If Bo Jackson were a professional cyclist — instead of a professional two-sport all-star — he would have been a track sprinter.
At 6-foot-3 and 275lbs, he doesn’t like hills — real or virtual.
“I really enjoy the cycling world. It’s how I stay in shape,” Jackson told VeloNews. “I hate hills, but I do [them] anyway. Whether it’s a two percent incline, or 20 percent, I’m not going to be happy. At 275 pounds, you can understand why.”
Every spring, Jackson returns to his alma mater, Auburn University, for an annual charity ride. Jackson was inspired to create the fundraiser after tornadoes hit the area in 2011. Jackson and other A-list sports stars went on a five-day bike tour to see how bad things were and to put the media spotlight on the needs of the local communities.
That grew into an annual event that debuted in 2012. Dubbed “Bo Bikes Bama,” the event has raised nearly $2 million since then, with the proceeds donated to the Alabama Governor’s Disaster Relief Fund, used to construct storm shelters, warning systems, and to help to rebuild homes in the area.
After shutdowns forced the cancelation of the event this year, Jackson was intent on trying to do something.
“Once we saw coronavirus was going to put a big dent in our ride, the people at Trek and Trek Travel suggested, ‘let’s do a virtual event,’” he said. “I said if you can set it up, I am behind it 100 percent.”
Working with Trek, Nike, and other backers, they quickly pulled together a virtual version of the event, held last Saturday.
Dubbed “Bo Bikes Zwift,” the online charity ride held Saturday drew 1,550 participants from 48 countries who completed the online ride.
Jackson chatted with riders, and had an assistant to help type up some answers for online social media.
When VeloNews connected with Jackson, 57, he had just returned from a two-hour ride. The day before, he rode his indoor trainer for the first time. It seems like he dislikes riding on the home trainer as much as climbing the steep hills.
“I love riding outside,” Jackson said. “Training for the Zwift ride was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I would have rather been at the dentist getting a root canal.”
Everyone knows Jackson as a two-sport superstar in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and he gained national popularity with the “Bo Knows” advertising campaign showing off his multi-sport skillset. After winning the 1985 Heisman Trophy, he played in the NFL and then Major League Baseball. A hip injury cut short his NFL career, and by 1994 he was forced to leave baseball as well.
After he underwent surgery for the hip injury that derailed his NFL career with the Oakland Raiders, he turned to cycling as part of his rehab. He’s been an avid cyclist ever since.
“After my injury, I couldn’t put any weight on my hip, so the bike was the perfect exercise,” he said. “I substituted cycling for running, and now I ride whenever the weather allows.”
Jackson admitted he’s also a big fan of professional cycling, and said he’d like to go to the Tour de France someday, only if he could find the time.
“I’d love to go to the Tour some day, but that means I would have to take a week off work,” he said. “I’m a very busy man these days.”
Jackson is busy indeed. Now based near Chicago, he runs several businesses, including a signature food line and a packaging box operation. He also does a steady volume of public appearances and speaking engagements.
Cycling has been part of his life since he went to Auburn in the 1980s, and said he rode a bike around campus for his first two seasons there before going on to win the Heisman Trophy in 1985.
“As a former athlete, I watch the riders in the Tour de France for their technique,” he said. “It’s how I watch golf, so I can become a better golfer. I am more a student than a spectator.
“It just amazes me to see them riding through the Alps as fast as they do. It’s something I could never do,” he said with a laugh. “Of course, I’m 275, not a buck-40 like of those guys in the Tour.”
If Jackson were a pro roadie, he’d be one heck of a leadout man.