A Great Ride
photo of JB

As the president of Trek Bicycle, I’d like to share my stories about interesting people, places, and the bicycle with hope of inspiring you to find your great ride.



Étape du Tour: A cold ride in July

Photo 3

Every year I write a recap of my Étape Du Tour. The Étape is an annual citizen’s race held on one of the most difficult stages the Tour de France covers that year and is put on by the Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), the organizers of the Tour. This year’s Étape featured over 10,000 feet of climbing and included two incredibly tough hors-catégorie climbs: the Col du Tourmalet and the Hautacam. As usual, it was a day to remember.


The alarm went off at 4:10. Breakfast at 4:30. Everyone on the bus at 5:00, with the exception of two people who arrived at 5:04 (but who is really keeping track?). A one-hour drive to the city of Pau and Trek Travel drops us off at a parking lot with our bikes ready to go. The big issue of the day is weather. The forecast is terrible. Showers at the start: 50% chance. Rain on the Tourmalet: 70% chance. Afternoon thunderstorms on the Hautacam: 90% chance. The best decision I made all day was to bring everything. I went with booties to keep my socks and shoes dry, arm warmers, leg warmers, a light jacket, and a heavy GORE-TEX jacket. Toss in full finger gloves for good measure. I used them all.


12,000 people start the ride and we’re in the first group. No rain at the start. We start FAST. Three fast, tight, turns in the first 300 yards, and then a screaming downhill. We’re having fun. We ride for 79 kilometers until the first rest stop. All is good so far. We are way ahead of schedule, and not a drop of rain. We hit the first big climb of the day, the Col du Tourmalet. The Tourmelet is 17 kilometers in length, climbing 3,000 vertical feet with an average grade of 7%. It is a big climb. Almost as soon as we start, the rain starts to fall. We move up the climb at a good pace. By now, we call ourselves the Gang of 4. My lovely wife Tania, Mark Joslyn who is in charge of the Awesome Bus (human resources) at Trek, and Pat Sullivan (Sully). Sully has been at Trek for 30 years. I invited him on the trip because his best work in his thirty-year career at Trek has been his last three. He has made a BIG difference in his 30 years at The Bicycle Company.


All good as we approach the summit where Trek Travel has set up a rest stop one kilometer before the top. The only problem; it is raining harder and it’s getting COLD. Cold enough to see your breath. We pull into the rest stop, which had the bags we packed with extra clothes in case it rained. Well…..it rained and most of the group with one exception decided to change clothes. The one person who passed figured he was soaking wet in the pouring rain and if he were to change clothes, he would be soaking wet again in a matter of minutes. As I sat around during the change of clothes I was getting colder, so I told the group I would meet them at the summit. Then the temperature dipped again. We meet at the summit and Sully seems a bit disoriented. I give him a mental health check and he is all good.

Photo 2

The descent off the Tourmalet on a regular day is scary: 14% grade, switchback turns, no guard rails. Add pouring rain, and cold temperatures and it is absolutely brutal. We go down slowly, as does everyone else. We get about two kilometers down the climb and Tania is freezing. Her hands are cold when it’s 80 degrees so 40 degrees and pouring only made them worse. She is shaking on the bike so we pull over to give her hands a rest. As we re-group and start to move, I notice a guy off of his bike just sitting off the road with his head down. He looks really bad. I walk over and ask him, “Are you OK?” He answers, “No.” He looks to me like he is suffering from hypothermia. “Can you get on your bike?” “No.” Finally I said to him, “We are going to get you up and we need to start moving. If you don’t move, we have another problem.” The guy could barely move as I picked him up and got him on his feet. It is pouring rain and completely miserable. This guy is the walking dead; incoherent, cold, and lost. I gave his bike to Sully and I put my bike in my right hand and I hugged my friend, (whose name I still didn’t know) with my left arm. Typically I’m not a hugger. I’m more the warm-and-hearty hand shake guy. Yet here I am hugging a guy whose name I don’t know trying to warm him up in any way I can as we walk down the mountain.

