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Bikepacking New York City with Todd Nisbet

Bikepacking New York City with Todd Nisbet

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Todd Nisbet (@concretetrails) is a cyclist from New York City who challenges every bikepacking cliché—where to ride, how to dress—all of it. We were happy to chat with Todd about community, personal growth, how he got into bikepacking, and how he merged his love of street apparel and cycling. Sit back, read slowly, and enjoy this one.

Recently I was mentioning to my wife how bikepacking culture is seemingly predictable across every site and medium. Cut to a video of two to four friends in their faux flannel cycling shirts, probably underbiked and over-bagged, a few drone shots of mountains, slow motion shots of aeropress coffee making… you know the video, because you have seen it a hundred times. What used to inspire me four or five years ago now makes me wince. I said there has to be something new, something fresh, something that challenges what bikepacking is, and—maybe more importantly—who it's for

Two days after that conversation, I stumbled across an Instagram account that offered up that freshness I was yearning for. Todd Nisbet (@concretetrails) is a bikepacker from New York City who challenges every cliché in bikepacking culture. From what he wears to where he rides—it all ladders up into something different, new and fresh—urban bikepacking. Having lived in Brooklyn for a short while, I have to admit the idea of bikepacking the city never even crossed my mind. Bikepacking is supposed to be out in the wild…right?!

I was excited when Todd agreed to chat, and was blown away by his style, personality and thoughtfulness. The best example of his character came through in a personal message he wrote to me. This was not intended to be published, but it's a great window into how Todd sees the world and is a great preface for his interview below.

Barry. I love when someone comes across my page or a photo of me with my bike and says, “This person is different”. I've always felt different. So it's emulated in the way I dress, talk, and of course, ride a bike. Not sure if it was my upbringing or life choices to this point. Probably just about everything I've encountered and everyone I've ever met. We are all a reflection of each other and the world around us.

I believe my cycling style is similar to surfing more than any other sport. I spot a ride I want, I wait for the right moment, and I just go for it. It's also important to remember that the ride will end, like a wave crashing and returning to the calm sea. I just flow through the challenges my bike and I take on together.

Onto the interview...

How did you get into cycling and bikepacking?

After living in New York City for over a decade, I got back into cycling in my mid-30s. At first, I was doing it to commute from my apartment to the office everyday; on a bike, life felt new again. Maybe because the last time I owned a bike I was a teenager. My bike made me feel young, vulnerable, adventurous, and open to new things.

After a year of commuting, I wanted a larger bike that could hold more gear. I ended up buying a new bike and adding a rear rack, then some huge Thule panniers and finally some Blackburn frame and front bags. I was ready for adventure and the first campsite I visited fully loaded with gear was in Brooklyn, NY early 2016. Many New Yorkers still don't know about that campsite, as it has been closed for a few years now, but it's still my favorite campsite to this day. Camp Gateway at Floyd Bennett Field, approximately 25-30 miles from my apartment doorstep. Riding a fully loaded bike through the city streets is such a thrilling experience for me. As much now as it was the first time.

What do you do when not on the bike?

Professionally, I work in the fashion business. I began my career in my early 20's, hungry for any opportunity that involved clothing, footwear, hats, socks, you name it. Even watches grabbed my attention, especially pocket watches. Over the years I've done enough to have a few portfolios that include photography, wardrobe styling, merchandising, marketing and sales. I'm a unique professional, just as I'm a unique person. We all are, but it's rare I come across someone as well versed in street fashion. That's the segment I've worked with the most.

What is it like cycling 100 miles in denim and boots?

Good question. I only biked 100 miles in denim and boots once during a race. I placed second to last, but it was one of my favorite rides of 2022 so far. I met so many people from the bikepacking community who, until that point, I had only conversed with on Instagram. Sounds strange, but Instagram is where I first connected with the bikepacking and adventure cycling community. After my first two trips, I started my new Instagram account Concrete Trails and the hashtag #nycbikepacking.

Being on my bike with bags full of gear, food and water is so different from my work in fashion, so I decided to keep it separate from my personal handle. Looking back it wasn't because of the way I looked doing it. It was because the activity possessed something so special to me. I felt so free to express myself again. First with two friends, biking and camping, then alone for solo trips as my riding progressed.

I believe this has to do with the reflection I brought up earlier. I had tapped into a community of adventurers all around the globe. Some riders would expose and express their personal struggles in a beautiful way. I related to it—or at least I wanted to… A part of me yearned to be able to share my life experiences so honestly and it took me time to feel safe.

It's been years and the two worlds are still merging together for me—fashion and adventure cycling. I still post more creatively and openly within my community of cyclists than any other group of people I know. I trust in them, like they trust in me. That's how we progress as a cycling community, but also as human beings. We can learn a lot through a bicycle, about ourselves and others.

What's your favorite route in New York?

