Sketch: The Joy of the Ride
Mark Summers Passes on His Passion to the Next Generation
By Colin Field
Photos by Marc Landry
IT ISN’T ABOUT MARK SUMMERS. NOTHING IS. NOTHING EVER is. Everything Mark Summers does is about other people. And within five minutes of meeting him, he’s helping me carry my bike into the building. Then Mark ditches me for an 8-year-old who is struggling to fill his tires with air.
The developing wrinkles around his bright blue eyes suggest a lifetime of laughter and happiness. He’s one of those guys who doesn’t retain fat, probably because he never stops moving. And at his workplace, he wears the kind of suit we all aspire to dress in for our 9 to 5: jeans and a T-shirt. He’s chill, quiet and ready to laugh. And when he sees a little kid on a generic, crappy bike there’s literally a twinkle in his eye–an acknowledgement that he just shared his love for two wheels with a new convert.
For Mark, the first real hit off cycling came from the same source as nearly every boy of his generation–the movie theater. Up on the screen, as eight kids on Schwinn Stingrays made motorcycle noises while cranking toward the first jump, “On Any Sunday” hooked yet another theater full of Torontonian kids. And Mark Summers was one of them.
“I had a nice CCM coaster at the time,” he recalls. “I ended up getting my uncle to bend some high handlebars and weld a crossbar on it.”
And that was it. He was always on a bike from then on. He didn’t compete; just rode a bike.
“My brother Steve and I built ramps and set up places to ride behind factories or at some local moto trails,” he says.
Until the ‘car years,’ came along. He mentions his ’69 Nova with the same twinkle in his eye. “And then,” he says, as almost an afterthought, “then I got into windsurfing.”
For Mark, saying, ‘I got into’ something is a bit non-descript. It doesn’t quite define what ‘getting into something’ means for him. Because when he ‘got into’ windsurfing in the 80s, he fully committed. He hoisted the sail, yanked on the clew and jammed his feet into the straps. He spent years amongst Dacron and fiberglass traveling to wherever the wind was: the Columbia River Gorge, Cape Hatteras, Barbados. He worked as a finisher and his company, Northern Boardworks, built more than 900 boards from 1986 to 1990. Of course, as anyone who has chased wind can attest, sometimes it just wasn’t windy. During those flat, still times, Mark started mountain biking.
“When I met my wife, I think our third date was mountain biking. She thought I was trying to kill her,” Mark laughs. “And then the kid years came around and that kind of slowed it down a bit. And then, after we had three kids, we got back into it again.”
And once again, ‘getting into it’ requires quantification.
“There was a time when we had 27 bikes in the garage.”
Mark’s entire family was racing cross-country. Mark ripped around the weekly series with a Trail-A-Bike on the back of his Thin Blue Line with his then 4-year-old son Will hanging on and laughing all the way.
And what cycling gave back to him was worth everything.
“We would be driving home from the race with the kids, and we all raced the same course, but each of us had our own stories about what happened. It was so fun.”
His eyes twinkle again as he remembers how great it was for their family. How happy cycling made them.
Instilling a love of cycling in his kids was inevitable. So when his son was 9 and wanted to road race, Mark made it happen.
“The Tour was on, Lance was just coming into his prime and my son was totally into it and wanted to race,” he says. “But there wasn’t really any racing for kids. I went to the OCA (Ontario Cycling Association) and said I wanted to put something together and they backed it up.”
“So I researched what they were doing in England and different places and put together a package with a time trial and a road race and stuff for different ages, different distances, and then Gord Clarke and I ended up laying the groundwork for the Youth Road Race Series in Ontario. Starting with the Newmarket Eagles, the Tour of Speed was the first event. Those guys still run that. That’s a pretty big series for kids into road racing. I think BMX and mountain bikes are a more accessible way to get kids into bikes now, but at the time my son was into it so I said, ‘Let’s go for it.’”
It was a few years later, in 2008, that his boys asked him, “Hey, do you wanna go to Cleveland to ride inside a factory?” he recalls. “And I said, ‘What are you guys, nuts?’ We went down there and had a blast. We rode a ton, and Ray (Petro, of Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park) did an awesome job. It’s so much fun.”
Mark was working in commercial construction at the time and was constantly in old factories. “We kind of wondered, could it work up here? And we just threw together a business plan. A pretty in-depth business plan. And it looked like the numbers could work. And we said, ‘Yeah, let’s go for it.’”
Joyride 150 Indoor Bike Park was born.“It was a moment of stupidity I guess. We went for it.”
Since opening its doors in 2010, Joyride has become a mecca for cyclists in the Toronto region. It hosts women’s weekends, Red Bull athletes and tallies more than 30 million web impressions.
“It’s starting to work now. It was a pretty tough struggle there to begin with. Do I have any regrets? Depends on the day. For the most part, no. Everybody’s happy who comes in here. So many people grow into the sport through the place.”
As he helps me carry my gear to my car, Mark apologizes. “I hope I didn’t waste your time,” he says.
He doesn’t think he’s that interesting. He doesn’t think there’s enough for him to be the subject of a story. Because in his mind, he isn’t really doing anything special. He’s so casual that he doesn’t really notice that what he is doing is incredible.
Yes, he’s proud of the kids coming out of Joyride. He’s proud of who just got sponsored, who’s working on the next edit and which local just won the X Games. But he doesn’t take any of the credit. Without this place, none of these kids would be the über-talented athletes they are now.
I assure him there’s a story here. He laughs. “Just don’t make me look stupid.”
I joke with him that he already opened a bike park. But I know Mark has one of the best jobs in the world. And I know it took balls and a ton of hard work to make it happen. I’m sure it doesn’t pay well. I’m sure he doesn’t get to ride as much as he would like. I’m sure there are a thousand parts of the job he would rather not do. And I know the lack of support from the Canadian cycling industry has been a disappointment.
Introducing so many people to cycling is something that will continue driving him. Watching kids get that first feeling of balancing on two wheels will never get old. That’s why he’s one of Canada’s greatest cycling ambassadors. And why he hasn’t wasted anyone’s time.
In the days that follow he’ll send an email asking me to mention his partner, Scott Bentley, as much as possible. But this isn’t the time to talk about his partner. For once, this is all about Mark Summers. Whether he likes it or not.
This story originally appeared in the May issue of Bike. To subscribe to the digital or print edition, or purchase a back issue of the magazine, click here.