Q&A: Julian Kyer back on the road after broken collarbone

Learn more about how Team SmartStop pro Julian Kyer discovered a new perspective on his passion and profession with the Ride on Chicago.

Julian Kyer (Team SmartStop) became a “real bike racer” (his own words) when he suffered his first-ever collarbone break at the Tour of the Gila in May. After having missed a couple months of racing with the team, Julian is on the road to recovery and training hard for the next block of racing in his hometown of Boulder, Colorado. At the end of his recovery, Julian had the opportunity to ride with his good friend, Tim Johnson, and PeopleForBikes at the Ride on Chicago — a 590-mile ride from Minneapolis to Chicago over five days. On this journey, Julian discovered a new passion for cycling.

Question: How has the comeback from injury been?
Julian Kyer: The comeback from breaking my collarbone has been interesting. I totally expected the discomfort, the inconvenience of having my arm in a brace, and the initial loss of fitness. What I didn’t expect was how hard it was, and still is, to be disconnected from the team. Losing goals to aim toward has made training a real challenge, and I realized how much I miss being on the road with the guys. Luckily I have kick-ass teammates who have done an awesome job of keeping me in the loop, and hearing from them over the past two months has kept me motivated for the second half of the year.

Q: How did you come to be a part of the PeopleForBikes Ride on Chicago?
JK: I’ve known Tim Johnson for a few years, and we’ve done quite a bit of training together in Boulder before. He sent me a note on a Monday afternoon asking if I wanted to do the ride (which started the next morning in Minneapolis, at 8 a.m.), and could I be at the airport that night. Tim knew I was coming back from injury, and he had the perfect gift for me: some unstructured miles with friends and an event that allowed me to give something back to my sport.

Q: What drew you in to participate?
JK: Initially it was pure selfishness; I just wanted to get out of the house for a few days and ride some new roads, but Tim had a master plan at work. He knew that getting me outside of the racing scene for a little bit would be a great reminder that riding bikes is fun for a hugely diverse group of people, and that being an advocate for the tool I make my living on can be a very inspiring and motivating process. I think he wanted to show me that riding bikes outside of the very competitive racing scene is a blast, but what I really came away with was a sense of how much I love my job, and how being inclusive about my experience as a professional can make riders of all levels enjoy their time on a bike more.

Q: How far did you ride each day, and what was your favorite road of the adventure?
JK: We averaged a bit over 100 miles a day for five days. I had a couple chances to stretch my legs and get some training in, but really each day was about getting everyone to the end together, happy and in one piece. I was amazed watching people, who had done maybe one 100-mile day in the past six months, get up every day at dawn, excited for another massive day. There were a few obscure country roads in my mind that stand out as being especially beautiful; I have no idea where they were or what they were named, but that’s part of the appeal to adventures, I think. Some parts only exist in my memory, and in the memories of those who were there.

Q: Highlights and lowlights?
JK: I think the highlight of my experience was being able to use my talent to help others, whether that was teaching people how to work together in a crosswind, helping stragglers bridge back to the group after a climb, or just telling stories. On the second morning, Tim asked me to share my worst moment during a race with the group. I didn’t have a specific instance to pick out, but I told them that as the days wore on, their bodies would start to lie to them, telling them they couldn’t do it anymore. I told them that yes, there would be a point in cycling that they couldn’t keep pushing, but that day was not today, and that their bodies were not to be trusted. Hearing people tell me after the trip tell me that hearing that advice helped them get through the week was a major highlight.

I would say we had two lowlights to the trip. The first lowlight was when our trusty navigator and ride leader, Kevin, crashed into the SRAM car and split his lip. All the participants and staff had become like a team, and watching one of your teammates go home in the car, covered in blood, is always a tough moment, no matter how long you’ve known each other. Luckily Kevin was okay and joined us on the bike the following day. The second lowlight was actually arriving in Chicago. All week we had been spoiled with this amazing bike infrastructure: beautiful roads, endless bike paths, everything you could want. We had a big group join us for the last leg into the city, and we knew that it would be impossible to navigate 40 people down the bike path, so we bunched up and took city streets all the way downtown. While it was a beautiful way to see the city, it was a brutal reminder that stop-and-go traffic is still stop-and-go traffic, regardless of your vehicle. In a way it was a fitting end to the ride, because we had been so spoiled that we needed to leave with a reminder that there’s a lot of room for improvement in terms of making the U.S. a better place for humans to live and move. Chicago (along with Minneapolis and Madison, the keystones of our trip) has worked hard to make space for bikes, and I’m sad we didn’t get to see that side of the city. Luckily we ended the trip with an awesome party at SRAM’s new office, and I left Chicago with a real desire to return.

Q: How did the experience change your perception/attitude to riding bikes?
JK: The Ride on Chicago changed my attitude toward riding in that it really hammered home to me how important it is to be an advocate for cycling. Every time we get out on our bikes, we are not just an advocate for our sponsors, we are an advocate for our entire sport, for every person who moves around on a bicycle. When a racer runs a stoplight, or rides in a way that antagonizes cars, they are making it that much harder to get bike paths built so that little kids have a safe way to get to school. It is incumbent upon us as racers to remember that we are just a small fraction of the cycling population, but our high visibility has a disproportionate impact on how the public views cycling. For instance, there are huge groups of blue-collar workers who depend on bikes to get to work every day, but are woefully underrepresented. They deserve safe routes to work just as much, if not more, than we deserve safe roads to train on, and we have a big influence on whether or not public policy shifts to meet both our needs.

I think more now about how I am being an ambassador for bikes as a means of transportation. I still want to rip descents and go fast, but I cool my jets when I ride through town now. Nobody cares how fast I can ride past the coffee shop, and I treat it as an opportunity to earn the respect of the drivers in my community.