The making of a team …
BY KIERSTIN KLOECKNER
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
― Rob Siltanen
About five years ago, a good friend of mine had a vision. He had just lined up to start a race, looked next to him, and noticed a guy on a steel steed. In a world of plastic bikes, most of them mass produced, this bike stood out like a black sheep. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is an enormous resurgence of steel in the gravel, touring and urban scene … but at a criterium? This was something that had long died in the late 1980’s … I call it the post Greg Lemond years. Personally, I had only ever raced on steel. But then again, most of my races were with toe straps, too, so that’s not saying much. From that race on, my friend, Tim Reinhardt, couldn’t shake the image from his head. He began obsessing about how amazing it would be to start his own team, one based on steel and titanium frames. One based on not only beautifully made bikes and craftsmanship but also a different state of mind. He wanted to start a team where all the misfit toys from the racing world felt at home; and in doing so, the teammates would be kind and encouraging to each other and other racers from competing teams. Tim wanted to throw out what a racing team “should” look like and make something completely different from scratch. And so, from that moment on, team “Blue Steel Bike,” was essentially born.
It takes a village to raise a child.
– African quote
A team, just like any new organization or group, is like a child. It needs a lot of nurturing, many hands caring for it and time to stand on its own. There was no way Tim could start this team from scratch alone and he knew it. His first move was to approach a long-time close friend, a steel frame builder, to see if he’d be interested in launching this idea. Paul Reardon, a well-skilled welder and steel worker, had left the confines of his “day job” and had recently started to build bike frames full time out of his shop in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His company name … Blue Steel Bikes. Just as Tim had hoped for, Paul was all in. So four years ago, the team had the visionary and the frame builder/mechanic … now it just needed more than one racer.
I remember the day things started to take shape. Tim and I were sitting on the curb, watching the fast kids at the Downer Avenue criterium, and I turned and told Tim that I had got someone perfect for the team. The person I had in mind was a former bike courier in Madison and someone who tore up any alley cat he entered. He was an aggressive rider and racer, just far enough from the “classic” road-racer type. A few minutes later, as if by cosmic coincidence, he walked up to us. Introductions were made, ideas were tossed around and Blue Steel team had its second member, Phil Van Asten.
Over the late summer and winter, several more amazing people were approached, asked to join the team and most accepted. Tim refused to lose his initial vision of making this team different and special so cyclists were hand chosen … even if they didn’t have any racing experience. It was their personality and drive that Tim wasn’t willing to sacrifice. Racing skills could come with time … heck, we all started from scratch at some point.
The team’s first race was on a freezing, windy, spring day. It was so cold many racers had their winter jackets and gloves on up until the gun went off. As I stood by the sidelines with Paul, screaming my lungs out, a little magic (with loads of sweat and determination) happened. Our first teammate we signed on, Phil, won with the teamwork from Tim and Simon! I may have shed some tears at that moment! Although I no longer raced, I chose to designate myself as the cheerleader and team helper (fetching beer, gaining sponsorship, scout for other misfits etc.) and I, at that moment, felt my heart swell with pride. This team was my child as well. We were not only up and walking but running full force!
My main goals are to have fun and shred.
– Kris Endicott (BSB racer)
Okay, so we had our first win, what next? Throughout the summer, our few racers continued to work their butts off and show up at some of the most competitive races. People began to notice our jerseys, especially at races where several teammates worked together and essentially formed a wall to block other racers. Everyone became curious and questions started to fly. “So who are you?” and “Where did you come from?” Folks also started to become very interested in Paul’s hand-made steel frames. They couldn’t believe a steel road bike could weigh in at less than 17 pounds.
One of the things I love so much about our team is how involved so many of the racers are. Tim handles all of the artistic and design work for our kits (proudly made in Wisconsin by Borah), as well as our t-shirts and hats. Other racers have also contributed in really creative ways by designing water bottles and socks to getting coverage in the well-known Bicycle Quarterly magazine. You will rarely see so much contribution from a team as a whole.
Over the past year, so much has changed. We are now 15 consistent racers strong. We compete in road, cross, mountain bike, gravel and fat-bike events; and by the looks of this spring, we will make an amazing showing.
The real beauty, however, is our age span. Some racers are in their early 20s, while others are in their 50s. We come from all walks of life and the team has stayed true to Tim’s vision. As we become a stronger family and larger part of the community, we have taken on hosting community rides from our sponsors, Hop Haus Brewing in Verona and Longtable in Middleton. We are even leading “learn how to group ride” clinics for the community so others can ride safely in packs and be good bicycle ambassadors. We even have one racer who is now a board member for Free Bikes 4 Kids.
With this strong and passionate group of racers, I honestly feel a lot of magic is going to happen over the next year. If you’d like to come and see us “ride fastish,” (to quote Tim) we will be at most of the Tour of America’s Dairyland races near Milwaukee and Race the Lake in Fond du Lac. Just look for our big tent and listen for the party!
A note from Kierstin: I cannot thank Tim and Paul enough for inviting me into this family. Since I gave up racing over 25 years ago, this is the only team that has tempted me to get back into it. The probability is low, but I’ll never say never.
Editor’s note: A criterium is a fast-paced bike race where participants travel the same course over and over, often less than a mile long with numerous turns. They are spectator friendly since they offer multiple views of the racers.