Bart Gillespie: How Bike Commuting Fits into Family, Work, and Professional Racing

The Gillespie family
Bart, Rosie, and kids. Photo: Lou Melini.

By Lou Melini

Bart Gillespie has been a dominant fixture in the Utah racing scene for two decades. On the national level, he has finished 7th in both the professional national mountain bike (cross country) and cyclocross championships. In this months bike commuter profile, Bart will discuss the other important aspects of his life; family, work and bike transportation.

Cycling Utah: I once saw a headline, perhaps in VeloNews, describing you as a Working Man Pro. Give me some background of your family and profession to detail the Working Man part.

Bart Gillespie: I am your average 37-year-old family guy who enjoys riding bikes. I just happen to have stuck with cycling long enough to get kind of good at it. I am married to the magnificent Rosie. We now have 3 girls Eva (5) and Stella (3) and Skye who was born on June 27th. I am very fortunate to have a supportive family who all enjoy two wheels nearly as much as I do.

My day job is a Physical Therapist. I did my undergraduate education in physiology at BYU before getting a Masters and then Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree from the University of Utah. I work at the VA Hospital and specialize in amputee rehab as well as diabetic foot care. I also enjoy acute ICU rehab. In addition, I teach amputee care and cardiopulmonary rehab at the University of Utah Physical Therapy program.

I grew up in Provo, Utah on the East Bench foothills and was very active riding motorcycles and bikes with my mom, dad, and 2 younger brothers all of who continue to ride bikes for fun, exercise, and transportation.

C. U.: And the Pro part of the headline. How did that part of your life start?

B. G.: I started riding and racing BMX bikes before turning to a mountain bike to explore the surrounding mountains. In 1988 I sold a motorcycle to buy my first mountain bike, a Supergo with Shimano Deore XT components. I rode that bike into the ground and actually broke the frame at the 1989 Bonanza Flats race above Park City. In the spring of 1989 I did my first race in cut-off sweat pants and waffle runner Nike running shoes. It was up Payson canyon at the Maple Dell Boy Scout camp and was a great venue. I raced the Beginner Men because they did not have a junior category and ended up winning. I thought I was going to die and had never pushed myself that hard before. I still have the Pink and Green Fanny Pack that I won. I remember watching the other races including local Art OConner who won the Sport Men and an epic battle in the Pro Class between Martin Stenger and Glen Adams. After the Supergo broke I had saved enough money from working on the farm to buy a magenta and black Klein. It was at least 6 lbs lighter, but still before suspension or clipless pedals. After spending all that money on a new bike ($1500), I did not want it to get muddy during the winter so I modified my dad’s old steel Stella road bike into something that could be ridden in the dirt, I would later learn that I had made a cyclocross bike without knowing it. We named our 2nd daughter after that beautiful machine!

C.U.: I had heard at a Cross race that you bike commute, so Ive wanted to profile you for this column. How does bike commuting fit in with your life, training and family?

B.G.: I have commuted by bike for as long as I can remember. From my days in Provo during college, through graduate school and to every job I have ever had. We lived in Emigration Canyon for 4 years and my commute included riding up and down the canyon to the VA hospital. About 8 miles each way with 1500 vertical drop on the way in and 1500 vertical gain on the way home. The nice thing was I usually rode with the prevailing canyon winds. Down in the AM and up in the PM. Thirteen minutes was about as fast as I could get to work, around 25 minutes going home. It was a great commute with no stoplights and plenty of other cyclists to ride with. I could easily extend it on the Shoreline trail or up Big Mountain for some extra training. We now live in Holladay and although my commute is still about 8 miles each way it is relatively flat. One of the main reasons we moved out of the canyon was so the rest of the family could enjoy bike commuting. Our neighborhood was just way too steep for a 5 year old to be able to ride to school or to a friends house. We found Holladay to be a perfect neighborhood for either walking or cycling, and as a family, we rely on a car much less.

Bike commuting has been a huge part of my training as well, and as family and work responsibilities continue to grow, I find it is perfect for guaranteeing at least a little riding time each day. The tricky part is not just turning it into a bunch of moderately hard junk miles. I try to be somewhat specific about what I want to achieve physically for each commute whether it be recovery or some intensity. Often on my ride home I will take a longer route, jump on the Shoreline trail, or cruise up Emigration or Millcreek canyons. By using my commute to train I can maintain the fitness needed to race at a relatively high level without sacrificing time with my family.

C.U.: I assume you commute year-round? How was the ride down Emigration in the winter? Also do you use a mix of bikes for commuting?

B.G.: I ride year round but in the last few years I have ridden less in the winter just to get off the bike and do other things. So a few days a week I may drive so I can go Nordic or backcountry skiing before or after work.

