We had a strong hunch there was some serious substance behind the often hilarious, self-deprecating Social mystique of @jambi_jambi … substance that’s maybe not commonly known, even within our tight-knit community. So we took the opportunity to sit down virtually with her and really get to know her! This week Jorja takes the reins of our IG, sharing deep cuts from her adventurous life. Keep reading for an in-depth, conversation covering everything from growing up outside of Sydney with 4 older brothers, to embracing your inner kook, to the benefits of character building through taking that leap!
Let’s start with the basics: name, age, where you’re from, etc.
My name is Jorja, or Jorj, or Jambi. I’m 31 years old, and I grew up on the fringe of greater Sydney, here in Australia. It was a rural, fenceless upbringing. I lived in London after five years of studying, and since then have moved around on a seemingly endless bike tour… but always return home a couple times a year to inner Sydney as my base.
I know a lot of people are gonna want to know where the name “Jambi Jambi” came from.
It’s actually not a very interesting story. But….. I had a boyfriend whom I did a lot of touring with. His nickname was Bambi–you can probably see where this is going. We were traveling extensively and had created a Tumblr for our family and friends to follow along. We just put our names together–Jambi–and since there was two of us, it became Jambi Jambi. The Tumblr turned into a blog, then turned into a journalistic website, and it has continued to morph. Bambi and I split, but so much time and work had been put into building the Jambi empire I didn’t want it to just disappear. So I kept it up!
Got it. Think I’ll stick with “Jorja.” So, are you guys still in touch, and if so, is he supportive of how you’ve kept the Jambi Jambi dream alive? It seems like you’ve been pretty successful with it. What all is keeping you busy from week to week?
I doubt he’d mind me saying that the workload was mostly mine anyway, and it was a natural transition. We are still in touch and he is supportive. Although, we were out of touch for a long while, and I actually am not too sure if he knows the full extent of what it’s become.
Currently, I am full-time working at Jambz Corp. Which is an umbrella company to all my personalities, I mean micro-companies. It houses Kook Exchange–a bikepacking brand with the main goal of laughter and shining some light on the less glamorous bikepacking scene. Ultraromance and I decided it was the Dollar Tree of the bike touring industry. I work really hard to try and keep the prices low and accessible and margins are non-existent. Surprisingly, it’s carried its own for a few years now. It is a little sleepy at the moment while I wait for the right person to come along to help me with it. It’s a lot of work for one person!
I have been focusing more on Jambz Distribution; which brings mostly American bicycle finery to Australia. Up until last year I ran Crust Bikes Australia. This is pretty much the same thing but with a name change. It’s emails, marketing and shipping mostly.
I spend a fair amount of time selling my stories, photographs, and body to help me pay for my next trip/idea. I also do freelance website and marketing for people, and if I’m not traveling I work full-time as a bike messenger, which has been my constant fallback for 9 years when things take a turn for the worse…which is more and more these days, hahaaaa!
Just thinking about the workload you’ve created for yourself gives me a migraine! The niche you’ve managed to carve out is impressive though! How did you get introduced to bikepacking?
The first memory I have of anything bike-touring related was when I was a bike messenger in London, must have been 22, I mentioned to my boyfriend at the time it would be cool to go riding and camping in France. I had never heard of such a thing, it was something of an original idea for me. And when he responded something like, “its very hilly in France,” I sort of just took it as, “oh, I guess it’s not possible.“Then, a couple months later, I met Dan (aka Bambi) who told me that it was possible. At the time, I was living in a London squat, had just broken both of my arms, it was the coldest winter London had seen in 50 years and we had no heating, broken windows and no running water. It was then we started planning to ride around the world. We rode lots of Europe, Canada, Australia over a few years together, really had so much fun doing so. It was so free, so funny. We were so dumb, so dorky!
3 years after that cycling-around-the-world goal was born, and saving $50,000 on a messenger wage (just imagine how hard that was!), we started our journey in Japan. Then, 8 months into that tour, we broke up, somewhere on the border of India…lol. I decided to continue on alone across India, toward Pakistan, which was really difficult. Brutal in fact. Wouldn’t recommend.
Broken hearted and beaten by the game, I returned home to Sydney to reevaluate, thinking that now, in my late 20’s, I had had a great run and my touring days were probably behind me. I enrolled in some journalism courses and thought I could get into sports journalism. But then Matt Whitehead came into the bike shop and introduced himself. I actually had no idea who he even was, but he’d been following Jambi-Jambi on Instagram, and came to meet me and ask if I wanted to ride for Crust. That is when I was introduced to the American scene, which I have also come to find is where I belonged the whole time.
