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  • innovation-museum-brennan
    innovation-museum-brennan-wertz

    Brennan Wertz is a professional gravel cyclist from San Francisco. He is known not just for his strength (victories at Huffmaster Hopper, Sea Otter Gravel Race and UCI Highlands Gravel Classic this season) but also his particularly discerning and refined choice of high performance cycling equipment; most notably his decision to race on custom-built Mosaic titanium bicycle frames. We caught up with him for our new feature “Innovation Museum”, dedicated to the cataloguing of history of innovation in high performance cycling equipment.

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    Hey Brennan!
    Hey guys!

    What is your first memory of making an upgrade to your equipment as an elite athlete?

    Well, before becoming a professional cyclist I had a career as a rower. I rowed all through high school and college, rowed for the national team and was even World Champion in 2018. So my first experiences with technical performance equipment came from there. And the very first memory of making an “upgrade” to my equipment comes from that time. Basically as a junior I really, really, wanted a pair of Oakleys. So I decided to save up my pocketmoney and after saving for quite some time, I finally managed to buy a pair. When I finally put them on I was like “right well they are more expensive than other models but wow you can really feel the difference when you use them.”

    It was as a rower that I also really got into technical clothing. At the end of races we would often trade jerseys with other National Teams and it was always so cool to check out what the other rowers had been using, you’d get the Australian jersey in your hands and “oh wow what a cool ultralight material these guys are using, this would be perfect for summer” and so on. So my interest in technical fabrics was really first nourished by those experiences…

    When is the first time you really remember “feeling the difference” between one piece of cycling equipment and another? What was the equipment?

    So I’m really lucky and have often been able to put all the coolest upgrades on my bike, but if I was to think of just one moment and bike that really stood out it would have to be the bike I used for Unbound in 2021. It was the first time I’d ridden a Mosaic with just the full everything CeramicSpeed bearings, deep Enve wheels, and a fully custom titanium frame. I just remember getting on the bike and immediately feeling the difference, even just going down the block out of the shop. The bike was so smooth and riding it felt almost effortless. I could feel the smoothness of the bearings, the aerodynamics of the wheels and the responsiveness of the frame

    Could you explain your attitude to choosing equipment for training and racing? Do you have a specific philosophy or a specific (even unusual) set of criteria that you like your equipment to fulfill?

    I worked at Above Category for one year in 2021 and was thrown into the deep end of niche, high performance cycling products at that shop. I quickly learned lots about the industry from the owner Chad, the mechanic Robert, and other employees. This experience enabled me to quickly develop an appreciation not just of high end products but above all high performance ones (it’s an important distinction). That year I had the chance to ride some really incredible products, first just because they were in the shop and I was encouraged to try them, like for example I can remember Chad lending me his Lightweight wheels and me going out with them and thinking “oh cool you can really the difference here”. And then in time because of my weight and height which mean I put a lot of power down, I became the tester for Above Category so any time a new set of bearings or chain wax or bib shorts came in I’d be out trying them out.

    As I transitioned out of testing into a career as a bike racer this research into high performance became even more important. I dedicate so much time to getting nutrition, training, recovery and rest right that I need to dedicate the same energy to my equipment. It’s another pillar of success…

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    Could you please explain to us how your bike is setup for Unbound? We are particularly interested in any “after market” modifications and upgrades that have been made to reflect your needs and philosophy or anything that could be considered as going “against the grain” of popular belief or against “stock builds” offered by the industry.

    So I have the Sram wireless mullet transition set up with the MTB derailleur and cassette but with road shifters. Then I have added two further sets of wireless blip shifters, one on the underside of the tops of my bars and the other in the drops. I’ve got a new SRM prototype crank made for me by Ulli Schroeder. Full Ceramic Speed everything. I have ENVE wheels that are handbuilt for me by Above Category in California which is a detail which I find is very important because of the way I can customize my choice of spokes for performance reasons but also the colour: this time polished metal to match my Chris King headset and also my crank…

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    Following up on the last question one of the things that most distinguishes you from other riders at your level in terms of equipment is your choice to ride a titanium frame, manufactured for you in Colorado. What do you like about this material relative to others such a steel or carbon? Why do you continue to return to this material?

    So I think that there are immense benefits to titanium and having a custom frame that are often overlooked. To give you an example: the first ever frame I had built for me by Mosaic was a full prototype project where we just wanted to create the stiffest possible bike. To do this, amongst other things, they took their normal downtube and used it as a toptube then sourced an extra oversized downtube and honestly it was the stiffest bike I’d ever ridden. From that bike we dialed things back a bit and I began understanding that a custom bike is not just about custom fit and paint/graphics but about custom tubing too and being able to dial the bike into a very specific purpose and use. So I am able throughout the season to ride several subtly different frames for different disciplines and this has a very specific performance advantage.