I use a mix of different bikes for the commute depending on the season. I like to commute on the same bikes I am going to be racing on. During good weather I ride a Cannondale Supersix with no specific commuter modifications. I will also ride a Cannondale Scalpel mountain bike if I plan to hit some trails at lunch or after work and always on Fridays before a mountain bike race. This year I have also started commuting on a Cannondale Jekyll (6 travel bike) which allows me to do a little free riding up on the Bobsled trail during lunch. Specificity is important not only in training but in feel and fit of the bike. During cross season I use a mix of the Supersix road bike and a Cannondale SuperX cyclocross bike and regularly hit the cross practice at Sugarhouse or Big Cottonwood Park on my way home. I always use a backpack instead of panniers as I dont like the feel of the bike to be altered by additional weight. A backpack can also be stashed in the bushes during some trail riding or a quick trip up a canyon. One time at Sugar House for cross practice my pack was stolen from underneath a tree where I had stashed it. I lost around $600, but more importantly the flash drive that held a large chunk of my graduate school research. I guess panniers may have been a better option that day! In my man-purse backpack I usually only carry a change of underwear and my lunch and keep a locker stocked with clothes at work. I also always have a multi-tool and most of the time have a tube and CO2 but cant remember the last time I flatted, knock on wood.

When the weather is bad I have used all different kinds of bikes including flat bar road bikes, mountain bikes with road wheels, and everything in between. Right now I am using an old cyclocross bike with full fenders. I only have to ride in the dark for a few months in fall and winter and usually use small rechargeable lights front and rear but also have some big exposure lights if needed for extended missions.

When I was living up Emigration I had fun riding down the canyon in the winter after a storm. Sometimes it felt just like the slickest cyclocross race and was great for honing skills. You cant replicate those conditions on a trainer! It was also a challenge to see how I could handle cold riding down the hill in the morning and I was able to dial in some great layering techniques using down coats and ski pants. I think my record was -4F which is pretty cold if you have to drop 1500 ft right out of a warm house. I also love riding in a snowstorm and you just cant beat the roads with about 2-3 inches of cold snow, perfect traction, but still fast. The biggest challenge for sloppy riding conditions always seems to be keeping your feet dry. I have experimented with all sorts of homemade footwear with only marginal success. For severe slushy conditions I have a pair of oversize fireman boots with a hole cut in the sole that I can slip over my cycling shoes and cinch up around the calf before putting my rain pants on. Works pretty well and you can always add wool socks on the outside of the shoes for added warmth. They also work well for a really muddy cyclocross course inspection.

Last summer I had a battle with the Epstein Barr virus and then this spring had Bells Palsy and was not able to commute by bike for an extended periods of time. One of the worst things about these illnesses was to have to drive a car to work. I had to completely change my lifestyle, which was much harder than just putting a stop to exercise for a while. Bike commuting is very addictive!

C.U.: You have raced in most of the categories of bike racing. Tell me about your bike -racing career.

B.G.: I really enjoy all types of bike riding and have dabbled in most types of racing. I started in BMX but when the track got shut down in Provo it was hard to pursue it. Once I started mountain bike racing in 1989 I was hooked and have pretty much raced since. Throughout the years I have raced on the road a fair bit and really enjoy that as well. There was a time when I would race the week- night crits and did a lot of local road races. I will always remember some of the wins at RMR, DMV, Logan Stage Race, Eureka Road Race, and Hell of the North. I also did a really cool stage race in Puerto Rico that I would love to go back and do again. I got away from road racing as I got busy with a family. Weeknight races were harder to get to and I found it much easier and more productive to focus on one type of racing during the summer. Maybe I will start doing some more road races again.

I don’t remember when I started racing as a Pro on the mountain bike but I was definitely a long ways from making any kind of living at it. I was not that good in the beginning and regularly got worked over by locals Cris Fox and Eric Jones. But, I stuck with it and slowly improved to the point where I could win Intermountain Cups regularly and was fairly competitive at the National races. I don’t remember the year but the first Intermountain Cup I won was at the Olympic Park before it was the Olympic Park. I had a pretty good battle with Jeff Louder (currently with BMC Pro team), but was able to get away in some of the tight trails. On the national level it seems my first breakthrough race was in 2005 in Waco, Texas where I finished 13th in XC. In the Short track cross country (STXC), I was set up for a possible top 5 finish until I rolled a tire on the last lap in a downhill pavement corner, I was super bummed. I always flirted with the top 10 at the NORBA races but had a hard time getting over that hump; those guys are really fast! My best National MTB XC result was in 2007 at the National Championships at Mt Snow, Vermont. I had the perfect race for me and finished close to the podium in 7th. Some of the endurance race results are also memorable including 10th at La Ruta de los Conquistadors (A four-day 240 mile mountain bike race with 39,000 feet of elevation gain in Costa Rica) in 2009, and a win in the 1st stage of the BC Bike Race with Jason Sager in 2008. Racing with Monavie-Cannondale I had the opportunity of racing mountain bikes all over the world and particularly enjoyed the stage races in British Columbia, Brazil, Peru and Costa Rica.

