Bikers of Boston: Mark McCormack on Racing, Commuting, and Riding Steel

I Bike BostonLast Tuesday we had the pleasure of hosting world-renowned cyclist Mark McCormack here at Urban AdvenTours. Now working as a rep for our main distributor, Quality Bicycle Parts (QBP), Mark rode his steel All-City all the way from Foxboro before making his rounds through the local shops. We were able to pull Mark away from his sales duties for a few minutes to gain some insight into the mind of a self-described “lifetime rider.”

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IMG_3048Most kids ride a bike, its just a part of growing up. Can you tell us how you made it a career?
So I grew up in Plymouth Massachusetts. Started BMX racing in 1980 when I was 10. Blew my knee out doing a BMX jump as a kid when I was 12 or 13… And I was a really avid hockey player at the time. So I took to cycling to rehab my knee, but really started to like cycling. So I started racing. That was 1985 when I did my first USA Cycling [then USCF] race… And in the late 80s I was on the US Junior National team. I was one of five or six kids to represent the US at Worlds over in Europe. Then I turned Pro in ’92, when I was 21 and raced my bike all over the world until 2007.

Funny how life works out like that.
And I still race now. I probably do… maybe 30 races a year. As opposed to more than a hundred when I was racing full time.

100 races per year?

Wow, that’s incredible.
Today I’m a sales rep in the bike business. So I’m a lifetime rider. I’ve worked in bike shops… I worked at Corner Cycle in Plymouth Massachusetts when I was a kid. After I stopped racing full time I found my way into a rep job for Fuji and SE Bikes, part of Advanced Sports… Eventually picked up Shimano… Today I’m now representing QBP. Mostly CatEye computers and lights, Bont shoes, and Pactimo clothing.

The cool part is that my average days include riding my bike, for work. Today I rode up here from Foxboro and took advantage of all the new bike lanes. There are so many roads that have bike specific arrows on them so cars are more aware. And it’s a pretty enjoyable experience… To be able to come in from the suburbs on a bike and get into downtown Boston, and not have to pay to park. You know I’m fortunate because I’m riding a product that I’m representing. An All-City bike with CatEye lights and a computer… I happened to deck mine out with some fenders to keep me dry as the snow is melting this spring.

Some extra length fenders in the back there…
Yeah, so when I ride with anybody else I’m courteous about keeping them dry. If someone wants to sit behind me, they won’t get wet at all. Unless they don’t have fenders themselves.

IMG_3044It’s a pretty cool thing to be a cyclist in New England. There are so many great bike shops near downtown Boston. It’s real easy for me to get from shop to shop via two wheeled transportation. And it’s a good way for me to expose my products to new retailers, and to consumers alike. As I’m riding, hundreds of cars pass me. Maybe that will get them thinking about riding to work, or on a weekend for recreation. You hope that somebody sees you and sees it as a positive, and wants to emulate what you’re doing. As opposed to thinking you’re a nuisance.

That’s the hope, but it’s certainly an uphill battle.
I’ll ride around the city today visiting accounts, and then I’ll head south and get back to Foxboro for dinner.

Would you mind talking for a few minutes on the commute itself?
It was great! I had sort of a gentle tail/cross-wind, so I didn’t have to work that hard.

That’s always nice!
It took me from Foxboro to here… Door to door was an hour and 30 minutes of total time… A little longer than if I had driven in around noon time. But if I had tried to drive, it would have taken me at least an hour. The southeast expressway is just a parking lot. So I get the benefit of a good amount of exercise, and I’m not wasting time sitting in a car.

Plus it was a nice sunny morning.
And I didn’t have to spend 20 minutes trying to find a parking spot.

Yeah that’s always a plus.
So the way home won’t be quite as pleasant… I’ll have wind in my face. At least then I’ll know I’m on my way home so I’ll push myself harder because I have a shower waiting for me .

photoIt’s always much more pleasant to have a destination like that. So how much more biking are you going to do around the city today?
Well I need to be home by 5:30, so I have to be out of the city by 4pm. That gives me six hours… I’ll probably see six or seven bike shops in the greater Boston area because I won’t have to spend time looking for parking or waiting for as many lights… On a bike you can pass on the right and wait for the light when you get there. In a car it might be three or four light cycles before you can actually get through the intersection. On a bike you’ll always get through on the first green light because you can gradually pass stopped cars in the right hand lane. It’s a great mode of transportation that’s for sure.

And cycling gear is often what makes this mode of transportation doable. Could you talk about your favorite piece of gear?
I have so many bikes, that I just want the bike to fit me. I’m very finicky about the fit of a bike. So I don’t have a favorite handlebar, or a favorite shifter, or a favorite seat… I just need it to be in the right spot.

That’s fair.
For what I’m doing right now, I am a big fan of riding on a steel bike. It’s a treat because the roads aren’t so great right now. I have 28c tires, which gives me a little more air volume for comfort. And the steel frame and fork makes for a very comfortable riding bike. But it’s still in a fairly racing position, so I’m a little bit aero… Not doing too much extra work. Maybe with a flat bar I’d be sitting more upright. Doing 25 miles in a row I need to be efficient…

That’s when those headwinds really start to affect you.
Yeah, the headwind is a brutal situation if you’re sitting up too far. So I like to have the multiple positions of a drop bar. That gives me the chance to ride the tops on the climbs, stand up on the hoods, and descend in the drops if it’s a long enough descent. But I’m a big fan of keeping lights on my bike, even for daytime riding, so that I can have them flashing and raise a little more attention to myself in case there’s a few distracted drivers nearby.

I would say in general the cars have been better. I think every year it gets a little bit easier to be a cyclist on the road. There’s more and more of us out there, so cars tend to become more and more alert. As they see more cyclists they realize there’s more and more of us out there. You know, most cyclists are also drivers. I own a car and I drive a car a lot, so I hope that people who see me on my bike don’t just think of me as someone who doesn’t own a car and doesn’t deserve to be on the road with them. Because I do pay taxes, and drive my car, and buy a lot of gas… You know?

IMG_3056Yeah, I think most of us at the shop drive too.
I’m just choosing to use a more efficient mode of transportation on certain days because it makes more sense.

And it feels good.
It feels GREAT! I wish more people would see the light, and understand that maybe it’s a little bit longer but you get your exercise in at the same time. You don’t have to get home and go to the gym for an hour and a half to get your workout in. When you get home you’re done, you’ve already worked out for the day.

That’s what we’re hoping to do with this blog… Get more people talking about biking. We hope that the by increasing awareness we’ll get at least one more person riding.
Well it seems like you’re well on your way. Thanks for your interest in me today, I enjoyed the conversation.

Same here, Mark. Have a safe ride!

3 responses to “Bikers of Boston: Mark McCormack on Racing, Commuting, and Riding Steel”

  1. Mark is arguably the greatest New England cyclist of all time. And his adoption of a commuting lifestyle completes his evolution. great piece guys. When an “alpha” like Mark shows that cycling is not just about watts and heart rate but some times just the most sensible way to get around, others will pick up the cue.



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