The Olympic Champion Triathlete Lets Us Into His World

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Being a Canadian-based company, we were very excited to connect with one of our country’s most recognizable athletes: gold and silver Olympic medalist, triathlete Simon Whitfield.

Simon has spent years, decades in fact, competing at a crazy high level as a triathlete all over the world, meaning he has probably put more hours in on a bike than just about anyone we know. We’re very proud to call Simon a friend and member of the Vanhawks family. We recently had the chance to talk with him a bit about his life, his passion for bikes and what kind of things get him excited.

Seems obvious, but for the few who may not know, who are you?

You know, I love that question. Most people know me as a triathlete, the guy who won a couple medals and carried our flag. Or as the person radio and TV stations call for comment about sports-related news items. But that’s not really who I am.

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I guess first, I am a father. I have two amazing young girls who are hilarious and full of energy, and spending time with them is my favourite thing to do. We get outside as much as possible and go on adventures or stay in and build forts – or play whatever games they dream up. The way they perceive the world is curious and exciting to me. It’s fun. Living in Victoria BC, I’m also afforded the opportunity to enjoy the environment. Since I stopped competing professionally in 2013, I have taken on some new sports like paddle boarding, which is a super good time. I have competed a bit in that too, but it’s mostly just for fun. What else? I suppose just live a normal life. I have a great girlfriend who I also love spending time with and friends that keep me entertained, either playing soccer or just hanging out. Oh, I work too.

Are you a bike commuter?  

Absolutely. I commute by bike as much as possible, which is pretty well year-round in Victoria. It literally takes less time for me to ride downtown on my bike than it does to drive and find parking, plus it’s less expensive.

What do you ride now?  

Right now I just ride a single-speed commuter. It’s something I sort of pieced together over the years. Nothing too fancy. But I can’t wait to get on one of your bikes! Really, I’ve been talking about it with my housemate and we have both completely geeked out over it. Super excited.

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Why do you commute by bicycle?

There are all kinds of reasons. Obviously the health benefits are there, both physical and mental. Even though it’s just a short ride, it’s a chance to clear my head. I can push it or just cruise, depending on my mood. But more than the health benefits, I also enjoy the community of it. For people who don’t bike to work, they probably don’t know that there is a solid community out there that feels like a team. If you do it throughout the seasons, you’ll get to know people. Sometimes it’s just a familiar nod, but sometimes it turns into more than that. I’ve made friends with people living in the city by stopping at a place called Relish for coffee a lot of mornings. It’s usually just casual banter but it helps me feel more connected to the people in my community. It’s something you can never get by driving all the time.

I also often ride to school with my kids. It’s a short ride, but just that 10 or 15 minutes every morning is a great opportunity to interact with them. There’s a noticeable difference in our interaction if I drive them to school, with them in the backseat. I can more easily find out what’s going on in their lives and we can simply enjoy our time together. It’s a totally different experience and I cherish it. Sooner or later they’ll want to do the trip on their own, which is fine, but for now I’m taking full advantage!

Do you see commuting by bicycles growing?

Definitely. I mean, it’s not like our population is getting smaller. Cities are become more densely populated and as that happens I think more people are going to start to recognize the benefits of cycling over driving. I already see it, with bike shops that were once primarily focused on road and racing bikes now shifting to include commuters. Young kids to seniors can be found on the paths and bike lanes in Victoria, and that is an increasing occurrence. It seems inevitable that more and more people will get on two wheels, especially in cities that support a biking culture.

How did Vanhawks get on your radar?

Honestly? I think it was a bit of envy. When I was only a kid, I had dreamed up the idea of putting turning signals on a bike. I even drew sketches of it. Then I saw your Kickstarter project and thought I’d check it out. At first I thought that the Valour was just going to be another gimmicky project, but as I started digging, I realized that you guys really know your stuff.

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After we first connected in person, I knew I wanted to become involved with the company. It’s one thing to have the idea, but you need a team – and your team is solid. And I’m not just saying that because this interview is for you! Really, I see a lot of projects I could potentially get behind that wind up falling flat, but yours has everything I would want. It’s like you’ve mined my brain for ideas and then put them into your concepts!

Beyond the signals and internal hubs and that sort of thing, I think what really excites me is the potential to build a smart bike network. As communities like Victoria continue grow around the world, space is going to be an increasing issue. We can either keep pushing forward with vehicle-based infrastructure and turn space into an unaffordable commodity, or we can start building networks and systems that focus on less obtrusive commuting options like biking. I really think you guys are on to something that has a lot of potential to have impact on an exploding cycling culture. Looking forward to being part of the ride!

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Follow Simon Whitfield on Twitter: @simonwhitfield

by Adrien Sala (@adriensala)