Ted King, Pro Cyclist and Co-Founder of Untapped
When Ted King (@iamtedking) looks at a bike, he sees a whole lot more than two wheels. Ted King is a former pro cyclist and participant on the world stage, and has staked his claim as an entrepreneur and ambassador of the cycling community.
While he might be retired from the pro tours, he hasn’t slowed down, winning the storied Dirty Kanza two of the past three years. If you’re not in the cycling world, you’ll have to keep reading for more on Dirty Kanza
Ted King and I met recently on the deck of the family owned Cochran Ski Area, which is also the home base of UnTapped, the maple syrup-powered company Ted co-founded with the Cochran cousins. The Cochran family is a story in their own right, producing three generations of some of the country’s best skiers—straight from this quaint little ski area in the rolling hills of Vermont.
Ted King and his wife Laura recently left the California life behind for Vermont’s gravel roads, green hills, maple syrup, and IPA. We sat down to talk entrepreneurship, cycling, and health, but we didn’t need much conversation to see the opportunities for each right in front of us at that ski hill. Kids mountain biking with friends, drinking water straight from the ground, a barn housing a family of athletes, and entrepreneurs grinding away with the same focus they bring to sports. On my way out, a woman passing by invited me to a race that weekend to meet the community. I wish I could have stayed.
LET’S START WITH BREAKFAST
David Swain: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Ted King: I commuted to work today and left the house fairly early. First I grabbed a banana and went for a 90-minute ride. Then I rode to the bakery and got coffee and a muffin.
You’ve gone on pro cycling tours, made a name for yourself as an entrepreneur, and found your way back to the East Coast, where we’re now watching some kids get ready for a mountain bike ride on a very green ski hill. It looks like they’re having fun.
Those kids are having a blast. We’re actually catching the tail end of this, which I only know because I got to Cochran Ski Area right as they were getting ready. They look like they’ve just shredded for a ton of hours and now they’re eating their lunch—good program.
Now let’s talk about your childhood. These kids out here look like they’re between eight and 10. What were you doing over the summer at that age?
There’s this amazing island off the coast of Maine, and my family has been going there for six generations—a small island about three miles off the coast. Its circumference is about four miles, and there’re about 100 cottages. It’s one of those places where everybody knows everybody. It’s a great place for a kid to be a kid, learn how to stub their toe, kiss a girl, grow up. It’s heaven on Earth.
On the athletic side, from the time I could stand, I could skate. Hockey was a huge sport for me. For a good part of my childhood, I thought I’d be a professional hockey player.
How long did you play hockey?
I played through my junior year of high school. I also skied quite a bit. Being in New Hampshire, you ski and you play hockey. My hockey coach was not happy that I was risking my life and limbs on the ski slopes. Ironically, he was especially upset—maybe coincidentally—when I broke my arm. At that point, I decided I liked skiing more than hockey, so I stopped playing hockey at age 17.
So you’re an eight-year-old spending your summers in Maine and playing hockey. Not too many years later, you become a pro cyclist. How competitive were you as a kid?
I was a pretty Type A kid. I liked to do well in school. I liked to do well in sports. In school, I was the kid always raising my hand with the answer. I was verbose. I was outgoing. I think that allowed me to pick up cycling relatively late in the game. I didn’t only play hockey; I played all sorts of sports. I also played sports year-round: I was goalie for the soccer team, captain of the tennis team.
I pretty much played every other sport to figure out what I really loved. Hockey took up a great deal of time. Actually, as a result of hockey, when I went to Middlebury College here in Vermont I considered trying to walk onto the team. I know that sounds silly after taking my senior year off, but they have a great hockey team at Middlebury. They’re Perennial D3 National Champions and I wanted to get back into it.
Anyway, I was playing intramural and had some other friends attempting to walk on. It was also around the time my older brother was at Colorado College. He came east to race the Collegiate National Championships hosted by the University of Vermont, which was just 30 minutes up the road from where I was going to school. I went and watched this race, and I didn’t really care about it. I was my brother’s feed zone personnel at the halfway point. I gave him a water bottle and said, “This is kind of boring.” Then I went back to school.
