Brand Ambassador spotlight - Jamie Babcock #vanlife

March 31, 2020 / Athlete News

Early in 2020, Kenda Tire launched the Brand Ambassador program in an effort to support everyday athletes, tell their stories, and find ways to make sure that Kenda Tires are the best tires for all riders, no matter their background.  This is the first in a series of spotlights on those athletes and they tires they ride.

#vanlife in Colorado

#vanlife in Colorado

Jamie Babcock, 2018 12 Hours of Santos, credit https://www.vrphoto.net/

Jamie Babcock, 2018 12 Hours of Santos, credit https://www.vrphoto.net/

#vanlife

Going back to when I was a kid, I have been intrigued with being outdoors and camping.  Growing up in Ohio, we would travel and visit various campgrounds almost every weekend throughout summer.  As a family, the four of us would call our 24ft tow-behind camper ‘home’ for these 2-3 day excursions. As an adult, I continued this tradition, enjoying it as much at 25 years old, as I did when I was 10.  In time, my love of camping would come to tie into another passion of mine, mountain bike racing.  Instead of grabbing a hotel, over some race weekends I would pack my camping gear and setup at a local campground near the race venue. This was great, but the preparation and setup for camping every weekend took a big chunk of time and was cumbersome.

Between 2014-2016, the logistical challenges managing these trips came to a head.  I was travelling every weekend over the summer to cross country mountain bike races around the southeast of the United States.  Every 7 days I found myself in the same loop, preparing for the following weekend’s race.  Always with the similar routine:

·         Thursday: Research to find a hotel

·         Friday: Drive to the trail for pre-ride then back to the hotel

·         Saturday/Sunday: Race, ride, spend time with other racers

·         Sunday evening: Drive home

Week after week, and race after race this patterned continued.  At the end each season I was stunned to look back and see how much time I had invested, how any miles I was traveling, and the cost.  Nearly 4,400 miles of travel dedicated to racing; and when you factor in in the occasional hotel cost (not every race was camping compatible) as well as the driving cost, my racing travels were north of $5,000 each summer.

Ultimately, it was not the expense that was the motivating factor that led me to #vanlife.  I felt that I was missing experiencing more on these trips.  Call it FOMO or whatever, but I was traveling to these amazing places to ride my bike; areas that had hundreds of miles of mountain bike trails, historic, and unique landmarks around them.  It was difficult passing through these towns without the proper time to explore.

Ultimately, I knew there had to be a better solution.  One where I could stay and enjoy the destination while continuing with my day job once the Monday-Friday week started.  At the same time I was looking for my solution, I began to see a lot more vans appearing.  First, it was at the campgrounds, occasionally on the highways, and then they started to pop up at the races I was attending.  Some were basic, with open space in the rear for sleeping.  Others were more complex, they would have roof vents, solar panels, and a complete living area inside.  People were using them as miniature campers while travelling around.  Given my childhood (and adult) love of camping, I knew this was the route for me.  Wanting to get this right, I took a year to research and plan exactly what I was going to want and need.  Once my planning was complete, I decided to purchase a van and build it into a conversion camper van. 

One of the first races of 2017 was one of my favorites, the Pisgah Stage Race, a 5-day Stage Race held in the western part of North Carolina, about 3 hours from home.  Having raced it previously, I knew that some racers camped at a nearby campground throughout the week of the race. This event took place at a perfect time of the year to use as a goal completion date for the build.  After much consideration and research, the van I purchased was a 2015 Ram Promaster with 40,000 miles. The minor scratches and dings inside would be covered up perfectly with a build consisting of:

·         Room for 3 bikes

·         Lots of storage

·         Twin sized bed

·         Cooking area

·         110v and 12v electrical setup

Adding Insulation – 1” Polyiso Foam Board

Adding Insulation – 1” Polyiso Foam Board

Installing Panels and Building the Bed Frame

Installing Panels and Building the Bed Frame

Upon getting the van home, the project was quickly underway!  Each week was a new phase of the build out, insulation, wood framing, and electrical, just to name a few of the largest tasks.  After countless trips to Home Depot, Amazon Deliveries, and time spent learning about each aspect of the build, the van was complete!

