JUN 8, 2023
Rob Britton x Factor
Finding the love again
When racing stops being fun, it’s time to reevaluate what you’re doing. At least, that’s the conclusion Canadian Rob Britton came to when he was racing in Europe after COVID restrictions were lifted. “During COVID, I think a lot of things changed, for me personally and also the way road races happened in Europe. I mean, they stopped happening in the US altogether. You just don’t have road races over here,” Rob explained.
Rob had already had a long successful career marked by multiple victories at the Tour of Utah and Tour of the Gila as well as top placings at the Tour of California, Tour de Beauce and US Pro Challenge. But the life of a professional road racer can begin to feel a little too one dimensional. The level of commitment is like no other sport. There are no days off from being a pro. You always have to watch your diet, your weight, your sleep, your recovery.
“For sure, I have been doing this for a while now, and I had all these other things I wanted to do in cycling. In April or May 2021, I was like, I’m not loving this. So, I started planning this gravel idea,” Rob said. His resolve to retire from road racing was given an extra little shove by his immune system: “I was still 100% committed to my road job, but then I got shingles on my face, and I was like, screw this, this is my body telling me I need to do something different.”
“I reached out to Rob (Gitelis) once I was retired,” Rob explained. “Since the Lifetime Grand Prix was going to be half mountain bike races, I needed a mountain bike, and Factor was just releasing the LANDO XC and needed people to showcase it. I think I got one of the first off the production line.”
Even though Britton had been a pure roadie up to that point, his first season focusing on dirt racing went extremely well. It encouraged both Factor and Britton to build on the relationship and have him race the OSTRO Gravel and LANDO XC for 2023.
Doing things differently
Motivated by a desire to do lots of different types of cycling, Rob stepped back from the road and took on new challenges. “I was kinda throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. For instance, I went on a 10-day bikepacking trip through some of the most rugged terrain in Canada, into the heart of grizzly and mountain lion country,” he said. “This crazy trip that you would never do, and that was what I did to prepare for the Leadville 100. I mean, everyone else was doing altitude camps, and I’m hiking my bike through the Canadian backwoods. That’s not a normal thing to do.”
The fact that he was still able to take a top-10 at Leadville indicates that not only does Rob have a huge engine, but huge potential as well. Though Leadville favors road riders with big engines, it is still a mountain bike race that requires off-road skills.
Transitioning from road to dirt
Jumping from the road to gravel seems not that great a stretch, but full-on singletrack racing against the best mountain bikers in the world is another matter. “Before 2022, I was 100% a road racer; I had never done anything else,” Rob admitted. “I had ridden my gravel bike a lot, and it had become a bit of a passion. So when I stopped road racing, this transition to gravel was well thought out. It’s what I had planned to do for a while. The mountain bike thing just sort of happened because of the Lifetime Grand Prix.”
Knowing your physical limits is easy enough, but finding and improving technical abilities is an ever-present challenge. “I know how fast I can ride, but now that I am getting older, I am getting more nervous. I mean, I had one good crash last year, usually I don’t come off that often, but last year I crashed pretty hard. And it kinda shook me a bit. It’s like, oh yeah right, there are consequences to this. You can fall and hurt yourself,” Rob explained. “So that goes back to that I need to have the skillset that I can ride everything within the realm of the guys that I am racing against. I mean, people who have been riding mountain bikes their whole lives, it’s hard to bridge that gap. Actually, I’ve been riding with a technical advisor who can help to build confidence. Physically I can be at the front. But the technical stuff…”
Having the right bike, something you can feel confident riding is essential, especially when you’re on the rivet up against super tough competition. Rob’s LANDO XC helps give him the assurance he needs on the trails. “The Factor mountain bike is so incredible. They should get more credit than they do for the quality and progression of the LANDO XC,” Rob says.
“It’s such a good mountain bike. And I have ridden a lot. It’s so progressive. I mean, the geometry is great. I ride it here on these technical west coast trails. It’s an XC full suspension racing bike that can get down to 23 pounds. That’s crazy. But yet you can rip that thing on the same trails that typically need a dedicated trail bike. It’s not the typical road brand mountain bike with some old school geometry. Those XC bikes might feel fast on fire roads, but if you try to ride them on technical singletrack like the BC bike race, you just die. Whereas, the LANDO XC is sooo progressive and so good, it actually fixes a lot of my technical inabilities, which is good!”
