Hitting the Road with the Blackburn Rangers

Bikepacking. It’s one of my favorite ways to travel and for Blackburn, it’s not only a passion for them, it’s a challenge. How can design be intelligent, intuitive, reliable and most important, resilient to constant wear and tear? You can spend all day designing products in an office, but the real test is out on the open road.

One of the ways Blackburn vets their products is through the Ranger Program. Each year, they send out a call for entries before selecting six or seven Rangers to get kitted out with a bike from Niner and full Blackburn product. Their journey begins, oddly enough, at the San Jose Airport… Well, parking lot B at the San Jose Airport.

Amanda is this year's Ranger Wrangler. She completed the Tour Divide on her Niner last year.

It’s always a scene. One giant rental box truck, loaded with gear from Niner, Blackburn, Big Agnes and Bell Helmets. The Rangers (and select media) arrive, pack their bags, load them on their bikes and we take off. Each year, Brodie, a Blackburn employee and San Jose local, takes us through a series of bike paths and hobo trails to Black Rd, one killer climb.


Over the past few months, a new ribbon of singletrack has opened up on our route: the John Nicholas trail. Coincidentally, this trail takes us literally to our camp the first night: a Boyscout’s Camp nestled in a redwood grove. We arrive, pitch our tents, pour some drinks and await dinner.

From there, the Rangers get the run-down on their responsibilities, their gear and are introduced to various Blackburn personalities. Meanwhile, the following morning, us “media” get to go shred trails in Santa Cruz, which are almost all illegal, making my “job” of photographing the weekend easy. No photos = no camera bag!

Watching the sun set.

After getting coated in Poison Oak, we returned to camp, ate, drank, threw metal objects at targets and passed out underneath redwoods.

The morning always comes faster than anticipated. Faster and colder. Luckily, breakfast was enough of a motivator to pack up our belongings and get back on the road. Our route was easy-peasy today. Drop down into Big Basin, the oldest State Park in California and make our way up Gazos Creek before dropping back to Highway 1 for lunch at Pie Ranch, a non-profit, farm and education center that serves amazing pies and food.

Post-pie nap

Now, if you’ve ever done a tour down HWY1, you have to know of the Pie Ranch. If you don’t, I won’t spoil the surprise with food photos… You’ll just have to trust me.

This could but us but you...

Post pie-food coma and with only 15 miles or so to town, we regrouped and began to pedal our way to Santa Cruz, where dinner, drinks and a movie screening awaited us at Verve Coffee. From there, everyone either headed home, with new gear and new stories, or to Sea Otter to suffer…


The Blackburn Ranger’s journey has only just begun, with many of the rangers taking on the Trans America trail, the Pacific Coast and the Tour Divide. Best of luck to all these rad individuals. I can’t wait to see their tales from the road.

If you’d like to do this ride, here’s our route. Just take the John Nicholas trail halfway up Black Rd.
Day 01: San Jose to Mountain Camp
Day 02: Mountain Camp to Beach Camp

  • ncoffeeneur

    Goddamn I love the Pie Ranch!

  • stefanrohner

    very nice portrait of Amanda.

    • Armand

      She’s lookin’ totally dreamy in that photo. Nice smile Amanda!

    • Thanks!

  • Matt O’Donnell

    So good. Hell to the yes when it comes to a nap in the sun after a big lunch at Pie Ranch! I stopped by on my tour, but it was the day before Thanksgiving so they were sold the hell out of everything. But they did have some day old tart they gave us for free and let us refill our water bottles. And oof. Black Road. I’ll always remember Black Road. Only two days of riding this year? You guys hung out at the Boy Scout camp for a day?

  • Nicholas Tingey

    Thanks for including a link to the route!

  • Great pics and trip! Pleasure to meet everyone. Can we do it again next month?

  • Chris Valente

    Enough teasers man, let’s see the gallery on that Retrotec!

  • AdamBike99

    I especially love the portraits of riders-n-rigs. Makes me feel more like I was there.
    Dare to dream… next year!

  • Benji

    Gotta say, that’s a lot of white people. Doesn’t look like Blackburn does much consideration of diversity when considering hiring staff or selecting Rangers.

    • Tony

      I sometimes feel this way, but the truth is, there aren’t a lot of minorities like me (and presumably you) that ride/test products. I’m usually the only brown person on my group rides, and I’m okay with that

    • Dean Chen

      I completely agree.

    • subberride

      This speaks to how Blackburn advertised the application process and who they want/need to sell products to. Programs like this could be a huge part of outreach to all types of folks but they have to know about it. If no one at Blackburn noticed or took diversity into consideration, that’s something they need to address. Its a conversation that needs to happen in all factions of cycling, not just in the comments section.

      • I just don’t understand how people can make pretty big claims like Blackburn doesn’t consider diversity, especially since you have nothing to back your claim. Seems kinda shitty to accuse them.

        • Michael Richards

          As one of the applicants who wasn’t selected I can tell you the following: 1) The application call was well advertised over social media and via cycling blogs (which were the appropriate channels based on what the program is about) 2) There were very few applicants. 3) Of the people who did apply there were many good applicants 4) Blackburn selected who they thought would be the best Rangers for this year. 5) I personally think that this is a great program and that Blackburn should be commended for it.

