John Watson: The Art of Shredding Lightly
John Watson: The Art of Shredding Lightly
At a point — somewhere between mild interest and red-hot obsession — a weekend hobby becomes a lifelong passion. You know the type: passion people don’t just enjoy a thing. They live it. They breathe it. And sometimes, they start a blog to document all their thoughts and adventures in it. They pour years of dedication, hard work, and storytelling into the project, and sometimes, that passion grows into a resource, a community, and maybe even a movement.
This story is about one of those times.
Few people have mastered the nuts and bolts of their passion the way John Watson understands cycling. That mastery comes from years as the owner, operator, and primary writer of The Radavist — an online community of “radical atavists” who love cycling. Through his blog and social media channels, John keeps thousands of readers up to date on all things biking.
What's a “radical atavist”? The compound name for John’s blog came from an early interview project he worked on with some bike builders in New York City. Atavistic means “something ancestral that appears in the modern-day.” As a species, we seek thrills as a part of our atavistic urge to play. The phrase stuck with him, and the day he needed a name for his community, he had one.
From the molecular structure of the latest generation of spokes to the most comfortable helmet on the market, no detail of the sport is overlooked.
“I started the website as a bike culture blog in NYC, documenting alleycat races, individuals who built bikes in their garages, swap meets, everything. The website has always been attracted to the outlier sub-genres of the sport. As my own personal interest has shifted, the website’s content has as well. Back in NYC, it was about brakeless track bikes on city streets. Now, it’s mostly off-road or dirt-oriented. The site is a product of its environment.”
No matter what aspect of bike culture he’s covering, on the Radavist platform, John is a teacher. He consistently shares his wise, discerning word about bikes, races, and gear, but between the tread tracks, he’s also communicating another message. He’s teaching his readers more than just how to buy the right bike. He’s teaching them how to get outside. And more importantly, how to be respectful members of the outdoor community.
Built for desert touring
Running one of the most well-respected cycling blogs on the internet requires content from all over the place. It’s a lot of gear to fly with, so John often drives to the action.
“I figured out a few years back that doing road trips out to Radavist projects is way more fun. Plus, the journey becomes part of the story. I use my rig to scout possible bike routes, access good fishing, and see more of the world with my girlfriend and dog. A lot of these trips include bike camping, touring, photography, and everything in between.”
Currently, John drives a 1987 HJ75 Land Cruiser Troop Carrier powered by a 12HT direct-injected turbo-diesel engine. Right now, the “Troopy” is built for desert touring, including:
- BFGoodrich® T/A® KM3 Mud-Terrain tires
- ARB bumper and fender bars
- A custom rear bumper with bike rack swing-out
- An Alu-Cab pop-top conversion
- A 320W solar array
- A 75L Dometic fridge
- Stone headlight shields
- A 12000-pound Come Up winch
- Baja Designs LP6 lights
John has been off-roading since his teen years spent catching waves and avoiding tourists on the beaches of North Carolina. Once he realized that good tires and four-wheel drive could take him away from the hustle and bustle of life, he was hooked.
Now, John lives out of his car seven months out of the year, camping, meeting up with cyclists, going on adventures, and creating content for his site. His BFGoodrich® T/A® KM3 Mud-Terrain tires help him go where his bike can’t, tackling sand, mud, and whatever else the landscape throws at him while he’s scouting and prepping bike tours, travelling to project sites, and chasing sunset vistas with his girlfriend. On top of desert touring, John has built his vehicle for expanding horizons — both his and his readers’.
“I legitimately love stoking people out and getting people pumped to go outdoors. My drive and key motivation is to show people how much fun you can have on a bike.”
Off-road wisdom for beginners
For someone who lives and breathes cycling, and who’s built a deep, niche expertise in it over years of writing, reviewing, and biking across the globe, John is a remarkably approachable guide for beginners. Here’s a taste:
My advice for anyone who wants to get started with off-roading would be to keep your existing car, buy some better tires, a few maps, and be sure to carry enough food and water in case you get lost.
Do your homework.
When planning a trip, make sure the roads are still open, research available water, and terrain. Sometimes it’s nice to plan routes that go through towns to refill supplies. If I’m planning a bike ride through a truly unknown area, I like to drive parts of it that I’m unsure about ahead of time.
Listen to your body.
Don’t push it too hard. If your knee or back hurts, figure out why and fix it ASAP. Like a clicking CV boot in your rig, you don’t want it blowing up somewhere remote.
Run what you brung!
What I tell people all the time is to take their current bike, figure out how to strap a sleeping bag, pad, and a small stove either to it or a backpack, and just go try it out before buying a bunch of gear. Don’t fall victim to G.A.S. - gear acquisition syndrome.
Stay on trail.
For all outdoor activities, stick to the trails, roads, and existing byways. They’re there for a reason. Plus, if you break something, or run out of food or water, other outdoor recreationists will be along to help.
Leave it be.
Don’t take home a “souvenir” from a national park. Let others experience that cool Big Horn skull that you saw in Joshua Tree. I like to check out local thrift stores for mementos.
New experiences keep me coming back and always pushing myself to be a better person and photographer. Experiences shape one’s psyche, and spur personal growth. It’s this constant pursuit to better myself and keep trying new things that keeps me coming back for more.
Do your thing and have fun, but do so so lightly — preserving the landscape for plants, animals, and future generations of shredders like you.
John’s biggest lesson is also a way of living. These days, outdoor education is lacking. We’re all aware that littering is bad and that “only we can prevent forest fires,” but after that, a healthy understanding about how to exist outdoors without getting lost, hurt, or damaging the environment are, unfortunately, scarce. It’s a gap that John knows he’s in a position to humbly attempt to fill. This sense of duty is present in everything he writes for The Radavist, including the community’s mantra — shred lightly.
On its face, “shred lightly” is a bit of an oxymoron. To “shred” is to let loose. To throw caution to the wind, and let ‘er rip! To shred is to blast off, physically and mentally. To lose yourself in an activity, lean into the thrill, and let nothing slow you down. “Lightly” is different. Lightly means careful. Considerate. To think about the world beyond the present moment, and “leave no trace.” Can you shred and be light? The mantra is a bold declaration that you can. And you should.
Shred lightly invites all the thrill and excitement of off-roading, with the important reminder that our outdoor spaces are precious, and it’s up to us to conserve them for future fun — both for next weekend’s visitors and for next generation’s. It’s a philosophy John brings to his writings on off-road camping, biking, and driving.