Mr Bikepacking

Presenting Maxime Barat

The French Divide 2021 is fast approaching and this year Musette is proud to sponsor the local legend Maxime Barat. We had the pleasure of building him a hard-as-nails Brother Cycles Big Bro for the race. So with only a few weeks to go before La French begins we thought we would ask Maxime to introduce himself.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into cycling?

I spent my adolescence in Apt in the Vaucluse, close to the Luberon. A huge sunlit playground that I go back to every summer to cycle in and each time I am in awe.

In 2014, I discovered travelling by bike during a six month trip to Central Asia. It was a revelation. The freedom to travel the globe with the strength of my calf muscles alone and the deep impressions of cultures crossed, left me with long lasting memories. Since then, my bicycle has never left my side. An everyday mode of transport, a means to head out on adventures and even a competition machine. I practice cycling in all its forms. Over time, my bikes and their cargo got lighter. Goodbye luggage rack, hello bikepacking and ultra long distance races.

What was your first big trip?

In 2014, my partner Sabrina and I spent six months on bikes discovering Central Asia. From Uzbekistan to China via Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, we went from the desert to the mountains on tracks over 4000m above sea level. 7000km of pure happiness discovering cultures, people and food. Difficult to summarize this trip in a few lines, if you want to know more have a look at the blog we made:

After this trip I realized that the weight of our bikes had hindered us. I started to research long distance cycling and discovered the Transcontinentale Race. I immediately wanted to participate but my application was refused in 2016. So I decided to ride from Nice to Slovenia to test myself, taking as many Alpine mountain passes as possible. A road trip of 4000km and 100000m of elevation gain in three weeks on roads with breathtaking views. I also returned via the Alps to the Vosges where a cat ran out across my path at 11pm while I was going 50 kilometers per hour downhill. A broken collarbone ended the trip but I was left with great memories all the same and a soft spot for the Maritime Alps and the Dolomites in Italy.

What experience do you have in ultra endurance cycling ?

In 2017, I successfully entered the Transcontinental Race starting in Grammont, Belgium. An long-distance orienteering race adapted to cycling across Europe. The idea being to reach the finish, in Greece that year, passing through three checkpoints. Out of the 300 participants at the start, we were 80 at the finish and I came 40th in 13 days and 20 hours, despite food poisoning.

2018 saw me enter the French Divide for the first time. An all-terrain route covering 2200km (with 32000m elevation gain) between the Belgian border and the Basque country, to be completed in less than 15 days. When I turned up with my MR4 gravel bike the organizer Samuel Becuwe gave me a funny look but I finished in 9 days and 7 hours, the best time on a gravel bike and third overall behind two mountain bikes.

In 2019, I entered the Baroudeuse Race, the overall distance was only 1150km but for this short distance there was still 35000 meters of elevation gain. Starting from Nice the route was very demanding and the heat suffocating! However I won the event in 5 days and 7 hours finishing 36 hours ahead of the person in second place.

Even if the Transcontinental Race is legendary, I enjoyed the French Divide and the Baroudeuse a lot more. I prefer riding long distances off-road because it’s less monotonous and I’m less worried about cars. But off-roading is very demanding because the body absorbs shocks and vibrations all day long. It is physically unforgiving. You also need to be more independent in terms of water and food because there is less to be found en route, but that’s what I like.

What have you been up to recently?

In 2020, after two months of confinement, I needed some fresh air. Rather than exhausting myself within a week on a bikepacking event, I went mountain biking for two months across France. A beautiful 4000km journey between Sarlat, Carcassonne, Valence, Nice, Strasbourg and finally Avignon where I was lucky enough to follow some of the most beautiful mountain biking routes in the country, solo and then also with my partner.

At the beginning of June 2021 I am once again heading off into the Alps. When you read this post, I will already have left on the paths between Arles and Nice to test this Big Bro on France’s southern tracks. The 29 × 2.6 tires are not for decoration! You can follow my trip on Facebook, Instagram and even Strava.

And this year, you have entered the French Divide again. What prompted you to ask Musette to build this Brother Cycles Big Bro for you?

For my second participation in the French Divide I was looking for sponsors with knowledge of bikepacking that would listen to my needs in order to build a solid and efficient bike for the task ahead. In addition to all this Musette also make very good coffee!

I chose the Big Bro because this frame was really 100% designed for bikepacking: the frame is not too sloping and can accommodate a large frame bag. There are screw points everywhere to put bottle holders etc. It also has sliding dropouts giving you the option to convert to single speed which is very practical since I ride without a derailleur in winter to conserve the transmission. For the tires, you can put 29 × 3.0 in front and 29 × 2.6 behind, which allows you to ride on rough trails without the need for suspension. And I think it is really beautiful in this color.

For the transmission and the brakes I trust Shimano and remain ever faithful to the 1×11 drivetrain which has proven itself and does not require a specific freehub body. A chainring of 32 teeth and 11-46 cassette. The wheels are TFPHC wide, aluminum wheels with novatec hubs that weigh only 1.7kgs. For the tires I am thinking of riding on 29 × 2.2 for the french divide. I am currently using 29 × 2.6 for the comfort.

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