BEING PRO: BRANDON BAKER
Team: SDG-Monster Hydro
Hometown: Santa Barbara, California
We first heard your name after you won the Mammoth Gran Fondo in 2016. You’re now a sponsored rider by Niner and a part of the SDG-Monster Hydro gravel team. How’d you get started riding bikes?
I raced pro motocross prior to racing bikes. I accumulated countless broken bones and too many concussions that all really took a toll on my health, both physically and mentally. I retired in 2013 and had no real idea what I wanted to do. I made the decision to go back to school and found a huge interest in human and sport physiology while simultaneously taking up cycling more. I had ridden a small amount for cross-training while racing motocross, and I found it as an exceptional way to clear my head and get a similar euphoric feeling as moto had brought to my life.
The transition was pretty fluid. I was recovering from a broken neck, skull and bi-lateral pelvic fractures—the trigger for my exit in the sport. As soon as I was cleared to exercise, I rode my bike. I couldn’t return to moto for a long time, so I just started riding farther in the rehab process.
In 2016 I started racing road. I went from Cat. 5 to Cat. 1 that year. The results were brought on by a huge amount of guidance from experienced riders and friends, lots of luck, and I suppose my pain tolerance was a bit elevated also. I raced road with a touch of cyclocross for the first few years but became a bit burnt out on the road scene and found myself searching for something fresh. That’s when David Sheek and Amanda Nauman asked me if I wanted to join their gravel team. My eyes were immediately opened to the wonderful scene of gravel, and I am so grateful for that. This also gave me more excuses to have more bikes, and I’m a big fan of that!
What are some races you’re targeting for this season?
Mid-South was a big goal to start the season. The world just about came to a stop when we were there in 2020, so it was refreshing being back there. But, at this point, in the season, my list includes the Crusher in the Tushar, Mammoth Tuff and the Hardman Classic. I try to keep a good blend of higher-profile events with plenty of local or smaller races sprinkled in to keep it fun and engaging.
You had a solid result early this year at the Rock Cobbler. What separates being successful at that event from a traditional gravel race?
The big things that stand out are bike setup and nutrition, and looking at the temp change for the day. I ran the biggest tires I have this year and wide gearing. Cobbler is the perfect blend of racing and having fun. The pointy end was full gas from essentially the start. The splits happened pretty quick, and it was clear right away who had a good setup. Gearing for the crazy-steep pitches in the first two hours and proper tires to be comfortable and trusting for descending on the long singletrack lines were key. Nutrition is obviously important in any race. However, Sam (the event coordinator) at Cobbler is a master at making the course and aid stations in non-predictable fashion. Don’t get me wrong, I love the element of having to make a few plans for the day, knowing something out of control may happen. But, I can’t overstate how having a good plan for food and water is so key. I had a bit more food in between aids for the day and found myself alone for much of the race. So, the plan worked well.
Tell us about Gibraltar Training Elements and how it came to be. What is one general strength-training exercise you think is most beneficial for cyclists looking to improve their performance on the bike?
Gibraltar Training Elements, simply put, is endurance sports coaching primarily for cyclists and runners. I had previously worked at a sports performance facility called The LAB. In my few years of being on the team there, I developed into one of the strength and conditioning trainers, lead bio-mechanist and endurance assessment coordinator.
I truly learned more than I could have sought out from this place. Additionally, with years of motocross, cycling and coaching experience, I had what I needed to jump-start my business. My passion is in endurance sports, and I love blending a given sport, resistance training and the psychology it takes to achieve results for the athlete in whatever way that may look for them.
I’ll give you two exercises that are simple and effective:
1. Weighted split squat with a pause at the bottom—8–10 reps, 2–4 sets. Hold that pause at the end and bottom for 10 to 15 seconds.
2. Plank position. Protract and retract from the shoulders 15–20 reps, 2–3 sets. Shoulders and scapulas are so neglected in cycling and running. These are fantastic for adding in good, healthy work for the shoulders.
What makes riding in Mammoth so special for you? What is Mammoth Tuff, and what can someone expect from the Mammoth Tuff camps?
I honestly could go on forever about Mammoth or the greater Mono and Inyo counties. The landscape, the elevation changes, the weather changes, the varying textures of the dirt, the countless climbs—it goes on. To summarize it, it’s the beauty of the land and the most simplistic transition from road to dirt. I love being able to look in any direction and be in complete awe, while also having the versatility of riding both epic road or gravel routes so easily from either Mammoth or Bishop.
Mammoth Tuff is going to be an epic, truly tough course. And like I mentioned above, beauty follows the course everywhere. Many of these roads are not well-known or -ridden. Race founders David Sheek and Amanda Nauman want to share our epic training grounds with the world, and that is how Mammoth Tuff came to be.
Of course, training and racing in the area can be different and having success on gravel is different from road, and that is where Tuff camps come in. We build these camps to help and encourage others to explore the gravel scene, while providing our learned experience to these campers to help bring their own success to their gravel campaign. We operate the camp out of Bishop with tons of great routes. Plenty of these are a part of the Mammoth Tuff race route. We help athletes learn navigational skills in conjunction with race routes and planning. There are nutrition talks to ask questions and give insight on how we plan for races and inevitable issues that may cause the ride or race to take longer than expected. There’s also coaching on the bike for terrain skills and pacing strategies. Tuff camps are so much fun and bring great challenges that only serve to help anyone looking to ride or race gravel be successful.