        • subberride

          Pump the brakes homie. I’m just hoping companies have conversations about diversity so that opportunities within the cycling world (and specifically bike touring) are open to everyone. Historally they haven’t been.

      • RIck

        Hey I was excluded from the application process. Maybe blackburn should have a ride for uninformed losers such as myself so I do not feel excluded?

    • Well, the application process is open to all and truthfully, I have no idea how many non-white applicants they had but I can assure you they consider diversity…

    • RIck

      Real bikers don’t notice the riders ethnicity….why because were too busy checking out each others bikes instead :)

      • Benji

        Guess I’m not a “real biker,” whatever that is.

        • RIck

          You missed the point buddy. Did you apply and get rejected or did you just like to do nothing and complain about it?

          • I think YOU missed the point. Discounting someone’s ethnicity is to discount their identity.

          • RIck

            I was not intending to discount a bike riders identity and doubt Blackburn intended that as well. They probably want the opposite and would guess growing up riding in so cal helps give you a unique perspective as most my best riding buddies are non-white. All customer base should be represented in advertising, Benji for Blackburn Rangers 2017!

    • I think I understand what point you are trying to make. People of Color are disproportionately represented in the cycling industry. But lets consider that POC can make a conscious decision to not involve themselves in any and every branding opportunity for the sake of representation and at the risk of tokenism. Lets consider that POC have flourishing communities that revolve around the bike but don’t appear on the radar of popular blog/social media outlets. The folks in my circles are involved in community projects that are not advertising campaigns, or have adopted a punk ethos and create their own bag systems and direct interaction community building. Yes, it is unfortunate that we see majority white faces in the selling of the industry when we know that we are out here sweating on these climbs just the same.

      • Benji

        Exactly. I don’t want to be a marketing prop or tokenized, but it’s also disconcerting to see a lack of brown and black folks being included or overtly invited. The evidence points to a lack of intentionality on the part of Blackburn, though of course I don’t know what efforts Blackburn actually made. As the League of American Bicyclists 2013 Equity Report pointed out, people of color were the fasting growing group of new cyclists (see: http://bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/equity_report.pdf), though you wouldn’t know it if you only paid attention to magazines and blogs. Like you, I’ll stick with the DIY community coops and ragtag groups of punks of color and blaze our own path, but I also look forward to seeing mainstream elements being more proactive in making cycling more inviting and accessible for us, too. Cheers!

    • mp

      Is bike industry marketing in general lacking a diverse range faces/riders? No question.

      Kudos to Tenspeed Hero, ENDO Customs, Team Dream Team, God and Famous, Cadence and some others.

    • AaronBenjamin

      While I have to agree with you, it’s just how things are currently. There are plenty more people of color participating in cycling than ever before, and increasing every day, and that’s great. I don’t believe Blackburn didn’t consider diversity in their selection of rangers. But trust me, being in the industry and having participated in events such as this before, there is a startling “whiteness” to the industry for sure, but that is slowly changing.

    • Armand

      How do you expect Blackburn to go about that?

      “Hey team, so we should probably pick someone who’s skin tone is brown or black to ensure we have “diversity” in our group. Never mind any of their other qualities that can represent diversity. Let’s separate the applicants by skin color and make sure we choose the best one from the brown/black/non-white group.”

    • Tyler Shannon

      An actual question, from someone not involved with Blackburn, or this project, at all; what do you think a better way to execute your idea would be? Would it be something like affirmative action? Or is it another route?

  • John

    Stunning photos and fun article. Must be awesome to tour with dedicated riders and test cool products. Not sure if you were kidding, but I gotta ask about the prudence of riding illegal trails in Santa Cruz (Certainly prudent not to photograph this!). Depends, of course, on why they are deemed illegal, but there may be good reasons why some trails are not meant to be ridden. Just askin’.

  • Slc29er

    Where is that treehouse? So rad!

  • breed007

    The shot of the rider looking out over the ocean is so good.

  • DopePedaler

    What cameras did you use for these photos?

    • 1DX 24-70 and 70-200

      • Jason Cruz

        Your photos are always good. Thanks. I have been searching forever to find a great way to bike with my camera. Any suggestions?

        • I honestly just use a photo backpack for my DSLR and a fanny pack for my rangefinder…

  • Dell Todd

    Thanks for the great photoset! It makes me want to go buy up BB Ranger gear and go backpacking rn!

  • Jeff Menand

    I was chilling at the Lighthouse in SC when this tribe rolled up at the end of the adventure. While everyone was watching surfers shred, whales breach, and otters toss around in the kelp, it was clear to me the camaraderie in that group was at a 10+ and the bond had been forged. Reminded me of take out day on river trips, theres nothing quite like that type of relationship making. So as a witness, not a participant, I can tell you the Blackburn journey hit the mark, and made cycling a fantastic space to be in. Get involved, you’ll feel the love, and nice post John.

  • Silent Majority

    You’ve got a really good eye and a thoughtful, narrative style. Really liking the one of the axe… dunno why.

  • JB

    Love the dirt part.

  • bruce golla

    I always ride with a 9 inch blade in a belt holster:0