There is no help in site, so I ask Mark to go find the police while we walk down. Mark finds the French police and the answer is the same with four different guys. "We are full, there is nothing we can do." We walk three kilometers down the mountain just Sully, our new friend, and myself. He is a nice guy, still mostly incoherent, but I start asking him questions to get his mind working. We start to have bits and pieces of a conversation. We are making progress. We finally get down to a building, which is locked, but it does provide some shelter from the wind and rain. We stay there for five minutes and realize that our friend needs more help. We move on to another building 500 meters away. When we get there, we find another group of French police. This time after politely asking a couple of times, they take our friend into their van and turn on the heat. I stay in the van and massage my friend’s legs to help him warm up. After ten minutes there is a knock on the window, it is Mark Joslyn. MJ is an Eagle Scout Extraordinaire, he has a cup of coffee and a hot chocolate. Our friend is coming back to life and is very happy to have a warm cup of coffee in his hands. I stay with him, get his contact info, and tell him that I will take care of his bike. I ask for his name and his phone number. One problem, I am shaking so bad that it takes me ten minutes to type his name and phone number into my phone. I tell him not to worry; I have his bike taken care of and will get it back to London for him. “I have friends in the business.”

I get out of the van and Mark takes me behind a building to where a pizza place is hidden from sight. The same place he got the coffee. I give the owner 20 euros and ask him to take the bike. He is happy to do it. Tania calls Trek Travel and says if you have a chance, pick up the bike. As long as we are in the warm pizza place, we order hot chocolates before we are back on the bike. There is a time limit and we just spent 90 minutes on our humanitarian aid program. At this point, I did not think we would finish.


We get on the bikes and it is still pouring, still cold, but we could see sunlight at the bottom of the Tourmalet. We started the fast descent with another 25 kilometers to get to the base. We were back in the game. I did the math in my head and figured we could make it. Before we reach the next rest stop at the base of Hautacam, my wife, still shaking, asks me if she should continue. I told her, “NO.” Five years ago, Étape finished on top of Hautacam and it was cold and rainy just like today. Tania had turned bright white at the finish that year, and then had to descend the mountain to get to the village. That proved to be the hardest part of the ride that day; getting her off the mountain. I said, "We have seen this movie before, don’t do it." While I was dispensing this advice, I already knew what the answer was going to be. Tania grew up with four brothers and has what we call the “I want to play too syndrome”. When she was younger she always wanted to play with the boys and sometimes the answer was “no.” When that happened, her response was always the same: “I want to play too.” And so, while she was making a decision, I already knew what the result would be. She was going to go up the mountain. She confirmed it with, “I am going to go up the mountain and if it gets really bad, I will turn around.” To which the cynical JB replied, “let me get this straight, if we get to within 5 kilometers and it is really cold and pouring, you are going to turn around?” No answer. And so up we went. The Hautacam is a bear at 17.3 kilometers and a 7% grade. The weather turned out to be better than we thought, no rain until the last 3K. Tania made it to the top and never rang the bell. We made it up the mountain and finished l’Étape in just under 10 hours.

We return to the Trek Travel area to trade war stories with the rest of the group. It was an amazing day. This was our ninth straight Étape. Everyone has a different story with this race and this year was no different. I ask Zack from Trek Travel at the finish whether he picked up the gentleman’s bike. "Yep, and you wouldn’t believe it. After he warmed up, the police put him in the pizza place so I brought him down the mountain and two of his friends along with his bike.”



The Trek 100: 25 years and $12 million


Last Saturday was the 25th annual Trek 100. Trek hosts the ride every year to raise money for the MACC Fund which benefits the fight against childhood cancer. In the last 25 years, we've raised over $12 million to help this great cause. When we founded the ride 25 years ago, the cure rate was 30%. Today that cure rate is almost 80%. I like to think that all of the people who have participated in the Trek 100 over the last 25 years have made a small difference in the lives of children with cancer and their families.

This year's ride was one of the best! We kicked off the ride at 7:30 am on a beautiful Wisconsin day. I welcomed the riders and introduced the founder of the MACC fund, Johnny MAC himself. Johnny MAC played for the Milwaukee Bucks way back in the day and was part of the team that won the World Championship in 1971. When I was in the third grade at Swallow School, Johnny Mac spoke at Sports Night and I had him autograph my pennant. That Milwaukee Bucks pennant flew high in my room until my mother tossed it years later after I left for college. I am over it (kind of). Anyway, after Johnny spoke, Laura Monagle sang the national anthem, and the Wisconsin Badger marching band gave everyone a great send-off.


