Monday, April 22, 2019

Men on Bikes Series: Brady Howe

I'm originally from Holmen, WI, just outside of LaCrosse. I lived outside of town so if I wanted to hang out with friends I had to bike. I started mountain biking in middle school and I bought my first "real" mountain bike in 1995, a Trek 800. I upgraded to a Trek 7000 the next summer and did my first race that year. I still have the 1996 Trek 7000 and currently use it as a commuter bike, converted to single speed.

I love mountain biking and being outside, so when I went to college to be a Park Ranger.

Over my life I've worked for WI State Parks, the National Park Service (Chiricahua National Monument/Fort Bowie National Historic Site), and the US Forest Service (Arapaho National Forest, Black Hills National Forest, and now the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest). I've worked in recreation this whole time, working on a backcountry trail crew with the Park Service, to developed rec and trails with the USFS. Part of the reason I chose this career path is advocacy. Back in the day, many public land managers weren't too fond of mountain bikers. Many of them thought we would ruin the trails and were unsafe for other users. Some of those issues are still around today but part of that is trail design and educating trail users on etiquette. I figured if I got a job in one of those agencies then someday I could be the one setting policy and work on building awesome trails to bike. I'm really lucky too that my wife got into cycling and mountain biking so I always have someone to go on bike adventures with. We left on our honeymoon right after I crossed the finish line of my first Chequamegon MTB Fest, and we went to Fruita and Moab, so that was pretty awesome. We got fatbikes this year and had fun going out today for Global Fat Bike Day too and we're currently at 12 bikes between us (n+1), mainly because I get attached to my bikes and have a hard time selling them. We also have two cats because cats are awesome. My wife wants to do RAGBRAI in 2021 too.

My love of mountain biking has been a huge influence on my career choice and I hope I get the opportunity to advance enough to make a big difference for mountain bikers. Plus I just love to ride and see other people out having fun on the trails. I've always been a mid-pack racer, will never win anything. But that's OK, I'm still having a shit ton of fun on my bike. I was never good a stick and ball sports, but in cycling and mountain biking, it doesn't matter how good you are to have fun, just being out there and doing it is all that matters.

Tell us about your mountain biking introduction, what about it made you go "Yes! This is for me!"
The year was 1995 and I had a good buddy since kindergarten that was big into dirt bikes and he got a real mountain bike, so I had to get one too. I saved up my allowance and I got a Trek 800, not as cool as his 930 but it worked for me. It had bar ends, toe clips, and brakes that worked! Several of my buddies got "real" mountain bikes that summer too and we used to cruise around causing the type of mayhem that only 13-year-old boys can cause. It was about this time that I was realizing that I really wasn't that good at stick and ball sports. But on a bike it didn't matter, you got to run your own race, do your own thing. The next summer I got a Trek 7000 and I did my first race and was hooked. It kicked my butt but it was so much fun.

When you started working for parks, what did your job(s) primarily entail?
When I was in college I got a summer job working at Perrot State Park in Trempealeau, WI. My jobs there varied, the manager did a great job of making sure we all got to experience a little bit of everything as several of us were going to college for natural resources. I did everything from general facility maintenance like painting picnic tables, cleaning outhouses, selling passes to visitors, and my favorite doing trail work. We would work one week focusing on one area, then do something different the next week. It really kept things fun as I got to learn a lot those two summers.

What do you love most about being able to have a career that had you so closely involved with the outdoors?
I love that I get to provide people with the opportunity to go out and enjoy their public land and have great experiences recreating on it. I remember one day when I was in Colorado working on the Arapaho National Forest. I ran into a father and son that were on a family vacation from somewhere where this isn't really any public land. The dad wanted to take his son out camping for a night, and the wound up at a campground. He wanted more of a backcountry experience for his son but wasn't sure what he could go, what was legal and what wasn't.

I pointed out to the mountain range behind us and told them that they could camp anywhere they wanted out there, it was all their land. The look on their face was priceless. I gave them a map, went over the fire regulations, and sent them on their way. I'm sure that they have some great memories from camping out that night that neither one of them will ever forget. Being able to be a part of that really makes me happy.

