… It’s a lot bigger than just learning how to ride a bike. We’re giving these kids the gifts of mobility, adventure, independence, a healthier lifestyle, and more.
As a part of my series about sports stars who are making a social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing World Champion mountain bike racer Brian Lopes.
A 19-time Mountain Bike Champion, including four Mountain Bike World Championships, Brian Lopes’ career as a professional cyclist is unprecedented. Labeled as “the best all-around world-class cycling athlete” by USA Today, Brian is in the Mountain Bike and BMX Hall-of-Fame, and author of the book, Mastering Mountain Bike Skills.
Brian is also an ambassador for All Kids Bike (AKB), a national movement led by the Strider Education Foundation, dedicated to teaching every child in America how to ride a bike. All Kids Bike places Kindergarten PE Learn-To-Ride Programs into public schools for free using donations from individuals, businesses and organizations. As of Oct. 31, 2020, the AKB program is running in 231 schools in 36 states, impacting 37,676 students so far this year.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share with us the “backstory” that led you to your career path in professional sports?
When I was 4, my dad’s friend suggested we join him and his son at the local BMX track. My dad agreed and the rest is history. I grew up riding at that track and fell in love with racing pretty fast. At some point I decided to try traditional sports and took a break from racing for a year or two, but I always rode my bike pretty much daily. It didn’t take long before I wanted to race again.
I started back up around age 8 and we started traveling to more races out of state. I remember driving in my dad’s truck to races in Utah, Texas and Colorado. Eventually, I got onto a local bike shop team when I was about 10 years old. There were a handful or riders on our team who were all different ages and that was my first introduction to a real team environment. At 12, I got sponsored by SE Racing — the founder is considered the godfather of BMX — so this was a huge opportunity for me. One of the pros who rode for SE Racing was helping our bike shop team with training and coaching, working on our skills and he was the one who opened the door for me.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What were the lessons or takeaways that you took out of that story?
I was the youngest kid on the SE Racing team and during the last race of the year, the Grand Nationals, there was a pro race on Friday night and spectators could buy tickets and go watch. Two pros on our team got a number of tickets for free and I asked them to give me all the tickets. I scalped them all and made like 90 dollars. At that age, it was a ton of money and I was super excited. After the race, I told them what I had done, and all the older kids made me take the entire team to Taco Bell and buy everyone dinner.
I think I had some entrepreneurial skills and drive from a young age. When I was even younger, I would always get free stickers from all the factory teams who were giving them away when we went to national races. Then when I got home, I would sell them at school for 10 cents each. Being on the road and hanging out with older kids was a good learning experience for me. I started learning the value of a dollar really early. And my parents reinforced those lessons by making me use my own money to buy what I wanted.
What would you advise to a young person who wants to emulate your success?
I never really had a long-term goal or vision of bike racing becoming my career, it just organically happened because I love the sport and I love riding my bike. It is so important to have a passion and drive for what you are doing and from there, work hard and practice, practice, practice.
Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?
For me, it’s not one single person, but a multitude of people and a strong community starting with my parents who always supported me and gave me the tools for success. Toby Henderson, the pro who saw something in me when I was on a bike shop team and gave me my first factory ride, also made a big impact. And Bob Margevicius, the President of Mongoose Bicycles when I was 18 (I rode for them at that time), was a mentor for me and gave me a lot of business-savvy advice. When he moved on to Specialized, I always stayed in contact with him and looked at him as the smartest guy in the bike industry. Whenever I had any bike-related question on the business or product development side, I would always go to Bob. It seemed like he knew everything.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about what it is like being a professional athlete?
People think you get to travel all over the world to cool places, and it’s true to a certain degree, but the fact is, if you’re going to do a job and you’re focused, you really don’t get to see anything outside of your hotel and the racecourse. During the period of my life when I was traveling a ton, I never got the chance to check out the trails around me — I was there to race and focus on my job.