This year, Brian Conger who runs our B-Cycle bike sharing business, recruited 10 people to join him in riding 100 miles on a 42 pound B-Cycle. Crazy. They all made it. I saw them at the second rest stop - big smiles. I saw them at the third rest stop - smaller smiles. Big smiles when they arrived after 8:37:23 on B-Cycles. 

What makes the Trek 100 ever year are the riders, the volunteers, and the incredible rest stops. Where else can you go to have 8 awesome rest stops? Live music at each, a fruit stop, a bbq stop with wings and bread pudding, a pizza stop, and the list goes on. When you get to the finish line at the Trek 100, more food, cold beverages, and lots of time to talk about an incredible ride for a GREAT cause.


A special thanks to Johnny MAC and the MACC Fund for being such great partners for the last 25 years.




Remembering an American Legend


Friends of the Bicycle,

On Saturday, May 3, we lost a legend when Congressman Jim Oberstar passed away in his sleep. He was 79 years old. The Congressman was the leader of the bicycle movement in America.

As his story goes, his first wife was battling breast cancer and he was thinking of an activity they could share. So he dusted off the bikes. After Jo lost that battle with cancer, the Congressman started to spend more time on his bike. One of the conclusions that he came to is that facilities for bicycling in America were horrible and since he sat on the Transportation Committee in Congress, he was going to do something about it. He began with his Vision of a Bicycle Friendly America and very few people in the movement. Beginning in the 1990's, he worked to build that movement and in 1997 I received a call from the Congressman. "John, I would like to visit with you in Washington. I need your help." I showed up in Washington and listened to the Congressman's Vision of a Bicycle Friendly America and was sold in five minutes. Trek got off the sidelines and joined the team, all because Jim Oberstar asked.  


History will say that the bicycle movement that Congressman Oberstar started made a difference. When the Congressman started this movement, federal funding for cycling was at zero. Over the last 15 years, it has averaged over $700 million. In that timeframe more than 30,000 bicycle projects have been completed in all 50 states. Over the years, I was lucky enough to get to know Jim Oberstar not only as one of his soldiers in the bike movement but also as a friend. I am a list guy and here are my Top Six Memories of the man I called "The Chairman".

1. Meeting the Congressman in 1997. I will never forget our first meeting. I flew down to Washington and was ushered into his office. Small man, big personality. Kind of like my Dad. Oberstar had a big smile, a bigger voice, and a hearty handshake. He gave me his Vision of a Bicycle Friendly America for over an hour. I was sold after the first five minutes, but when Oberstar got on a roll, you got out of the way and just enjoyed. No one commanded the English language the way that Congressman Oberstar did. After that meeting, Trek got off the sidelines and became an active participant in changing transportation policy in the United States to include the bicycle. It has been one of the most meaningful campaigns that I have been a part of.


2. Listening to Oberstar speak at the National Bike Summit. Pick a year, any year, and he was AWESOME. You could always count on a few things in an Oberstar Speech:  
1.  No script.
2. The history of the bicycle movement.
3. Spectacular stories seemingly unrelated to cycling until the very end when Jim would reveal that the entire story was about the importance of the bicycle.
4. Speaking at least two different languages during the speech. Sometimes as many as four.  
5. The finish. No one closed like Oberstar. Towards the end of his speeches he would pick up the pace, and the volume, and it would electrify the room.  
The first year Oberstar spoke, there were 80 people in the basement of a lousy hotel. Ten years later there were 800 people packing a Senate conference room. Oberstar had built an army.

3. Jim Oberstar and Safe Routes to School. Oberstar thought there should be more kids riding their bikes to school. In the 1970's, 30% of kids either walked or rode their bikes. I was one of those kids. I knew what he was talking about. By 2000, the number had declined to less than 5%. Oberstar came up with a program called Safe Routes to School and he wrote it into law. He personally made this program happen, and it has turned the tide so that today for the first time in the last forty years, the numbers are starting to go the other way.  

4. Jim Oberstar and his family.  One summer the Congressman and his family were vacationing in Wisconsin and Tania and I had them over for dinner. We had a great time and I learned that night that not only was he a great Congressman and a great leader of the cycling movement, but he also had a great family. For desert that night I cooked Crepes assisted by four of his grandchildren and by the Chairman himself. We made Crepes and I had each of them taste test the whipped cream directly from the bottle. Truth be told, this crepe making did get a little out of hand and I do have a video of JB, Congressman Oberstar, and his four daughters making crepes and dancing to Michael Jackson all at the same time. Jim Oberstar was FUN!

