(Photo © J. Maus)
This article was written by contributing writer Jessica Roberts. Jessica is a bicycle planning professional with Alta Planning+Design and she previously shared her thoughts on the notorious Broadway/Williams intersection. Below, she strikes a completely different tone with the first in a series of interviews where she’ll sit down and chat with a broad cross-section of Portland bike scene veterans.
Tina Brubaker grew up in Portland, and started racing mountain bikes and cyclocross in 1994. She now lives in Salem and is an active Category A racer. She won the OBRA Best All-Around Racer award in 1999 and 2008. She recently worked as a bike delivery person for UPS and she is currently a member of the Veloforma/ZYM Women’s Professional Cycling Team and races cyclocross for Vanilla Bicycles.
Jessica/BikePortland.org: When and why did you start racing?
Tina Brubaker: I actually started racing right away – I think my first race was my third time on a mountain bike. I had a neighbor who was always doing outdoorsy stuff, and one time he invited me to go on a bike ride. It was my first time on a mountain bike, but they saw I was pretty good and invited me to come to a downhill race at Ski Bowl (on Mt. Hood). I won the beginner class in a t-shirt and tennis shoes and that was it, I was hooked.
I started mountain biking all the time. I worked in Northwest Portland, and I would get off work and go for a ride in Forest Park nearly every day. I was always at Fat Tire Farm, and one day Rich Slingsby (who is now at River City, but then he was the manager at FTF) handed me a jersey and a video, and said, race cyclocross for us. I was so honored and so excited, but I told him, “I’m not that fast, I’m not good!” He said, “Tina, you’re having fun on your bike, you’re representing FTF in a positive way.” That is still something I hold true by. I don’t want to race because somebody expects me to win. I want to have fun doing it, and I don’t care if I’m tenth or first or whatever.
What was the racing scene like in the mid-90s?
“Today’s (racing) scene is like watching a kid grow in some ways. You’re so proud & excited, but every once in a while you think about how cute they were when they were little.”
At that time, cyclocross races would be four women, and twelve to twenty men, in Pier Park, Wallace Marine Park in Salem, or wherever we could find somewhere. The racing scene was so much smaller that we really became each others’ second family, maybe even first family for some. After the race, you’d sit on a blanket with people you spend so much time with. There was a real culture of riding, that you would ride to the race as your warm-up, race, then pull your blinky out of your Timbuk 2 bag and ride back home. You can still find this feeling at smaller independent cyclocross races, and I try to support events like that.
How has the racing scene changed?
A lot of the events like Cross Crusade have become an Event now, with vendors, food, and races happening from 9 am to 4 pm; it becomes a blur, a frenzy of bikes and people. It’s not that it’s bad, but it’s really different from the early days. Sometimes it can feel a little overwhelming, you know?Tina reaches for the finish line.
Today’s scene might be more intimidating to beginning racers, but at the same time, there’s something for everyone, from average joe citizen to super elite. You can race every day of the week, from PIR on Monday and Tuesday, Tabor on Wednesday, track on Thursday…it’s like watching a kid grow in some ways. You’re so proud & excited, but every once in a while you think about how cute they were when they were little.
There’s also such a big bike culture now, with blogs and so many subcultures…I sit back and watch bicycling grow into an amazing population of bike nuts. People really like bikes around here!
What was it like for women racers then and now?
at a short track race.
(Photo: Shane Young/
There are so many women in the racing community now, and I think cyclocross helped crack that. There’s something about the energy of cross races that is so contagious – over the years I’ve brought so many girlfriends to watch, and they would come away wanting to give it a try. It’s short, the races are close-in, and it’s easier to try as a beginner than road racing, with the peloton etiquette, so it’s the perfect ‘starter drug,’ and I’m all about getting people hooked. There is nothing that makes me feel more stoked than seeing 200 women when I look back at the start of a race.
What keeps you interested in riding?
Trying new things has been key. There isn’t any kind of racing I haven’t done on my bike. I started with mountain and cross racing. Then I started road racing because one of my teammates told me I needed to start doing road rides to get more mileage in. He sold me his wife’s old Raleigh for $100 and I raced Mt. Tabor on that for years. With downtube shifters! At one point I moved near the velodrome and fell in love with track racing. I’ve bike toured a lot, commuted by bike, but of all the things I’ve done, had never “gotten paid” to ride my bike. When I heard about the UPS job, I thought, “really? Is that possible?” Let me tell you, minimum wage has never looked better. It was so much fun, I could do that all year. Just when you think you’ve done everything there is to do on your bike, there’s always something new.
Just what is it about bicycling in our region?
I love the community in Oregon, right here in our own back yard. We’re so fortunate; people just get it here. I was raised in my cycling life with people like Erik Tonkin, who isn’t just a racer – you know he loves his bike, lives it, breathes it, owns own shop…we have so many experienced, open-minded, well-rounded people here.
I have come to believe that bike people are just good people. Maybe you work it out in your own head on your bike, because you’re going at a slower pace in the world, more conscious of own health & mental well-being. There’s something about the simplicity of just getting on your bike and riding out your back door on the same ride you always do. There’s always something special, from when the summer corn is higher than my bike to cherry trees in the spring, snow in the winter…you see it and you feel it when you’re on a bike while the rest of the world watches everything pass by in a blur at 60 mph.