Bike Fort Collins first launched You Know Me. I Ride a Bike. back in 2009, where we featured local residents, for whom riding bikes is big part of their life in a broader awareness campaign. Beginning in 2021, we are excited to reintroduce this bio-series, where we feature one new Fort Collins resident each month here on our news-blog/website, as well as through The Pedal Post eNewsletter and our social channels, highlighting their love for bikes and for riding them. Please join us and read on, as we hear their stories and learn more about these remarkable folks who live and ride right here in our community.
May 2021: Cesar Grajales
Cesar Grajales is a storied bike racer with a long and impressive career. Grajales still recounts his defeat of Lance Armstrong with a kind of impish enthusiasm that is more boyish pride than ego. In fact, Grajales is incredibly humble considering his talented career. I’ve met weekend warriors at the top of mountain passes with more arrogance. I had been hesitant to take on interviewing a true spandex cyclist––preferring to stick with what I know, which is ironically, lots of things and none of them are pro-cycling. A quick Google of Grajales was overwhelming. I love riding a bike, but I was afraid there would be a lot of vocabulary like criterium, peleton, etc., involved in our discussion. I wasn’t wrong, but this also isn’t the story that Cesar Grajales needs to tell anymore. It is evident that he has given these answers countless times but he is unexpectedly gracious and doesn’t sound as if he minds repeating this old history to me.
There are lots of articles on the internet about the trajectory of his career and some of them are inspiring and worthy reads. Grajales grew up in Manizales Colombia, a place where “you can go up to the mountains and touch snow.” He started riding with his Dad up the 82 km 3k meter Letras on a BMX at age 10.It was evident that Grajales was born to ride a bike.
He began cycling competitively until the major Colombian teams folded, thus beginning his transition to mountain biking. Grajales went to college and began racing as a mountain biker and eventually competed in the South American and Panamerican Games as a member of the Colombian National Team. He was on his way to Vail Colorado to compete in the World Championships when September 11th shut down flights into the US and changed the arc of his cycling career. Grajales applied his unused ticket to visit his parents in Athens Georgia where he was eventually picked up by Jittery Joes a small hometown team where he would go on to beat Lance Armstrong to the top of the section known as Brasstown Bald in the 2004 Tour de Georgia.
Grajales is not a one trick pony. He has focused the same tenacity he used as a racer on his side passion projects. A lover of history and an accidental student of the Colombian constitution, he unravels a great tale of his work with the Colombian government to protect recovered sunken Spanish Galleons off the coast, and no joke, keep the “buried treasure,” in Colombian hands. Of all the twists this interview might have taken I didn’t expect to be regaled with a healthy portion of Colombian history and his feelings about colonialization. But it is clear that Cesar Grajales leads with his heart, whether on a bike, or in complicated government negotiations. I get the feeling that that he has lived many lives and has a new one, yet unlived, on the horizon.
He retired officially in 2016 and lived in Lyons with his wife, also a former racer. It is here, when we touch on his divorce 3 years ago and a recent breakup after finding love again, that our conversation comes back to the place that connects so many of us to our bikes. Grajales sighs deeply and pauses, his rich Colombian accent softens, “I feel… its just one of those days when I really need to ride.” Grajales is familiar with loss but acknowledges that this place of starting over is disorienting and unfamiliar compared with the ups and downs of his professional career. “It’s like difficult to get motivated to ride but once you do, you feel better.” I ask him if it was hard to retire and shift into a different life and way of earning a living? “Incredibly hard,” he answers without pause. He misses being a part of a team, training and the sense of purpose it gave him. Grajales describes entering amateur races like “crashing a party.” There is a sense that he doesn’t belong, still too fast to be an amateur and too old and slow to be a pro.
For the last year Fort Collins has been his home and Rist Canyon has become his favorite ride. “Rist has everything,” he tells me, “easy sections and “butt kickers––to me, it’s like the perfect climb.” His favorite mountain bike ride is Upper Timber at Lory State Park, where it’s “technical going up and coming down,” and a good day means only putting your foot down once. His favorite Fort Collins brewery is Stodgy because you can ride your bike there and he loves the expansive outdoor space. “Fort Collins is a really awesome location where you can road or mountain bike from where you live. But as far as road biking…” Grajales laments, “there is only Rist for hard climbs.” I think this is fair and not unexpected from a cyclist who has made a career of being really, really good at climbing.
Colombia has a rich relationship and history with cycling, so I ask him how Fort Collins compares? He notices opportunity for infrastructure improvement, places where the bike lanes feel too narrow on roads that are too busy and “cars and bikes seem not to belong in the same place.” I can’t disagree with this assessment. He also thinks that e-bikes will change cycling mostly for the better, making cycling more accessible for people regardless of age or ability. One of his favorite memories was seeing an 80 year old man finish the Leadville 100 with a “really good time.” I ask him if he can imagine himself being that guy one day? “I wish––I am hoping!”
He ends the interview wistfully, with what I think is the truth about cycling, whether you are just a person out for exercise or a pro like Grejales, “I can’t stop riding. The beauty of cycling is the challenge, that feeling is what keeps you going.”
1. Name and age – 48
2. What do you do for a living? – landscaping/hardscapes & bike tours
3. How long have you lived in Fort Collins? – one year
4. How long have you been riding? – 40 years
5. What kind of riding do you do? – all of the riding
6. Do you commute via bike? If so, how far do you commute?
7. Why do you ride? – I just love all forms of cycling
8. What kind(s) of bike(s) do you ride? – all of the bikes
9. What would you like to tell someone who is thinking about starting to ride a bike? – don’t miss the opportunity, it’s the best that that will ever happen to you
10. What makes you smile when you’re on your bike? – When I finish the top of a climb or a crazy technical descent on a mountain bike
11. What got you into riding your bike? Was there a specific moment/experience? – My dad asked me to join him and his group of friends
12. Where is your favorite place to ride? – Riding in my home city of Manizale to Nevado del Ruiz, a climb that goes up to 4,100 meters
13. What are the biggest improvements you’ve seen for bicycling in Fort Collins? – most recently, the green paint at confusing intersections
14. What gets you on your bike on a cold, rainy, crummy day? – good company
15. How often do you ride your bike (vs. drive)? – I can ride everywhere I need to go when in town, but riding to work just isn’t an option because I work in landscaping
16. Any last comments? – I just happy to live in such a bicycle friendly community like Fort Collins
Did you enjoy reading about Cesar? Read about other inspiration individuals just like him who ride bikes here.
Awesome life story. Makes me think of the movie Breaking Away. Isn’t it every bike’s dream to beat a cheater like Lance?