Debra Banks, long-distance bike rider and seat maker
On average, Debra Banks rides 13,000 miles per year all on her trusty bicycle. She pedals so much, in fact, that Banks also earned a Mondial Award from Randonneurs USA, which means she’s circumnavigated the entire planet—all 40,000 kilometers of it—on her bicycle. It’s safe to say Banks is an ultra-distance cyclist with a penchant for the great outdoors, as she’s pedaled through states like Washington and Alaska and even traveled abroad to France and Australia just to ride. She’s no stranger to the randonnée, a French term that describes an old style of long-distance cycling. As an active member of RUSA, a national club for people who ride long distances, Banks completed nine randonnée events in the past five years. But, all major mileage aside, Banks is also the owner of Rivet Cycle Works, a handcrafted leather saddle company making those multiday, hard-hitting routes a little more comfortable for the backside.
What inspired Rivet Cycle Works?
When I did my first 1,200 kilometer bike ride, I ended up with second-degree saddle sores, incredibly painful. I thought, “That’s never going to happen again.” When you do these long-distance bike rides, because you’re spending so much time on your bike, the main three points on your body that start to hurt are your contact points. And those are your hands on the handlebars, your feet on the pedals and your butt on the saddle. That’s what suspends you on your bicycle. In long distance, there are a lot of people who end up with saddle sores, lower back aches, etc. When I started making saddles, the idea was the saddle has to be able to carry you 1,200 kilometers and not give you that pain and horrible feeling and that’s part of the reason why I started the company.
They’re riveted at the nose of the saddle and they’re riveted at the rear of the saddle and the leather stretches between those two points acting like a hammock. So, when the leather breaks into you, just like your own favorite pair of shoes, that saddle starts to form-fit to your body and your biomechanics on the bike. That’s going to be quite a bit more comfortable of a fit than a plastic saddle.
What does randonneurring mean, exactly?
It’s an old French sport that dates back to the 1800s, older than the Tour de France for people who ride ultra distances. The shortest distance is 200 kilometers [and] the longest is 1,200 kilometers, which translates to about 126 to 760 miles. And, you have 90 hours to complete the ride. The rides are long. They’re not easy. They take a lot out of you and it’s important to learn how your body will react to dehydration, lack of sleep, or not great nutrition and riding your bike for 24 hours on end, for days on end.
That’s intense. Why do you enjoy this cycling style?
The camaraderie of friends when you do these kinds of bike rides, it’s really different. It’s not just like an acquaintance where you get together and have a beer. But, when you’ve been riding your bike for 25 to 30 hours straight with somebody and you get a flat tire and it’s raining and they stop and wait for you, or you wait for them when they’re having stomach issues. You have this adventure and this expedition on your bike and you have these experiences that are a whole lot deeper than, “Let’s just go on a casual bike ride.”
You mentioned you were severely injured riding last year.
We were actually practicing for a randonnée that was coming up in the year. We got hit one year ago, January 30, by a drunk driver with .22 blood alcohol and there were five of us on the bike ride. We got hit by a drunk driver 8 miles outside of Ukiah and he took out all five of us. Most of us spent the night in the ER, I had emergency surgery, blah, blah, blah. It was pretty severe. I ended up with an ankle in about 30 pieces.
That’s horrible. Have you gotten back on the bike since?
I was cleared to start riding again six weeks ago. As soon as I got cleared, the next day I went on a 30-mile bike ride. (Laughs.) You can’t keep the randonnée out of the person. I am now able to ride 100-mile weeks and this past week I rode 70 miles and I paid for it, actually. My leg was really sore the next day. It’s a long haul. I’m not quite ready to ride these long distances yet, but I’m working towards it.
Do you have any randonnée goals coming up?
There are two 1,200 kilometer rides that I plan on going to. One’s in October and it’s in Florida. But, the big one that I really want to do and I really want to finish is in Australia and that’s in November.