Cycling with Kierstin Kloeckner,
“Just do it, just do it!”
I hear this chant gaining in both decibels and numbers coming up behind me on the Friendship Trail in the Fox River Valley, Wis. It’s the day after Thanksgiving 2015, it’s civil twilight, and I’m riding down a gravel trail, which on this night resembles more of a slushy pond. There are about twenty of us on this inaugural ride and we’re all heading to Bare Bones Brewery.
Most of the guys on this ride I’ve never met. One of my best friends, and my cycling partner in crime, talked me into going. By the end of the ride, I’d feel like I’ve known the others for years. Two of which are Mark Desjardin and Sean Brandenburg – the masterminds behind shenanigans like this.
Mark and Sean are characters, to say the least, and staples in the Midwest cycling community. Both have been involved in every aspect of cycling, including working at bike shops, mountain biking, road racing, advocacy, event planning and announcing for races. Now, to top it all off, they are also doing a weekly (yes, you hear that right) pod cast called Midwest Cycling Podcast, where they interview folks from every part of the cycling culture. How our paths didn’t cross until two years ago is beyond me. I know I had seen them race at Superweek in Milwaukee, but at that point we were all so much younger and we all had things to prove and tan lines to flaunt. Somehow, meeting on a gravel trail, while exchanging flasks in tunnels, seems almost serendipitous now … and quite frankly the perfect way to start a friendship.
Mark and Sean’s energy is somewhat like a fever; when they are present, it spreads like a wild fire. They have this power to make even the most mundane things seem like a Disney Park ride – something that goes a long way when announcing for races! One of my fondest memories of watching them “work” was at the Downer Avenue Criterium for Tour of America’s Dairyland last year.
They were asked to announce for the fixed-gear categories, something pretty tough to pull off when you’re surrounded by overly-serious roadies. They somehow got their hands on a couple of piggy banks and preceded to fill them with cash, band aids and pocket lint for the winners as a prize. I just remember Mark walking the course with his megaphone, getting folks to dig into their pockets to pull out some cash. You will always know when Mark is around, because I think that stupid megaphone is surgically attached to his arm, while Sean is never far behind doing damage control. All of this is in the name of shenanigans and having a great time around bikes, though. This mentality is also why I’m still involved in the cycling community. Without fun people like Mark and Sean, I don’t think I’d still be riding … or at least not in groups.
So I asked both of them a few questions, although to really get to know them, you’ve got to listen to their Midwest Cycling Podcast. I was even one of their victims being interviewed. They have been known to entertain even the non-cyclist!
1) Both of you have a long history of riding, how did you get involved and why do you choose to still be a part of the cycling community?
Sean: “After college, I moved to Seattle, and my wife and I lived on the West Coast for almost 10 years. And when we moved back to Wisconsin six years ago to be closer to our families, I dove right back into the cycling community and it was like I never left. There were a lot of new faces, but all the old faces were still there, too. The people in the cycling community here have always inspired me in a lot of ways, because they’re all such interesting people off their bikes. So that’s why I stay involved. The people are awesome, and I draw a lot of energy from them. The cycling community in Wisconsin is unlike any other I’ve ever been around. We really have something special here.
“As far as when I got into the sport, that happened when I was 20. Mark and I were sharing an apartment in Appleton, Wis., with two other dudes and we both ended up working at a local bike shop together. We got mountain bikes, started riding around town at night after work or class, then on actual trails with the guys from the shop and its mountain bike team, and we’ve been hooked ever since. And then, of course, we got into the WORS scene, and from there it’s the classic story: we got road bikes to train for the mountain bike races, added the road rides to our weekly schedule, started racing on the road, got out of “serious” racing and started riding so we could drink more beer. Then we got older, married (not to each other … ), and slower, became parents, and started a pod cast. See? Classic story … everyone goes through it.”
Mark: “When I was 19, a mutual friend introduced me to Tim Lutz. At the time, I was a pizza delivery driver and really into smoking cigarettes. Tim owned a bike shop in Little Chute, Wis., and he basically hired me out of pity because of my smoking habit and bad health choices. I ate a lot of pizza and sat in my car, smoking, for long periods of time, and I think he saw either some potential in me, or just felt bad for me. I don’t know if he saw me as a charity case, or what, but that’s what he got! But no, seriously, I earned my keep for Tim and we’re still close friends. He’s the number one reason Sean and I are into cycling.
