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Matt Brammeier: I remember everything until I hit the car

Giles Belbin
20 Feb 2018

The Aqua Blue Sport rider explains his controversial 1x 3T Strada race bike, that crash at the Tour of Utah and why it’s all for charity

Matt Brammeier is a multiple national champion of Ireland. Aged 32 and based in Girona, he rides for Aqua Blue Sport and is married to three-time British cyclocross champion Nikki Brammeier. After driving Nikki to the airport one January afternoon he takes time out to talk to Cyclist. 

Cyclist: Your team’s 1x (single front chain ring) 3T Strada bike has caused quite a stir already this season. What were your thoughts when you first clapped eyes on it?

Matt Brammeier: The only reason it got a reaction was because it’s different and goes away from the traditional gear set-up. I’ve ridden cyclocross bikes quite a lot – which have been 1x for a number of years – and sometimes deal with Nikki’s cross bikes, so I had a good understanding of the single chainring set up already.

I was a bit sceptical about the gear ratios and if it would have enough variability, but as soon as I heard about the two special cassettes that 3T was making that went out the window.

Both are 9-32t [on a ‘traditional’ cassette the smallest sprocket is usually 11 tooth], but the “Bailout” cassette has a tighter gear spread at the bottom for rouleurs and sprinters and the “Overdrive” has a tighter ratio in the middle for climbers*. When you look at the spread of gears, it really does make sense.

[*Bailout = 9-10-11-12-13-15-17-19-22-26-32; Overdrive = 9-11-12-13-15-17-19-22-25-28-32]

Cyc: When a team is looking to introduce something so innovative is there much consultation with senior riders?

MB: Of course we never get the final say but sure, they asked us. I got a phone call and was quizzed about my thoughts and a few of the guys did a week of testing. The team do actually care what we think so we are lucky in that regard. I think on some other teams the riders would never get a say.

Cyc: The bike is also disc brake only. What are your thoughts there?

MB: Having the disc brakes is a lot more comfortable for me. I love them, I feel a lot safer.
But it annoys me a little bit to be honest; we have a little riders’ group chat and there are people complaining that they don’t know how to change the brake hoses, or they don’t know how to do this or that. If you ask me, if you’re a pro bike rider you’re paid to ride your bike so you should be able to maintain it as well.

I always want to know everything about my bike so if something does go wrong mid-race or when I’m out training I know instantly what it is and whether I can fix it or if I need to stop.

Cyc: Something did go wrong for you in a race once – very wrong – when you suffered a horrendous crash into a car while descending during the 2015 Tour of Utah. What can you remember about the incident?

MB: I remember everything until I hit the car. After that it was lights out until I woke up in hospital. All the bad bits are erased, luckily.

I was coming into this corner and there was a car alongside me, I kind of let the brakes go for a split second longer than perhaps I usually would, just to try and get past this car and have a good line around the corner. Then the car accelerated alongside me. It was just that split second acceleration, I was just going too fast and there was no way I was going to make it.

I was looking for an exit route through the bushes and trees when the car just stopped right in front of me. I just had to try to take speed off and hope for the best.

Obviously I was in a pretty bad way. My family and friends found out on social media, which I guess is inevitable in this day and age, so they were a bit unclear as to what was going on.

I think it took a few hours for the team to actually make official contact with the family back home to say I was stable and I was going to be OK.

Cyc: Do you think more needs to be done to develop a protocol that kicks in after an incident like that, particularly notifying family?

MB: Definitely. There are a surprising number of teams that don’t have an official crash protocol in place, a protocol that I’m trying to get implemented into Aqua Blue. It’s just about communication and having some guidelines.

That initial contact and it needs to be fast, within 10 minutes of the accident if possible because of social media. Just to have family sat at home not knowing what’s going on... it must be horrendous, I know for my wife Nikki it was.

Cyc: Happily you’re back racing now, but during your convalescence you and former MTN Qhubeka teamate, Adrien Niyonshuti, had a great idea. Can you tell us more?

MB: Adrien and I roomed together at a lot of races and he was telling me about his cycling academy back home in Rwanda, saying they needed kit to ride in. I’d always had this idea of trying to give my kit to someone just because I had so much of it, which seemed almost wasteful.

So when I was sitting at home after the accident, being bored, I came up with the idea for the Africa Kit Appeal, getting surpluses of cycling kit out to people who could really benefit from it. I made some calls and we launched in 2016.

Cyc: You had a great response, was that surprising?

MB: In hindsight, not really, because I know there are so many people with the same kind of conundrum as me – not even pro-riders, just normal cyclists. We all love our cycling kit and when something new comes out we always want it, so there’s a lot of stuff left in the bottom of the drawer at home. People want to clear it out and I don’t think there are many other places where they can put it to good use.

We’re still looking for a sponsor to help us out with the fees for this year so we’ve had to put everything on hold until we find something because it’s pretty expensive to coordinate everything – laundering, storage, transportation etc. We’re hoping we can come up with something soon.

Cyc: You and your wife Nikki have recently unveiled Mudiiita, a project to increase UK cyclocross participation and help young riders through to the professional ranks. What was the spark behind that?

MB: We’ve always wondered why there aren’t more British cross riders racing at the top level in Belgium, and one big factor is the structure: there’s no real pathway through to the higher tiers from the UK.

So we just had an idea that maybe we could start off a little team, try and help some kids out a little bit. We got speaking to a few bike brands and a few sponsors and before we knew it, it was rolling really fast.

We are going to start announcing venues and dates for our cross clinics in the next month or two and the academy team will be launched in September. The next tier up is the pro-team, which is where Nikki is. We’re hoping to sign more riders in the future.

Cyc: You’ve ridden for teams registered in the USA, China, Azerbaijan and South Africa, as well as Europe. How do these geographical differences affect team culture?

MB: Massively. Some of those years on those smaller teams like Champion System and Synergy-Baku were actually some of the most enjoyable years of my career.

We did some amazing races. I saw some amazing places and got the chance to interact with people from different cultures and different religions, away from the norms of European racing. It was so refreshing. It is something I’ll look back on and remember for a long time.

Cyc: How did those experiences change you?

MB: A lot, the conditions and the hotels were pretty grim. And the transfers… I remember I did the Tour of China and one day we had a 12-hour bus ride to a stage. I don’t mean on a nice team bus, I mean on a regular coach crammed with riders.

We arrived, rode a crit and the next day we all got on another bus 12 hours back. Twenty-four hours on a bus!

When you do something like that and later get a team bus with a coffee machine, a kitchen and a big sofa you can sit on with your iPad, blah, blah, blah… you certainly learn to keep your trap shut and not complain.

But like I say, I loved those races. I saw some amazing places.

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