Interview with GravelUp co-founder, Jean-Baptiste
You might know about Gravel Up, our concept and of course our bike expeditions, but do you know about the people behind the whole project and adventure?
GravelUp was born of passion, freedom and adventures with friends, which we’ve brought together for you in some of the most beautiful parts of Europe. Here’s an interview with Jean Baptiste Le Blan, one of the founders of GravelUp and a passionate cyclist to boot, as free-flowing as the singletracks* that take him towards adventure.
He didn’t know it at the time, but his love of sport and travel would lead him to cycling via triathlon, where he competed at the World Champs in Nice. It wasn’t the competitive environment that really got him going though, it was a thirst for adventure and the sense of freedom he could find when bike touring with the ultimate adventure tool, a gravel bike. So how did he end up here as a director of GravelUp and what gets him excited for more adventure?
- Hi Jean Baptiste, thanks for your time. Let’s get the formalities out of the way if we can?
JB: Of course, here’s a quick overview! I’m 42 and father of 2. I recently returned to France after ten years in Shanghai working in the hotel and corporate tech industry. Whilst there I managed quite a lot of exploring on backroads and beyond, and discovered some amazing places along the way. That just fed my passion for travel and cycling. Now I’m working full time with GravelUp.
- For you, when did this adventure begin? (which really resembles a bike trip with its peaks and challenges!)
JB: I wanted to develop the sense of a “real and authentic journey.” The idea started with me, but it was through my shared experiences of triathlon with Olivier and Aurélien that it started to take direction. It was at a race in Inner Mongolia that the seed was planted, that the three of us got together and GravelUp was actually born. And then somewhere along a path on a gravel bike we realised our shared passions needed to come together to create Gravel Up.
- And why GravelUp? The pleasure of the journey? A desire to share some of what you have experienced ?
JB: It’s exactly that, our driving force is to share the pure joy that riding can bring to life. Olivier was sold on my idea, and I really wanted to take the concept further than just bike trips with friends. The entrepreneurial adventure started here and Aurélien joined the team to help us take it further. The “Founders Trip” was our traverse of Corsica whichreinforced our team of three, our shared values and ideas. When everything gets a bit much we just go ride our bikes and chew the fat. That’s what helps us keep things in perspective and keep moving forwards.
- In the name GravelUp the gravel is self-explanatory, but can we ask why the Up?
JB: A gravel bike is the just best tool for a journey, for living and breathing cycling, for exploring and is total enjoyment. The Up is for the human side of sport, neither racing a clock nor against others, but seeing what you are capable of in every sense of the word. It’s to tune into yourself and see what you can do. Its the Up to head into the mountains and make it to the summit(s!) All our trips are based in a specific mountain range, and it’s these mountains that give us our challenge and our adventure.
- Tell us about the motto “Beyond Biking,” what does this mean to you?
JB: It’s very simply that riding a bike makes you happy. And GravelUp is more than just riding a bike, it’s meeting new people and discovering new places. So the idea is really to combine all these things with riding your bike, learning and sharing along the way.
- You put together the routes for all the trips. Why do you like doing this so much and how does planning a trip make you feel?
JB: I love maps and always have done, I can spend hours poring over them which comes from sailing as a child. On a bike, travelling, planning a route, it all kickstarts the trip and is essential to get the most out of it. I almost enjoy this more than the journey, uniting my love of travel, geography and maps.
- Quick fire questions “Up to you,” be as concise and honest as possible!
- Your best adventure?
Jb: That’s easy! My first big solo gravel bike trip. Across the Atlas mountains in Morocco, on my own and almost autonomous. Being so far from home and my family it was a real challenge. Riding a bike there is to meet incredible people and eat amazing food on a daily basis. Finding a bed for the night as I went, riding through heat, cold and every condition possible. it was intense!
- Your dream destination?
Jb: It has to be the Carpathian mountains! I’ve always dreamt of going there, and have friends who live there. With the war going on we’ve had to put this on pause as a destination but we’ll take our wheels there one day. We would love to put together an adventure there in the wildest mountain range left in Europe and have already found an incredible basecamp. We’re waiting to see how everything pans out.
- Your ideal gravel set up?
Jb: I like to travel as light as possible, so bike packing or day packing with everything but the kitchen sink, that’s something else. If we’re talking pure gravel I like a super light set up so I can go everywhere, and it makes hike a bike a lot more fun, opening up trails way off the beaten track. I ride fairly fat tyres to help on rougher terrain and I’ve got a small handlebar bag. Add a few snacks in my pockets and I’m ready for an adventure for a day or even two.
- Whats your most memorable bike trip or moment on a bike?
Jb: I remember this so clearly, a sunset in China. I was on a 5 day bike packing trip with a couple mates in a remote area and we were riding to stay with a friend who lived in the mountains. As we made it to the top of the last climb we were treated to the most incredible sunset. Being right at the end of our trip and arriving at a friends house made it all the more moving. I could have stayed there for hours, it was such an incredible experience. My best moment on a bike.
This experience has lead Jean Baptiste to offer you adventures that are much more than a bike trip. They will enable you to discover some magical places all thanks to your trusty gravel bike.
Comment s’entraîner pour une aventure gravel de plusieurs jours ?
Lorsqu'on envisage de partir pour une aventure à vélo de 3, 5 ou encore 7 jours, il est important de s'entraîner en amont pour être suffisamment prêt à relever le défi physique que cela représente. Passer plusieurs heures sur le gravel, même si ici on ne parle pas de performance ni de compétition, peut être difficile quand on n’a pas l’habitude.
Et vous, vous faites quoi pendant les ponts ?
2023 est une année assez exceptionnelle car elle vous permet de profiter de nombreux graaaands weekends ! Si vous optiez pour un weekend aventure de pure gravel dans les plus belles chaînes de montagnes avec GravelUp !