But Robbie went on to win that race—the first of his three collegiate national titles. As anyone who’s into collegiate cycling or cycling in general in America knows, a national title is incredibly hard to get. And my brother won. It was around that time I was like, “I could do this hockey thing, or I could be the beneficiary of some hand-me-down bikes. I probably have these same genetics. Maybe I’ll get into cycling.”
Yeah, it wasn’t really until college that I got into cycling full-bore.
How were your parents with sports growing up? Was there pressure?
No pressure whatsoever. My parents were incredibly supportive from the time I could stand in athletics. They’ve always been very proud of Robbie and my athletic endeavors. Supporting kids who want to get into hockey and skiing—those are the two most ridiculous sports you could play. Think hockey tournaments at 6 a.m. on the other side of the state. I have a great deal of gratitude for my parents. They let us pick the sports we wanted to do and it worked out tremendously well. They were huge supporters but not so much influencers.
What would you say to the people who dream of becoming a pro athlete, or who have tried to become really good at a sport that requires the endurance of cycling? How quickly were you able to see your own potential?
I started college in 2001 and it was spring of 2002 that I got into cycling. What we see now in cycling is a very welcoming and more communal sport with the advent of things like gravel. It was a different era then—a different generation where it was all about racing, all about chasing points and moving up in the categories. I was chasing my older brother. Robbie was already great and I was aspiring to follow in his footsteps.
I’d describe my development in cycling as very organic. I never had aspirations to go to the pro tour. Every step of the way unfolded organically. There I was racing as a Cat 5 at 19. I got into collegiate racing. I remember I’d been picking up some of Robbie’s training plans. I also remember going to the first collegiate race, and I knew that I wanted to go to the collegiate national championships because my brother’s race was my first influence. I was on the start line at my first race when I said, “Okay, I’m racing the B’s.” Someone said, “You can’t go to the collegiate B national championship.” I was like, “Oh, shoot, yeah. No, I want to race the A’s.”
Then on the start line, I raced the A’s and I did pretty well.
That is a microcosm for everything. Afterward I went to the amateur scene and I started doing races. No, I didn’t walk away absolutely crushing the field, but I had a lot of success. I saw that cycling is a sport that rewards time in because time in is results out. I trained my tail off. It actually meant the end of my time at Squirrel Island in Maine—or very limited time at Squirrel Island because Squirrel Island is foot traffic only. It’s a really small place with no bikes allowed.
But that meant success in the amateur scene, and then in the collegiate scene. I got invited to the Under-23 National Team over in Belgium, so there was a lot of European influence.
How far after you started was that?
I was 22, so two-and-a-half years in. That program was USA Cycling. Our governing federation—that’s their funded project to give Americans a European experience. And it’s changed a lot in the 15 years since that time.
I continued with that, though, and then I went domestique pro. I raced that for three years. And while I never had aspirations to make it to Europe, I had a great third year and caught the attention of the Europeans. I went to a European team and turned that into a seven-year career. It was all very serendipitous with a heck of a lot of hard work thrown in.
What about your college experience? You were good at school and good at racing bikes—both take a lot of time and focus. Were there tradeoffs you had to make?
There were funny tradeoffs all through college. Fast-forward a few years, and we’re in the heart of winter in Vermont where training is not the easiest in those base mile months. One semester I withdrew from Middlebury and went to the University of Arizona. I like to joke that that was my semester abroad. And really, it was an incredible experience. Tucson, Arizona, so far as the United States goes, is about as different from northern Vermont as it gets.
I had a great deal of support, though. There was just one political science professor who was like, “What are you doing? What’s your likelihood of success?” I put my head down. I didn’t set out to prove him wrong, but I remember that experience vividly. I was highly entertained by it because I thought we were all still kids—I was 21 at that point.
