By: Joe Bianchini
My first experience on a longer bike ride of sorts was in 2014, after I had just graduated college. My girlfriend at the time and now wife, had just received a road bike for her birthday and was eager to try it out. We were staying at her parent’s cottage near Bellaire, MI and had spent a lot of time meticulously plotting out how far we were going to go, what speed we wanted to maintain, what clothes to wear and most importantly how long we could afford to stay at The Dockside, a local bar on Torch Lake. When I say afford, I mean both how many beers we could literally afford having just graduated college and how much time we could afford before it got too dark out for our 15-mile return trip. These were the important things at the time that I needed to know before embarking on a ride over 5 miles of flat roads yet alone the 30 miles of rolling hills that we were about to do.
We ended up making it back okay but with about 3 miles left, we had one last climb to the top of a hill before this venture would come to an end. It was a twisty turny climb that I always thought people were crazy for biking up as I rolled past them in my car countless times. Now here I was doing it with a greasy hamburger and several beers sloshing around in my stomach. The biggest challenge however was the fact that I was on a hand me down children’s sized mountain bike from the 1990’s that had “Destiny” emblazoned across the top tube. Prior to getting to the climb, Brooke had very generously offered to ride “Destiny” up the hill and let me ride her bike. Despite the bike being heavy, too small and this being one of the steepest hills around; I was not going to let this challenge defeat me. Eventually, and not in quick fashion I made it to the top, but more importantly I had made up my mind about getting a road bike.
I grew up playing a variety of sports including football, lacrosse, wrestling and rugby but I never had participated in sports that were more endurance related such as biking, track, cross country, etc. However, the last time I ever participated in any competitive sport was high school. Having that brief period where my mind switched over into that competitive mindset on that hill was so exhilarating and I was hooked. It was such a fulfilling experience to not think about anything else that was going on in my life and only focus on getting to the top of that hill. Although I am sure that I could climb that same hill much faster today, the fact of the matter is that my attitude was the same then as it is now: Get to the top as fast as I possibly can.
That following winter I bought my first road bike and started going to spinning classes in anticipation of the coming spring. Once spring hit, I started venturing out on various group rides during the week but eventually hooked up with a small group of people who had work and life schedules that provided more opportunity to ride at 5:30 AM rather than the afternoon. We dubbed ourselves the “Morning Cranks” and over time the group began to grow, and the rides began to become faster. This provided me with a group of friends to ride with consistently, compete on Strava segments with, give me confidence to sign up for my first race and overall really made me enjoy the sport. Every time I got on the bike, I was constantly trying to learn from the other people around me to make myself a better rider and having fun doing it. Eventually, I began to partake in cat 4/5 races with varying level of success but knew overall that this was something I wanted to keep getting better at. It wasn’t until earlier this summer when I began talking to Terry Ritter about taking my racing to the next level. At first, I was a little nervous for a magnitude of reasons but eventually became confident that joining Team Athletic Mentors was something I really wanted to do.
Since joining the team, everyone that I have met has been extremely helpful in a variety of ways. The thing that I look forward to most is being able to race among teammates and doing whatever I need to do to help us win some races. I have had a couple opportunities to do that in 2019 when racing the Summer Waterford Series, Cherry Roubaix, Uncle Johns Dirty Ride and The Lowell 50 and I can honestly say it has been way more fun and fulfilling than getting on the podium myself. Not only is the actual racing fun but all the conversation that is had leading up to the race and after the race is always something that I look forward to. I am very excited to be a part of this team and can’t wait to see how we perform during the 2020 race season.