I started cyclocross in 1996 when my friend Matt Ohran started promoting the Utah Cyclocross series. It seemed like the perfect extension to the mountain bike season and most of us did it on rigid MTB’s. I remember winning the first event that had about 30 riders total and thinking this type of racing really suits me. No 30-minute climbs, technical courses, and very dynamic racing. I think I got a cross bike in 1998 and started to take it a little more serious including traveling to some “real” cyclocross races in the North West. One trip Cris Fox and I flew to Seattle, got off the plane in the rain, rode from the hotel to the race in the rain, raced in the rain, rode back to the hotel in the rain, woke the next morning and rode to another race in the rain, raced in the rain, and then rode back to the airport in the rain to pack our bikes in a loading bay. We got killed, but I learned how to properly shoulder your bike! My best results have been ‘Cross Nationals in 2005 where I was 10th and had a good battle with Adam Craig and in 2007 where I finished 7th and was only seconds from the podium. I have only won one UCI cyclocross race but have placed in the top 10 dozens of times. The tough part with cross on the national level is your start position is dependent on UCI points and getting UCI points when you live in Utah, means a lot of travel and a lot of time away from the family. I still think I can be competitive at that level and felt stronger than ever in 2010 but just didn’t want to be away from the family every weekend to get the points for a good starting position. Fortunately the UTCX series has grown into one of the best in the country and is very competitive. It is fun to see it grow and love seeing new racers (and old guys like my dad and you Lou) get the bug.

C.U.: How does your success as a cyclist carry over to your career?

B.G: Cycling is so woven into my lifestyle that I am sure that it effects my career more than I really know. Currently I don’t treat cyclists or really even athletes all that often but all the same principles apply and I rely heavily on my experience seeing the body respond to stresses. All living tissue must be overloaded in order for it to adapt and get stronger but you cannot overload it too much or you get breakdown and injury. It can be a tricky balance whether you’re trying to reach maximum performance by doing threshold intervals up Emigration Canyon or trying to return to independent function by doing 2 minute walking intervals on a treadmill after a major heart attack.

C.U.: Given your profession, you probably see “life- style” disabilities due to issues related to weight, poor conditioning, and a general lack of healthy habits. Do life-style issues a result in a lot of your referrals for therapy? If so, how can we get young people, say teens and twenty-something age groups, to develop healthy habits such as riding a bike?

B.G.: The majority of the patients I see are having physical challenges related to chronic disease most of which are preventable. Although some of the amputees I see are from trauma the majority are due to diabetic foot ulcers and dysvascular disease. Diabetes is a silent killer for sure. We have all heard about it in the news but I don’t think we really understand the magnitude of the disease. I think our perception of the problem has a lot to do with it. If one is diagnosed with cancer it is a traumatic event and we see people rally together with all their resources to fight the disease. Unfortunately, that does not seem to happen with a new diagnosis with diabetes. For example, the 5-year mortality rate for a new diagnosis with breast cancer is roughly 15% and the 5-year mortality rate for an individual with a diabetic foot ulcer in roughly 48%. The individuals I see don’t seem to treat a diagnosis of diabetes with the same urgency as with cancer when in reality maybe they should.

One of the reasons I work at the VA medical center is because preventative care can be a focus and it actually financially pays off for the VA system to keep people healthy and prevent chronic disease rather than just treating the many problems. It seems our current private health care system is setting us up for failure fighting all the many effects of chronic disease like diabetes yet putting little resources into prevention and personal responsibility.

As for developing healthy habits, I am not sure how other than to lead by example. Although we loved living in Emigration Canyon, we decided to move because we wanted our children to learn to walk or use a bike for transportation and ultimately develop these healthy habits.

There are ways of getting teens involved in a healthy life-style through biking. I am really excited about seeing mountain biking in the high schools in Utah. This has always been a dream of mine when I was in high school. It has been fun watching high school competition cycling explode in other parts of the country. Now it’s our turn. With great weather, terrain, and close proximity we have the opportunity to really make a stand out program that I think is the perfect avenue to expose young people to the wonders of the bicycle. When I was a junior racer (under 18) I had great support at home as well as a bunch of older more experienced mentors, guys like Ron Lindley that helped me get to the races and learn the sport. I have volunteered to coach at Olympus High School with the hope to build a program that my girls can eventually enjoy. Spread the word, this is the chance for every cycling enthusiast to make a difference and I expect a huge crowd of support for the high school races starting in the fall of 2012!

Cycling Utah: Bart, with the new baby making you a 3-child family, a busy professional life, your racing and helping out at Olympus High School, I now hear that you have a new venture.

B.G.: Local mountain bike superman, Alex Grant and I have started an online outdoor gear consignment business called Gear Rush. It’s super simple, you drop off your gear, Gear Rush will professionally prepare and photogragh it, research the market for your item to maximize your return, post it in our Ebay store, ship it when it sales and mail you a check. As a cyclist, skier, and general outdoor enthusiast. I have personally been challenged selling my old gear so that I can justify getting the latest and greatest new gear. Gear Rush provides an easy and convenient outlet for anyone looking to generate a little extra gear money. My role is primarily behind the scenes, while Alex will be running the day-to-day operations. Alex comes from the rep side of the outdoor/cycling industry where he was putting in a lot of miles in the car and is very excited about being able to commute by bike to work. Maybe by next year he will be ready for a commuter column spotlight!

C.U.: Thanks Bart. Great interview. I will see you this fall at the cyclocross races. Bring your dad.

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