ARKIE PROFILE | Brice Jones
I had the opportunity to race with Brice for a couple years on the amateur Snapple Cycling Team. This was long after he retired from the professional ranks. Brice is a Fort Smith native and one of the most accomplished bike racers ever to come out of The Natural State. It’s great to see someone local reach such a high level in the sport. He raced six years as a Pro (2002-2007), traveling all over the world to turn pedals. I know him as a very chill guy, you would never know all the things he has achieved in cycling if you didn’t ask him. One of my first rides with Brice was a training ride over in the Buffalo River Valley. We started descending the switchbacks on 74 back into Ponca. I thought I was a pretty good at descending but Brice flew by me as if I were standing still railing the corners and dropping me like a rock. The difference between professional and weekend warrior was made all too apparent. I invite you to hangout for a second and learn more about Brice Jones The Local Pro.
OCA: How did you get started racing bikes?
BRICE: My Father got me into road cycling when I was 8 years old (1987). He had heard about the HotterNHell 100 in Wichita Falls, TX and made it a goal to complete the ride in < 5 hours, which he did after training for about 8 months. The first few years I didn’t do a lot of racing, but my first big event was the FreeWheel, which was a Tour across the State of Oklahoma, where we did 500 miles in a week.
OCA: What inspires you to turn the pedals?
BRICE: I’ve always enjoyed the freedom that riding a bicycle provides and the sense of adventure. Even if you do the same loop from your house 60% of the time, that loop can be different each time and you never know what you’re going to experience or how you’re going to feel. It can be very different each time.
I also like the rawness of cycling. This is not a finesse or skill sport. There are some handling skills that you have to learn and pack tactics, but for the most part you can just go out, crush it and limp back to the house exhausted, recover up, and do it again the next day. For some reason, I really like putting myself in the hurt locker and feeling those aching muscles and low blood sugar levels at the end of a good hard ride. This is the time when one feels like they really deserve that Coca Cola and when it never tasted better.
But the main reason I enjoy cycling so much is because it forces you to be concentrated in the present moment. I, as I imagine most other people to be as well, spend way too much time either dwelling on the past or thinking about what we’re going to accomplish in the future. The bike, especially when your railing a descent or are above your threshold on a climb or setting up your position for a final sprint in the last few laps of a criterium, forces you to be completely concentrated on that moment – it has been referred to as “being in the zone”. This is the feeling that draws most everyone to endurance athletics whether they explain it in those terms or not. To be in the present moment and only in that moment is to be enlightened and in touch with one’s inner self. What cyclists and other endurance athletes come to realize over time is that the voice that creeps into your mind that tells you to slow down when the lactate acid levels have shot through the roof is really not you. You are not the voice in your head and when you learn to overcome this voice and operate off the inner self instead of your mind, you are now enlightened and in full control. So you can see from the previous comments that cycling for me is not just a physical journey, but a journey of self-discovery and can be quite philosophical and spiritual as well.
OCA: When was your big break?
BRICE: I’ve had a number of big breaks, but the very first series of big breaks came when I won Junior Nationals in 1994 in Bear Mountain, New York (1st road, 1st crit, 3rd tt, 1st track omnium) and then I repeated and won the road race again in 1995 in Snoqualmie, Washington. Chris Carmichael was then the Director of Performance Programs for USA Cycling and he came up to me after the race and asked if I wanted to be a member of the US Junior National Cycling Team. He said that I would have to be willing to ride hard, which he thought I wouldn’t have a problem doing after watching me win Nationals two years in a row, and I’d have to be willing to travel all over the world. As you can imagine, I was stoked and probably dreamed of being a Pro bike racer day and night. This was my big break – being recognized by a US National Team coach and offered a spot on the National Team.
OCA: What PRO teams did you ride for?
- 2002 – Mercury Hot Wheels Pro Cycling
- 2003 – 7UP Pro Cycling
- 2004 – HealthNet Presented by Maxxis
- 2005-2007 – Jelly Belly Pro Cycling
OCA: Favorite team?
BRICE: I don’t have a favorite team. All the teams I raced for offered their own unique experiences, memories, and great teammates. As far as all out horsepower, my first team (Mercury) was by far the strongest. We had Chris Wherry, Henk Vogels, Gord Fraser, Graeme Miller, Scott Moninger, Ernie Lechuga, Michael Sayers, Derek Bouchard-Hall, Jesus Zarate and more. I remember that first year was a tough transition as the speed at the end of the Pro races was amazing. It took me a number of months to get to where I could contribute to the leadout trains and help our best sprinters finish off with wins. I learned a lot from the guys that first year, but the main thing was to get up there and do your job whether you felt good or not. There were no bad days and excuses didn’t fly with this group. That made me strong – knowing that I had to get up there and help whether I had good legs or bad. I broke through some mental barriers that year that allowed me to reach deep within even if I wasn’t on a great day. I carried that knowledge into future years.
OCA: What is your most memorable race?