A roadie and his OSTRO
Since a lot of Rob’s training is still road-based, he is also making use of the Factor OSTRO VAM in his daily riding. Needless to say, the retired road pro is loving his OSTRO. “It’s incredible. When I got the OSTRO VAM. I hadn’t even ridden the bike. Just holding it and taking the wheels on and off. You can tell. I mean, I have ridden bikes for a long time and just the quality of putting the wheel into the dropout, right away you can tell that this is a bike made to a higher quality than anything I had ever ridden,” he said.
“And then when I rode it the first time, within a week of getting it, we did a trip to Hawaii and I was really able to put it through its paces. The bike was amazing. It’s almost frustratingly quick because rides that used to take 4 hours now take 3.5 or even 3 hours, and you get colder faster in the winter because the wind is spinning off you faster. It makes a noticeable difference because you are just constantly like 2, 3, 4 km faster on the rides.”
Best days on a bike
Removing himself from the pressure cooker that is modern professional road cycling, Rob could look forward to enjoying his time on a bike again, and take pleasure in exploring new routes and disciplines. High on his list of goals is the BC Bike Race, which is one of the most renowned mountain bike stage races in the world.
He came pretty close already in 2022 when he raced BC. Even as essentially a neo-pro in mountain bike racing, he was able to pull together some of his best days on a bike at that race.
“There were a couple of stages of the BC Bike Race that were my best days. There was the Queen stage on stage 2, and it had these two huge climbs. The day before I had proved that I could make them suffer on the climbs, but they had my number on the descents. The race on stage 2 started with this hour-long massive climb, and the guys were teasing me, they were like, are you going to ride hard on the climb? And I was like, well are you going to use your brakes on the downhill? So yeah, I’m going to make your life miserable!”
When racing against top names in the sport, legends like Geoff Kabush and super strong pros like Peter Disera, Rob found motivation in being able to hang with the best.
“That was pretty fun going blow for blow with these guys. Just rip them on the climb, and then they’d catch up on the descent, and then I’d rip the next climb and finally I made them dig deep enough and they ended up cracking, so I ended up 2nd on the Queen stage.”
Getting more used to being on his LANDO, racing some of the most technical courses in the world, Rob found greater confidence and quickly improved his handling skills. “As the week went on, I became more relaxed and comfortable. On the stage to Apex ski resort, I felt more competitive even though I finished 3rd. But it was a more true mountain bike race with a lot of singletrack, where I couldn’t just rely on pure aerobic ability. It was me actually performing at the level of the mountain bikers. I’d say those two days at the BC Bike Race were pretty special where things clicked a lot more. Where I felt I was really in the mountain bike race.”
In addition to trying new disciplines and racing opportunities, Rob Britton has committed to helping to build and expand the cycling community in Victoria, Canada. When racing on the road, athletes often have to be very insular and focus entirely on their own needs. Moving to gravel racing means that Rob has been able to engage much more with his community.
Rob already has a history of organizing a massively popular community ride in his home region. “I’m just trying to build a bit more of a community in Victoria. And I have my own gravel event called The Last Ride. It’s unique because it’s not a race. It’s the experience of a day. This is the gravel race that is a fun race. You don’t have these young racers coming. The majority of the participants are in their 40s, 50s, 60s,” Rob explained. “Because I do a lot of other things for younger racers, with development camps and things like that. So I feel like I’m covering both ends because cycling has given me so much in my life, these are my efforts to give something back. Incorporate some payback along the way.”
Rob’s custom OSTRO Gravel
As a native of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, Rob has a special connection to that unique environment with its sandy coasts and ancient rain forests. Fellow Canadian and Factor’s Creative Director, Jay Gundizk worked closely with Rob to create a custom paint job that would really speak to his personality and influences:
“The theme of the bikes (psst…there’s a Lando XC as well) is “Vancouver Island”. I used a colour scheme that represents the sandy shores, loamy dirt, soil and lush old growth rainforests on the island. I created original graphics and typography that “pops” against the frame colour. The graphics feature a Coastal Wolf, which are unique to Vancouver Island, giant Douglas Fir trees, and an abstract logo that’s a cross section showing tree rings. I worked closely with Rob on these graphics (especially the wolf) graphics as they also represent his own character. Coastal Wolves were forced to adapt to their surroundings to survive and thrive. Like Rob Britton, these wolves are chill until they’re not.”
His time on the bike couldn’t have gotten to a better start since Rob won the first time he raced this bike. The fact that it was his “home race” at the BWR BC made it all the sweeter: