Gravel bikes are the latest craze in road cycling, opening up new avenues, expanding horizons, and broadening the repertoire of available routes even for long-time roadies. For Handlebar Mustache Apparel co-founder Brett Richard, though, the choice to get one had more to do with one particular trip to Belgium — and a close call with a car.
Richard has headed to Belgium every spring since 2013. It’s become an annual pilgrimage of sorts, partly for the riding, partly to watch the racing. In recent years, his regular two-wheeled companion there has been his trusty titanium road bike, a custom-built Mosaic Cycles RT-1 with 28mm-wide tires and a Shimano Dura-Ace R9000 mechanical group with rim brakes.
By all accounts, it’s a fantastic machine, and up until one wet ride in 2016, it was all he needed.
“We were riding from Oudenaarde to Geraardsbergen to ride the Muur, and it’s perfect Belgie weather: driving rain, the whole deal,” he recounted. “We cross the bridge coming into Geraardsbergen, and it’s a real steep-pitched bridge so they didn’t have to put in a drawbridge or whatever. We came screaming down the backside and I’m on my rim-brake bike, and this Mercedes wagon pulls out in front of me and kind of stutters for a second. I’m just grabbing as much brake as I can and nothing’s happening.
“I’m thinking this is going to be bad, and I’m going to get hurt. Right at the last second, he nails it and I miss his back bumper by around four inches. And I was like, ok, next year I’m coming back with a disc bike.”
Richard already had a hardtail 29er mountain bike in addition to his RT-1 at that point, and hadn’t put much thought into the idea of wanting or needing anything else. And although he had a cyclocross bike, it was more a beast of burden than something he was proud or happy to ride.
“I would argue I had the crappiest ‘cross bike in Boulder. I would show up to the Panache Rowdy Ride [a local weekly dirt and gravel ride] and hope that no one recognized me. It was so hoopty that I traded the frame for a cycling kit and two t-shirts at one point, and then it was just a spare parts bike. I would always just blow it off because I was a roadie; it was no big deal. But it was a piece of crap.”
That incident in Belgium instantly changed his perspective — near-misses are funny like that — and he began his search for something else.
Richard is a strong believer in the idea that you should have a personal connection to the person who makes your bike. With two Mosaics from his friend already in his garage — both built by his friend, Aaron Barcheck — the choice for this one was easy: Megan Dean of Moth Attack. Dean had also already built a road bike for his wife and business partner, Ashley, so it was truly a no-brainer in his mind.
“Bikes built by friends and painted by friends are the best. We met at our second Interbike and just hit it off,” he said. “We’re vegan, she’s vegan, and we all started hanging out. She eventually moved out here and we shared a space. When her father passed away, she moved back to Las Vegas for a bit, but we always stayed in contact. Cool story: last year, we took my buddy, Wade, to Interbike with us, and Megan always helps us at Interbike. We thought they were kind of into each other, and yeah, they’re engaged now. So that happened.”
Disc brakes and wider tires were automatic must-haves on the want list, but Richard left much of the rest of the decision-making on the frame construction to Dean. Geometry was loosely based on Richard’s old Ritte Bosberg (which, coincidentally, is what his Mosaic RT-1 is based on as well), and Dean selected an array of True Temper tubing based on her own experiences.
But Richard did have a few requests for painter Rudi Jung of Black Magic Paint. For example, the colors were chosen based on an old BMX bike and skateboard that Richard had had as a kid.
“That was the first bike I picked out on my own, and my first skateboard was a pink Tommy Guerrero, so I’ve always dug pink. I’ve wanted a pink bike forever again, so I was like, ok, we’re going to do pink. I wanted pink, and I wanted midnight blue, but then he put it all together and laid it out.”
The patterns, however, were a reflection of a more recent time in Richard’s life.
“I was really into these Obey, Shepard Fairey-style parlor prints. I’d done that on an artist series kit we had done, and I though that I would really like that on a bike. I would have been happy with it just on the top tube, but Rudi got really crazy and did that ghosting on the down tube. And the fact that he weeded all of that masking with an X-Acto knife with one hand is, I mean, he’s just a special dude.”
Wait, what? One hand?
Jung was already a well-known painter at Black Magic Paint, but his career took a dramatic turn in August 2016. While on a two-week motorcycle trip with his brother, Nikolaus, he collided with a deer that had jumped into the roadway. Among the litany of injuries he sustained were several torn nerves that rendered his right arm — his dominant arm — largely useless.
Such a life-changing event would be career-ending for most people in that situation, but Jung retrained himself within a few months to do everything with just his left hand — a truly monumental achievement considering the level of experience he had had at that point, and the level of fine motor skill required.
Adding to the comeback story is the fact that he won the “best finish” award at the 2017 North American Handmade Bicycle Show, less than a year after his accident.
“When you really understand how hard it is to do quality paint, and then to think about a musician or athlete switching hands, it’s incredible,” Richard said. “This was the first bike he painted after NAHBS last year.”
Richard has since incorporated dirt and gravel into his riding routine even more than before, and the wider tires and lower gearing has its obvious benefits. But it was that first trip back to the Belgian cobbles on that new bike when he truly realized what he was missing.
“My 28s aren’t tubeless [on my Mosaic], but I can get away with around 75psi with tubes. Normally, at Roubaix, I’m like, I’m here, I’m committing to it. I’ve got my hand taping technique down pretty good. But this bike, on 32s, I’m at 45psi. It’s so much better. Last year at Roubaix, I was like, ‘damn, that was a lot of fun.'”