Another myth is that I get to ride a ton of rad equipment before the public gets it. And again, that’s sometimes true, but there’s the flip side. When I’m testing a new product, I’m often spending a lot of time trying to get that product to fit right or work correctly. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes time spent in product development and I love doing that stuff, but I always tell people you’re lucky you can go buy a product that works perfectly. It can be a pain and disrupt your ride.
Ok super. Let’s now move to the main part of our discussion. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you are working on right now?
I have an instructional book — Mastering Mountain Bike Skills — that first came out about 14 years ago and is in its third edition now. We update it every 4–5 years with new content. For me, it’s fun and inspirational to see how many people have used it to try new things and get better. I also do private clinics and it’s always a good feeling to take someone out riding; they might be struggling but I’m able to give them pointers and help them overcome challenges.
In addition, I signed on as an ambassador to All Kids Bike about eight months ago. I love everything they are doing to help kids learn to ride bikes. All Kids Bike is focused on getting cycling implemented into Kindergarten classes all over the country. I think so far about 240 schools have the program up and running. We just got back from NW Arkansas and visited a few schools who are utilizing the All Kids Bike programming. It was awesome to witness the kids’ excitement when they received the bikes.
What methods are you using to most effectively share your cause with the world?
Nowadays, I’m using social media a lot to share the things I’m working on. But part of the All Kids Bike movement is to try to get kids off their iPads and videogames and living a healthier lifestyle. There’s something about face-to-face interaction that is so important. I still prefer to get out and ride with people, go to bike shops and talk to people personally one on one. I think personal interaction goes a lot further than social interaction.
Can you share with us the story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?
All Kids Bike (AKB) was founded in part by the CEO of Strider Bikes, Ryan McFarland. I knew a lot about Strider from my own experience with my son and I think it’s super effective to take off the training wheels and learn using a pushbike. When the opportunity to work with All Kids Bike came about, I jumped on board immediately for a number of reasons. First, I love bikes and I want to see more kids riding bikes. The AKB program has a lot of interesting data on the number of kids who don’t know how to ride bikes, how many are riding bikes to school, the amount of time kids spend on screens, obesity rates rising, etc. All these different issues have to do with overall health and wellness, and I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t want to get involved. It’s a lot bigger than just learning how to ride a bike. We’re giving these kids the gifts of mobility, adventure, independence, a healthier lifestyle, and more.
Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?
This past trip to Arkansas was the first time I saw the program in action and helped deliver bikes to schools. It was pretty inspiring to see the kids going to crazy for the bike show and watching kids who already knew how to ride bikes doing lap after lap. Everyone was having so much fun and I think the impact is immeasurable.
One of the teachers who was leading an AKB program at her school said a few of her students already want to take it to the next level. Parents are calling and asking where they can take kids to do races and jumps.
What are your 3 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- I wish someone told me you can make a living riding bike.
- When I started, I never wore a helmet or any kind of protection. As I got older and started racing, I took some crashes and injuries started to become more serious. I realized quickly, if I wear the proper protection, I can avoid some of those injuries. One crash can take you out for weeks or months if you get seriously injured. So, I would say, make sure you have the right protection, and you can minimize your time off the bike.
- I wish someone told me to enjoy the culture and experience of traveling around the world more. I spent so much time with my head down, focused on racing and I missed out on a lot of great experiences.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would start a movement to convert everyone’s diet to be more plant based. Our world would heal in so many ways if we ate more plant based!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?
I collect Dr. Seuss art and he has a quote that I love: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”. This has resonated in my life because I’m someone who always speaks my mind, knowing that not everyone may agree with me and I may not always be making friends, but it doesn’t matter. The most important thing is being true to yourself.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
My grandpa, who is almost 98 and is currently in an assisted living facility. I have only gotten to see him once since COVID began and he’s my only living grandparent. It makes me sad that I can’t see him on a regular basis, hug him and kiss him and be there to keep him company!
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Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring