He throttled back a bit on racing and all its related travel last year, while finishing up his degree at Saint Martin’s University. But now it’s time to ramp back up – and he’s landed on the perfect work/life balance to support that goal.
Luke, 24, is co-owner of Joy Ride Bike Shop in Lacey with Derik Archibald and Michelle Kautzmann, which gives him the flexibility for training and out-of-town races.
During his early teenage years living in California, Luke took part in the usual high school team sports, but found himself drawn to mountain bike racing.
“I was getting a little tired of the team dynamic and I wanted to be on my own,” he explains. “I loved that mountain bike racing was a solitary sport. If I was the strongest that day, I would win.”
Mountain bike races can range from short (1 to 1 ½ hours) to long (24 hours), but usually run between 5- and 10-mile loops, encompassing 20 to 30 miles.
“In short races, I can’t concentrate on anything but the race. I’m just going too hard and everything is a blur,” says Luke. “But in a 24-hour race I’m way more in tune with what’s around me; there’s nothing more amazing than watching the sun rise on a clear morning – it also means you’re that much closer to being done.”
Luke entered his first race was when he was 14. “I had an uncle who did one race a year and I rode with him. He told me a lot about it,” says Luke. “Then I moved to a new town where a local pro at the bike shop invited me to try it.”
He was instantly hooked and took part in a lot of big races his first year in the sport.
Luke raced in a high school racing league in Northern California for two years, and then landed his first big sponsor at 16. “They helped me go to races around the state and got me used to traveling,” he explains.
When his father’s job moved the family to Olympia, Luke quickly heard from Jim Brown with Rad Racing Northwest, who would become his biggest supporter. But first Luke had a decision to make.
“Before I moved to Washington, I was the MVP of my baseball team and was really into team sports along with the bike racing,” says Luke. “Jim called and had me come down to talk. He told me everything he’d done for these other guys.”
Luke realized he could do baseball and mountain bike racing and travel around Thurston County – or he could just race bikes and travel around the United States.
“I said to myself, ‘I’m gonna go race bikes and travel around the country,’” Luke says with a laugh.
“That was really the first point where everything clicked toward bike racing and I put all my effort toward that.”
Soon he was on the national racing circuit with contests in Idaho, Colorado, California, and elsewhere, then back to Washington.
“When you get to a certain level in racing and you’re searching for that competition, you could easily travel at least two to three weeks a month,” Luke explains. “It’s a huge commitment.”
And although the competition itself is essentially a solo rider fighting against other racers and the clock, no one can do it alone.
“Every racer out there – even at the local level – is engulfed in this stuff. And to be successful, everyone has to be behind you,” says Luke. “Your support crew really makes you. Behind the scenes, there are at least two or three amazing people – a manager or family members – supporting you, helping you cook or figure out logistics, passing out water bottles.”
“Once I got to a certain level of racing, the need to win started to fade and I started wanting to do my best at every race,” says Luke. “If I had a great day and was in it for the win, I’d go for it. But there are definitely days where a top 10 or even 15 is something I’m very satisfied with and proud of – as long as I had a good day on the bike.”
Luke juggled the national racing circuit throughout the rest of high school and his first three years of college.
“I was racing and going to school, and then racing and going to school,” said Luke. His family, always extremely supportive of his racing, had also always stressed the importance of college. “They were kind of pulling the rope back, going: ‘Make sure you concentrate on school and graduate college.’”
It was time for another big decision. Luke had one more year at Saint Martin’s University, and decided that school had to come first.
“I jumped into my engineering degree, and it was really easy to get wrapped up in that and just study.”
And just because Luke reigned in the travel aspect of racing doesn’t mean he stopped competing.
“There are a lot of really great races locally, and those are probably some of the most fun, because it’s not as high stress,” he explains. “You don’t have to get on a plane, pack up all your bikes, and stay in a hotel room.”
But it still wasn’t easy to pull back.
“It’s been harder than I thought it would be,” he admits.
Luke was focused on school and didn’t plan on staying in the bike industry; he was already interviewing for engineering jobs in the summer of 2009. But he found himself doing a bit of bike work for Derik, a racing friend since his move to Olympia, the summer before his senior year, and that turned into working on the floor of Joy Ride Bikes.
Derik and Michelle, owners of Joy Ride Bikes since 2007 when they bought it from original owner Min Lee, wanted to move and expand the shop. When they asked Luke to come on as a partner in the business, it didn’t take long for him to accept.
“It was too good an opportunity to pass up,” he says.
Once the fall semester was out, Luke was at the bike shop every day. Working with his Derik and Michelle, they gutted their new, much larger space and made it into a showroom floor and retail space.
“It’s a much homier feel now,” says Luke. “We painted the walls nice warm colors, there’s a couch, hardwood flooring, and great lighting.”
In fact, the shop has a comfortable coffee shop vibe. “It’s somewhere you’d like to come not just to buy things but to hang out and look at all the cool bike stuff. We’re bike geeks and like to do that sort of thing,” Luke adds with a laugh.
Now that he’s been out of school for almost a year, Luke’s definitely feeling the itch to race – and travel – more.
“I’m pretty excited to start racing harder again and really get back. I actually miss the airport,” he says with a laugh.
Luke knows he has a long road ahead of him. Training rides involve both road and mountain bikes, with more precise training on the road. But, Luke explains, you have to train what you race, so he rides at least one day a week in the mountains.
“I have a lot of work to do to get into the shape I need to be in to race at [my previous] level,” he says. “I’ve started to work toward that goal.”
And in a classic example of passing it forward, Luke now supports area racers in several ways. Joy Ride Bikes sponsors three local race teams: Olympia Orthopedic Associates Cycling team (road and cyclocross); GL6 (mountain bike); and Rad Racing Northwest (Junior Development). The shop also supports a handful of local road and mountain bike races.
Luke and Joy Ride have also helped launch the Washington High School Cycling League, which plans to start its first season this year. They also support Intercity Transit’s Bicycle Commuter Contest, which takes place in May.
Interested in mountain bike racing in Thurston County? Luke suggests going to www.mtbwashington.com to learn more.
Joy Ride Bikes
1225 Ruddell Rd. #D
M-F 10am to 6pm
S 9am to 5pm
Su 11am to 5pm