5. Losing. When Oberstar lost his re-election in 2010 and lost his Chairmanship, it couldn't have gotten much worse. I felt so bad for him. I will always remember getting a phone call from him after the loss. I was in New York City and it was raining and the phone rings. It was Jim Oberstar calling to tell me that he was sorry that he could not get the job done. He was sorry? I was mad. How did we not see this coming? How did we sit on the sidelines and not rally every single person who cared about Jim Oberstar to help him win that campaign? It still bothers me. Always the gentleman, we chatted for 15 minutes. He had no regrets. He was looking forward to the next chapter in his life and…he was looking forward to riding his bicycle more.


6. Saying Thank You. For sometime, I had wanted to say “thank you” to the Chairman for all that he had done for the bicycle movement. He was the leader and without him none of the success over the last 20 years would have happened. The Congressman came to Trek World in 2009 and in front of over 1,000 people, on behalf of Trek and Trek Retailers, I said “thank you”. I gave the Congressman a map of the United States with pins in the map for all of the recognized Bicycle Friendly Communities; a platinum, gold, silver, or bronze pin for each community. The crowd went crazy. Five minute-long standing ovation. The Congressman accepted the gift and then on a perfect August evening in Madison, WI with a lit Capitol Building in the background he spoke to the faithful about the future of the bicycle in America.  


All of us who care about the bicycle owe Jim Oberstar a debt of gratitude. The best way to pay off that debt is to do something. Let us take the movement that Jim Oberstar started to the next level and make him proud.




Brutal Honesty: A guide to a healthy company


A few years ago, something terrible happened. In the span of a few months we suffered three massive employee health crises. One of our longtime employees died in the prime of their lives. Shortly after, another one of our people along with a spouse of an employee experienced life-altering medical catastrophes. All from preventable health-related causes. I knew something had to be done. Everybody thinks this is a company of 0% body fat, ultra-fit cyclists. The truth is that in addition to those people, we're very much a midwestern company facing the same issues as everybody else. After those tragic few months, we began a journey to a wellness plan that today has changed lives and created healthier, happier, employees. Here's what I believe are the 7 drivers to a successful Wellness program:

1. Mandatory Biometric screenings and Health Risk Assessment (HRA). We began to tie employee and their dependents' score to premiums and we hold them accountable. If you're not going to care about your health, than Trek is not going to pay for it. Learn more about screening and onsite programs at http://www.the-hero.org/.
2. Onsite Clinic. We give our employees access to an onsite nurse at all times.
3. Onsite Fitness Center. Make sure it's open 24/7 and host classes. We bring in trainers for 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, and the classes are packed.
4. Onsite Café. We have a café that offers healthy food options and a great salad bar. We implemented a Twinkie Tax (higher price for unhealthier options), removed the worst offending food, and let the employees know the caloric count on the menu.
5. A Blueprint for Change program. At Trek, we've seen huge results from our whole wellness program. Employees sign up and instantly have a personalized fitness schedule, nutrition counseling, challenges, and goals.
6. Tobacco-free campus. Learn about our program at http://www.alerewellbeing.com/quit-for-life/
7. A One Wellness program. We created a targeted program for high risk employees that includes fitness, nutrition, wellness classes, lab checks, and regular meetings with physicians.

Do your country a favor, do your company a favor, and most importantly, do you employees a favor and be brutally honest about the health of your company. The future depends on it.

If you have questions, we would love to help. Here's the email of one of the people who has implemented our wellness program: Mail_TrekWellness@trekbikes.com 



3 things you can do to make cycling safer in 2014

Fellow Cyclists,

I love working at Trek. I love riding my bike. Last year I rode over 6,000 miles. Many of those miles on my 22.4 mile route to work from Madison to Waterloo. I love the exercise, I love the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening, I love all the sights along the way. To be honest with you, the only thing that makes me nervous are the cars. While there has been a lot of progress made over the last 20 years on making cycling safer (27,000 new bike projects around the United States, thousands more dedicated bike lanes, a 3 foot passing rule in 24 states, and the list goes on) the reality is that there are too many people who die riding a bicycle every year, and there are far too many near misses.