BRICE: My most memorable race was winning the U-23 US National Championship road race in Staten Island, NY in 2000. This qualified me for the World Championship Road Race in Plouay, France. There were many other memorable races, but I was most proud of the fact that I came back home early from our European racing calendar with the US National Team, at the disgust of the program director, to properly recover and prep for Nationals by performing a reduced racing calendar with my Mercy Cycling teammates. I told the program director that I knew what my body needed and it wasn’t more European racing and he told me that the only way I would make it back to Europe was to win Nationals. I said, “ well then, I guess I’ll win Nationals”, which I did.
OCA: What is the furthest you traveled to race bikes?
BRICE: I traveled to 31 countries through my national team and Pro racing career. The furthest would be either Japan, Malaysia, or Australia.
OCA: What’s the most non-glamorous thing about being PRO?
BRICE: Staying in host housing for certain races that ended up being youth hostels or the like. I’ve slept in some pretty dingy places.
OCA: What are the major differences about the sport these days compared to when you were racing?
BRICE: Obviously, the equipment changes on a yearly basis, but the most dramatic thing would be the use of social media to communicate with the Pro’s fan base and the use of technology to immediately upload a ride/race so everyone can see your GPS and all other HR, speed, & power data. It’s really amazing how far technology has come in just the 7 years since my retirement.
OCA: Why did you stop racing professionally?
BRICE: My overall goal was to be racing on the world’s biggest cycling stage, which has to be the Tour de France. When I signed my professional contract in 2002, I told myself that I would give it 5 years and if I wasn’t racing in Europe on a Grand Tour team with a chance to go to the Tour de France then I would hang up the bike and move onto other opportunities. I actually gave it 6 years and in 2007 I was still racing domestically with what didn’t look like much hope to make the jump to the next level. I also had my first child (Layla) that same year and started to contemplate what kind of future I could expect to provide for my family on the meager domestic professional cycling salary that I was making. There was also a lot of frustration regarding cyclists that seemed to improve at unnatural rates and I began to question the validity of the fitness of some of those I was racing against. It’s now apparent after the recent doping scandals that my concern was not a complete fabrication of the mind.
OCA: Was the transition difficult after you decided to retire?
BRICE: Yes & No.
The No — I had a family business that I could go straight to work for so I had something waiting for me without really any effort on my part. And actually, over the last few years of my Pro career, I had already started working for the family business to get the feel for things. And even while I was racing early in my Pro career, I would always take college classes in the fall to make sure I didn’t have to go through 4 or more years of schooling after cycling retirement. I had a family to support as well so it was like OK, I’m retired from Pro Cycling, time for the real world to start – here come’s the 8 to 5.
The Yes – It’s always hard when one transitions from one major period of their lives to another. We are creatures of habit and it’s hard to just turn the light switch off sometimes. Early after my retirement, I did struggle to just find pleasure in going out and riding my bike without any competition associated with the training. I had to have something to train for. My struggle was that I would train well for a number of months and then have business travel over a couple weeks where I would lose all my fitness. I was also still trying to race quite a bit. This became too much with family, work, training, and racing. I’ve had to learn how to just ride when I can for fitness and fun and not prioritize the bike like I had always done. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still a competitive Mo Fo and will ride as hard as I can to not get dropped if I’m on a group ride, but I’ve learned to enjoy the physical and mental aspects of the process more so than having any event goals. If there’s an opportunity to race with my Wal-Mart teammates then I’m all in, but only if I’m not giving up the most important things in my life right now – family & work.
OCA: What are you currently doing work wise?
BRICE: I still work for the family business, which is called Air Compressor Equipment Company. We design, manufacture, sell & support compressed gas systems for Industrial & Oil-Field applications. Our motto is Field Tested, Quality Driven. We ship compressor systems all over the world with the furthest installations in the Middle East, Indonesia, and China. I’m Vice President of the company and oversee our sales team and make sure that the on the operations side, we are, not only meeting, but exceeding our customer’s technical and aesthetic requirements.
OCA: What advice can you give a young upcoming bicycle racer?
BRICE: I can say that now is a great time to be an up-and-coming cyclist. There’s more transparency in the sport than there’s ever been, and it seems like the younger generation of cyclists now coming up through the Pro ranks have a completely different moral code than what we’ve seen in the sport over the last number of decades. I hope that the young whippersnappers now coming up don’t have the same frustrations I had in the early 2000’s.
With that being said, now it just requires a ton of hard work. Don’t be scared of the work – enjoy the process and always think about ways to improve your personal situation & your fitness. But also, you must be patient. I was always told to not make any judgments on future ability until you’ve spent at least 5 years at the highest level of the sport. And find a mentor — someone who’s been there before and can help you through the trials and tribulations. This will speed up your learning curve exponentially and help you to put everything into the proper perspective. Mentors are abundant in this sport, so just make sure you choose wisely. We all know there are more than a handful of people willing to tell you how to ride your bike on just about any group ride you would choose to partake in. Pick someone who you know has had some past success.
Brice is a all around good dude. Easily one of the most accomplished riders to come from Arkansas. He has had the opportunity to compete with some of the great athletes in our sport and travel the world doing it. I find him a very level headed easy going guy. Someone who is super knowledgeable and quick to offer help or advice. Cycling is one of those unique sports where even the professionals when they retire still love to participate. It transcends so many different things in life and goes far beyond the competitive aspect. Good stuff. Thanks again Brice!