In Europe there were a lot of tradeoffs. In order to succeed, you had to live in Europe for 10-plus months of the year. At that age, in my mid-20s through my early 30s, there were a lot of holidays, birthdays, and weddings I missed—a lot of friends having their kids. That was definitely a tradeoff. It was a bummer, but I always made certain to be back for holidays in the cold weather months and see family. It was all worthwhile.
I’m impressed with what you’ve done for cycling as a sport. You’ve got your podcast now, King of the Ride, and you’re involved in the event scene helping to get people out. You’re also active on social media. Talk about the cycling community as a pro compared to where you are now, nurturing all aspects of the cycling world.
Let’s dabble in social media for a minute. I went to a small liberal arts school in New England in the early 2000s. I am a Mark Zuckerberg-era student, and Facebook came to my school very early. I remember when my parents got on Facebook—that was mind-boggling to me. I was like, “No, this thing is meant for college students!” Then I realized it was a much bigger network. Quite frankly, Facebook’s market is everybody on planet Earth, but for a long time it seemed weird. I was active on Facebook pretty early because that’s what we did in college. I was an early adopter of Twitter too, and an early adopter of Strava.
I was using these platforms as a way to stay entertained. I had a blog relatively early on as well: IAmTedKing.com. I started that in 2006—my first year racing pro. Having these tools at the right time allowed me to stay involved in the cycling community. It was a way to communicate. It was lonesome plenty of times living overseas, and I found it easier to write one blog post for a lot of people than write 25 different emails to all my friends and family back home. I think the same goes for Strava, Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms. At that time, social media was a way to communicate.
Racing in Europe is an entirely different sport than in America. It’s a bigger playing field. The sport is faster, harder, longer. I often compare it to soccer. Here in America we have Major League Soccer, but Europe is the big leagues.
Cycling at that point was called the National Racing Circuit, or the NRC. There is great American racing. At the end of the day, though, if you really want to be on the next playing field, you need to go over to Europe. And you end up in a community.
I moved to Girona, Spain, which is a mecca for cyclists from all over the world—primarily Anglo-Saxons coming into Europe to base their career, a lot of Brits and Aussies and Kiwis, but then also a lot of continental Europeans who just need better weather. There’s a tremendous community there.
I raced for an Italian team for a handful of years, so I actually moved to Lucca, Italy and honed my Italian. Lucca is sort of a smaller Girona in that a lot of cyclists call it home. At the end of the day, I like having a community—it’s important to be able to decompress after a race and either talk about it or talk about all things outside of bike racing.
Segueing out of my bike-racing career, early in 2015 I knew I was about done. I was 32 years old at the time, and I’d raced for 10 years. I had a college degree, but by no means does that guarantee you anything.
And my job as a domestique was to fulfill somebody else’s win and work for that other person’s win. Most certainly when that person wins, it’s a team win. I say this having worked for Peter Sagan for four years, as he is unequivocally our generation’s best cyclist. Anyway, we won a ton of races, and I was a part of those races, which was an honor and a privilege and something that I’ll always have.
That final year, in 2015, I was no longer teammates with Peter. We had moved to separate teams. What I mean by all this is that I sort of lacked that big-time fire. I decided that early 2015 would be the end of my racing career, and it was. I thought I would step onto Wall Street or try to do all sorts of other things that were related to my degree, but then a lot of sponsors stepped forward.
They said, “We want to keep you in the sport. We like your voice. We like what you represent. Would you like to ride on behalf of our brand?” At that point, athlete ambassadorship was still relatively new in cycling. It wasn’t something that I anticipated at all—and I still love riding a bike, absolutely love it—but the timing was right and ripe for the community, and for cycling in general along with the gravel scene. It’s been a really timely departure from pro tour racing.
Talk about gravel. 10 years from now, if you’re looking at where cycling is going, what direction do you think it will move in?