A year ago, I gave a speech in Las Vegas about this. The goal of the speech was to motivate people to work together to create a Bicycle Friendly America. At the end of the speech I was approached by Brendan Lyons from Arizona. Brendan told me that my message was inspiring and that he was going to do what he could do to help make Arizona a more bicycle friendly state. Unfortunately, in October, I received an e-mail from Brendan letting me know that while on a ride with his girlfriend, he was hit by a distracted driver and seriously injured. After 21 days in the hospital, he is finally out and is making good progress. While he is working hard to regain his health, he is working even harder to make the United States a friendly and safe country to ride your bicycle.

Brendan and I after my Interbike speech in 2012


There are over 60 million people who ride their bike every year. Republicans, Democrats, men, women, old and young. The bicycle is a very simple solution to congestion, environmental issues, and health issues. As a nation we can reap all of these benefits as long as we continue to work to make the roads safer for cycling.

I have always said that in the United States we have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, who show up. In order to create a bicycle friendly America we need people who care about cycling to do something. If you really care, here are three specific things that you can to do help make a difference:

1. Watch and share the Dear Motorist video with cyclists and drivers alike. We are all in this together. 


2. Join PeopleForBikes. They are working tirelessly to create safe, separated bikeways throughout the country.

3. Send me a note at John_Burke@trekbikes.com with your best ideas for improving safety. Great ideas can come from anywhere, and I want to hear yours.

Join me by setting a goal to make a difference in the effort to make America a more bicycle friendly country in 2014.



l’Étape: Toughest ride of the year

Last Sunday I participated in l’Étape du Tour. It is an annual citizen's race in France that covers one of the stages of the Tour de France. This year’s was stage 20: Annecy to Semnoz. My wife Tania and I ride l’Étape every year and this was our eighth straight start. It was a beautiful race day. We started in Annecy, which is one of the most beautiful places on the planet; An amazing lake in the middle of the French Alps, with crystal clear blue water. The race kicked off at 7 am. Bright sunshine greeted the 13,000 riders for a route that would cover nearly 90 miles, 5 mountain climbs totaling a little over 11,000 feet of climbing. Sounds pretty bad. Well, last year was a lot worse, so I was optimistic.


One of the great things about this event is every year we take a great crew along with us. This year we had Mark Joslyn, the head camp counselor at Trek, who is AWESOME to have with the group, and Nick Schaefer who runs Trek France and is the best domestique anyone could ever have. We had Tim O'Meara who lives across the street from me, and my old college roommate Tony Zullo (think Raymond from Everyone loves Raymond), and we had the Bobber. Yes, Bob Burns, Trek's general counsel, who had a few too many beers three months ago and got talked into this event late one evening.

The gun sounded and we were off. We rode around the lake for 10k and then headed up Col du Port followed by a short, but 6.4% climb up Col Leschaux. All Good. After around 65k we reached the base of Mont Revard, which was a 16k climb at 5.4%.


By this time, the group had dwindled to Tania and me, along with Mark Joslyn, and Tony Zullo. Hard to believe, but I was feeling really good with 2k to go to the summit so I pounded up the rest of the climb figuring that we had around a 40K downhill in front of us where I could recover. The pounding part worked out really well. We were passing a lot of people and I thought all of that training and my new power meter had paid off.


At the top of the climb we stopped at the Trek Travel rest stop. I asked for a piece of paper because I wanted to leave Bob Burns a motivational note. I went with "Godspeed John Glenn," crossed out the John Glenn and put in Bob Burns. I added "Don't ever give in" and down we went.

The descent over Mont Revard was over 40k and it was awesome. Two problems. One: it ended. And two: it ended with the start of the final climb up Semnoz. It should be noted that Neil Rogers of Velonews was with our group and he reached a max speed on the ride of 62.4 miles per hour. Crazy!


Let's just say that Semnoz was a bastard. It is 11k at 8.3%, but according to my Garmin it stayed in the 10% plus category the entire way.


I thought I was going to refuel on the downhill. I did not. I died after 1k on the Semnoz. It was a brutal climb. It started out tough and never got any better. While it took a while to make it to the top, we eventually got there and our time of 7 hours and 22 minutes was one of our best ever at l’Étape.