So, I pretty much left the messenger scene for bikepacking. There was a Crust Tour here in Australia and I shot some photos and wrote a piece for The Radavist about it. That whole experience opened me up to a new type of touring. It had always been epic long journeys up until then. I learnt that you could be someone who bike toured and be a professional! That was new for me. I had always just thought you had to choose one or the other.
As an Aussie with a foot in both worlds, what are your thoughts on the current state of the scene?
I feel like our scene is a positive place–supportive, excited, energetic, it shifts and moves, has trends like fashion does. and I can appreciate that. In the States there are a lot of political and social issues that come up. As an outsider, I feel lucky to witness the differences between our countries. Here in Australia, its a small group of people who tour. Its nowhere near big enough to actually have any pull socially or politically, so it doesn’t have much obligation to it. It’s nice to experience both. But generally I keep quiet around the politics of it.
Personally, I’m just so thankful to be able to be myself and get away with what I am doing, that to ask for more seems incorrect. So I see my roll as a supporter for messages, whatever they might be. I might not be the one holding the sign at the rally, but I will pack you a nutritious lunch to help fuel you, stand where you want me to, give you a shoulder massage, inflate your tires and tuck you in at night ready for another big day of rallying…that kind of thing. It might be weak, but I think there are strong voices and sometimes another voice is not what’s needed, but just someone to back you up really is. Thats me. Im a rent-a-crowd.
And that’s why I am really excited to be involved with the WTF Bikexplorers Gravel Team this year. It’s a great opportunity for me to help with a message I believe in.
A few years ago I was predicting that the bikepacking scene would die out. But since then it has only strengthened. It morphed and new ideas caught on. Trends coming from left field. It has remained as exciting as ever. And now I’m predicting it will continue. People are just so into bikes and we are striving in all directions to make it more accessible….its trajectory is to grow. Which will mean things like – a stronger industry, more and better equipment, money and opportunities will become available, more creativity.
I hope that the people who were here for the start of it will have a more secure place amongst it. I do think that the people who are championing this whole thing have had to work unbelievably hard. We have to be thankful to them for the time and money and energy they have put in to make it what it is. We are all benefiting. They deserve a reprieve.
As a child of the American 80’s, what I know to be true facts about your country comes from a mix of Men At Work lyrics, surf magazines, and Crocodile Dundee. What more do I need to know about Australia?
Those are all great references! Thats really all you need to know. Australia really peaked in the 80’s. But really we’re proud of anything that anyone from anywhere knows about us. I want to be coy and understated here, but, Australia is so overlooked that everything is underrated! It is the oldest, flattest and driest inhabited continent on earth, with the oldest indigenous culture in the world. Team it with the most unbelievable wildlife, a small population, amazing homegrown foods with variety. We are living it up down here and no one suspects a thing. Okay that was a bit of an overhype!
Its beautiful but not in the usual ways, and its fun but not in the usual way. Maybe we don’t have the classic beauty of a lot of the world, but our landscape is so old – our once grand mountain ranges are now rounded down to mounds. There is undiscovered depth down here. And that is underrated. Our country remains vast, without human touch, lost worlds exist, forgotten spaces and uncharted territory.
…and, the people! We are multicultural given that we are a settlement. Our neighbourhood is Asia so we have a lot of Asian fusion mixed in with that relaxed, rough, and a bit loud classic Australian. Someone Stateside described Australians to me as mix between Texans and Canadians. I think this rings a little true.
Never heard that analogy before, but it’s spot on! Australia is known for being home to a bunch of unique and either cute/cuddly or gnarly/deadly animals–what’s your favorite creature & why?
Probably the lace monitor. They can grow up to 7 ft long, and the species is thought to be 3 million years old. They are a part of the Goanna family and are native to eastern Australia. They can be found strolling along the ground and are amazing climbers despite their size and weight. Wiki says one has been seen climbing a brick wall…..thats pretty siq!
Where I went to school they would come into the classrooms from outside and we would have to clamber onto the desks while it walked around the room. They are mild tempered but there is a great family story of my brother getting chased down across the school football field. When the story gets told we are all in stitches except him. Their claws are phenomenally sharp, can run crazy fast. They’ll climb you like a tree if you piss them off!