I think a lot of people are trying to figure that out. I’ve talked about this a bit in my podcasts: What is the direction of gravel? We see a lot of traits in gravel cycling that are similar to mountain biking in its advent 15 years ago, in its franken-bike heyday where it didn’t matter what bike you showed up on as long as you were out having a good time. It’s just a very welcoming sport.
With mountain bike racing, all of a sudden people started making the lightest bikes. They turned out to be a bit flimsy. It became too racy, in so many words, and mountain biking lost its luster. Basically, the question for a lot of people is how do we keep gravel cycling cool? This is all talk at this point because nothing is fluid about cycling.
But mountain biking is as freaking cool as it gets right now in the umbrella of cycling. They fell on a nadir and now they’re cruising up on an absolute wave. We want to skip that low point in gravel and keep it cool. There are gravel races. There are huge gravel races. There are 2,000-plus-person gravel races, and those are awesome.
I did Dirty Kanza this year—I’ve done it the past three years and it’s awesome. 2,700 people show up. And there are tons of other gravel events here in Vermont. We have Vermont Overland. We have Rasputitsa. These races are bringing anywhere from 400 to 1,000 people out.
And it is welcoming. One thing that’s awesome about gravel is you quickly find your tribe, even if you’re going into a race. Chances are if you’re going to finish in the 50th percentile, your goal is not to show up and be on the podium. You will quickly find your people—people with a similar biking physiological ability so that if you’re finishing this ride in five hours, you’re probably meant to do the ride in about five hours. Or if you finish in three hours, you’re probably supposed to be doing it in about three hours.
Compared to road racing, if you go into a race and you hit the first climb and you’re at the back, that’s the end of your day. You may as well go home. You are not going to be a part of the race for the next three hours. There is no longer a peloton, whereas gravel still has that sense of community due to it being such a big starting field.
There are some small nerdy nuances to it, though, like should we have aero bars? Should we include team tactics in gravel racing? I certainly frown on these because I’m a huge proponent of the communal aspect of gravel racing while still keeping it competitive. I don’t have an answer, but it’s interesting to see this progression of gravel that we’re absolutely in the middle of right now.
As fun as it is being on a pro tour for 10 months, keeping your brain in a good place has to be as important as keeping your legs on and your body functioning. What do you think of the mix of nutrition, training, and mental health?
I’ve written some blogs about how it’s mandatory to be a jack-of-all-trades. You are a professional nutritionist, dietician, physio. You know how to take care of your body. You’re pretty much a professional EMT; you change your own dressing after a race. You have a minor in accounting, as you’re always exchanging a few different currencies.
Being a professional cyclist means you are a professional at many trades. There is a ton of downtime on the pro tour. You spend a ton of time twiddling your thumbs and looking at the internet, and you’re bored out of your mind. If you read up on the favorite activities of a lot of cyclists, you’ll often see reading or cooking—and I’m no exception—as those are ways to occupy your time as a semi-professional nutritionist.
It’s good to be aware of the food you’re fueling with. I really enjoy writing on IAmTedKing.com. My time on the pro tour was never tedious. It was fun to be out on training rides and races, to be thinking of all the things I was going to say. That is how my website became a place to tell the world what Joe Schmo Ted King does in a bike race on the pro tour.
It’s easier said than done, though. I know a lot of people who’ve been told to start a blog. And until you do it and do it regularly, it’s not going to go anywhere. There are plenty of ways to stay busy, plenty of ways to be bored, and it’s just a question of what you are going to choose.
TED KING ON MAPLE SYRUP & ENTREPRENEURSHIP
On the training and nutrition side, what are some of the things that work for you? We’re sitting near the place you and your cofounders launched UnTapped. Talk about how that fits in.
That is a perfect segue. They are intrinsically tied and there are a lot of fads. There are also a lot of fast solutions. Overall, I think there’s a lot to be said about simplicity.
It was great being on an Italian team in a lot of ways, although they would also deprive you of food at certain times of the year. If you are training in Italy and you get a pasta dish, you’ll find there are very few ingredients on your plate. You have exquisite pasta with great olive oil, a little bit of cheese and salt, and that’s it. Keep it simple, stupid. If you crack open a can of SpaghettiOs, you’re going to find 75 different ingredients.
