Matt Surch is an inspiration to all cyclists - and travelers too!
I’m always amazed at the neat events that happen in my own backyard.
It was a pleasure to interview fellow blogger, cycling enthusiast, and community fundraiser Matt Surch to learn about his enthusiasm for sport, some of his favourite cycling trips, and his latest project: organizing the Champlain Folly’s fundraiser ride for the Ottawa Velodrome project.
An Early Passion for Cycling
Matt Surch is one passionate cyclist. As a kid growing up in Ottawa, sharing a bike with his brother and terrorizing his little sister by trashing her trike, he grew to rely on his bike as a critical source of transportation and fun. His savvy parents knew that their most efficient punishment was to ground him from his bike, forcing him to slum it with the runners.
Matt soon graduated from doing skids and wheelies to embracing the fantasy of BMX in the late 1980s. While he dreamed of being one of the endlessly cool pros in the movie RAD, Matt had to settle for the infinitely more affordable yet slightly less cool Sears “Free Spirit”. The product of a year’s worth of flyer route money (and an angel donation from key investors, Mom and Dad), the Free Spirit might have lacked a certain, um, robustness, but made up for it in other ways. Its dependable ability to fall to pieces helped Matt gain critical skills in building, repairing, and saving bikes.
Taking to the Trails
Matt, his brother, and his friends thrived on mountain bikes and the hustle to get better bikes was soon a full time occupation.
Matt’s 14 year old brother pulled his weight at the grocery store, while Matt himself was a flyer delivering, grass cutting, snow shoveling machine. (Note: My congratulations to their sister for managing to protect her own financial resources!)
When he finally upgraded to a bike that could actually handle the trails without falling apart, he wrangled up friends to province-jump to Quebec and attack the trails of Gatineau Park. The freedom, the exhilaration, the sheer fun of biking – REALLY biking – was a heady, intoxicating feeling. 8 hour excursions, mechanical disasters, and the occasional crash didn’t deter the boys at all.
Discovering the Racing World
It comes as no surprise to me now that one of those amazing athletes is none other than Matt!!
The varied terrain of Maui presented him and his steel all-road bike with some unique challenges that were unmatched after years of cycling in the desert, mountains, and everything in between.
Matt and his brother got the bug for bike racing. A chance word about a race in nearby Brockville brought their first, crazy race with surprisingly respectable results.
Hooked on the experience, Matt became a regular participant in the Camp Fortune Sunset Series and left other sports behind in order to maintain his focus on cycling.
After years of cobbling his own bikes, Matt worked as a part time bike mechanic in high school and university and was able to help fund his education.
When I was last in Maui, I spent some time in Haleakala National Park and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise at the top of the volcano. As we drove back down the endless switchbacks of this incredibly steep mountain road, I was in awe of those where were cycling their way back down. A popular Maui attraction is to take a shuttle ride up to the summit and then coast back down to sea level. Imagine my surprise when I saw people riding UP the mountain! Suddenly, I was feeling more un-athletic than ever before!
Childhood Obsession Becomes Adult Passion
For those looking for an incredible cycling experience, few things compare to Maui.
The 10,000ft volcanic peak climb, surrounded by ancient rocks, rare plants, a curious nene here and there, capped with incredible ocean views.
Another highlight for Matt is the Deerfield Dirt Road Randonee (a fundraiser for the Franklin Land Trust in South Deerfield, Massachusetts). Now participating for his fifth time, Matt appreciates not only the striking ride, but also the incredible community.
Deerfield is home to family run farms, artisanal foods and crafts, and is rich in history –especially the race route, which includes some of the oldest carriage roads in the United States.
The welcoming and charming residents of Deerfield are an inspiration to Matt as an event organizer. With his colleagues in the Tall Tree Cycles Team, the “Ride of the Damned” event, Matt has enjoyed 5 successful years of organizing the event (a team format randonnee) which is growing in popularity and attracting some very impressed first-timers.
The success and excitement of “Ride of the Damned” motivated Matt to be part of something even bigger and led him to collaborate with others to develop a fantastic fundraising event for the Ottawa Velodrome project. Pouring over maps with Ian Austen, a bike racer and race organizer with decades of experience, they came up with a unique and compelling route, eventually settling on one that headed West of Arnprior, taking in some of the Opeongo line. Matt was captivated when Ian told him about the area’s spicy history of draft dodgers and ghost towns, but he really knew they had hit upon something special when Ian started talking about the lost astrolabe of Samuel de Champlain.
400 Years of Lost and Found
Yes, you read right! Renowned explorer Samuel de Champlain charted and shaped much of eastern North American in the early 1600s. 400 years ago, in 1613, he charted the Ottawa River – some say acting with folly to find a route to China.
Along the way he lost his precious astrolabe, a key piece of navigational equipment, which turned up 254 years later near Cobden, Ontario. The combination of Champlain’s legacy, his alleged folly at seeking a route to China, the proximity to Ottawa, and the mesmerizing tale of the lost astrolabe made for a perfect combination to launch Champlain’s Folly as a premier cycling event and fundraiser.
Where Cycling and History Buffs Meet
The history buff in me is riveted by Matt and Ian’s route. It’s truly remarkable what incredible pockets of history are all around you, and the fact that this event retraces Champlain’s footsteps 400 years after the fact makes it even better. It is, however, first and foremost a cycling events and it’s not meant to be a guided tour – simply an exciting and stimulating route for avid cyclists. You certainly don’t have to have an interest in history to be a part of the ride, but if you are approaching your 160th kilometer and it helps to think of someone who struggled on this path more than you, Champlain might come in handy!
A Huge Effort, a Great Cause
Champlain’s Folly is just the latest in a long line of fundraising efforts for the planned Ottawa Velodrome. When Matt was growing up on his patched-up discount bikes, he struggled to find a racing community and suitable areas to challenge his skills. How many top cyclists have never been discovered over the past generation due to a lack of suitable training facilities?
While most people have only seen a velodrome while watching the Olympics, the training centers aren’t just for the elite. It’s a place for cyclists at all levels keep fit in the winter and to learn from each other and hone their skills. Children, community groups, and cyclists with physical disabilities can all benefit from having an indoor facility for fitness and fun. A velodrome also offers an opportunity for runners, cross country skiers, speed skaters, and hockey players to cross train.
Building a Velodrome, Building a Community
Growing a larger, more dedicated cycling community translates into improved road safety on many levels. Making cycling a bigger part of our collective consciousness, having a more skilled cycling community, and having the growth needed to sustain more dedicate bike routes is a benefit to cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians. Combined with a more fit, active, and environmentally conscious population is something that every community can thrive on. A velodrome is much more than building a centre for elite athletes –it’s about being part of a sustainable, thriving community.
Matt Surch's Bio
Matt has been blogging since 2007, melding his passion for all things cycling and philosophy, specifically, with regard to the philosophy of technology, ethics, and cognitive science. Matt began racing bikes in 1993, and has competed in Canada and the United States across a broad range of disciplines, from cross-country, to downhill, 4X, road, cyclo-cross, and fat bike.
In recent years, Matt developed a love for epicmerinowool dirt road riding, and has been leading annual pilgrimages to the US for the Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee since 2009. Matt is Tall Tree Cycles’ event coordinator, team captain, ‘editor-at-large,’ member of the Ottawa Velodrome Project’s board of directors, and Champlain’s Folly Cyclosportif’s management team.