Cyclists Ride to Honor Matt Bradley


By Dave Iltis

On Tuesday, August 19, 2014, riders gathered to honor the memory of Matt Bradley, a Utah cyclist, cancer survivor, and educator who passed away in 2012. The gathering of friends and cyclists wasn’t your typical remembrance, however. For the second year in a row The Matt Bradley Memorial Tour of Little Cottonwood Canyon was led by Matt’s brother Seth and was comprised of as many laps of Little Cottonwood that riders wanted to do.

We asked Seth about the ride:

What is the ‘official’ ride title?

The ride doesn’t have an “Official” title. I have been calling it the Matt ‘Bronco’ Bradley Memorial Ride/Tour of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Some call it Matt’s Birthday party. Some call it ‘the ride from hell’. It isn’t an official organized ride, just a bunch of family and friends of Matt’s that get together and remember him and how he inspired them.

Tell us about why you organized the ride:

Bryson Perry and Joe Sepulveda (Matt's brother in law) on the way up
Bryson Perry and Joe Sepulveda (Matt’s brother in law) on the way up
Little Cottonwood in honor of Matt Bradley. Photo by Seth Bradley.

Once a summer, a group of us including Matt would ride the 4 major canyons along the Wasatch Front. We would usually start with Little Cottonwood because it was the hardest so we could get it out of the way first while we still had fresh legs. The last time we did the 4 canyons ride Matt didn’t join us. After completing Emigration Canyon, the last of the 4 canyons, we rode to the Huntsman Cancer Institute to visit Matt. It was the day after his leg was amputated to stop the spread of cancer to the rest of his body. He was the one that got me into cycling and mentored me for the first year. I distinctly remember the first time he took me up Little Cottonwood Canyon on a bike. I was riding off the paved shoulder in the gravel looking for broken glass or nails, hoping I could get a flat tire so I could stop climbing. He was riding next to me giving words of encouragement while I suffered like a dog and cursed him and the stupid two wheeled contraption I was on. We grew up a few minutes out of the bottom of the Little Cottonwood Canyon and spent lots of time skiing, snowboarding, rock climbing and hiking there when we were younger. When we got into cycling, it was our go-to hill for doing intervals and hill repeats. I went and rode Little Cottonwood the morning of Matt’s funeral. I got snowed on and almost didn’t make it home in time. After Matt passed away, I figured it would be a fitting tribute to Matt to do hill repeats and to show him how he has inspired me and others to achieve things we didn’t think we could.

Where did you ride from and to?

A group gathered at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon by the park and ride at 6AM and rode all the way up to where the pavement ends. Once we reached the top, we would turn around and ride back down to the bottom. 8.5 miles up and approximately 3200 feet of elevation gain. Ironically, with the weather we had that day, the descent was more treacherous than the climb.

Describe your day in the saddle (emotions while riding and remembering Matt, time, weather, your number of laps, miles, and elevation gain):

A group of about a dozen riders set of at 6AM with headlights and rain gear. It started raining almost immediately after we started. Not everyone stuck together on the climb but it was great to have people to talk to and reminisce about Matt. After the first lap, some people left for work and others showed up to ride their first lap. We had a steady stream of people coming and going all day long. It rained until around 1PM when it finally stopped and the sky eventually cleared and turned into a beautiful sunny day. After being soaked to the bone, it was nice to put on a dry kit and ride without the rain for the second half of the day. The rain wasn’t bad on the climbs but the descent was not fun. Between the rain hitting your face, wet roads, construction they are doing in the canyon and gravel, I did not look forward to the descent like I usually do.

Regrouping on lap 6 of Little Cottonwood Canyon during the Matt 'Bronco'
Regrouping on lap 6 of Little Cottonwood Canyon during the Matt ‘Bronco’
Bradley Memorial Ride. Photo by Seth Bradley.

Both this year and last year, we have had crazy rain at some point during the day. I don’t know if this is Matt making it harder for us on purpose because he thinks this is stupid idea or him looking out for us because the middle of August could easily be 100 degrees. We had people come and do a lap on their lunch breaks. We had people do a lap in the morning before work and then come back after work. We started in the dark on the first lap and finished at the top in the dark around 8:45 PM. It was great to ride with so many people but it was also nice to drop off the group for a while and have some quiet time to reflect.

How hard was your last climb?

We started the last lap at 7:18PM. I knew it would be the last because we were quickly running out of daylight. My legs were getting soft at this point. I put a 50/34 compact crank on this year after making the mistake of riding it with at 53/39 x 11/27 last year. My knees were starting to get a little tender but none of the laps were particularly fast so I wasn’t cramping, just fatigued. The last lap was done with Bryson Perry and an old roommate of Matt’s named Matt Russell. My wife waited for us at the top and drove us down because it was too dangerous to descend. Last year, the last lap we rode all the way up the gravel and finished up in Albion basin but this year, we called it good at the end of the pavement in the dark. 8 times was enough for this year.

How many laps did some of the other riders do?

I ended up with 8 times up. I did not descend on the last time up. My mileage was 126 miles with just under 26,000 feet of climbing. Joe Sepulveda joined for 6 laps. Bryson Perry also did 6 times up. Breanne Nalder ended up riding the canyon 4 times and then went on a few days later and won the Utah State Hill Climb Championship at Powder Mountain. Cathy Kim, who has self-diagnosed allergies to climbing did 2 laps. Tyler Kirk, who won the Porcupine Hill Climb cat 3’s in 2012 had the fast lap at under an hour without much effort, then he came back after work with his Madsen Bike carrying his 5 year old son and his 13 year old son who has Hydrocephalus. Needless to say, his second lap was less successful than his first. My 12-year-old daughter Olivia and Bryson Perry’s daughter Taylor came and rode a lap on their mountain bikes. The weather was not ideal that day and there were a bunch of people that promised laps but backed out because of the rain. Steven Sheffield promised a lap and wasn’t able to make it so he ended up making a donation to the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Matt’s honor instead. Although that is noble, he still owes Matt a lap.

How many riders participated?

In spite of the weather, we ended up with around 40-50 people this year. Many came and rode but some just stopped by to show support and say hello. We received phone calls and texts from friends, family, colleagues and people Matt inspired throughout the day sharing their memories of him. It was a great day spent doing something he was very passionate about.

Would you like to add anything else?

Seth Bradley (center) completed 8 laps of Little Cottonwood in honor of
Seth Bradley (center) completed 8 laps of Little Cottonwood in honor of
his brother Matt Bradley. Bryson Perry (right) and Matt Russell (left) rode
with Seth part of the way. Photo by Megan Bradley.

Two days after having his leg amputated, Matt was back on the trainer determined to come back stronger than he was with 2 legs. Matt climbed Little Cottonwood Canyon 3 times the day of the Queen stage of the Tour of Utah in 2011 with one leg. He dedicated himself and ended up earning a spot on the US Paracycling team after winning a couple of bronze medals at nationals in 2011. Matt went and trained in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center and then went and raced Paracyling Worlds in Roskilde, Denmark. He had his sights set on the Olympics in 2012 when he passed away. A lot of us have preconceived barriers we set up for ourselves thinking that we can’t do things. Matt showed us that we can do them, we may just have to work harder than we are comfortable with.


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