This is also the advent of Dr. Allen Lim, and bringing his methodology and his thinking into cycling sports nutrition. It is all about real foods. It’s about keeping it simple. Amid my racing and being known as a New Englander, I would often step off the bus at a bike race and very generous fans would hand me quarts, pints, or even half-gallons of maple syrup. I would think for one, they’ve trekked this all the way across the globe. It’s expensive.
And two, it’s not like a high-five or a selfie. These people have very generously given me this gift, and I would graciously go home and put it on my oatmeal or put it on my pancakes. Every once in a while, I’d start putting it in my water bottle—it’s liquid gold. I’d be so psyched to have just a spoonful of it, or to take a small slug straight from the bottle because after consuming so many gels—way too many gels in my career—you put it together that a gel is a whole bunch of carbohydrates and maple syrup is a whole bunch of carbohydrates.
But maple syrup is loaded with amino acids, electrolytes, antioxidants. It’s very easy for your body to digest. It is sucrose, so it breaks down in your body as glucose and fructose, which is a huge benefit in endurance sports. I was like, “I’m sitting on a goldmine here. Why has nobody ever put maple syrup into an individual gel?”
I would come back to North America in the off-season and ride to farmers markets. I would pull out a generic gel packet and tell farmers I wanted to add maple syrup to it. No one ever understood it, or they were purely focused on selling bottles of maple syrup, so they didn’t want to be onboard.
After about two years of that, I met my current partner at UnTapped, Andrew Gardner. He said, “You’ve got to talk to the Cochrans.” The Cochrans own this beautiful property that we’re sitting on right now, which is a small ski area in Vermont. They have produced three generations of Olympic alpine skiers. The four cousins my age started a maple syrup operation about six years ago. They are athletes making maple syrup for grocery stores, for restaurants, for people who sell bulk maple syrup.
They understood the power and efficacy of maple syrup. They had the bandwidth to put it into packages, to figure out all the insurance, all the distribution—all those requirements that I couldn’t manage while I was living and racing overseas. That is the long story of UnTapped, which is now a sports nutrition lineup, and it’s a great deal of what I’m doing now.
We have two packets. One is pure organic maple syrup. One is organic maple syrup infused with coffee, so you get a natural caffeine boost. We also have three waffles— maple, raspberry, and coffee—all of which taste like those three things because we only use those things.
We use only real foods in our products, so we use real raspberries. We use real coffee. We use real maple syrup. I’m very exciting about two new drink mixes that just came out under the same concept. One is super-simple with three ingredients, and the other has four.
How many years has UnTapped been going?
We started with a successful 2014 crowdfunding campaign while I was racing the Tour de France. Basically, we figured what better platform than the Tour de France to be racing and see what kind of momentum we can get from a worldly audience? We smashed through our goal and have been cruising since then.
I haven’t been a pro athlete, but there are likely similarities between entrepreneurship and sports. Talk about your transition into the business world.
One awesome aspect of our company is that everybody immediately had a role. I had a platform where I could tell people about not only our crowdfunding campaign, but also the product itself. I was lucky to bring it full-circle by being an early Twitter adopter, and an early adopter of Facebook and Instagram, so I had that audience. My partners, the Cochrans—since they already had the slope-side operation, they were able to figure out the distribution and all these things. Andrew Gardner has a PR firm, so his role was to get us into the right publications and magazines.
To this day we remain a really small company. We haven’t had to outsource. Much like a bike team, everybody has a role. As long as we do our jobs and do them well, it’s a blast.
That said, there are certain pressures in bike racing. Worst-case scenario, you’re racing in Northern Belgium. You’re on a road about eight feet wide. You’ve got Peter Sagan, the world’s best cyclist, on your wheel. You’re supposed to deliver him to a particular point in the race. It’s windy, it’s pouring rain, and it’s probably sleeting a little bit. There’s cow shit coming up in your face, and there’s somebody screaming at you in a foreign language because you’re on an Italian cycling team.
