Jay Ritchey and his 27.5+ Tumbleweed Prospector
We talk to filmmaker Jay Ritchey about his 27.5+ Tumbleweed Prospector, the camera gear he carried on a recent tour of the Peru Divide, and find out about the rack and bikepacking bags he custom made to accommodate it.
It’s perhaps no surprise that Jay Ritchey been immersed in the bicycle world for as long as he can remember, given that his father is none other than Tom Ritchey, the legendary mountain bike pioneer and racer. His father’s aptitude for creativity, design, and fabrication certainly appears to have rubbed off too; aside from pursuing a career in filmmaking, Jay makes his own beautifully crafted bicycle racks.
“I’ve always been surrounded by metal fabrication, but it wasn’t until I was living in Tuscon and teamed up with a friend, custom rack maker Jonathan Zucchi, that I really had a chance to learn, practice and refine the techniques of oxyacetylene brazing. I’ve built about a dozen racks now, including a set I took to Mongolia two years ago. The front rack I designed for Peru took me about a day to make. It’s based around the concept of keeping the rack as tight as possible to the steering column fork, which isn’t always easy to achieve with off-the-shelf options. It uses Nitto mountain hardware because it’s the strongest stuff I’ve found. Buiding my own rack meant I could design it to accommodate Plus tires with plenty of room to spare, matching the clearance of the fork. Perhaps it’s the influence of the time I spent working at Rivendell… but of course, I had to chrome it!”
More recently, Jay’s taken his first forray into sewing his own bags too, tailoring them to his needs as a filmmaker.
“The front bag is made specifically for the handlebar height and rack platform, with a velcro tongue to secure it in place. It’s lined with Xpac and a layer of foam padding, then seam sealed on the outside. I designed it to allow quick access to the drone and camera lenses I keep in there, with a Cobra-style buckle that’s easy to unclip. It’s loosely based off a Carradice-style saddlebag, with a flap and drawstring opening. I also specced an external wooden dowel, to make it easier to replace if it broke. The bag features straps to securely hold a cut down Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol beneath it, which both protects the contents and gives me a seat pad around camp.”
“The framebag also features its own internal dowel, wrapped around the headtube, to give it an extra wide taper – from 2.5in to 6in – again to maximise internal space, given all my camera equipment and our need to carry 3-4 days of food between resupplies. It’s a roll-top design and I added an external pocket on the driveside for snacks.” The rest of his gear is made by Porcelain Rocket, including a DSLR Camera Slinger, Micro Panniers with Arkel mounts, and a new, as yet unreleased Mr Fusion XL seat pack – along with a 40oz Crusher handlebar bag from Spindle, local to Jay’s home in Atlanta.
For his latest project – a documentary on riding the Peru Divide – Jay carried some 8-10 lbs of filmmaking gear, including a DJI Mavic Pro drone, a Lumix GH5, batteries (4 camera and 4 drone), cables, microphones (a lav mic and Rode shotgun), lenses (Lumix 12-35 2.8, Lumix 35-100 2.8, and a Speedmaster 25mm .95, as well as chargers, filters, cables, solid state storage, lens wipes and all the rest. As an aside, one of other riders carrried the Pilot Flight H2 gimbal and a secondary Lumix GH3 with a wide angle lens. “I favor Micro 4/3 for bikepacking due to the size and weight. The GH5 is a really good camera for this style of filmmaking. It features great in-body stabilization and a nice codec – which means the file that it outputs is data rich, giving flexibility in post-production. I also brought small LED panels to light camping scenes and dark, hole-in-the-wall restaurants.”
This need to carry a wide variety of camera gear was one reason Jay chose to ride a Tumbleweed Prospector. “The Prospector is super stable under load, with absolutely no flex at all. And even though it’s front heavy with my setup, it handles really well.” Jay’s a big fan of Rohloff Speedhubs too, the uber reliable, 14-speed internal gear hub favored by many around the world tourers. “Although the Surly Krampus I had previously was also compatible with a Rohloff, the Prospector is far easier to set up, in terms of cable routing. With its vertical dropout, the wheel is also very easy to remove and the chain a lot more straightforward to tension. The Rohloff is perfect for this kind of trip: it’s easy to shift, requires little maintenance, and it was great in the muddy and snowy conditions we encountered.” Complimenting the rear hub, his front wheel was built around a SON 28 dynamo hub to charge a 10,000 mAh cache battery via a Sinewave Revolution, laced to a set WTB’s 45mm Scraper rims and shod with 3.0in Ranger Tough tires.
27.5+ Tumbleweed Prospector Build Kit
- Frame: Tumbleweed Prospector, Size XL
- Fork: Tumbleweed unicrown fork, 135mm spacing
- Headset: Cane Creek 40
- Handlebar: Jones Bend H-Bar, 710mm
- Stem: Thomson
- Seatpost: Thomson layback
- Saddle: Brooks Cambium C17
- Grips: Ergon GC1
- Crank Arm Set: Surly OD
- Pedals: Chromag Scarab
- Bottom Bracket: Surly Enduro
- Chainring: Surly 32T stainless steel
- Chain: Sram 851
- Brakes: Avid BB7
- Brake Levers: Avid
- Rear Wheel: Rohloff Speedhub 32H, WTB Scraper 45mm
- Front Wheel: Son 28, 135mm spacing, WTB Scraper 45mm
- Tires: WTB Ranger Tough, 3.0in
Perhaps influenced by a few years working at Rivendell Bicycle Works, Jay also favors a high front end on his touring bikes. “Compared to the Krampus, the Prospector has lots of stack, lending itself to an upright riding position, which can often be hard to achieve for us leggy folk.” And in terms of tire size, the Plus format, with a rigid setup, made great sense for the vagaries of backcountry Andean exploration. Jay built up a set of 27.5+ wheels for the trip. “I’ve ridden 29+ for years but this time I tried 27.5+; my first impression was that this smaller wheel size felt like a nice, spritely change, more like the bikes I used to ride as a kid! Given the weight I was carrying, Plus size tires were also ideal for ripping down chunky descents and negotiating loose terrain. I sometimes ride one-handed when filming with a gimbal (the device that helps stabilize the camera during fast movement) and 3in tires definitely give me extra confidence. They allow me to be a bit more open-minded with the lines I choose, as well as taking the edge of rough terrain so I can concentrate on film work.”
The Prospector features an eccentric bottom bracket, to both tension the chain and fine-tune bottom bracket height for different wheel sizes. The lowest position is generally preferred for 29+ wheels, while the high post is suited to the smaller diameter of 27.5+ or 26in fat. But despite running 27.5+, Jay still favors a lower bottom bracket position for a more ‘in’ the bike feel, preferring to use riding technique rather than bottom bracket height to minimise pedal strike.
When I asked Jay if he’d make any changes to his setup, he could only think of a few modifications. Given the country’s near endless descents, many of which unravel for over 20 miles in length, upping his 160mm rotor to a 180mm version was one improvement. “Once, when I was filming one handed with the gimbal down a fast and rough descent, my brake completely faded out!” He’d also downsize from a 34T to a 32T chainring to help with the weight he was carrying, the challenges of high altitude riding, Peru’s potted dirt road conditions, and the torturous length of its climbs. “I run 710mm Jones Bend H-Bars but in hindsight, I’d have preferred something wider. In fact, I have a set of 800mm Oddity handlebars on order for the next trip, with a 30-degree sweep.”
A big thanks from Jay to the following companies for supporting his recent adventures: Loose Nuts Cycles in Atlanta for building his 27.5+ wheelset and Atlanta’s Toecutters for their general comraderie and their sweet water bottles.