Why is being an advocate important to you? Have you faced challenges?
Being an advocate is important to me because without advocacy we wouldn't have trails, and I can only ride the road so much before I need my dirt fix. Some of the challenges I've faced have been the misconceptions that people have towards bikes. Many people, including public land managers, don't have a firm grasp on what all mountain biking is. They see Red Bull Rampage pop up on their YouTube feed and think that's what we all do. I remember reading something in a hunting magazine where the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation took some public land managers that don't hunt out target shooting and then hunting so they could experience it first hand. That trip gave the land managers a great perspective on why that activity is so important to so many people. I think if mountain bikers did something similar we could help with some of the misconceptions that are out there. All in all, though it has been getting better as more mountain bikers become organized, and get jobs in public land management! (Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow, https://clft.org/).

Why is education on trail use/etiquette important? Are there resources for new riders?
Education on trail etiquette is important because it helps everyone have a fun and safe time on the trails. No one want's to get into an accident with someone trying to set a STRAVA pr. I know I've been run off the trail by this more times that I like to admit. Having good etiquette is important too because many trails are multi-use, we all have to play in the same sandbox. It only takes one individual doing bad things on a multi-use trail to leave a bad impression of mountain bikers on other trail users. And unfortunately, a black eye for one is a black eye for us all in many cases. I remember bike magazines having more articles on this back in the day, but now you see stuff on social media and other formats as well. Pretty much every trail system or club has a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram where they post messages on trail conditions, safety and etiquette. It seems like many riders get introduced to the sport by a friend, so I guess it's up to use to make sure that we teach and educate each other on what is and isn't appropriate so we all can enjoy this sport. We are our brother's keeper.

What has been the most exciting improvement you've seen/helped with since working with the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest?
Fat Bikes! When I first started on the CNNF fat bikes weren't allowed on any of the xc ski trails, but now we allow that mixed use on a couple of systems. The CNNF doesn't actually have a lot of single track for mountain biking, so for fat biking the options were snowmobile or forest roads that may or may not be plowed. Giving fat bikers this option has been great, but having single track would definitely be better! We've also done a lot of improvements on our motorized trails as well to allow side by side UTVs. This has been exciting as it's something that we have done to keep up with trends in recreation as more people are buying side by sides instead of traditional ATVs, and keeping the forest open to more people.
Your wife also mountain bikes, tell us what you enjoy most about being able to share the experience with her-
Everything. I feel so incredibly lucky that I get to go on adventures with her. When we started dating the majority of my rides were solo endeavors. When we moved to Rapid City, SD I was blown away by all the mountain biking I could do from our house in town, and how they had trails for every skill level. She is pretty adventurous and talked about getting a bike and going out with me. We hit up a couple of shops and got her a bike and she's been hooked ever since. At first, it was a little bit of an adjustment, getting used to riding with someone else especially considering she was new to the sport, but after a while, it got great, really great. Watching her progress in her fitness and skills, to doing her first race and then this year doing the full 40 at the Chequamegon MTB Fest for the first time, it's been an amazing journey. I was so stoked when I heard her name announced as she crossed the finish line this year. We even took our honeymoon to Fruita and Moab to ride bikes, and went to Winter Park in Colorado to ride for our anniversary one year, wouldn't have been able to pull that one off if she didn't ride! Now when I go on rides without her I almost feel like I'm cheating on her or something and I feel a little guilty like I hope she won't see my STRAVA or anything.

Do you have any tips/suggestions for those who would like to introduce their partner to mountain biking?
Take it slow, and get them good stuff that fits them. If you're 5'11" and give your 5'2" girlfriend your old clapped out bike to ride chances are she won't have a good time. The same thing goes for a helmet, clothes, etc. You don't have to go all in and get them a kit from Rapha to start out, but get them stuff that works and that fits them. I don't know how many bikes my wife tested before she picked out her first bike, but it was a lot. But when she found one that fit her she came back from that little trip around the block with a big grin on her face. Having a bike that she got to pick out and liked definitely helped her get into the sport.

For folks who are nervous about giving mountain biking a shot, do you have any suggestions on how they can go about creating a positive experience?
Nobody cares how good or bad you are (or at least they shouldn't). Go out and have fun, that's what it's all about. You don't have to be a superfreak shaving your legs and counting calories training for Leadville to have a good time. Mountain biking is for everyone. Ride in jean cutoffs? Cool, enjoy your ride! Riding with friends after work? Cool, enjoy your ride! Riding to get out and enjoy nature and fresh air? Cool, enjoy your ride! Just make sure that you're on a bike that is safe and fits you, and wear a helmet. Bring some water, some snacks, and if you got a friend that already rides that can show you a thing or two then even better. Also for the love of God and all that is holy and pure, yield to the uphill rider, let others pass, and don't skid.

