Welcome back to our blog format, "Greppers of Gaia." Like mentioned earlier we are talking here with people we came across during our journey of building GREPP Cycling Stuff. Some are known, some are not known to us before we conduct the interview.
This time our interviewee was a stranger until the moment we exchanged direct messages on Instagram.
It's Jo Harrington and he ain't a average Jo!
Enjoy reading and learn who he is and what he has to share with you.
All photos in this article has been taken by Sumedh Vartak
In the beginning Jo was a early customer of GREPP and started to tag us in his posts. This was and still is very valuable for us as a young company to gain visibility and get the word out. Now he is a Grepper of Gaia and we are super happy we asked him to participate. Why?
Continue reading and you going to find out.
J: Who are you?
Jo: I'm Jo Harrington, grew up in the UK but travelled a fair bit around the globe with the bike.
J: What brings you to Sweden?
Jo: I moved to Sweden just over a year ago with my sambo who is studying a masters in Goteborg. As someone who has always sought out the wild places, I was drawn to Sweden by the endless forests and rolling gravel roads to nowhere.
J: Could you tell us some of your cycling destination around the globe?
Jo: I have cycled throughout a lot of Europe, and also in South America, Australia and New Zealand.
J: Tell us bit what you do on regular basis?
Jo: I am a designer by background and work with governments and charities in different countries to help them develop more democratic relationships with their citizens.
J: Race or party pace?
Jo: My vibe has always been steady but for distance. I've always loved a good multi-day bikepacking or touring adventure. However, I recently caught the gravel racing bug in Sweden and 2022 is the year when I'm going to explore the race potential of my legs. Gravel racing is a whole new world for me - I even fitted a power meter for the first time and have a full on heavy weight strength routine to get my power up.
J: I like that combination a lot. We are bit the same. How often do you lift for achieving your ideal race fitness and do you have ant recommendations for others who want to do similar?
Jo: Right now my big focus is on improving my core and my power. So I am lifting 2 times a week and doing core work most days. Core is my big focus at present due to recurring back issues and too much time spent sitting at a desk! So core is a combination of lots of rowing, yoga, pilates and also some weight training focusing on core. My plan is to get some help to really push my training to the next level from April with Leborne Coaching. They are based in the US, but can do virtual training and specialise in gravel.
J: Are you more of a type of rider who rides according to the GPS or more a free floater?
Jo: Having done most of my riding in the UK where there is so much private land and restrictions on riding off main roads, I rode the line of the GPS in Sweden for the first few months. Then I grew to understand that here you can follow your nose almost anywhere. So these days I head in a general direction and when I get tired, I look at the map and see where I am and then plot a way back home. Sweden's free and public access to land is such a remarkable gift and one that I keep learning about how to respectfully take advantage of.
J: That is interesting. I had no idea about the limitation of private land in the UK. Can you tell some restrictions or penalties which are in place which limits free riding?
Jo: This is a running joke in the UK and there is a movement called #nogravel which started on the forum LFGSS.com. A great deal of the UK is private land and so requires permission to cycle across it from the landowner. There is an amazing network of footpaths in the UK, but the majority of these do not allow cyclists and you can get a £500 fine - though the majority of the time is £50. There is also a real cultural issue with cycling on footpaths in the UK and you get lots of passive aggressive - or just aggressive! - comments walkers. Cycling is often permitted on Bridleways - but these are shared with horses and so can be hard going as the paths are in a bad condition and so get very muddy! There are an increasing amount of gravel/singletrack long distance routes opening up in the UK. The Great North Trail and the King Alfreds Way are two great routes, but can be challenging on a gravel bike and a more suited to a hard-tail mountain bike.
J: That's a hefty fine. In general sad to see that fines are given. It's riding a bike after all and if you respect the available path I don't understand why we can not interact in peace and overcome the matter of separating private land when acting responsible and with respect. I think the public access right here in the Nordics ("yleisön pääsy oikeus" or "allemansrätt") is a great example that it is possible to take down walls of private land restrictions. At least for a limited use case.
J: Describe what a bike stands for in you very own words.
Jo: There is a great Irish writer called Flan O'Brien who wrote about the often fine line between a person and their bike. He made up a world where police stop people riding their bikes too much, to avoid their atoms combining and the bikes becoming too like people (finding their way into our homes to be close to the fire) and people becoming too like bikes (having to lean up against walls to stay standing). I can relate to this story. I have found that bikes have given me so much in my life - joy, solace, adventure, community, friendship.
J: How does your ideal bike look like?
Jo: The optimal bike is the one that works to fulfil these things which I mentioned above. That does however mean that you might need 10 different bikes... and lets just say I have more than 10 bikes because of this.
J: How did you end up riding bikes the way you do it today?
Jo: Bikes have always been the way I get around. Much of the early days was commuting on old racing bikes in London smog, but I quickly began to adapt my rides for bigger tyres and swept back bars to take on bumpier terrain. The more off-the-beaten-track I can go, the happier I feel - be that a path by a river or a slice of long distance singletrack.
J: Is this also what motivates you about riding your bike(s)?
Jo: To be honest, I have a pretty complex relationship to riding my bike. Sometimes I need to just get out there and push myself and work my body hard. Sometimes it's less about the body and more about giving my head the space to work things out. Cycling for me is often the best form of therapy. When things get tough in life, the saddle is the first place I look to for answers.
J: I'm getting bit emotional on the next one. That sounds like you had experienced some "bursting into tears while riding" moments when clearing off your mind. I had these and found them quite powerful. If you had any, can you describe the surroundings and situation of such if you remember a particular moment?
