‘Lunatic’ cyclist finds new heights in Europe
23-year-old trained on North Shore mountains through snow, sleet and darkness to achieve his dream
Give Jack Burke your mail to deliver because, unlike Canada Post, neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night stays his daily cycles from Squamish to Seymour or Cypress.
Once at the North Shore mountains — and it might be the middle of the night and the middle of winter — he rides up and down as many times as he can before heading back to the Sea to Sky Highway for the two-hour ride home.
Every other Canadian professional road-racing cyclist spends winters training in Arizona or California. Burke keeps the guy in the snowplow on Cypress Bowl Road company at midnight.
“Do I ever ask myself, ‘What am I doing?” Burke, 23, said, thinking over his answer. “Absolutely, this is nuts. People look at me and think, ‘You’re a complete moron.’
“But it’s my dream. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Always a good athlete — he played in the Greater Toronto Hockey League with future NHLers Max Domi, Darnell Nurse and Canucks draft pick Jordan Subban — cycling magazines had convinced him in Grade 4 he was going to move to B.C. and ride bikes for a living.
It wasn’t easy.
He had an academic/athletic scholarship to Quest University in 2013, but that didn’t cover living expenses. He would attend class and study all day, ride most of the night, ending five- to seven-hour training runs at 3 a.m., or beginning them at 4 a.m.
In four years, he did not miss a single class, assignment, exam or meeting.
“I’d take naps whenever I could, telling myself I needed to train more than I needed to sleep,” he said. “My reasoning was, I’d studied all night for things I wasn’t interested in, why couldn’t I train all night for something I wanted more than anything else?”
Burke’s bike lights died in the rain, and he couldn’t afford new ones. Instead, he splurged on a $14 safety vest. (The crew at 7mesh would eventually give him a GoreTex jacket: “How I viewed Gore-Tex at the time is likely how you might view a Ferrari.”)
When a staple punctured his tire between Squamish and Britannia Beach one night, he wondered how he could afford a $6 tube and patch.
“It was embarrassing, I was supposed to be a professional cyclist. On the other hand, I couldn’t afford lights for my bike,” said Burke, sipping a cappuccino at the Cloudburst Cafe in Squamish.
“That flat tire, I was holding my wheel in my hand, sitting on a barrier on the highway, soaking wet, freezing cold, in the dark, trying to fix it under a street light.
“I’m almost in tears on the side of the road looking at this stupid staple ... And the only thought going through my mind was whether I had enough money in my bank account for a new tube.”
(He did, just.)
Friends would drive his little two-stroke Yamaha Vino 50 he bought with winnings from the Whistler Grand Fondo to motor-pace him on the highway — braving all winter has to offer on a scooter meant to go to the baker in Tuscany and pick up a loaf of focaccia. He would pay his friends with packs of Jelly Belly candy.
Today, his buddies have it easier — they pace him in his 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser and all the comfort a heated cab, four wheels and shock absorbers afford.
Things began looking up in 2016 when he signed on with H&R Block Pro Cycling, and then with Aevolo in 2017.
Last season, he raced for Jelly Belly-Maxxis and this month he moves to Germany to join Luxembourg-based Leopard Pro Cycling, a top feeder team for the professional road-racing tour.
It’s one step away from his ultimate goal: A ride in the Tour de France.
“It’s a massive jump in my career,” Burke said.
And, yes, he can afford lights for his bike — enough lights to look like Snoopy’s doghouse at Christmas.
“I’m known as the lunatic riding his bike with the lights,” Burke said.
“One of my sponsors is Cateye, a light company, so I have them everywhere now. It’s, uh, different, after you risk your life with no lights.”
Jack Burke was so broke when he moved to Squamish to pursue his road-racing dream, he didn’t know how he’d pay for a $6 inner tube after one flat tire.