“After the good influences of Tim and Sean, I quit smoking, quit pizza, and got a mountain bike and it became my new addiction. From there I was introduced to WORS and met a bunch of cool people, and it triggered a snowball of excitement involving two wheels. It went mountain bike, road bike, and then anything that involves bikes.
“I did have a period of being out of the scene for five years or so while I was living in Kansas and Chicago. But when I moved back to Wisconsin from Chicago, I jumped back in. There is something about the community here that really draws you in.”
2) How did you get started in helping with/announcing for events and your pod cast?
Sean: “Well, for the pod cast, we originally wanted to do a series of videos based on the same premise. But there were two problems with that: one, Mark and I live in different cities, and two, we know nothing about video production. Then, just when we were about to give up on the whole idea, a friend asked us to be guests on his podcast because he was interested in how we take such a professional approach to what we do, even though it’s more-or-less a hobby. So, being a guest on his podcast caused the light bulb to flicker (dimly … ) above my head, because another hobby of mine is music and I have some experience with home recording. So I thought, “We can totally do this!” We spent about a month testing different ways of recording the podcast with the two of us being in different places, and trying to get the best sound possible from us and our guests, and then we just ran with it. It’s been awesome so far. Every week is a reminder of how amazing the people are who make the Midwest cycling community what it is.”
Mark: “For the announcing, when the opportunity to announce the Diablo Twilight Criterium came up back in 2012, it seemed like a good fit for Sean and I. However, the people who asked us to do it approached us reluctantly. They were worried about our filters, and general social ineptitudes. Which is fair, because as long as Sean and I have been friends we’ve always had this really rambunctious report. If we’re in the same room at the same time, the loudness and laughter level instantly goes to 11, and someone will probably be offended. Or have beer, or whatever, come out of their nose. Seriously. It happens more often than you can imagine.
“But anyway, the Diablo Cycling Club had tried to hire a different announcer, but he wasn’t available for their event. We were good friends and pseudo-teammates with everyone on the club, so we said we’d do it. And It was a total blast. At the time, it seemed like no one was listening to us and we were just talking to each other. So, it was basically like any other time we’d hang out, but we had microphones in our hands. After the event, however, we found out that people really enjoyed what we were doing. Several people told us we made the event really fun and a lot more engaging than other races. Announcers can really raise the level of engagement and energy at bike races. We feel like it’s important to make the race fun for everyone, not just the racers. Make races great again!”
3) Out of the events you’ve worked, which has been your favorite and why? Is there an event you’ve always wanted to work?
Sean: “For me, they all have different reasons for being awesome. The Northeast Wisconsin Omnium is awesome because the Diablo Crit was the first race we ever announced, and all our hometown friends are there, either watching or racing. The Snowcrown Fat Bike series is so fun because each race is like a big party, and we can actually interact with the racers. And this year we got to relieve Brad Sonder and Todd Gogulski during the fixed gear races at Downers Ave., and that was incredible. Those guys are obviously the gold standard for race announcing, so we felt really lucky to have that opportunity.
“I would love to work the Wisconsin State Crit Championships. I’d like to do more crits in general.”
Mark: “I think I have to break this into two parts. My favorite event was the Snowcrown Series. It’s a Fat Bike race series in Northeast Wisconsin that has three races. Over the series, we got know a lot of the racers and team members and I really like talking with the people and racers. It was awesome. The whole thing is just cool.
“The event I would love to announce would be the LaCrosse Criterium in May. This event is made for us! The amount of racers and level of racing would be so fun to announce along with being able to spectate. And La Crosse is just an awesome town.”
4) If you could interview anyone for your pod cast, who would it be and why?