What do you love about riding your bike?
Everything. I can be having the crappiest day, and go for a ride and all is well with the world. Since I started using Zwift even the trainer can be fun! I don't think I've ever taken a bike ride that I regret. I've had some bad rides where I've wrecked and wound up at the hospital, or where my bike was being a jerk (bent derailleur hangers are the bane of my existence), but I don't regret going on them. I'd rather spend my life living and doing fun stuff than sitting on the couch. Plus all the cool places my bike has taken. I don't think I would have pursued a career in public land management if it wasn't for mountain bikes. Riding a bike has a way of clearing your head, and it's a lot more fun than running.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My wife and I currently have 12 bikes. I have every mountain bike I've ever owned except the first, going back to my 1996 Trek 7000 that I did my first race on, which has since been converted to a single speed commuter bike. What can I say, I get attached to my bikes and have a hard time selling them when I get something new. My main bikes though are my Trek Fuel EX 9, and my Kona Jake the Snake. My wife has a Fuel 8 WSD and a matching Kona, except her bar tape, is pink and she has a different saddle. We both run 27.5 for our mountain bikes so we can share tubes, less to carry in our packs. I'm really tempted to buy a 29" hardtail though. One of my buddies got a Santa Cruz Chameleon and it's so much fun. We got cross bikes for gravel riding, they're a few years old and this was before gravel bikes were really a thing. They work for us on our weekly road group rides, and for exploring the roads less traveled.
What has been your favorite cycling event(s) to participate in?
I work a lot of weekends so I'm limited on what I can do. But for what I've done it's tough to say, kind of like saying what kid is your favorite. I really like the Chequamegon MTB Fest because getting to ride that roll out with so many people gives me goosebumps. I did the Dairy Roubaix gravel "race" for the first time this past year and that one was really fun too. It was cold, and lightly raining during the ride. I even had to shovel snow out of our campsite the day before. I think the miserable conditions are what made it fun and memorable. When I was in college in Minneapolis I used to race the weekly series at Buck Hill and that was really fun too. I think it was either Bike or Dirt Rag magazine that once had a little write up on it and they said it was like a keg party where a bike race broke out, and that pretty much sums it up. My skills developed so much from that series, and I meet so many other mountain bikers that took me out on trails outside of racing that I probably never would have ridden. Pat at Penn Cycles really has done something great there. The weekly volunteer trail work nights that the La Crosse Velo Club put on when I was growing up was actually fun too, part of the reason why I went into a career playing in the woods. Beer By Bike Brigade in La Crosse, WI is pretty sweet too, a giant pub crawl for bikes, and they do a lot of great things for the community.

Why do you feel folks should consider participating in at least one event?

Because it's fun, and you get to meet a lot of great people! There are plenty of events out there besides races where you can go out, meet new people and learn new things. You'd be surprised at how many cycling groups and clubs are actually out there, even in the smallest of towns. Going out on a weekly group ride is a great way to meet other cyclists and develop your skills. I've met some great people by participating in bike events. I even remember this one time a gal gave me a pull when I was hitting the wall during the Chequamegon Fat Tire Fest, and then a few years later I got to do an interview for her blog.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more folks to be involved?
As far as changing that's tough. But to encourage more people to be involved: NICA, promote NICA. The more kids on bikes mean that there will be more people on bikes in the future. More bikers also tend to lean towards more trails, more volunteers for trails, more people willing to donate for trails, more people to advocate for trails and cycling infrastructure... I think the new IMBA program of promoting more trails close to home has some real promise too. When you look at the maps on MTB Project and Trail Forks you see that there are quite a few areas with little to no trails, filling in those gaps would be great. It's tough to introduce someone to mountain biking when they have to drive an hour or longer to get to the closest trails.

What inspires you to encourage people to ride?
Seeing people happy on bikes, especially when recreating on their public land, makes me happy. Something about seeing others getting stoked about clearing a technical feature for the first time, or finally making it up a climb without walking, or going on their longest ride yet makes me happy. Happiness is contagious, and riding bikes makes people happy.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I'll give you two! One, I'm 37 and I've yet to master the skills to do a proper wheelie. I can sometimes ride one for a couple of yards, but I can't do them consistently.

Two, my wife and I have two cats named Bill and Ted, and they are most excellent.

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