I have a new best friend, and her name is Jolene. She’s dependable, strong, fast, and is always there to support me. Oh, and did I mention she’s a bicycle?
Jolene is a Sand County touring bike by the company Advocate Cycles. Advocate Cycles was a company with a unique business plan that was created in Minnesota in 2015. What made them stand out was their promise to “create innovative bicycles and deliver 100% of profits from the company back to making cycling better for everyone,” which was stated on their Indiegogo page. When I first learned about this initiative I was stoked to hear that this company was giving back, but also confused as to how that would be possible. I mean, don’t companies need their profits in order to stay in business?
As it turns out, Minnesota has a certain business designation that was created under the Minnesota Public Benefit Corporation Act. Essentially the state will allow companies to classify themselves as a benefit, or “B-corporation”, if they are a for-profit entity that is socially-minded. This little excerpt from the above link explains it better than I could:
Most statutes that govern companies are based on the premise that the purpose of the company is to generate profits. In traditional companies, prioritizing a public benefit over profits would fundamentally violate the fiduciary duties each person in the corporation owed to the company’s owner. A public benefit corporation fixes this, allowing those in the company to prioritize a social benefit over profits.
The more that I learned about Advocate Cycles and their pledge to better the cycling community, the more I feel in love with this little company. Unfortunately, since they were mostly dependent on customer support and donations, Advocate Cycles went out of business. However, according to their farewell blog post, the company was “able to deliver $85,000 toward local, regional, and national advocacy organizations and deliver over 600 top quality bikes to passionate riders and advocates” before they shut down. That’s pretty impressive if you ask me.
Fast forward to my time in Wyoming during the summer of 2018, when my boyfriend sent me a Craigslist ad for an Advocate Cycles Sand County frame. At the time I didn’t know anything about the company, but I fell in love with the frame because of the color and the fun details. I bought it the next day and had it sent to my house in Tallahassee.
When the frame arrived John texted me the above photos, and I was absolutely giddy. I would show anyone and everyone at the ranch the pictures of my new bike, almost like I was a parent showing off their newborn baby photos. I quickly got a reputation as “the bike chick,” and people were asking for updates on the status of my bike as my boyfriend built it up for me back home.
Shortly after I returned to Tallahassee the bike started coming together. I’m not going to take any credit at all for how the bike turned out because John built almost the entire thing while I was away, but I did help with the final touches once I got home.
As soon as she was finished, I was in love. I posted on my Instagram story asking for name suggestions and Jolene was born.
Before Jolene, I had a Cannondale Quick 6 bike that I bought when I worked at an outdoor outfitter that sold bicycles. The bike was black with matte black detailing, and I loved it. It was perfect for getting to class everyday when I lived minutes away from campus, but it was also bulky and heavy. As I got more involved in the outdoor community and became friends with hard-core cyclists, I realized that my big Cannondale wasn’t the best fit for me.
I wanted a bike that was more stylish and hipster – ya know, one with drop-down handlebars and fun colors – but I also wanted something that was lighter to carry around. Jolene is absolutely perfect for me because she’s light and easy to maneuver for urban riding, and she is also built for long-term bike touring and gravel riding. She’s covered in braze-ons (the tiny black things all over the frame) which allows me to attach water bottle cages and bags all over the bike. The frame is also wide around the wheels, which lets me use bigger tires for trail riding.
Once Jolene was finished and ready to ride, John and I started exploring the various gravel trails in Tallahassee. Unlike mountain bike trails, which are steep and bumpy and require shocks, gravel trails are generally smoother and can be approached on almost any bike. As gravel bikes rise in popularity, more and more trails are popping up that are designed specifically for drop-down handlebar gravel bikes like Jolene.
Riding on the trails with John and my dog Koda was so much fun. As we got more and more into it John started looking into bikepacking, which is basically backpacking but on a bike. In order to spend multiple days on the trail with a bike you need special bags to hold all of your stuff – bags that are typically over $100 each. I remember deflating when I saw the price of just one bag (most trips require at least 3) and gave up the notion of ever bikepacking. John on the other hand wasn’t going to give up so easily.
He went to his parent’s house one day and returned with a beat-up old sewing machine and promptly got to work. While he was sewing away I started looking for wider tires, and with John’s help I placed an order for tan-walled tires that were more aesthetically pleasing than my standard black ones and also better suited for trail riding. By the time my tires arrived in the mail John had finished making a frame bag for my bike.
Above are pictures of the completed bag. Let me just remind you that my boyfriend had zero sewing experience when he started working on the bags, and after only a couple of weeks he was able to make a durable water-resistant frame bag for bikepacking. Suddenly what I had thought would be impossible was now a possibility. John and I recently went on our first bikepacking trip, and it was amazing – the blog post about it is coming soon!
I’m excited to continue building a relationship with Jolene and learn more about cycling. Buying the frame and building it up was one of the biggest investments of my life (after my car and my dog) and I still have a few more things to buy before I’m completely happy with the build.
I want to give a huge thank you to John for putting so much time and effort into making Jolene a reality while I was in Wyoming, and for all of the blood, sweat, and tears he put into learning how to sew our frame bags.
If you’re interested in getting a gravel bike of your own I highly suggest scouring the internet for an Advocate Cycles frame. I recently learned that the company didn’t completely shut down but instead rebranded as Esker Cycles, so if you can’t find an Advocate frame but want to support the same people give Esker a try. And lastly, if you want a custom frame bag for bikepacking shoot me a message – I’m trying to ignite the entrepreneurial fire in John.
Prepare to see more of Jolene on Forest Tourist now that she’s made your acquaintance. She and I have some big adventures in the works.
Was this helpful? Have feedback for me? Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The first two photos in this post were taken by John Miller, all other photos were taken by me.