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Jesse Swift Interview Part 2: “It’s Just a Race”

December 7, 2011

Legos were Jesse Swift’s favorite toy as a kid. “There’s a freedom that you’re allowed,” he explained. “Every day you pick up your Lego set and there’s that new challenge, the idea of ‘what do I want to build today?’”

Thirty-something years later, Jesse has built a family, a list of racing results much longer than his very long beard, a teaching career, and a solid footing in the pure joy of cycling. And he just completed what he described as, “the hardest stupiest craziest most fun insane race ever!”

Jessica, Lucy, & Jesse Swift at SSCXWC (photo by Kara Kull)

Like many racing cyclists, as a young kid he jumped around in the street on a BMX bike. Jesse started pedaling a mountain bike out of necessity. “When I got into high school I was on a year-round swim team and needed a way to get to swim practice. My mom got me a mountain bike for that,” he said. “My first year in high school that was how I got around – mountain biking to school, to swim practice. That was in the early 1990’s and when mountain biking exploded, so I really got into mountain biking then.”

Mountain biking and trials riding

Fort Lewis College in Durango, bird's eye view

At Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, where the dormitories hosted weekly mountain bike races, Jesse earned a degree in civil engineering in the company of guys like Tom Danielson and Todd Wells. Jesse glowed as he recounted his experience there: “Being in Durango and Fort Lewis there is no way to avoid spending every moment thinking about mountain biking. There the cycling team was the hot team on campus; it wasn’t a school that was focused on the football team or traditional jock sports. You were surrounded by others that were equally excited about cycling. People that you went to college with are now well-known cyclists. At Fort Lewis at that time it was just incredible to be there, and I loved it.”

Jesse laughed when asked if he thinks of himself as a well-known cyclist. He said, “No, I don’t. Because I still have a job. I just like to ride my bike and feel lucky I can still do it, still have fun at it, and challenge myself every year with something new.” Jesse previously taught math and science; now he teaches computers to 7th and 8th graders in Golden, Colorado.

trials bike

Jesse also began trials riding with mountain bikes while at Fort Lewis College. He competed in his first trials event in 1995, the year he also entered his first mountain bike race, the Arizona Cactus Cup, where he thinks he finished 2nd or 3rd in the sport class.

One day in 1999, as he gave it everything once again during trials and mountain bike competitions over the same weekend, he realized he couldn’t maintain both cycling disciplines. Cross-country mountain biking became his focus. In those days he rode to victories in races such as the Mountain States Cup Series, Rage in the Sage, Telluride Mountain Bike Classic, and Hell in the High Country. His tires rolled on World Cup dirt. He placed top ten at more mountain bike races than the number of teeth on a traditional chainring – make that chainrings.

Time for change

By 2009 Jesse had raced The Chili Challenge and other races six to eight times each. “I was tired of doing the same courses over and over,” he said. Taking time off became his new challenge. He went to British Colombia in Canada to enjoy the singletrack BC Bike Race stage race. The Colorado Trail became home for 60 miles daily nine days in a row in the company of friends all the way to Durango. He got married, became a dad, and finished his Masters degree in Technology in Education.

After about two years, Jesse was ready to return to racing bikes and build a new experience – single speed mountain bike and cyclocross racing. After his first single speed mountain bike race in 2010, he raced almost exclusively single speed in 2011. He loved it. In 2011 Jesse won the mountain bike single speed category of the Winter Park Epic Series and Iron Horse, and tied for 1st in the Steamboat Stinger single speed race.

The end of 2010 brought another new test for Jesse: growing a beard. A student he taught in middle school, now in high school, challenged Jesse to a no-shave November. Jesse said, chuckling, “So I went last November without shaving and that turned into no-shave December and he [the student] didn’t shave either.” After growing the beard through March, Jesse decided to see if he could keep it through the summer. “I started racing and it wasn’t that bad this summer to have a beard. So I thought, I’ll just let it keep going.”

Jesse Swift, November 2011 (photo by Mary Topping)

Now Jesse has worn the beard for a year, beating his past record of just three to four months. He has trimmed it several times, once with disappointing results. He said, “With clippers there’s that number four guard. I’d never used this really long guard. Finally I had some length to it [the beard] and I used that number four guard and it took off way more than I thought.”

And soon, to others’ dismay, it will all come off. “My wife is pregnant with our second child and she’s due in February, and I don’t necessarily want to look like this for his first moments. So I’ll shave before the baby comes. I’m hoping to make it all of 2011 with the beard.”