So other than fleeing from terrifying prehistoric lizards, what more do we need to know about growing up in the rural outskirts of Sydney? What kind of stuff were you into?
Oh boy, where I grew up was a great time! I have 4 older brothers, we’re all within 7 years of age, and rural life meant we had an abundance of bushland to play in. The bush is not to messed with…but you do anyway. There’s goannas to chase (or have chase you), spider burrows to poke sticks into, snakes to bother. Oversized rope swings through the gorges to fall off of.
My youth was rammed to the brim with sports. Ballet was first for 6 years, then it was competitive swimming and life became nonstop training….before and after school and competition every and all weekends, up until I was 19. School came second to swimming. I went to an academic-driven school and was one of the very few sporty kids there. My brother and I were a constant in the achievements board on the road outside of the school.
Other than swimming I was really into art. Lots and lots of drawing. I drew clothes, people, wrote a lot. I was a real observer.
I had scholarships to fashion summer schools and went into art comps. Looking back at the works now I can see my current aesthetic swirling around – mix of fashion and motocross. Always into menswear. I took it seriously for a while. But have since really relaxed on it. Found it much more fun when it was a bit more of a joke. Bad fashion is more fun than good fashion.
I ended up studying fashion for 5 years in Sydney after high school. Carrying my A1 folders, life drawing sketches and fabric swatches over my shoulder as I rode my triathlon bike thru town. Not very fashionable.
I see it all starting to add up now, your sense of style and the way you exist creatively within a scene that’s largely performance textiles and speed. One of your recent IG captions said that you’re amused by people who are into subtle, drab earth tones, and called yourself the “court jester”. I laughed out loud on that one, as I’m definitely the former, but also totally appreciate that maybe you’re inspiring people to lighten up and embrace their own inner court jester. My earliest impressions of Swift from back in the day are all about wild pops of color on classic rando bags, but now the market seems to want to be understated. Maybe a color renaissance is on the horizon!
Drab is so cool. Never goes out of style, its easy, classy, classic and tasteful and goes great with flouro. I dabble with desert drabs, cremes and olives but just can’t seem to stay there. With colour and pattern in your life, you are bound to make mistakes. You aren’t always gonna get it right…..and it can be difficult to look at old photos – that is a burden you lifelong earth-tone folk don’t have to bear! If you are asking me to design a range of colourful swift bags then the answer is yes!
Ha! How do you see aesthetic and fashion playing a role in our scene/industry?
This is such a good question. Wow, it’s a little beyond me. I think it is exactly where it needs to be. You have room for play and expression, but it’s not like it’s overrun by obnoxious trends – just enough to join in and be a part of the fun. There are definitely a few trendsetters out there that make a ripple through the scene. Benedict makes a big impact obviously, he runs the roost in so many ways. Casa Verde has exquisite use of colour and function, and whenever she brings something fresh out it ripples through and can be seen for seasons after.
Growing up in the surf and skate scene, there was only one thing worse than being called a “kook”, and that was “poser”. I like that you’ve flipped it and taken this pejorative word on as a sort of personal identity and turned it into a biz opp.
Hahaha yeah sometimes I struggle with it too. Kook Exchange was a joint venture with a friend of mine, Mardel, who was a poignant figure. He has dropped off the scene now but his legacy is strong. He was so funny, and creative and was truly Kook. I learnt a lot from him. It was just stupid videos. Our dumbest ideas, for a laugh. We made shirts, screen printed over big brand apparel, collaborated with the big names; Swift and Golden Saddle. Had themes each month like Magic Month, Metal Month, highlight people doing mediocre things. The ‘Exchange‘ part wasn’t really ever defined. But as I started selling more stuff, The Exchange was more like a marketplace. We would help people sell their equipment. Sell things for absurdly cheap prices. It was a total money and time sinkhole!
Something I know for sure now, is that people liked it because…99% of people are not on tours that will be posted on Bikepacking dotcom, nor riding bikes that will be seen on The Radavist. It was more accessible. The shittier the bike the better…and I would send money to help them go on a 3-day tour that they had been planning for a year and a half – hoping they would tell me all the fucked up things that happened…like their seat post snapping off and having to cycle 80 miles standing up, or something. Hahaha I live for it.
I hope they don’t mind me saying but most people are dorks who do stupid, embarrassing shit and accidentally make a dick of themselves…and wished they hadn’t. The ability to drop the fear of public humiliation means more laughter. And that can only be a good thing.