From my apartment in Harlem to meet my two adventure cycling friends in Flushing Queens. That was back in 2016-2017. I would take the West side path downtown because we would make moves early, then right across town around 59th Street. I don't ever remember my chosen route across town being that bike friendly. I would just dive into traffic, sometimes angry, but with excitement, then exploding to smiles and laughs. Once we grouped in Flushing, somehow the plan would come together spontaneously. It wasn't a long ride from there, another 14 miles to the campsite, with a lot of more laughs about what we were doing. It was so different early on that it felt mischievous. Plus there were less bike lanes throughout NYC back then. I would see waterways and nature that I had never seen previously throughout Queens and Brooklyn especially.

todd at sunset

Are there any special considerations when planning a bikepacking trip in New York?

My suggestion would be to rely on the local shops for planned rides early on. There are some great bike shops to check out, so I'll drop a few names. 718 Cyclery is the Bikepacking institution. They've put on for the NYC community for over a decade and continue to do so with free classes at a local cafe, and they also host a multitude of short to longer distance tours. Sun & Air is an amazing shop in Williamsburg with great knowledge of the culture too. The newest and most extravagant of bicycle shops is Eighth Hour Studio in Green Point. They match where I envisioned the sport being years back to the present day. I recently attended a hosted ride with them from Washington Heights to Upstate New York. It was challenging, which made it a great experience on a hot summer day. I was drinking slurpees and had a little difficulty climbing some steep hills during the heatwave. I want to say Thank you to the shop, ride leaders/guides, and the riders who I met. I also want to say Thank you to the community of all the bike shops and riders that have supported me over the years.

Tell us about your setup. What do you ride and how do you set up your rig?

Currently I have two bikes: a Crust Bombora, all steel frame and fork—this one's my first choice because it's new to me. The dusty lavender color caught my eye, but it's also one of the top-rated gravel bikes to check out. I'd recommend Crust Bikes not just for frames, but also for many components and of course some cycling fashion. One of the owners designs a fashion collection named Casa Verde that is definitely worth your canadian currency. My second bike is a Raleigh Willard 2, all aluminum frame and fork. It's all dark green so I styled it in full camouflage and even had olive green tires on it originally.

I keep a lot of options with me for bags and accessories, tools and camping gear. The more you adventure by bicycle, the more comfortable you become. I've realized that most times, less is more; but I still always carry first aid and wardrobe options along on my rides.

How do people react to you?

Overall, I'd say I stand out in some group cycling settings. NYC has a huge bike messenger and commuter culture, so you'll see plenty of people in casual and functional attire. Even biking in Timberland boots is a normal thing to see occasionally. However, Timberland boots hadn't been seen at a gravel race before I showed up at the Mid-South Gravel event this past April. I was also showcasing a new denim pant style from Stan Ray USA, a heritage workwear brand that I thought complimented the work boots and the colors of my bike. The bike was a birthday gift to myself and I put in a lot of work to get it. So the workwear statement was appropriate for that reason also. There's usually meaning behind what I wear.

There's a mini “Ultra Endurance Race” in Texas called the East Texas Showdown that I've attended two seasons in a row. The community in Texas was super welcoming to me which surprised me at first. For the most part, the cycling community has always welcomed me throughout the country.

You seem to be on the road, what's happening?

As of mid last year, I've been back and forth to Texas. I work in fashion with a heritage workwear brand called Stan Ray USA. The brand's original sewing factory is here in Texas and still family owned and operated, which is a relief from corporate fashion. I ride in just about everything they currently make and have manufactured over the years. When you have a sewing factory that's 50 years old, there are plenty of vintage garments to experiment with. I've tested all types of current and vintage styles to cycle in. Stan Ray USA is the best in American made workwear and I'm happy to be a part of their team.

What is Todd and Concrete Trails' future?

More cycling trips, building and becoming a bigger part of the community. Expanding to new wardrobe options, more intense riding experiences, and meeting new cyclists in various cities.

I have a project with an artist partner in Arizona, called Concrete Revolt. We started by designing woven patches and bandanas to adorn your bicycle and/or clothing. The project is part fundraiser for Bikepacking Roots, for whom we raised $1,200. Bikepacking Roots is the only non-profit strictly focused on Bikepacking. They create diversity in the sport with a grant program, route building initiatives, you name it. I love them, so give them a follow too.

Concrete Revolt will continue to release projects with our own goal of community, fashion, and an intention to reconnect with nature and evolve as human beings. The website will be up soon with a second project, “Wave of the Tiger”.

Wrapping Up

Chatting with Todd was more than a pleasure and has raised some big ideas for me:

The idea that bikepacking is much larger than its clichés of mountains and aeropresses, and that it can also happen in urban landscapes as populous as New York City.

The idea that there is, in fact, a huge community of people around the world with different interests and backgrounds all connecting over something as simple as putting stuff in a bike bag and finding some adventure.

The idea that seemingly disparate cultures—like street fashion and off-road cycling—can converge into something that feels completely new and exciting.

There are a ton of people out there who think of cycling in one dimension. Admittedly, maybe my own views of cycling and bikepacking are too narrow. Todd's ideas, style and ethos have inspired me to think differently for my next challenge—and whatever that might be, I can't wait. 🤟

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