Name: Thomas Cooke
Hometowns: Park City, Utah
Occupation: Nonprofit executive management, Utah-based Bicycle Collective
Time Cycling: 36 years
Reason for cycling: After many attempts at quitting, I finally decided I am a cyclist for life. It makes me happy. I hope to be riding for at least another 36 years.
THE biked as a kid, but the beginning of my life in cycling started when I was in college at The University of New Hampshire (UNH). Prior to leaving for school, I bought the lowest end Cannondale road bikes in my hometown of Ridgefield, Connecticut, one town over from Cannondale’s offices at the time. When I got to college, I saw a flyer for the cycling team on a bulletin board, and the barrier to joining was pretty low. I trained and traveled with the team, getting dropped or crashing out of C races (the lowest category), and probably got voted Least Likely to Return Next Year. But I did return.
What started out my freshman year at UNH as a search to find my tribe ultimately turned into pretty serious racing, and then career stints in the bike industry. Back then, my cycling encyclopedia was the “Eddy B book,” Bicycle Road Racing: The Complete Program for Training and Competition. This was literally the basis of how everyone trained. There was so much misinformation and old world superstitions—it was glorious and it was awesome.
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I didn’t have a coach, just the wheels of local New England legends to try to stay in contact with. My earliest memory of any kind of race that I did was a B group criteria at Williams College in my sophomore year. I was flying up the hill, lap after lap, with zero pain while everyone else was suffering.
Cycling continued to be a passion personally and professionally, and led me to Bicycle Collectivea Utah-based nonprofit founded in 2002, with four community bicycle shops throughout the state in Salt Lake City, Ogden, Provo, and St. George. Bicycle Collective’s mission is to promote cycling as an effective and sustainable form of transportation and recreation, and a cornerstone of a cleaner, healthier, and safer society. We provide refurbished bicycles and educational programs to the community focusing on children and lower income households.
As far as what we continue to do in the cycling community, it is really about our impact. You can only imagine how transformative it can be for someone who has absolutely nothing, then all of the sudden gets access to their own bike. That’s what we are all about.
In 2021, we gave away 1,469 bikes through our Bikes for Goodwill program. Many of these recipients are recently resettled refugees, or individuals recovering from homelessness or addiction. But we also cater to bike enthusiasts of all kinds.
In October 2022, we broke ground on the future site of The New Hub in Salt Lake City, a purpose-built, state-of-the-art building that will allow our SLC Bicycle Collective to do more of everything—more benches for do-it-yourself repairmore space for volunteers and paid mechanics to work on bikes, and classrooms for our programs. And of course, it allows for more retail space for used and refurbished bikes and parts.
The past five or so years, I have primarily been doing gravel events, in fact I just recently did one in the Catskills called the Cross Mountain Crusher. In 2017, I competed in what is now called Unbound Gravel and achieved a pretty decent result for an old guy, but I had to work hard for that, and preparing for those types of events can be a full-time job.
People ask me how much I trainand my answer is always I don’t train, I just laugh. And then the question is, well how much do you laughs, and my answer is always never enough. It’s always a struggle to find enough time, but if I can get eight to 10 hours per week, I feel pretty good.
I really can’t imagine what my life would be like without cycling having been a part of it. I wouldn’t have met my wife, most of my best friends, it’s almost crazy to think or imagine otherwise. I’m a lifer! Cycling makes me feel baseline happy. Long periods of no cycling, I tend to struggle. It’s like planting trees: The best time to start cycling is 30 years ago. The next best time is right now.
These tips have made my cycling journey a success:
1. Join cycling clubs
There is so much information out there, and not all of it is good. But there are really good people out there cycling. Join clubs. That’s how I got started. You can generally figure out who the helpful folks are pretty quickly. Listen to them.
2. Ride as much as you can
That is really the best advice anyone ever gave me.
3. Get involved
Check out Bicycle Collective. There are so many ways to help us in our charitable mission. Also, check out your local community. We don’t have a patent on the idea, and there are thousands of community bike shops across the country that do things like we do. Grab a wrench and help them out. It could help change someone’s life.
Thomas’s Must-Have Gear
→ Assos Equipe RS Bib Shorts: People say Assos is expensive, but when you buy something that works really well and lasts years, you go with it. If you live in the mountains, these are required.
→ OPEN UP Bike: I have been riding the same bike since 2017. It’s still the best all-around everything bike I have ever owned.
→ Ostroy “Pretty Okay at Bikes” Socks: They are pink. Pink goes with everything.
→ Vintage Bikes from Bicycle Collective: We post vintage bikes that are worth more to collectors than they are to folks who receive free bikes for Goodwill from us. Since we are a nonprofit, the “profit” just goes back into our charitable mission of giving away more bikes.
We want to hear how cycling changed you! Send your story and submit your photos to us via this web form. We’ll pick one each week to highlight on the site.
Emily Shiffer is a freelance health and wellness writer living in Pennsylvania.
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