How is Covid, economic insecurity resulting from shutdowns, the emotional toll of isolation, etc. all affecting your community? How about you personally, how are you handling it all? Do you have any insight or wisdom to pass on?
The lockdowns weren’t so severe that people couldn’t go to the shops and do their thing. But it has really changed the couriering scene here. I was let go…but as someone that comes and goes, I was hardly surprised that priority was given to the long-term couriers. Glad for it. In cities that had a full lockdown, couriering boomed because people weren’t able to leave their house. Italy, NYC, London have all been busy I hear.
The biking industry here in Sydney has been POPPING. Lines down the street buying new bikes, people dragging out their old rust buckets to get repaired. Hoping they all stick with it.
Me? I’m my usual. It’s drastically changed my way of life. But not in a bad way….just in a way. I have been working at Jambz Distro full-time and that has been really beneficial. I have been able to give all my energy to it, rather than just the dregs after a day of working for actual money. There was a lot of travel planned for this year. Was pretty excited for it. But like the above comment…..I am always waiting for something to come along and take the needle off the b-side that’s playing. It didn’t take me too long to grieve the year I had planned and just muscle back to my chaotic neutral vibe.
Insight and wisdom? That’s a no…don’t have any….well, exercise obsessively. That always helps, plus you’ll feel like a hottie, whether you are or not. Thats a good feeling.
What sorts of things have you been doing to distract yourself during the slowdown?
I have started working on a new skill – following a routine. And it’s failing miserably, but it has been entertaining. I actually made the mistake of starting to watch Gossip Girl. I hadn’t ever seen it and got into it. Got far enough through the character development to be invested. Then realised after about 30 episodes I was still in season 2 of like 8….I was scared for my time and sabotaged myself by skipping to the last episode… I found out who Gossip Girl was, cried when Chuck and Blair got married… summed up some gaps in the story line and that was it.
Now all my distraction comes in the form of Jambz Distro, Kook Exchange, emails, communicating ideas, drawing and imagination. [Ed. note: and responding to endless questions from me…]
After all of this the thing that stands out the most is that you seem to have a hugely expanded sense of the possible, as in, the normal obstacles to embarking on something outrageously adventurous, or even just a simple life change — fear of the unknown, unintended outcomes, lack of experience/resources/support, etc. .. the stuff that normally shuts down 99.9% of us from ever taking that leap — you don’t seem to get tripped up by those same fears. Or maybe you do, but you have a secret strategy to overcoming them… and you do it without taking yourself so seriously.
It’s kinda both. There are trip-ups and a firm strategy. The trip-ups being – liiiiike. “the jig is up, you can’t sustain this kinda thing. Gotta earn some cash, you are going to have regrets that you did your own thing rather than follow that tried and tested career path.” We all have that I think. But the strategy being – “Just this one last time” lol.
I haven’t got anything more going for me than anyone else character-wise. I think I got lucky with a few ingredients and messages that really sunk in.
1. I have a family that would catch me no matter how big the leap.
2. Five years of fashion design that rewards for thinking outside the box.
3. When I got sad and depressed, I moved to London without any plans, job, people I knew, or place to go, and I got rewarded with the lifting of my depression!
4. Couriering really shifted my life. I pushed myself so hard, to breaking point, and it felt so good. Couriering in London is! no! joke! It made me so strong mentally and I thrived in the difficulty of it all and increased my resilience.
It was this consistent risk-reward message I kept getting. I think by the time I had finished that leg in India 4 years ago is when I had finished my unintentional education. And since then I started doing more intentional education. To build more grit, perseverance, stability, all those things. And if you keep stretching that fear muscle it becomes so malleable, so easy to side step.
My trajectory has been all over the place. But even my biggest slaps to the ground have brought joys from out of left field. And I seem to have fun even when I am swimming in my own shit!
I am not reckless though. My decisions are as thought out and with as much consideration as my age and mind at the time could/can handle. And as long as you can do that, it’s hard to have regrets. In our lucky, privileged lives, where we can take risks for fun….it seems the universe always rewards you in some whack way for taking them.
As for not taking myself too serious… well, I am ready for something to finally wipe out my roll… injury, motivation dries up, Coronavirus. I’m just am living it up while I can. But probably more so – I don’t take it too serious because if I do…it will hurt more when it’s gone.
I think this is a great place to wrap. This was wonderful. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself and your time with us, Jorja!