Interviews: Bobby Lea
(2017) We add to our Interview column with three-time Olympian and local cyclist Bobby Lea who took time out of his busy schedule of mountain bike racing and home ownership to answer our questions. We asked him questions about on the track, off the track, and his motorcycle hobby. Our interview happened over email. Cover photo (Lea, Cervelo, right) and photos in the article are courtesy Bobby Lea.
creakybottombracket.com: You do the omnium that packs as much cycling in two days as possible. Did you specialize in that because you wanted to maximize your racing?
Bobby Lea: Thankfully my commute is only about 20 minutes to the track, but I specialized in the omnium because that was the only option left after the Olympic track program was reformatted following the Beijing Games. Personally I would have preferred to stick with the points race and madison but you the Olympics are the goal you have to play the hand that is dealt.
cbb: Out of all the events you do, which one is your favorite?
BL: I'm very much a traditionalist so I prefer the points race, scratch race, and madison. I made peace with the rest of the events in the omnium.
cbb: After traveling the world, what’s your favorite place cycling has taken you? Furthermore, what’s your favorite track?
BL: I think I really can’t pick one specific place but I can tell you that my list of places I need to visit in my post-racing career is very long. As a pro cyclist you do get to travel the world but so often the trips are very limited with little to no time to get out and experience life outside of the racing bubble. Very tight training and travel timelines usually mean that at best we can get an evening or a day to explore the surroundings a little, provided there is energy and motivation left after racing.
cbb: You bought a farmhouse in Topton- any history to speak of regarding the house?
BL: My fiancee and I did just buy a stone farmhouse on 10 acres in Berks County. The oldest section of the house likely dates back to the 1700’s but so far we have had a lot of trouble finding out the history of the place. The township office only has very recent records so the best we have done to date is learning about the area from neighbors who come from families who have lived in Rockland Township for generations. We did, however, recently find a shoe buckle buried in our yard that was identified as typical of military foot ware from the mid-late 1700’s.
cbb: You raced the 2016 Reading 120 and Bucks County Classic. Did you feel both courses, specifically the criterium race, played to your track strengths?
BL: The Reading 120 was about as far outside my skillset as it could possible be for a 1 day race but it was such a pleasure to race on my home roads and roads that I have spent countless hours training on. The Bucks County Classic is a race that I’ve always enjoyed not only for the great atmosphere and relatively casual feel as a late season race but also because it is one of the few criteriums on the calendar that plays to my strengths. I tend to do much better in longer races on harder courses but unfortunately the trend in NRC criteriums has been towards short, sub 70km races on easy courses that all but guarantee a field sprint. We don’t have very many 80-100km races on tough courses with tough conditions anymore so I always get excited for them when they come around.
cbb: Continuing with the Bucks race, how important was it to do a UCI race so close with some other big names? That is, would you have still done this race if it were not right down the road from you?
BL: I did Reading 120 because it was in my backyard and I was excited to race on my home roads. If I had to travel last season to do it I wouldn’t have done it because I was just coming off a post-Olympic vacation and quickly winding down my season. The various iterations of Univest and Bucks County Classic road race more closely matched my skill set and I did always put a little time and effort into prep for those editions of the race. As for the criterium, like I said above I always enjoy and appreciate the chance to race a long, tough criterium so I do believe I would travel for that one.
cbb: I think we’ve seen you jump into some Thursday night crit races at Rodale Park. Do you do that often?
BL: I love the Thursday night training races at Rodale [Park] for several reasons. First and foremost it’s always fun to ride and race with my friends. At the end of the day we do this sport because we like to play bikes with friends, right? It is also a great training tool when paired up with endurance miles, track workouts and/or motor pacing. You can get 100km of race intensity pretty easily by doing a motor session just prior to hitting the training race. Serious stuff aside, maybe the best part of the Thursday night series is the social hour in the parking lot afterwards. I always look forward to that, even though sometimes I had to exercise a little discretion and head straight home when training had to take more of a priority.
cbb: This past fall you assembled a ride around Trexlertown that explored some of the lesser-known roads. The ride suggested bringing an extra set of wheels. Tell us about it, and how did it go? Will there be a 2017 event?
BL: We had a great adventure on that one! The blog entry advertising it is still on my website www.bobbylea.us. We had around 15 riders join us at the start and about 10-12 complete the entire distance thanks to great on the road support from Mark Taylor at www.taylorrides.com. The idea came from a conversation with a friend who mentioned “when you ride with Bobby you never know what will happen or where you will go so you’d better be prepared to the unexpected.” Thus the “secret ride” was born. There will absolutely be a 2017 event and you can count on more adventures and new roads.
cbb: If we walked into your favorite stop, what would we find you eating and drinking during a ride stop?
BL: Wanamakers General Store has got to be my favorite ride stop in northern Lehigh County. You can’t go wrong with any of the baked goods from a local baker. If it’s wrapped in cellophane with hand made labels you know it will be outstanding. In the off season, there is a long list of local watering holes that I enjoy dipping into for a mid-ride refreshment.
cbb: What are some of the things you like to do away from the bike?
BL: I have a growing collection of antique motorcycles that I enjoy riding and tinkering with when time allows. One of them is a 1972 Honda CB500 that I have been slowing transferring into a cafe racer over the years. Inevitably I never get time to work on it during the season so I’ve been working on it a few weeks a year in every off season. At the end of last summer I finally got it into drivable condition and enjoyed some good miles on it. Those old engines just never stop!
cbb: Regarding your motorcycle collection, is your '72 Honda your dream bike or is there something out there you're hoping to snag? Also, do you feel a bit more at ease on a motorcycle because of your track background and predicting scenarios when on your motorcycle? And would you snatch up an authentic Derny bike if you could?
BL: I just kind of stumbled into my love for old Honda’s. My parent’s have a 1974 CB125 that they bought new and still use for motorpacing. It has just over 14,000 miles on it and probably all but a few hundred of those miles were driven with a rider in tow. I’m not sure what my dream bike is but I want something that allows me to load up the saddle bags and hit the road for multi-day trips. Whether that's a cruiser or a sport touring bike I’m not sure. As for a Derny bike, that would be very cool but I’m not sure it’s that practical. I like to play with my toys.
To answer your question about comfort on the road due to racing experience, I think there is something to that. Racing bikes gives you a very good feel for the rhythm and flow of traffic and you gain an increased ability to predict what will likely happen on the road. Racing teaches you to ride proactively in the bunch and I think that is a great skill when out on the roads.
cbb: Do you have races on your 2017 calendar?
BL: Right now the only race on my schedule is the Baker’s Dozen relay in Leesburg, VA on April 22. A good friend of mine asked me to join him for the event and I jumped at the chance to do my first mountain bike race in almost 20 years.
cbb: What’s next for you?
BL: That seems to be the million-dollar question these days. In the very near future I will be able to announce my next venture.