When he competed in cyclocross during 2000 to 2002, Jesse raced against guys like Travis Brown. “My only training for cyclocross then was racing, so I stopped,” he said. Jesse returned to cyclocross with the 2011 season on a single speed bike with the Gates Carbon Drive Team. With a practice course in Golden not far from his work and home, he feels more prepared racing cyclocross now. So far this season he’s entered at least eighteen cyclocross races; he won nine of them.

Golden cyclocross course, Back to Basics race

After dueling with Craig Etheridge at the US Gran Prix of Cyclocross – New Belgium Cup in Fort Collins this past October, Jesse was disappointed he didn’t make it to Kentucky and the Derby City Cup in the US Gran Prix of Cyclocross series. Craig competed there; he won both races.

Jesse said, “I wish I could go to all the big races. There’s lots of cross racing in Colorado, just not as many big races.” Racing against new people he hasn’t raced with before is one of the reasons why he likes riding at bigger races, like CrossVegas, where he finished 3rd in the Wheelers and Dealers category this year. He said. “Racing against new people is another challenge. When someone new comes by, you have to be alert because you don’t know their style. It keeps things fresher instead of always racing against the same people.”

Jesse Swift & Craig Etheridge at SSCXWC (by Jessica Swift)

Like all bike racers, Jesse wants to win. But a different twist on that drive is emerging for him. He explained: “As you get older, you get more grounded, know your place in the world, enjoy sharing love of the bike with others. You realize it’s just a race.”

That’s a perspective he and Craig Etheridge shared at the recent San Francisco Cyclocross World Championships (SSCXWC). The start, like many aspects of the race, began unconventionally. Jesse wrote in his blog, “The race director had us gather like cattle in 3 different spots completely rearranging all of us and eliminating any organization to the start. Once we were in the 3rd location, he told us to put our bikes down and scramble down into the field. We then had a 50 yard run, to a mud hill about 50 feet long before we would try to single out your bike amongst 150 other bikes and then you could ride. The first of the tree log barriers, which were about 3 feet in diameter, all the racers were stopped due to shear number and difficulty getting over the log in the mud in a costume with a bike. From that point I knew I was out for a fun ride and decided not to take it too seriously.”

Jesse finished 27that the SSCXWC. He thinks Craig placed in about 43rd place. “He [Craig] told me once the race started and he was minutes behind off the go, he just tried to have some fun with the race,” Jesse said.

Goals and dreams

Jesse described himself as a sequential type of person. He prefers to focus on one thing at a time. “I’d like to finish well in the Colorado series and the Colorado championships, and keep spreading the word about the Gates Carbon belt drive – I really think for single speed it’s the answer. Then my next focus is my second child.”

Gates Carbon belt drive system

As he waits for his second child to arrive in February, Jesse dreams about things other than bikes. He said, “I dream about the day my kids will hopefully love cycling as much as I do. I hope that that happens; if it doesn’t that will be fine, but that would be my hope – to raise kids that want to grab their bikes before they grab their soccer ball or baseball.”

In this dream, his kids grab their bikes in his company. “I just really enjoy sharing my love of cycling with people, and if I can have that connection with my kids…hopefully it will bring them the same amount of joy it’s brought me.”


Bonus interview out-takes:

Q: Do you have a favorite out-of-training-mode guilty pleasure food?

Jesse: “I don’t, because in my training I’m one of those guys who eats anything and I’m not very picky. I already eat anything, so when it comes to off-season there’s nothing specific that I crave.”

Q: Is there anything you’re eating that you think other bike racers wouldn’t be eating?

Jesse: “I’d say school food. I eat lunch every day at the school cafeteria. I get my little milk carton.”

Q: Chocolate milk?

Jesse: “Well, sometimes. It might be a thing of salad and little tray of green beans and pasta.”

Q: Do you have a nickname for your bike?

Jesse: “No. the problem is I have a collection of bikes. You start getting so many you kind of run out of…Maybe a better question would be, ‘do you have a bike you don’t race and like to ride?’”

Q: Is there a bike you don’t race and really like to ride?

Jesse: “I like riding my bikes I can pull my daughter with. I like being not in that training mode and putting the trailer on the back of the bike and looking back at her and seeing her reading a book or looking around. Like an old Gary Fisher, a 1989 mountain bike.”

  1. great post I’m a huge cycling fan from Germany

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Jesse Swift’s New Challenge, Single Speed Cyclocross « ProVéloPassion

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