What makes him do it? Why would a man “blow himself up”? Is it a need for exercise, to save on gas, a hobby turned obsession? For Kip Burden, a District 3 transportation technician, it is all of those things… and more.
“I got into biking as a way to get exercise by building it into a lifestyle,” Burden explains. “I have to go to work five days a week. Coupling that need with getting exercise at the same time seemed like a good idea. Two birds with one stone.
“And that has worked very well,” he said. “Five days a week I'm guaranteed an hour a day of cardio. Plus, I really cut down on my gasoline consumption.”
Burden joined ITD in 1990 as a utility craftsman on the now-defunct District 9 (Headquarters) bridge repair crew and later transferred to District 3 as a carpenter.
As a project inspector for the district, he is the highest-ranking daily representative for ITD on the project to which he is assigned. Burden has a team of inspectors and coordinates sampling and inspection. He often plays the mediator on project issues.
In Burden’s perfect world, he would log 250 miles of biking each week. In reality, with work and other constraints, he cycles about 50 miles less.
Once a recreational bike rider, he now is a hard-core competitive racer, although he wouldn’t describe his efforts in such terms.
“Let’s not get carried away,” he cautions. “I've started getting competitive in certain types of races and have started garnering the respect of my fellow racers. But I am still a novice compared to most of my competition. Most of the racers my age have been racing much longer.
“It is really hard to get in the top three in a race. It's a tough crowd. I'm scratching my way up, though.”
Burden has entered 32 races since he started racing competitively in 2004 at the Bogus Hill Climb.
So what lessons has he learned along the way?
“Training is a much-debated topic, and most biker geeks go to great lengths to have a regimen that includes peak effort days and moderate days in differing measures – measured and quantified by a lot of fancy gadgets.”
In contrast, “I train by perceived effort,” he said. “No heart rate monitor or power meters. I probably give up something by doing that, but it's much cheaper and suits my personality.”
Cycling for Intermountain Orthopaedics, he has placed in the top 10 in the Master’s division (age 50-99) of the Idaho State Road Race and Idaho State Criterium three times since 2006. He also finished ninth in April 2007 at the Emmett Roubaix Road Race and second in March of 2006 in a slammer race. Since he started in 2004, he has placed in the top 10 in a competition around 10 times, and estimates that he usually finishes in the top third.
Occasionally he’ll “blow himself up” in a race – going out too hard and fast at the beginning, expending all of his energy and strength before the race is done – basically killing his chances.
Burden estimates he enters 10-15 events per year, most of them in Idaho or around the region.
“I have done races from Pocatello to Whitebird, he said. “I did the Seattle to Portland Ride, which is 206 miles in a single day and turned in a reasonable time: 10 hours and 40 minutes for saddle time with a 40-minute lunch.”
Burden also competed in The Lyle Pearson 200 twice and is set to ride it again this year. It is a four-person relay team race that starts in Boise and finishes in Sun Valley.
He finished second out of 60 riders in a 54-mile race in the George’s Cycles Spring Series a few weeks ago. He took fifth place in another race in the same series.
“The categories may be deceiving, as they are a measure of experience as well as athletic ability. These are national rankings predicated on how much you race and also on how well you do. I was moved to up to Cat 3 last year. A Cat 3 would be considered an expert.
“Each season I up the number of races I enter. This season I will race about 15 times, give or take – and a couple of time trials, five criteriums and the remainder as road races.”
Up next is the Treasure Valley Omnium, May 24-26 in Boise. It features a road race, a time trial, and a criterium.
Those three types of races require different strategies, Burden explains. A time trial is a short race (10-15 miles), generally held on a flat, straight course, so “sprinting” is a premium skill. It is a race against the clock, where tenths of a second can mean the difference between victory and second place. A criterium generally involves completing laps over a 15-mile course. A road race usually is longer, and the cyclist needs to have endurance and a good mix of sprinting speed and climbing strength. Road races average 50 to 60 miles.
