Clambering up a steep bank, passing the bike up and above my head to David Millar’s outstretched hand as he holds onto a branch to lower himself down, I assess which branch looks best to pull myself up to join the former British pro for the next part of our adventure, as we hunt down some rideable singletrack to test ride the new CHPT3 x Vielo V+1 gravel bike.
As we were wandering (on and off the bike) on the quiet lower slopes of Els Angels in the Girona morning sun, one thing was clear - David Millar was certainly happy taking a punt. He feels capable enough to deal with whatever comes his way on a gravel bike, and it's this playful side that his riding embellishes and is also fully apparent in the direction he’s taking his cycling apparel brand CHPT3.
“One thing I came from and love, is off-road riding: BMXing and mountain biking,” Millar says.
“Years and years ago, Michael Barry and I would just find gravel for fun to mix up our road rides, on 25mm tyres on our pro racing machines.”
David Millar and CHPT3 had invited me out to their home in Girona, Spain for the unveiling of their Dirt collection at Sea Otter Europe. What has dropped? You’ve got a racey carbon gravel bike and baggies—a technical t-shirt paired with liner short/over short combo. Yep, that’s how Millar rides gravel, and after a morning spent with him it’s all starting to make sense.
“When we were growing CHPT3, I was determined that we can’t just be one thing, we must be many things,” Millar recalls.
“That was the Brompton idea, just to really play with people’s heads immediately; performance bikes with Factor at one end and tan-walled tyred city folding bikes with Brompton at the other.
“I figured that if we didn’t do it when we were young, we’d get too stuck on one thing.
“At CHPT3, we’ll always partner with a bike company to validate our entry into that area.”
Originally CHPT3 collaborated with Factor for Road, Brompton for Street, and now Millar has turned to British bike brand Vielo for the brand’s new 'Dirt' gravel line-up.
“I spoke to Ian about what Vielo is as a brand,” Millar said.
“He’s doing it with his son Trevor, it’s his third chapter, doing something with everything he’d learnt in the industry with Scott, and that’s exactly what I’m doing with CHPT3.
“Ian was putting real high performance into a gravel bike that was racey, that was twitchy, that was innovative with the 1x only optimisation—I thought this is perfect.”
“The way we’ve always worked a collaboration is: CHPT3 must add something to the collaboration and the collaborator must add something to CHPT3,” says Millar.
“We were using fabrics Castelli couldn’t use such as buttons because they couldn’t sublimate them for racing—we gave them an outlet that empowered them.”
Likewise Brompton had never done a bike without mudguards: “Brompton said CHPT3 can do that as we’re not allowed to because we’re pure functionality. For them there must be mudguards, racks, reflectives, because that’s what they do.
“With every single collaboration, the idea is to create a secondary tension—we’re almost their official skunkworks. And as we’re getting bigger, we’re trying to find our own look and now we’re actually using these collaborations for exactly the same reason.
“CHPT3s main line, which is what we’re becoming, is a really clean aesthetic; almost Scandinavian, but beautiful and functional. But then we use collaborations just to cut loose—that’s our playful bit.
“Let’s paint it black, let’s wear baggies, let’s not put clipless in our cycling shoes. You don’t need to be clipped in all the time, we’d have been much better off today if we weren’t.”
I thought back to how that morning I had decided to slip on my stiffest carbon SPD shoes in a bid to keep up with the former pro. Alas I was still getting dropped, but on the hike-a-bike sections as I skidded all over the place.
“We are kind of forced to wear these shoes that clip in, these pedals that are small and shoes that have no traction, that don’t flex," says Millar.
“When I was riding the West Highland Way I just wore trainers and it was just great. That’s how we think now, how do we keep mixing it up."
The CHPT3 x Vielo V+1 is the brand’s latest collab bike, so what did Millar bring to the party? He’s the one who made it dirty.
“Rather than being a carbon bike that you park next to a bunch of steel gravel bikes that are all perfect with beautiful customised paint jobs, I thought why don’t we just make ours look dirty."
Millar called in the Catalan painter Eduard, who has painted his bikes and helmets for years.
The technique Eduard uses means no two frames are painted the same. Each is unique and looks rough like the terrain.
“Underneath it’s cutting edge but then when you park it next to other bikes, people are like ‘what’s that?’.
“It looks a bit of a mess,” Millar chuckles. “But then when you put it in nature, it just looks perfect. It disappears into the background.”
Eduard first sprays the highlights of the Dirt colours in thin layers on the frame, followed by black. Then he carefully sands back the black to reveal the CHPT3 colours underneath.
Alongside the racey performance bike, CHPT3 soft launched its new Dirt clothing line at Sea Otter Europe, with the official unveiling coming very soon.
Why baggies? I ask. “That’s how I do it,” says Millar.
“The stuff that I was starting to wear for gravel was the same sort of thing for mountain biking—I’m more of a mountain biker than a gravel rider.
“Obviously I’m also a high performance racer, road rider, and a commuter too, and I started to think that more and more of us are like that—we’re not one bike style.
“If I’m going off road I want to look different to when I go on road. If I’m in the city, I don’t even want to look like I ride a bike. I want the stuff I wear to be completely invisible tech, but functional.”
With dirt, a lot of it is off the bike: “It is sitting around or walking or an overnight adventure and you don’t want to look like a cyclist,” Millar says.
“It’s not the coolest look if you’re not attached to your bike.”
So how do you create something that works on the bike but off the bike looks nice? That’s where CHPT3's Dirt line comes in, and it also ties in with its bigger vision to make cycling more inclusive.
“We want to get cycling out there and make it cool and aspirational rather than geeky and niche, which it is moving out of, but it’s still got a long way to go,” Millar admits.
Cycling can be exclusionary in that you have to have certain things like clipless shoes, that you have to look a certain way with full-on lycra, but also with the price.
“Cycling kit isn’t really price-sensitive, everything is basically the same, but people judge quality on price,” Millar reckons.
“Brands just use the very simple hierarchy of three price points, but it’s just lies, you can do a pretty amazing product for cheaper.”
CHPT3 has opted for one top tier for each of its products, with a price tag that so far to me seems much lower than its quality.
“The price point is really difficult,” Millar says.
“We’re doing what we believe is right but people are confused, thinking it can’t be that good if it’s that price.”
I recently reviewed the CHPT3 Most Days bib shorts, and what impressed me most was the quality of the recycled fabrics used and the chamois specced—they’re pretty great value.
Gravel riding to Millar is pure fun. That’s why CHPT3 has partnered with Vielo for their performance gravel bike, that’s why he’s wearing baggies so he can go wherever he wants on the bike and off it too.
“It’s not a mountain bike, it’s not my road bike, it’s my inbetweener that ticks both boxes—I can do a bit of both,” Millar says.
“It’s that bike that gives me the freedom to get the fun of mountain biking without going slow on the road.”
In-between some hike-a-bike sections, I did in fact test ride the CHPT3 x Vielo V+1 Gen2 gravel bike, and my first ride report is dropping soon…