Name: Mike Nichols

Age: 
48

Occupation: 
Marketing Communications 

Bikes: 
Salsa Warbird, Specialized Roubaix, and Fuji Gran Fondo

Q: When and how did you discover cycling?

A: I rediscovered cycling in 2013 while recovering from a major heart attack that nearly cost me my life. After going through cardiac rehabilitation, I was looking for alternative forms of exercise that would enable me to enjoy the outdoors and get out of the gym. That was when I discovered cycling, and it is has been a love affair ever since.

Q: Has your inspiration to ride changed since then, and what is it now?

A: For the most part, my inspiration has remained the same. My rational motivation for riding has always been to be healthy. But, my true inspiration – what gets me out of bed in the mornings – has always been to explore new places and satisfy my wanderlust. However, as I’ve continued to ride the same local roads over the past several years, I have found that I need to expand my horizons to hold onto that child-like sense of wonder and exploration. As a result, I continue to explore new areas further from home, and I routinely enter cycling events that expose me to new areas that I would not otherwise get a chance to ride. 

Q: How would you define your style of gravel riding?

A: I enjoy the challenge and excitement of gravel racing. I am far from fast. I’m typically somewhere between a middle-of-the-pack and back-of-the-pack rider. But, the excitement of going out hard in a mass-start event and pushing myself to see how quickly I can get through the course – that experience never fails to get the juices flowing. That said, there are also times when I enjoy simply going out with a group of friends and exploring some new roads without any consideration for “the clock”.

Q: Describe an ideal day on the bike.

A: As they say, even a bad day on the bike is better than a good day doing something else. My ideal day on the bike involves a long, challenging ride that lasts from the early morning hours until about dusk. Ideally, it’s a shared experience among friends. It offers the opportunity to explore new, remote areas that I’ve not previously experienced. And, when the ride is finally done, we can sit down over a burger and a beer and relive all the adventures from the day. 

Q: What are some notable trips you’ve done to enjoy cycling?

A: Most of my cycling-related travel has been for the purpose of finding new challenges that test and expand the boundaries of my abilities.  For example, many of my cycling trips have been for the purpose of getting to gravel races. I have traveled to ride in Dirty Kanza, Land Run, Barry Roubaix, Almanzo, The Epic in Missouri, Rocheport Roubaix, Dirty South Roubaix, and others. I also routinely travel to get to the start of ultra-endurance road rides, such as the Natchez Trace 444. But, there are also times when I will take on a cycling trip for no other reason than to simply have fun with friends – and perhaps be just a little bit goofy and eccentric. For example, I recently organized and led a 185 mile bike ride from my home town to the Wisconsin Dells just so we could play in a water park at the end of our ride. 

Q: You’re a Barnstormer Chapter Leader. What does that entail, and is there anything you hope to help other riders find within the club?

A: As a Chapter Leader, I hope to share with other Barnstormers some of the many gravel cycling adventures that are just waiting to be had throughout my home turf in northern Illinois. I hope to share those feelings of freedom, excitement – and maybe even a little bit of nervousness – as we leave behind urban conveniences and set out to discover the unique character and magic of Northern Illinois’ sparsely populated farm roads. I hope to help other Barnstormers understand the sense of camaraderie that comes from together facing the challenges that these roads have to offer, knowing that there are no “safety nets” and that our tiny group of adventurers only has each other to rely upon. I hope that other Barnstormers will come out on the other end of these adventures feeling a bit more alive and a bit more connected to their fellow riders. And, I hope these experiences will inspire some of my fellow Barnstormers to seek out more gravel cycling adventures of their own.

Q: Everyone who rides has something unique to offer. Do you know what you might offer, in that regard?

A: One thing I know how to do – and do well – is organize cycling adventures that people enjoy. I design routes to feature unique sights, interesting stories/history and fun challenges. And, I recognize that the time spent on the bike is only part of the overall experience. What we do after the ride – those moments when we can relive the events of the day and share “war stories” with those who were there with us – are an equally important part of the overall experience.

Also, as someone who has plenty of experience doing long-distance, self-supported riding, I have a very solid understanding of what it takes to prepare for these types of rides. What equipment do I need? What about nutrition? Tools? Bike set-up? These are all questions that I’d be happy to explore with riders who have less experience in this area, or with anybody else looking to share ideas.

Q: What role does cycling play in your current lifestyle?

A: Cycling is my passion and my sanity. It helps me stay healthy while providing a temporary escape from the pressures of work and family life.