That to me is a level of pressure that we share in the peloton. There are a handful of very successful entrepreneurs who have come from a professional cycling background. Time in, results out—that’s all you know as a cyclist. You know that if you put your head down and grind, you’re going to succeed. That’s the truth here at UnTapped also. We certainly find more results the harder we work. It’s been an awesome transition.
Going back to kids and sports, watching the pressure that’s on really young kids these days to pick one sport from an early age—I’m personally worried about burnout. What’s your message to parents who want the best for their kids?
I would say to put them on a bike because the bike is the greatest thing ever. I was able to succeed and not be burned out, having gotten into the sport at a later age. Getting into it at 19 or 20, I saw a lot of people who had been racing since they were 12 years old. They were already finished.
Surrounded by these kids 100 yards away, that level of cycling is awesome. What Lea and Sabra Davison have done with Little Bellas—getting girls about 15 years or younger onto bikes—I think that is awesome. That’s everything that is right about bicycles.
I won’t give parenting advice. It’s great when a parent can share a sport with a kid, whether it’s skiing or hockey or just playing catch—or certainly going for a bike ride. You don’t want to shove it down the kid’s throat. You want them to embrace it and enjoy it. Not every day is going to be sunshine and buttercups. I think there’s a lot to be said about pushing a kid through some bad days.
When I was a kid I played every sport under the sun. I love cycling because it is a lifetime sport. I grew up riding a bike quite a bit, but it was purely to get to the local convenience store to buy candy or soda with my friends, to ride to my friends’ houses, to go to school. It’s the same thing that I do now at this age, riding a bike to a coffee shop or riding with friends to drink caffeine rather than soda. I suppose they’re one in the same. Drink coffee instead of coke.
Who are the coaches, trainers, mentors, and other people who have helped you along through your career?
Without question, my brother has been the coolest influence on me. I would not be a cyclist without him. He got into it in high school. I followed in his footsteps, getting into it a little bit later. We don’t get out and ride often anymore. He’s pursuing medical school now. When we do, we still have a blast.
I’ve had a handful of coaches, and I think they have all been very valuable. I’ve maintained really good relationships with them. Most certainly people hit me up for advice all the time. Often I say get a coach because, as you know, it gets very acute very quickly. I can give you 1,000 individual bits of training advice, but the reality is that if you really want to improve, then having a coach is a huge benefit.
Side note: I run a small coaching business and coach about a half-dozen athletes. As we were walking over here, we were discussing that I have all these things on social media I like to share because I gleaned a lot of insights and knowledge over my 10-year racing career, and I want to share that. It’s not different in the realm of coaching.
I had tremendous support from my parents as well. They were always on the sideline cheering, and they never force-fed me anything. They were just really great supporters. Family has been pretty awesome.
What does your role look like on the coaching side? Are you seeing people in person, or is it more about giving them tips and looking over their activities online, and then helping them think through their training?
It’s more the latter. With everything online these days, athletes can upload their training file. I can see geographically where they’re riding; I can see what hills they’re climbing. I can see the gradients. I can see their power outputs, their heart rates, their speed, their cadence, and I can coach them on all those things.
Generally, I see each of these six to eight athletes once or twice a year—and you can do a heck of a lot of training in person that you can’t do over a computer screen, so we work on a little bit of everything. It’s fun with the various sponsors I’m involved with—I get to do a lot of events and camps and product launches. As a result, I’m with cyclists who are not folks I coach all the time. I try to tastefully give them advice. It’s much like telling your spouse how to drive—you don’t want to do it because you realize there will be some ramifications.