Jo: I think we can spend a great deal of our lives avoiding our feelings and for me the bike is a place where these are sometimes just let out. I remember riding at night in the warm rain by a river in eastern Australia. There was a steep climb and I remember feeling like every push of my legs was allowing me to push out feelings and grief that I had kept hidden away for months and even years. I was heaving with tears that mixed with the warm rain already running down my face. At the time in my life crying wasn't something I was very good at allowing myself to do, so it was really only the bike that allowed me such a space of vulnerability I couldn't find elsewhere. But it doesn't have to be as intense as that, sometimes an evening spin around the woods near Goteborg can allow me to cycle through my feelings - from processing anger, to eruptions of euphoria to a deep sense of calm - all in 30 minutes of woodland gravel and 48c tyres.
J: Do you belong to a local cycling group or have a riding community where you live?
Jo: I have always had a community of people around cycling. In London I set up a project called the Union Cycle Works with some friends in an old railway arch where we offered a weekly open bike kitchen and got funding to train homeless and out of work guys to become bike mechanics. It was brilliant having this kind of community around cycling and I miss it. I have been trying to build a new community in Sweden since I moved here. I have a few great friends that I ride with now and then, but I'm still looking for a group that is up for some long distance party pace in the forests. It's a strange shape of riding as it falls between the roadies and the MTBers.
J: Brilliant project. A true contribution to the local community. What made the project come to an end?
Jo: We had big plans for the project's future, but struggled to find a way to make it sustainable after we lost our workshop to property developers. All of us who ran the workshop had full time work and so finding a way to make it work financially was hard. However, we all felt that it had a great 3-4 years and there is something to be said about projects that don't have to be long-term and don't have to grow to be seen as a success. Looking back I think we provided a bridge for the area from the history of the Witcomb cycles workshop which closed down just before we set up and today's thriving cycle workshops and bike cafes that are now there.
J: What's your current bike setup?
Jo: At present in Sweden I have 5 bikes...(there are also 5 more in storage back in the UK). My gravel grinder is a Fairlight Secan. It's a British bike, but I bought it here in Sweden. It's a beautiful 853 steel frame with clearance to run some Rene Herse Oracle Ridge 700x48 tyres on. It's fitted with a GRX 1x11 set up with WolfTooth 42T oval chainring and 11-42 rear, which I find is perfect for the Swedish gravel terrain. I am currently set up with some Salsa Cowchipper bars and of course, some Grepp Olivine bar tape. My other main bike is my titanium MTB/bikepacking rig. It's an older Titus mtb frame and I have changed it's set-up far too many times. Currently it is in full bikepacking rig mode - Whisky carbon MTB forks, mechanical TRP discs with Paul Component levers and a 1x10 XT set up with classic Middleburn cranks running a 30T cog. I have just fitted some wiiiiiiiide 54cm Surly Corner Bars which I have wrapped in some Grepp Ultimate Gray tape that feels super comfy. I have some big summer plans for this in the north of Sweden. My everyday commuter is my custom Brompton, which is great for the city. Then I have a Bullitt cargo bike which is still a work in progress. I build a custom box to carry my old dog Stanley around in and just fitted some Tumbleweed Persuader bars to give it a nice wide laid bike feel. Finally I have a crusty singlespeed MTB that I found in my apartments junkroom that I use in the snow.
J: Tell us you most random encounter on a ride?
Jo: I was touring across France one year and was riding along a beautiful river in some deep mist, when a huge Heron took off from the water beside me. It was about 2 meters from me and was flying exactly the same height as me and at the same speed. Every now and then it would turn its head on its long neck and look over at me and then keep flying. For about 15minutes - that felt like several hours - we flew together until it disappeared into the mist.
J: What was the longest ride you ever done?
I have done lots of multi-day tours in Europe and other parts of the world like New Zealand - many over 1000km. My longest day in the saddle was about 250km fully-loaded riding across Belgium in a horrible headwind to try and catch a ferry back to the UK - which I managed, but then found out they didn't allow bikes on the ferry!
J: So what happened when they told you about the bike policy on the ferry?
Jo: A really kind band from France tried to take me in the back of their van along with all their instruments, but they didn't allow us to do that either. So in the end I cycled back on myself 40km to a train station, took my bike to pieces and travelled all the way back to Brussells to get a train to London.
J: Oh wow. How unfair was that. Glad you found your way home despite the obstacles.
J: What do you think about GREPP Handlebar tapes and how did you hearing about us?
Jo: I have used cotton bar tape for a long time and when I saw GREPP bar tape early on it's development through some Instagram posts I was super excited by the idea of a tough, durable and most importantly re-usable tape. I love switching around my cockpit set-up, so having a tape I can unwrap and re-wrap around some new bars with ease is great. I also love the sustainability mindset that GREPP has. As a cyclist who loves to get into the wild places, I think that I hold a huge responsibility in the choices I make about my bike and kit. I think that GREPP's long-term, reusability and wash ability is one of the best ways to go about being responsible
J: Anything you whish us to look into?
Jo: I think Campandgoslow in the US is a great brand to follow as an inspiration for GREPP. I would love to see the tape being used in partnership with small bikepacking bag producers, like l'ateljé . I also plan to dye my grey tape after a while and so would love some vegetable dye kits for the tape so that I can create custom colours galore! Finally, I think the principles behind the brand could be taken into something more social, like some annual gravel grinders with a strong focus on practical sustainability.
We say thank you Jo for such a great interview. It was a true pleasure and we appreciate a lot you have been sharing very personal stories with us all. Stay awesome and we will for sure stay in touch.
If you want to follow Jo you can find him on Instagram.