With those words in February 2005, the Idaho Senate was introduced to Burden, and his involvement in bicycling that turned from an interest in exercise to a public, political stand on safety.
Burden was one of several people who testified before the Legislature against a bill that would have required bicyclists to remain stopped at all red lights until the signals turn green.
In an Idaho Statesman article about the hearing, Burden said he's actually safer on his bike if he can leave the intersection before the rest of traffic.
“’I'm not concerned about waiting in line,’” he said. "’What I really want to do is clear that intersection.’"
The legislative proposal stalled, but Burden remains outspoken about bicycle safety and is willing to present the case to government leaders again, if asked. His emphasis on safety began with near tragedy involving close friend Colby Dees during a race several years ago.
“I was riding in the Treasure Valley Stage Race,” Burden said. “The race was probably around 50 miles… a flattish course with a mean small climb in it, finishing with some rollers - a good course for me. It was very windy that day so no one wanted to get out in front and let the others draft off of them. I kept letting myself get pushed up front to pull, so finally I stayed up front, but
“The climb was about 15 miles from the finish line. When we hit the climb I stepped it up and crested the hill first, dragging five or six other riders with me. After the climb, there is a long descent and we gapped the rest of the pack,” he said.
Burden paused to collect his thoughts and reflect on his abiding friendship with Dees…
“After racing for awhile you come to know your fellow racers pretty well, form friendships. Colby Dees falls in that category for me. Colby rides for the Byrds (Boise Young Rider Development Squad). He is a coach and mentor for the kids. He’s a great person.
“Colby made it over the top with me, and we were pretty stoked because we knew there was a real possibility of maintaining our lead to the finish,” Burden recalled. “As we got to the rollers, Mitch White - a rider and friend from Team ICE (Idaho Cycling Enthusiasts) in Pocatello - got out of the saddle (stands up to pedal hard) on a curving roller and his front tire tapped the person’s rear tire in front of him at about 25-30 mph.
“That caused Mitch to go down, and he took out Colby and another rider,” Burden said. “I was on the left of the wreck and thinking ‘I'm going to be out of it,’ which would virtually assure me a place on the podium since about half of the people on the break-away were hitting the pavement.
“And then here comes Colby sliding along the pavement right in front of me; my front tire hits the back of his helmet and starts pushing his face along the pavement,” Burden recalled in horror. “It didn't last long before I was over my handlebars, but it seemed like forever.
“When I came to, I was on my back and I started yelling that Colby was really hurt… I rolled over to get to my knees and I saw Colby crawling around, his face had been skinned. Colby was fumbling around with rocks on the pavement saying ‘where's my eye, where's my eye’ in a tone of voice that I will not forget - ever.
“We managed to get Colby to the side of the road and keep him down. One of the downed riders happened to be an ER doctor. I was holding Colby's legs and was crying and telling him I was so sorry. The ambulance arrived and Colby was loaded in and gone.
“The two of us in the wreck that had bikes that were broken got a ride back to the finish line. The ER doc needed stitches. I just had a few scrapes. As soon as I was cleared, I racked up my bike and headed home, cried all the way,” he said. “Cried in the shower, had a terrible day.
“Then I got a call from one of the kids that Colby coaches,” Burden said. “He told me that Colby was all right and that he didn't lose his eye, but that his forehead skin had fallen over his eye when it was skinned down; all Colby could feel over his sightless eye was bloody skin. That was the best phone call I have ever received.
“That is not the worst racing injury accident I have been involved in, but it was the worst one with a close friend,” Burden said.
The main lesson he’s learned about racing?
“Probably the main one is that this sport is so much more dangerous that any other I've participated in.”
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Photos: Burden sits atop the Galena Summit in 2006, after finishing a leg of the Ride Idaho Tour (top). The Tour is a week-long group ride (about 150 riders) through Idaho. Riders average about 75 miles per day. As a project inspector, Burden kept a watchful eye on construction of the Locust Grove overpass in Boise (upper left) and an Interstate 84 soundwall (middle right).