It’s not easy to tell this person next to you—while you’re sharing this recreating activity— that they’re doing it wrong. Rather than simply telling them how to do it, you have to figure out a way to tell this person how to slow their cadence, stand up less, stand up more, increase their cadence, stop half-wheeling me, and more. There are plenty of really adept cyclists who have skill but no physiology. Then there are plenty of people who have huge physiology—huge engines—but they don’t know what to do with it. They’re like toddlers behind the wheel of a Ducati, or behind the handlebars of a Ducati. In this communal era of cycling, we’re just trying to smooth everything out so that the fast guy can ride with the slow guy—so that everybody can ride in harmony.
What about women’s cycling? On one of your podcasts, you mentioned they scheduled a women’s race in the middle of the week. Where is that going? What are some of the positive signs you’re seeing, and where is there room for improvement?
Professional cycling is the biggest amateur sport on the planet, and that’s on the men’s side. Domestic cycling is often in shambles. When it comes to women’s cycling, there is nothing but improvement that can be made. It goes back to the fluid nature of what cycling is in general. What we see this year—what we see this month or even today—is different than what we’re going to see next year, or five years down the road. The evolution is all very interesting.
I thought it was curious that the men’s Tour de France was running at the same time as the women’s Giro d’Italia. Initially I was skeptical of it, but it turned into an incredible race. I think as a result of cycling fans in general, paying attention to the men’s side, they were also paying attention to the women’s side. Directly after the Giro, a day or two later, they scheduled a women’s one-day Tour de France on a Tuesday. 99.9% of the time one-day bike races are held on weekends. I thought it was a really curious decision to do it on a Tuesday. It happened to be during the Tour de France and it happened to produce a really fascinating race.
Is anything perfect? No. The development is there. I think it’s often two steps forward, one step back. These teams will come along and have great rosters and great budgets. They’ll exist for two years, and then they’ll be done. That exemplary team is gone, but then another year or two later another example like that will come along. It’s great progress followed by some unfortunate fallbacks. By and large I think the sport of cycling—including female cycling, as well as domestic cycling—is going in the right direction.
Give everybody the 60 seconds on Dirty Kanza.
Time out—we haven’t started the clock yet! How well-versed is your audience in the cycling community?
It’s a mix. You’ve got some cycling fans and some people who are probably following the sport but not on their bikes.
Dirty Kanza is now in its 11th year. This is a 206-mile race across Kansas—a figure-eight loop. What started with 38 people 11 years ago now tops 2,700. I’d heard of it in the growth of gravel throughout my racing career, but it was prohibitive to do it when I was overseas.
In 2016, my first year retired, Rebecca Rush said, “You’ve got to come do this crazy race in Kansas.” I did, and I went in completely naïve. I knew how to ride on cobbles. I knew how to ride long distances. I came away with some success, though. I won the race.
The next year I went back, and I thought I was going to clean up again. The field got deeper, I had some bad luck, and I did not win. Then 2018 I went back again. The field was as deep as ever, and there were lots of professional cyclists amid this 2,700-person race. I came away the victor.
I was pretty psyched about that because I have totally different motivations and goals and methods through which I pursue those goals. Now in retirement, these gravel races are a lot of fun—they represent everything that’s right about bike racing and bike riding. I wholeheartedly suggest that people go out to a gravel event, be it Dirty Kanza or another one down the road from you.
Was it funny to say “retirement” and “won the Dirty Kanza” in the same sentence?
Yeah, but I have totally different motivations and levels of discipline. To be a professional bike racer, you’re perpetually starved, you don’t drink alcohol for long periods of time or at all, and you are training six days a week. Now I drink a lot of beer, I eat a lot of food, I ride my bike hard and often, but in a completely other level of discipline.
That’s amazing. I saw in Strava your goal for the year is 15,000 miles. Is that about what you ride in a year?
That is a Strava estimate based on last year that prompted me to state that as my goal. Rather than leaving it blank, I just hit confirm. I was looking at my Strava end-of-the-month report with my wife and realized that over the past three months—amid this drive to move across the country, and with all these life changes—I’ve been on a downward trend of shorter distances and fewer miles traveled. I think in this short window, I’ve fallen behind on my projected distance.
