Pepper’s basketpacking Tumbleweed Prospector
We catch up with Australia-based Pepper Cook and her basketpacking Tumbleweed Prospector. Whilst cresting the mountain passes of Peru, we ask her about solo tours, what she’s been doing to get women cycling, bikepacking verses road touring, and braids…
Last year, Pepper Cook flew in from hot, balmy, and distinctly low lying Australia, to launch herself straight into 5000m Andean passes on the rugged dirt roads of the Peru Divide. As a Tumbleweed sponsored rider, she was aboard a Prospector built up with 27.5+ wheels, a Rohloff Speedhub, a Wald 137, and a thrift store find basketbag…
Can you tell us a little about your cycling background?
I started out as a commuter and mountain biker back home in Colorado – everyone I know there skis or snowboards in the winter and mountain bikes in the summer! Eventually I realised if you start taking some camping stuff you can go farther away with no car… I had my first really big ride in Australia a few years ago from Brisbane to Melbourne, which took 30 days. Then last year I was introduced to bikepacking and ditched the panniers to hit the trails!
You’re half American, half Kiwi, but live in Oz. How did that happen?
My mom’s from New Zealand but I was born in Colorado, and I was flying back to New Zealand from an extended trip living in Cape Town, South Africa, when I was 24. While sitting in the airport in Sydney on a layover, I realised that because I didn’t check any bags, I could just walk out of the airport and have a look around Australia instead of flying straight back to New Zealand… so I got off and now I’ve been living, working and riding in Australia for four years somehow!
We’ve read about your women’s rides and shop S240s, helping people get into riding, bikepacking and touring. Can you tell us more about them?
I have the best job ever – I work at a specialty bikepacking/biketouring/commuting shop in Melbourne called Commuter Cycles. All of our customers are absolute legends and love adventuring by bike, and we host fun campout rides every now. We also have really cool slideshow nights in the shop when someone goes on a big tour and takes rad photos! The Mud Mermaids was a recent concept because I realised there are lots of people out there who don’t feel like they have a ride they can go on – there are plenty of fast rides dominated by dudes, so I thought I could create a safe space where women, non-binary, and anyone who’s not a dude could come and try a group ride.
Whether exploring Australia or riding around Iceland, it seems like many of your trips are solo rides. Any reason? Do you have any solo touring advice for other women?
I started riding big solo tours because sometimes it’s hard to get people to commit to a camping ride and I felt that if I didn’t just jump straight in, I’d end up waiting forever for someone to come along! I also love solo touring as a woman because literally every time I’ve planned a tour, I’ve had a lot of people tell me how it’s so dangerous for women to go alone. I don’t think it’s any more dangerous for women than men, and every time I come back from a tour I feel like I’ve shown people that I can do it too – and so can any other woman who wants to! My best advice to other women is don’t be afraid and use your gut. Statistically speaking it’s way more dangerous in the city than out on a trail on your own – it’s just a numbers game!
My main big rides have been around Iceland for 30 days including the Westfjords, Brisbane to Melbourne for 30 days, a 9-day mountain bike ride through the Vic Alps, all solo, and an 8 day ride from Melbourne to Adelaide on the Great Ocean Road with another rider. Then a route nearly every Tuesday Wednesday.
Road touring or bikepacking… any preferences?
Coming from a super traditional road touring background I’d have to say I’m 100% converted to the bikepacking life, for so many reasons. I find it’s way more fun and more of an adventure sticking to dirt – no traffic, more animals, and the campsites have fewer people. Plus you get to rip some fun technical stuff instead of slogging along next to cars in a straight line for hours and hours. I also love the weight distribution while using frame bags, baskets and saddle packs. Not to mention the weight saved when you get rid of the racks!
At 6ft tall, you cut quite the look during your recent Peru trip… What did the Peruvian women make of you? Can you talk us through your distinctive riding attire?
I’m really into the idea of normalising cycling, especially for women… so I enjoy riding in normal funky camp clothes as much as possible. I always ride in denim shorts, a t-shirt and a flannel on top, then either sandals or mountain bike shoes with crazy patterned socks. People always ask how I can stand to ride without knicks and if you must know, I’ve spent several years cultivating some rock hard butt calluses… and I also ride on a super comfy, well-weathered Brooks B17.
I got some hilarious looks in Peru I think mostly because of my height – most of the ladies we encountered there barely came up to my shoulder or below and I had to duck down through most the doorways! I also wore my signature braids which ended up being the most popular hairstyle for the Peruvian ladies, so even though there was quite a language barrier I often instantly bonded over our matchy hairdos.
How do you prepare for a tour?
I don’t really like to “train” for a tour, but I’m lucky to live in a city that’s completely chock full of bike trails, so I ride both ways to work 5 days a week. I also have Tuesday/Wednesday off as my “weekend” and every week I use my two days off to go on an overnighter somewhere to camp by myself. I also lead some of the shop campouts/overnighter rides which leave straight from work some Saturday evenings, back on Sunday evening. Between all of that – around 200kms a week – I usually end up in decent enough shape when a tour pops up!
I reckon looking back the best thing I could have done to prepare for the Peru trip would have been to learn some basic Spanish, but I agreed to the trip so quickly I didn’t have much time! Luckily enough one of the other riders spoke pretty great Spanish, so between their help and just trying to be as friendly and creative/silly as possible with the pantomimes, I managed to break the ice and scrape by.
Any broad messages you’d like to share, or particular words of thanks you’d like to send out?
If you’re thinking about getting into biketouring or bikepacking but you’re nervous to go alone, don’t be! Just get out there on an overnighter and I promise you’ll get hooked. I also want to thank my mom for being a total badass adventure buddy support system – no matter what happens, she’s always got good advice and she never gets mad or panics. When I was freezing on a 30 day solo ride around Iceland and had windburnt half my face off last year, she advised Blistex and putting a black trash bag on the outside of my sleeping bag, to stay warmer at night. When I was literally shitting my pants for days in Peru, she told me to spit on the toilet paper so I didn’t cause more damage. She’s a bit of a legend. Finally, massive thanks to Daniel from Tumbleweed Bikes for believing in me and getting me on what is hands down the coolest bike I’ve ever ridden.
Lastly, followers of your popular Instagram feed will be all too familiar with your love of puns. Tell us more…
Even though I’ve spent years working in bike shops around the world, I actually have a degree in English Literature. I’ve always loved finding ways to play with language and puns are one fun way to use your noodle, and annoy coworkers!
BIKE BUILD HIGHLIGHTS
- Frame and Fork: Large Prospector Sandglow (size L)
- Headset: Cane Creek 40 headset
- Crank Arm Set: Shimano XT M780 crankset with 32t single speed chainring
- Handlebar: Soma Osprey handlebar
- Stem: Kalloy
- Seatpost: Kalloy
- Saddle: Brooks B17
- Grips: Ergon GC1
- Pedals: Shimano SPD
- Chain: Shimano HG93 chain
- Shifter: Rohloff
- Brakes: Avid BB7S with Avid Speeddial 7 leverss
- Front hub: Surly SS disc front hub
- Rear hub: Rohloff Speedhub 500/14(16 tooth cog)
- Rims/tires: WTB Scraper i45/Ranger Tough 27.5×3.0”
Find out more about Pepper’s adventures by following her @bookbikebrew on Instagram.