    Of course there are also downsides: nobody can deny that a round tube is not the most aero tube shape BUT what I do think the material itself offers in compensation is: durability. I am traveling with my bikes all the time and I know that I can just throw them into a bag and nothing will happen to them. Also we are racing these bikes and in races shit happens. We crash, rocks go flying. And I know that I can crash the bike and just pick it up and keep riding. The frame itself is rock-solid.

    Also a last consideration: I’m 90kg and almost 2 metres tall. I don’t have an average build and I struggle to find stock products that fit me. So partners like Mosaic or Q36.5 who are able to make me custom gear are really important.

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    What are the three key characteristics you look for in your equipment (bike and apparel)?​

    High performance (results are currency), durability (it’s a long season), “sexiness”.

    What was the first Q36.5 garment you tried? How would you describe it? Could you “feel the difference”?​

    The Dottore bib shorts in navy and the Gregarius jersey (then known as the R2). It was my first or second day at work at Above Category and Chad gave me the Q36.5 custom shop jersey and the Dottore bib shorts and said let’s go for a ride together! I was just blown away. Like the Mosaic bike from 2021 I already mentioned, the sensation was completely different, already from the very first pedal strokes.

    What exactly was this different feeling?

    It was two-fold. The first thing I noticed was how snug, tight, and supportive of the muscles the shorts were. The second thing I noticed was how, despite this snug feeling, it almost as if there was nothing there while riding. In fact for me with apparel the mark of success is often that you don’t even need to think about what you have on. Chances are if you’re thinking about your apparel it’s because there’s something wrong, some rubbing, some discomfort… After you put on a Q36.5 product you truly don’t need to think about it and can focus fully on enjoying the ride or making the most of the training session.

    How important is thermoregulation in your search for extra performance?

    Absolutely crucial. I have trained with the CORE body temperature sensor [that Q36.5 also uses to test its products]  for well over a year now to better utilize heat adaption training. This is very important for me because I live on the coast where the climate is quite temperate whilst a lot of the important races in my calendar are in the middle of the US where it can be really hot and racing in the heat is an area where I often struggle. For this reason have apparel that I can choose specifically for different climate conditions such as the Cima bib shorts and shoes. These cutting edge products offer marginal temperature management gains that make a big difference in the long run. My favorite product for the hot races are the Clima bib shorts. I also often use them when I am training a bit further inland in California for specific heat training sessions to better prepare for races with extreme temperatures. When wearing these Clima bib shorts while on the bike, I’ll be sweating like crazy but I still always feel dry. For me this is such an amazing proof of concept. At the end of the ride I’ll look down and my shorts will be caked in salt but at the same time totally dry. When I see this, I know the product is working with me to help me get the absolute most out of myself.

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    What Q36.5 equipment are you using this season for training and racing? Could you please talk us through a few of your favourite items? We are particularly interested in the unexpected favourites, the little details or items that one falls in love with.

    In terms of unexpected favourites I have to mention two products: firstly the baselayers which are incredible item, often overlooked by a lot of riders but probably the most item of all, secondly your shoe covers which might not be the “coolest” product in my wardrobe but are just truly incredible in terms of functionality.

    This season I’ve also been having a lot of fun with aero goodies you’ve been sending over. My skinsuits, aero baselayers and also the new chamois technology you’ve just launched.
    Right now my focus is summer gear and heat management but I wouldn’t be here without the winter training so the I really rely heavily on the winter gear to be able train all year round, to ride 5-6 hours even in filthy weather and stay safe and healthy. And from that point of view my go to is really the Hybrid Que jersey and Essential vest. By varying my baselayer going from the 0 to the 4 those items cover my whole temperature range. From subzero (with the Baselayer 4 on) to 5-20°C rides with the 1 or 2.

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    Do you have a technological “mentor”? Somebody with an extra special equipment knowledge who tutors you to be smarter about what equipment you use, clothing you wear, food you eat? What is the most important lesson you received from this mentor?

    Yes certainly! This person has to be Chad Nordwall, the owner of Above Category. Chad has been in the industry for so long, while training seriously for so many years. Throughout my time working at Above Category and racing for them as a sponsored Professional Cyclist, Chad has tought me the process of testing equipment in a way that is critical and analytical with the objective of understanding one thing: whether it works for you or not.

    Images: Above Category, Enve Composites, Jim Merithew, Brennan Wertz

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