Sean: “Oh, that’s tough. I guess there are a few: Greg LeMond comes to mind since he’s been living in the Midwest for a long time now. Matt Busche would be cool, because I have a kind of funny story about racing against him 11 years ago. I’d love to do a “Where Are They Now?” with Rick Blazer or Matt Kelly. Richard Schwinn, Mary Burke; the list goes on. And there are some folks that are high on my list who are from Minnesota and Michigan whom we’ll be reaching out to soon. But I don’t want to spoil any surprises.”
Mark: “Funny you’re asking this question right now. We recorded a podcast earlier in the evening and we had a discussion about a “Where are they now?” segment. Sean put some really notable names up. Matt Kelly, Rick Blazer and Matt Busche; those are all great.
“Immediately my brain goes to Bob Roll, but he doesn’t have much to do with the Midwest. So, I think my overall person would be Greg LeMond. From what I hear he lives in Minnesota, and let’s face it, he does tons to make cycling awesome.”
5) Where would you like to see your podcast go in the future?
Sean: “So, we initially were going to call it The Wisconsin Cycling Podcast, but we knew that sooner or later we’d end up talking with people outside our border. So, I’d like to keep expanding our reach in the Midwest. We tend to focus a bit on Wisconsin because it’s our home state, but I’d like to continue to reach further afield, because there are so many awesome places and events and people all over the region. And as riders, we can get to almost any place or event in the Midwest with a little planning, so we want to share more stories and introduce our listeners to more of the people that make it all happen here. And I’d also like to keep working on improving things on the production side as well.”
Mark: “We always believed in doing fun stuff and inviting our friends and seeing what happens. Whatever it looks like. Really, this pod cast in no different. I’m not sure about where we’d really want it to go other than connecting other cyclists in the sport through storytelling, but I would like to broaden the scope to outside of Wisconsin more, while remaining Midwest-focused. There are so many great things that happen here, from Gateway Cup, to North Star Bicycle Festival, to fat bike racing, to gravel riding. There’s something for everyone and we want to help share the stories and talk to the people behind it all.”
6) What’s one of your favorite bike-related memories?
Sean: “When I was a young kid, my Grandpa had an Schwinn Lemon Peeler. The real deal, with the springer suspension, the suspended banana seat, and the 8-Ball shifter on the top tube. Every time I’d go visit him and my Grandma in Jackson, Mich., that was the bike I rode. It never occurred to me that it was anything special in terms of Schwinn’s history; I just thought it was the coolest bike ever. When I learned, years later, what a collector’s item the Lemon Peelers had become, it was too late, and that bike was long gone. He had already sold it.”
Mark: “I’ll never forget the first time I experienced being on a road bike. I was 12 years old and I had a neighbor, Simon Palfrey, who was a junior racer and was couple years older than me. I had the opportunity to ride one of his road bikes and I couldn’t believe how fast the bike was or how easy it was to pedal.
“When I got home to my parents, I told them all about it in great detail from the way I heard the wind in my ears and how the breeze blew my hair back to give it a sweet feathery look. Here is what my mom said, word-for-word:
“You won’t stick with it.” I had to wait ‘til I was on my own to get into cycling and after 20 years, I showed her!”
7) What are some of your favorite bikes in your stable right now?
Sean: “Right now, my favorite bike is my fat bike. It’s a Salsa Beargrease X5 set up with a 1X drive train, and that bike has been nothing short of life changing for me. Okay, I’m exaggerating a little, but it’s true at least in terms of cycling. It’s nothing fancy, but it is so much fun! And this fall I built up an old Raleigh Hi-Life single speed cyclocross frame that had been gathering dust in my basement. I’ve been using it for gravel and multi-surface riding. And for finding tunnels to drink whiskey in. And yes, it has fenders! With Buddy Flaps!”
Mark: “Oh boy. I’ve been all about dirt lately. I really got excited about riding my Beargrease all summer. George at Broken Spoke, showed us the way of the fatties and I can’t say enough about riding fat bikes. Winter or summer. However, I recently purchased a Salsa Spearfish and holy crap! It’s like a drug. It’s winter and all I’m thinking about is how I want to ride that bike.”
If you get the chance to see these guys in person at an event, do so. Bring them a few beers while you’re at it. Who knows, they may just decide to interview you for their next pod cast. And will someone bring a megaphone to try and outdo Mark?