After we finished, we retreated back to Annecy to wait and see if Bob Burns would make it or not. After 10 hours I received a simple text from Bob "Finished!" The most amazing ride of the day was put in by the Bobber. While Bob does not look like he is built to climb the French Alps, he more than made up for that with a big heart. Just like at work, Bob always gets the job done. We must have had 50 people from Trek at the post-race party, and I presented Bob Burns with a signed yellow jersey from all of the Trek participants. It was another great day to work for the BEST bicycle company in the world.




Three stories from this year's 20-Year Club

Every year we have a 20-Year Club dinner for those Trek employees who have served the company for 20 or more years. We honor the new inductees and this year 12 new members joined the club. I talked about the accomplishments of the class of 1993 and then introduced each of the 12 and thanked them for their incredible service. After I finished handing out awards, I told the entire group that what made me really proud of Trek was not the numbers, but the incredible company that we have built over time and the good things that we have done to make Trek a very special place. I then shared three stories with the group to make my point. All three have happened in the last six weeks. 

Continue reading "Three stories from this year's 20-Year Club" »


One Last Great Thing

Today, I'm excited to announce the publication of a book I wrote about my father's life. When I began writing, I thought it would be something for my kids to have to help them remember the lessons of their grandfather. But the further I got, the more I began to think that these lessons are universal and could resonate with a much larger audience. It never occurred to me to write a book about my father, but the man led an extraordinary life and I'm excited to share his story. I've included the first chapter for you below. The full book is available here. All profits from the sale of the book go to support DreamBikes – a nonprofit bike shop staffed by members of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Madison and Milwaukee. I hope you like the read.



Interbike advocacy address - the good, the bad, and the future

This week I had the honor of addressing the attendees at Interbike. I wanted to talk about the good and the bad news and the "state of the union" about what's going on in bicycle advocacy. It was an awesome group of people capable of doing great things. Remember, the world is run by those who show up! Here's the video of the keynote:



One person does make a difference

Leslie Bohm passed away on August 20. On Sunday I had the privilege to share a few memories at his services. 


I want to thank Lynn, Griffin, and Cooper for the honor of being here. 

Trek’s first customer was Elmer Sorenson the owner of Penn Cycle in Minneapolis. Elmer opened his bicycle store while he was a master mechanic for Northwest airlines. Elmer lived a long and happy life and as I walked out of his funeral service a decade ago, a Northwest 747 flew low over the church. I knew that was a sign from Elmer.

Leslie loved politics, debates, and elections. When I talked to Lynn on the phone the other day and she told me to watch out for the traffic in Boulder on Sunday because the President of the United States would be speaking in Boulder. I just smiled to my self because I knew that was Leslie at work. The headline...President Obama Speaks in Boulder

Over the years, Leslie and I became good friends. On the surface, we did not have a lot in common. Leslie was short, I'm tall. Leslie was quiet, I can be loud, Leslie always took his time, I can pull the trigger. However, we did have a lot of similarities, we both loved v-neck sweaters, we both loved the bicycle business, we both loved to ride our bikes and swap stories of our favorite climbs in Europe, we both thought the bicycle was a simple solution to the major issues of the day like climate change, health issues, and congestion; and we were both total overachievers with our wives. The first time I met Lynn we were having drinks the four of us. Tania and I, Lynn and Leslie. At one point I said to Leslie, “we really did well picking our life partners” and Leslie gave me that big Leslie smile and said “John we sure did. We have to be the two luckiest guys in the world.” The last thing that we had in common were ideas. Leslie loved ideas. 

Leslie was all about ideas and the lessons of life. Leslie lived an extraordinary life, and every day to Leslie was another opportunity to learn. Today in Leslie’s honor I want to review four of the lessons of life that he leaves behind:

1. Lesson number one is Unbridled Optimism. Leslie was optimistic about everything. Shortly after I learned of his cancer, I did some research and the research told me that Leslie was going to have a tough battle. I called Leslie to see how he was doing the next day. Leslie, this is John… I heard about your cancer, how are you doing? “John thanks for the call. I'm doing GREAT. The smile coming right through the phone. “You see I have an awesome family and they have been giving me such great support, and you know I have excellent doctors and they have put me in a special program because I am really fit and have a great attitude, I am going to beat this thing” In March at the National Bike Summit Tania and I had drinks with Lynn and Leslie and I asked him how are you doing? Leslie's reply “Great, I rode my bike 50 miles on Sunday with my family. We had a great time. ” But Leslie how is the cancer? “Well they just don’t know what to do, whether I should have surgery or stick with the chemo.” And then with his BIG Leslie smile he looks at me and says “John I just wish they would crack my head open, and take this thing out, so I could get on with my life.” Business, politics, bicycle advocacy, cancer, Leslie had one outlook in life and that was to Be Positive. 

