Ultraromance, The Nutmeg Nor'Easter, and Black Metal
It's hard to know where to start with Ronnie, A.K.A Ultraromance, when trying to capture the whole enchilada. From metal band drummer to a world leader in adventure cycling, there's no one like Ultraromance. (You'll soon see this is far more about cycling than tunes, but that part is in here, buried deep...) When talking outdoor sports, one can't overlook the bikepacking/adventure cycling world, essentially an offshoot of mountain biking, but without the injury potential.
To do a proper piece on Ultraromance, there needs to be a reasonably throrough backstory/history, as Ronnie is most definitely a throwback himself, deeply into history and tradition. My own fascination with adventure riding goes back to becoming entranced with England's Three Peaks race/rides that started in 1961. It's what it sounds like: you're on cyclocross bikes, which are essentially road bikes with a little more room for wider tires with some tread, and you're riding over really rough trails meant for hiking, and you cross three separate peaks, having to carry your bike much of the time. Read a short history if the event here: 3 Peaks.
The concept of "rough stuff" cycling goes waaaaaay back, of course, even through world wars, where cyclists traversed Nordic landscapes to fend off opposing troops. Even further back in history, we have our U.S. troops, the American Bicycle Corps from Fort Missoula back in 1897.
There are many records of the Japanese using bicyles in WWII.
And, of course, road riding in Eurpean mountains pre-1950 were almost exclusively dirt and gravel roads.
In the 1950's, a group in England formed what was probably the first club devoted to exploring routes that weren't smooth sailing, the Rough Stuff Fellowship. Worth a read here: RSF Club
There's the "everything old is new again" paradigm at work, and it was percolating in Connecticut in the late 70's through the late 80's when mountain biking began to take off. Chris Chance did a very short and pretty meaningless stint at Whitcomb USA, where Peter Weigle and Richard Sachs built road frames for the British company. Chris left to form Fat City Cyles in Somerville, Mass, and Fat Chance/Fat City became eastern mountain bike cult legends. Many a lone rider was exploring all the rooty, rutted trails of Connecticut on fully rigid bikes, establishing an ethos of nutmeggery unmatched elsewhere. Whitcomb USA folded, and uber-bicycle builder Peter Weigle was starting to build fewer road frames, and more French-inspired (and stunningly gorgeous) touring bikes, as well as a few mountain bikes. Stories of his explorations of the woods of Cockaponset State Forest were becoming the stuff of legend, and the concept of a true mountain and adventure biking scene in Connecticut was becoming reality. My own road racing experience was hampered by having only slightly-above-average ability and a well-below-average desire to work hard enough to get anywhere, so quitting that and joining the adventure scene was easy. In the late 80's we had a loose group who desired to find the ultimate non-road route from a trendy Stony Creek coffee shop in Branford to a really trendy coffee shop in Chester, Connecticut. We named it "The Tour De Pretentious," and it wasn't long before it was history as many of the woodsy sections were lost to development.
I first met Ronnie through my son, Brendan, who was a budding bicycle racer himself, and far more interested in getting good than I ever was. I believe they met while working at the local bike shop, Cycles of Madison, which for some reason became a hot spot for local trail riders who were a little more daring than others. I know our back yard was filled with all sorts of North Shore styled ramps of dangerious construction quality. Ronnie was a racer then, and headed off to college, then bugged my son to follow to Durango a couple of years later. At the same time, Ronnie left racing, and found the world of backwoods exploration and bike camping in a non-competitive way far more interesting.
Then, lightening struck in the form of Youtube and Instagram. While there were many individuals who were goofing around on bikes, no one was taking it as far as Ronnie, who was car-free, and living out of tents for about 10 years. The ability to post about his travels on the web turned everything on it's ear, and in no time at all, Ronnie became the single most visible and admired proponent of the bikepacking lifestyle not only in New England, but maybe the country. Timing being everything, his posting begat the legend of Ultraromance, with hundreds of thousands of followers virtually world-wide. I don't know of anyone personally who wasn't extremely jealous of Ronnie, being able to ride anywhere, anytime, with no worries and no shackles of modern consumerism. He was, quite simply, the MVP of the movement. He would deny this, but it's true. Of course, this is the 21st century, so bicycle companies noticed, and tried to hitch their star to Ronnie, one of them being Specialized:
As the Legend Of Ronnie (gotta turn this into a video game somehow) defies easy explanation, it's easier to let videos do the talking. But the single most important part of all this is his conceiving and then creating the Nutmeg Nor'easter, a back country riding event called "The World Championships Of Non-Competitive Cycling." Three days of camping, riding through the woods and roads of south-eastern Connecticut, in whatever the weather provides. The mystique of this event exploded, and can easily be pointed to as one of the influences on today's gravel scene, from extended tours to racing. These riders may have been around before the Nor'easter, but this event congealed all the disparate elements floating around the country. Here's a video from one edition that explains the whole thing beautifully, as people come from around the world to descend on Connecticut:
Anyway, here's the musical part of the whole thing, as Ron answered a few questions. Well, it can be boiled down to one question, really... What's your musical background?
"I play drums, and mostly on and off since high school, depending on how much floor space my living arrangements provide. I lived out of a tent for 10 years, so that would have been better suited for a triangle. I like to play slow and heavy to big fuzzy riffs. I played in a band called Burial, and also one called Falkentürd, (also billed as the world's most polite Black metal band) but that was all long ago. Now I just jam with friends, and the drums are set up in the barn. My favorite bands tend to be heavy and repetitive, but not very fast. I don't care for blast beats much as I mature, but low-fi atmospheric Black Metal. In winter, I prefer metal, but in the summer, it's more psychadelic rock, with some indy nostalgia rock from the 90's thrown in."
Don't be fooled by all the metal talk, though he's partial to the vibe of old time also:
There are so many pictures from this last year's edition of the Nor'Easter, and it was a rainy one, but maybe one of the most fun of all. It's better explained by a couple of articles. Of course, in the future, there's room for a few more riders, so don't be shy intracking down an entry!
And for a peek at just how wet and adventurous the 2023 version was:
Ride on, everyone.