,000ft elevation because of the wind and weather moving in but I was far enough ahead to stubbornly finish out the climb.
Once you’re above the treeline (around 10,500ft), you are one with the elements. Towards the final 1,000ft of climbing the winds kicked up to 45mph and were a direct headwind or tailwind depending on the switchback. You either felt like a kite being guided along or contemplating running your bike because you’d probably move faster, haha! In the final two turns, there were bighorn sheep on the road about three feet from my shoulder and you can tell they’re questioning your sanity. Yet, they’ve definitely been domesticated to human travel and therefore I was less afraid they’d kick me off the road down the mountain. It was so cold up top that I stopped for a quick photo, threw on my cold weather gear, and started the descent. That ride will stick in my memory for decades to come.
VAAST: How did you feel when you hit gravel or trail for the first time on your VAAST bike?
Gabriel: I felt like a stunt-man in a movie scene. To be fair, I’m a self acknowledged baby when it comes to bike handling and anything extreme given I’ve been a road cyclist for 18 years prior to trying any gravel or mountain biking. Yet, I quickly started exploring the limits of my Vaast and taking it on local mountain bike trails in the Boulder area. I’ve since expanded my appetite for trail ‘danger’ after realizing how far you can push a gravel bike. Yesterday, I went wandering down a local trail that I’d never charted and ended up taking two separate stumbles into the thistles on the side of the single-track. Had plenty of time to laugh at myself after realizing there was no damage to the bike or my limbs.
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?
Gabriel: Riding used to mean training for local road races. It encompasses a totally different spirit for me now. I ride to explore or I ride for therapy. I ride to push myself or I ride to go visit a friend’s house. The bicycle has metamorphosed for me into a flexible companion. Whatever I ask of my bike, it is always there for me. Some days I go hunting KOMs back in my hometown in Wisconsin. Other days, I am bouncing from bakery to bakery trying to find the best donuts in Colorado.
I don’t have a coach and I don’t have any training regime. I am signed up for two endurance gravel races in October. One is 165 miles long in Trinidad, CO and the other is 208 miles long connecting Fruita, CO to Moab, UT. I put in a healthy number of miles this summer, but there are days I’ll go into ghost-mode and not record a Strava activity for a week's time. Amazing how that can reinvigorate your love for the machine. My desire to go out and do huge efforts on the bike helps me expand my own understanding about the limits of the human body while serving as an inspiration for my students. If they see that an 8th grade US History teacher can juggle the training in his schedule, then I hope they’ll be motivated to go outside and take on some sort of physical or mental endeavor themselves!
VAAST: What is one common myth about cycling that you hear from non-cycling friends that makes you laugh?
Gabriel: “I can’t ride that far!” It is easy to feel intimidated when a colleague or friend posts a century ride on Strava but the human body is an even more impressive machine than the bicycle. Our minds and bodies are capable of unparalleled feats. You just need to start small and build momentum. Doesn’t have to be fast or long, it just has to be progress. At the end of the day, the only person you go to sleep with is the person in the mirror so try being better than them.
VAAST: Are there any family, friends or riding partners that deserve a huge callout?
Gabriel: Oh, absolutely! Shout out to my Grandma Stauffacher for taking me on the ride across Iowa (RAGBRAI) when I was 13 and she was 72. She was the oldest woman in the ride and crushed it on a steel hybrid frame. There was a storm in the campground the second night of tenting out and she stayed in her tent with one other woman on our ride while I panicked and sought out shelter in the local school gymnasium. Now that’s a grandma to look up to haha!
Also, a huge shout out to my father who calls himself “Papa Ridgetop” (jokingly) because he climbs this local hill in my hometown to end every ride and it overlooks the beautiful corn fields outside of Madison. It is his kingdom. He got me into riding and racing when I was 10 and I never looked back. At the time, you don’t realize how influential the machine and the sport will be but I could wax poetic about all the things the bicycle has done for me and most of that stems from a father who’s as equally passionate about riding.
Finally, lots of love goes out to our Tuesday night group ride in Boulder put on by Sanitas/TPC every week. I was an out of stater new to Boulder and these folks took me under their wing to show me local roads and become even better friends off the bike. What a crew!
VAAST: On a scale of 1-10 how nervous does the thought of a flat tire in the middle of nowhere make you?
Gabriel: So long as I have a spare tube or a repair kit, I’d say a 2. In those situations, you quickly realize the ingenuity of humans and figure out how to commandeer any fixes to the bike necessary. Might be scary in the moment, but then boosts your confidence once you make it out! It’s a skill that transfers to all facets of life.
VAAST: What do you wish you had known when you bought your first higher end bike?
Gabriel: I wish I had a better understanding of gearing and how that is affected by the type of riding you do. I live near the Flatirons so it’s not uncommon to do a day with 5,000ft of climbing but that also means I don’t necessarily want a 53-39 (I’m not that strong haha) up front to climb these mountains. That was a solid learning experience even for someone who’s been around bikes for so long. Ride a bunch of different frames when exploring a new bicycle purchase and get a feel for how the different gearings work for you!
Also, don’t give a damn what others say about what you want to buy. You want a pink bike, killer! Go for it. You want an e-bike?! Get down with your bad self. Cycling is about enjoying the process so be safe and enjoy the frame that suits your fancy.
VAAST: What would you change, if anything, about your experience with cycling? Why?
Gabriel: Oh wow, what a question. I’ve ruminated on this a bit since I tried to pursue cycling on a more competitive scale when I quit my job at 24 at a software company and moved to Tucson without knowing a soul. Spoiler alert, I’m a middle school teacher not a pro cyclist. Yet, the experience shaped and molded me in a variety of ways. In short, I wish I had joined a team in my youth for the coaching and camaraderie. However, I’ve met dozens of strong riders who’ve come to cycling later in their athletic lives and realized they’re monsters on two wheels. It is important not to burn out too young and lose a love that could be life long. You appreciate the turning of the pedals more the older you get.
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.
Gabriel: I’m always in flux it feels like. Some days I want to go hammer on my road bike in a group ride and then other days I have the desire to disappear on my Vaast into the gravel service roads of the Rocky Mountains without a computer or cell phone on me. When I was in my teens, I thought the bicycle was meant for racing and showing how strong you are.
Now, I appreciate the nicer equipment but recognize it’s who you’re with that matters most. My father used to always say, “it’s not what you do in life, but who you do it with.” To that motto, I’m still staying competitive but the tendency is moving towards entering endurance gravel races with a group of close friends. Makes it easier to draft that way, too! Ha!
VAAST: Explain your perfect day on a bike or tell us about your proudest riding memory.
Gabriel: I have two distinct versions of my perfect day on the bike. First scenario is a local group ride where we get moving in a paceline and everyone is flowing perfectly into the draft zone. We set a bunch of new PRs on the course and I pounce off the front to win a friendly sprint to the top of our final hill.
Second version is the antithesis of the first. My most enjoyable version of riding is getting onto my Vaast and heading up some uncharted dirt roads to a high mountain pass. In this reverie, I normally don some sort of goofy shirt or outfit to put my thinking into the mindset of ‘just have fun’. Pro tip - visit your local thrift store and buy a long sleeve button-up flannel then tear the sleeves off. Now you’re ready to ride gravel in style. I’ve been adding a bolo tie to bring it all together if the heat isn’t too scorching. Then I meet up with two or three close friends and we take our time parsing through the new roads while eating plenty of baked goods we bring along from our favorite local shop. Post ride coffee somewhere and take in the laughs as we reflect on the big day we just had!