Let’s go back to UnTapped for a moment. Where do you see it in two years?
Taking over the world. It would be great to see it in every bike shop, ski shop, run shop, coffee shop, outdoor shop, pharmacy, and grocery store. The beauty of it is that it is real food, so parents can feel comfortable giving it to their kid as a snack, or at soccer practice. It’s great for camping. It’s great for hiking. It’s freaking delicious. I’ve seen people put it on their chain, true story. If you’ve got a loud chain, put some maple syrup on it.
RAPID-FIRE Q&A WITH TED KING
Now we’re going to go through some quick questions. What’s in your garage that you can’t live without?
We just bought a house, so currently my garage is empty because we’re in a rental. But the thing I’m most excited about is the lawnmower that I don’t yet own. I could say my bike, but I own nine bikes. I don’t have a single bicycle. If it says Cannondale, it’s probably my absolute favorite.
You’ve been riding Cannondale since your first bike?
My first-ever road bike, my first-ever mountain bike, my first-ever cross bike. That was all a complete coincidence. And when I started racing professionally, I kept riding Cannondale.
What is your go-to food?
I love all food. From 100 yards away, I see four cool mountain bikers in their cool clothes; they’re sharing a beer. I love IPA. Moving back to Vermont, I’ve realized IPA is so good. It rivals maple syrup around here.
I love all maple products, anything sweet, and then I love healthy food too. Had the original question been about my go-to tool, I would have said my Cuisinart—I like making my own humus. There’s nothing better than happy hour with humus and carrots and cheese and crackers and beer.
Are there any apps or devices you can’t live without, or that you find interesting right now?
I am a slave to the apps. I do Instagram quite a bit, Strava quite a bit. I like the simplicity of tethering my Garmin so the Garmin Connect syncs up with Strava. I think that’s wonderful. Once upon a time I thought texting was the stupidest thing ever—that’s an app in a way—but lo and behold, my brother told me the other day that he sent 140,000 texts last year or something insane. That’s a lot of conversation. And I probably do twice that.
What are some of your favorite podcasts? Especially now that you’ve gotten into your own.
King of the Ride is definitely one of my favorites that is mine. I listen to it to make sure it’s functional. I also enjoy Freakonomics and Stuff You Should Know. If I just flip on the radio, I listen to all things NPR. They’ll often be in the middle of a show, so then I’ll Bluetooth it to This American Life or get the full story there. How I Built This is excellent as well. I’m just waiting for them to call me up and be like, “Ted King, we want to talk about UnTapped.” We’re also holding out for How I Built This. It’s kind of perfect.
East versus west?
I love California and the Rockies, and I realize those are two different places. I love the United States and the ability to travel, which I’ve been blessed enough to do. I haven’t really felt the need to leave New England since we moved about a month ago, though—but winter is coming.
Gravel versus road?
For the time being, gravel. Here in Vermont, we’re in God’s country for gravel right now. The gravel is so smooth, so buffed out. You can easily ride your road bike on it.
Strength versus agility?
What do you do for agility?
I don’t know. I’m a big guy, just shy of 6’3”, so I’m not one of those shorter cyclists with an enormous power-to-weight ratio. I think I’d rather be brainy than brawny.
Sleep versus nutrition for recovery?
I was just talking about this the other day. Nutrition, in the acute example—if I’m going to finish a ride, I’m going to get the proper recovery food rather than take a nap. I’ll throw a third one in there and say massage is utterly important as well, although it’s not something I do terribly often.
What do you eat the night before a race?
Whatever I want.
How about two days before a race?
What’s the most important thing you’ve taken away from cycling?
Not to get too corny, but it’s sort of brought me everything. It brought me a life and a profession and my friends and my wife. I got into bike riding and racing because it was fun, and I enjoyed the competition. I never expected all this. It’s blown me away what it’s provided me over the past 15-plus years.
Let’s close it out with some Dirty Kanza.