Electrical

Electrical

Kitchen

Kitchen

Two Fantastic Fans and one 100-watt Solar Panel

Two Fantastic Fans and one 100-watt Solar Panel

The Final Product

The Final Product

Rear Window Sticker with Sponsors

Rear Window Sticker with Sponsors

Travelling, Racing, and Enjoying Weekend Life on the Road

 Over the course of 2017, living in the van consisted mostly of travelling to and from races on the weekends. I raced a full Cross Country season on the east coast that year. Still working my M-F job, the weekends were short, but I was able to have most modern conveniences and everything I needed in the van without having to pack and un-pack every Sunday night.  It was great being able to have the tools and parts necessary to fix any issue that occurred over the race weekend. Having the room to carry a separate set of wheels and spare Kenda Booster Pro tires eased my nerves of quickly having to change tire setups during the weekend. 2018 followed a similar plan as 2017. I traveled to 21 races that year and finished 1st overall in the South Eastern Regional Championship Series (SERC) Elite category. I also traveled to several races in Florida and raced XC Nationals in West Virginia.

2018 South Eastern Regional Championship Series – 1st Place Elite

2018 South Eastern Regional Championship Series – 1st Place Elite

Loaded van interior at 2018 XC Nationals – Snowshoe, WV

Loaded van interior at 2018 XC Nationals – Snowshoe, WV

New Job, Travelling West

At the conclusion of 2018, I was ready to enjoy travelling, racing, and exploring without the time-constraint of returning home for work on Monday. I left my government computer programming job to work full-time as a freelance software developer. This transition gave me the freedom to travel to more distant places and enjoy the destinations for longer. In 2019, I made several trips to Florida for early season races (12 Hours of Santos, Graham Swamp 360), road-tripped 24 hours one-way to Amarillo Texas for Cross Country Marathon Nationals, camped at 2 east-coast stage races (Pisgah Stage Race and Transylvania Epic), and had a long 3 month stay in Colorado for the Leadville 100.

Twin Lakes, Colorado

Twin Lakes, Colorado

2019 Pisgah Stage Race running the (29” Nevegal2 Pro), photo by Steve Barker, Icon Media​.

2019 Pisgah Stage Race running the (29” Nevegal2 Pro), photo by Steve Barker, Icon Media​.

2019 Leadville 100 (29” Booster Pro)

2019 Leadville 100 (29” Booster Pro)

Leadville, Colorado

Leadville, Colorado

Marion, North Carolina

Marion, North Carolina

Tires - Kenda

Life on the road over the past 3 years has been amazing. Setting a long-term plan and seeing it come into fruition has been extremely rewarding. So many people have helped along the way including the helping hands while building the van, the countless brilliant minds that offered van-build ideas, and the support that allows me to race a full season year after year. The team at Kenda has been a huge help over the last several years in providing that support. 2020 will be my 4th year running Kenda tires on all my bikes. After getting pressure and tire selection dialed in, I’ve put the Honey Badger Pro and Booster Pros to the test over many different terrains. When I started running the Booster Pros in 2019, I quickly realized they met all my requirements for the perfect XC tire. The SCT casing (Sidewall Casing Technology) and higher side knobs give me the confidence to focus on the race, instead of whether my tire selection will hold up. As my go-to tire, I’ve had success with the Boosters from the dry and loose environment in Colorado to the loamy and rain forest-like conditions in the Pisgah National Forest of Western North Carolina. I like a tire that I can trust and one where I’m familiar with how it will perform no matter what part of the United States that I’m in. Thanks to Roger, Alan, Ben, and AAron at Kenda for helping out in every way that they do. They helped suggest the best tire for my races and have been very knowledgeable over the years to answer any questions.  

2019 Georgia International Horse Park (29” Honey Badger Pro)

2019 Georgia International Horse Park (29” Honey Badger Pro)

2020 Uwharrie MTB Challenge (29” Booster Pro), photo by Steve Barker, Icon Media.

2020 Uwharrie MTB Challenge (29” Booster Pro), photo by Steve Barker, Icon Media.

To follow Jamie on his #vanlife adventures follow him on Strava and Instagram.