2. The second lesson is Take Care of Others. One night early in his life, Leslie was with his sisters and other cousins. In a conversation, Leslie mentioned that he was feeling a little guilty because Aunt Sara seemed to favor him more than the others. To his surprise, each of the others said that they too felt guilty at having been Aunt Sara’s “favorite” They realized at that moment in unison , that Aunt Sara had managed to make each of them feel uniquely special. Leslie took Aunt Sara’s lesson and applied it to his personal life and his business life. Leslie not only succeeded at making other people feel special, he genuinely cared about others and went out of his way to take care of others.  If Leslie ever invited someone to go on a bike ride with him, he really meant that he would ride "with" that person. Even though Leslie was a strong rider in his own right, he was never one to push someone to ride beyond their own ability. Instead Leslie, would match their pace, and make sure that everyone had a good time. Once, on a winter hut trip in Colorado, Leslie was with a group that included a woman who was not as prepared for the back-country as she should have been. Leslie hung back to encourage the woman and assist her on the trail. Then the two of them became separated from the rest of the group as a storm moved in. Leslie dug a snow cave and kept the two of them sheltered and safe until the storm blew over and he could get the woman to safety. He literally saved her life that day because of his concern, and because of the fact that Leslie always put other people first in every aspect of his life.

3. The third lesson of Leslie's life is to be Open to Ideas. There is a great passage from Eleanor Roosevelt’s favorite poem that goes like this: “Small minds discuss people, average minds discuss events, great minds discuss ideas.” Leslie loved ideas. At a Bikes Belong Board meeting Leslie was making the point that we needed to get better organized. “This really isn’t that difficult. All we need to do is take a look at the NRA. Leslie goes into a five minute monologue about the NRA and how they do it. They have great messaging, incredible marketing, and they have 4.2 million dedicated members, and they are advocating for guns. We are advocating for bicycles. Our cause is so much better and yet they are kicking our butts. We can learn from these guys?” From across the table I ask Leslie... "Leslie how do you know so much about the NRA. Well I did some research and I was so impressed with their work that I wanted to learn more, so I signed up and became a member of the NRA so that they would send me all the material. It’s really GREAT stuff." “Leslie are you really a Member of the NRA?” With that Big Leslie smile, “I sure am!” Leslie was very passionate about his positions in life, but he was always smart enough and humble enough and decent enough to look at all sides of any issue, including the NRA.

4. The fourth lesson of Leslie's life is Find Something that You are Passionate about and Make a Difference. In 1997 I met Leslie for the first time at the National Bike Summit. We had been summoned by Congressman Jim Oberstar to get involved at the national level in making sure that bicycles were part of the national transportation budget. At that time cycling received less than $20 million in federal funding. Leslie was part of the industry group that got together and helped to make bicycles part of the Transportation Bill in 1997. We worked hard and won the battle, bicycle funding went from $20 million to over $200 million. We sat in the basement of a lousy Washington hotel feeling pretty good about ourselves. There were four of us and Leslie turned the celebration into a question. Where do we go from here? A debate took place and a decision was made to create Bikes Belong, an industry organization that had the mission of more people on bikes more often. Not only was Leslie a founding member of Bikes Belong, he actively (and I underline actively), served as a board member for the last 15 years. In that time federal funding for cycling increased to over $1.3 billion and more and more places across America are starting to look like Boulder, Colorado because Leslie was passionate about cycling and wanted to make a difference. 

Unbridled optimism, taking care of others, being open to ideas, and finding something that you are passionate about and make a difference are four of the characteristics that made Leslie the Legend that he was. On top of those four there really is one other. Leslie was just a good person to the core.

While Leslie’s life was cut short at 59 years, history will show that Leslie packed 100 years into his 59. A few years back my father was in poor health and with his death imminent a friend told me something that will stay with me the rest of my life. She said, “John, his body will die, but his spirit will live on.” The same holds true for Leslie. While he his body died on August 20, 2012, Leslie’s spirit will live on and that spirit will be a guiding force for his wife, his two sons, the bicycle movement and the many others who had the privilege of knowing Leslie Bohm.