Brett's cycling story

Cycling Stories Dec 10, 2021

Here at Pillar, we're building the perfect training companion for your riding.

In the process, we're talking to many, many real cyclists, learning what motivates them, what they love, what they try to avoid, and the ways cycling changed their life.

We thought we'd share some of our learnings along the way in the form of real cycling stories from real cyclists. All schools, styles and levels of the two-wheeled adventure.

Most recently, we spoke to Brett about his history on the bike.

Brett is 61. He lives and runs his own small business in Birmingham, famed for its network of canals that beat Venice in quantity, and which is said to be the inspiration for JRR Tolkein's Hobbiton.

“It was a kind of lost paradise. There was an old mill that really did grind corn with two millers, a great big pond with swans on it."

Originally hailing from the United States, Brett has been living in the UK for 23 years.

Running, riding, lifting

As a little kid, Brett of course rode bikes to get everywhere, as we all did. They then went back into the shed, not to be touched again for years.

In the meantime, Brett was running. He did a couple of marathons in the States, including the New York Marathon in his twenties. He also frequented the gym in his home state of Missouri, for general leisurely 'body upkeep'.

A very Ventoux introduction to riding

In 2016, Brett's family in the States were planning to come over to France for a holiday, when his brother gave him a call. He was going to ride up a mountain during the trip. And he wanted Brett to go with him.

He says 'oh man, you've got to get a bike and come right up the mountain with me. It's Mont Ventoux. You know it, right?' I'd never heard of it in my life. He goes 'don't you watch your Tour de France?'

The last time Brett had touched a bike, it'd had downtube shifters. In essence, it had been a while. Now he was scrolling through eBay, looking for a steed to help him scale one of cycling's most legendary mountains.

The slopes of Mont Ventoux

Armed with the cheapest bike he could find online, Brett took to his local climb (which topped out at around 18%) for a little bit of practise before his trip to France. With his biggest cassette sprocket at 25 teeth, and very little experience on a bike, he didn't manage to complete Rose hill.

A few weeks later he found himself at the foot of Mont Ventoux. Thirteen miles at an average of 7.1% gradient, climbing 4,984 feet. The very same climb that has busted the lungs of Tour de France riders since 1951.

With a couple of shifting issues, and a tow from his brother, Brett scaled the monster mountain in 4 hours or so.

Taking the plunge into Triathlon

The state of Missouri has one of the highest rates of obesity in the entire country. The culture was certainly not one of physical challenges, and Brett was the only person he'd ever seen running out there.

His brother had completed a half Ironman, so helped Brett figure out his dream of completing a triathlon, starting out in 2020.

Oh, I'm driven by challenge. I'm not competitive against other people. I don't give a monkeys where I come as far as first to last, it makes absolutely no difference to me. It's the challenge of reaching that goal for myself that I care about. It's about the power of the mind, over the body.

Brett's pride and joy, his Trek Speed Concept 9.8, was another eBay purchase. This time, a little bit more well-informed.

Since the unlocking, and the subsequent return of many cars to the roads, Brett has found a little peace taking his gravel bike around the local trails.

Not so much into the social aspect, Brett avoids most big group rides. He does the majority of his riding around the Black country with his wife, Christine, and at home on the turbo.

I am very much a loner when it comes to training. But I do ride with my wife, Christine. I'm very, very happy just going out on my own. If I'm not with other people I can hit my targets and my zones fine. So if I do ever go out on a group ride, it's just purely for pleasure, it won't ever be training.

He has his Tacx set up along with a widescreen projector in the garage. It's hooked up to Rouvy, so it's safe to say Brett enjoys a pretty immersive setup.

A small setback

Amidst the global pandemic, Brett, as with many others, found himself with a spot of health trouble. In the past few months, he's experienced his 'undefined' illness as an inexplicable shortness of breath, which the doctors put down to a case of Covid-19.

His breathing has been so compromised that he's no longer able to swim 50 meters without gasping for air. He's also been contending with a couple of minor surgeries during his mission to get back into triathlon.

The easiest solution, amidst the setbacks, was to ease back into fitness with gentle turbo sessions. Brett had discovered Pillar, which is host to a 'return to cycling' training pack. A perfect moment of serendipity.

Brett is following the light plan, with plenty of zone 1 sessions, to ease his body back in to sustained efforts and rebuild his fitness foundations.

He plans to keep using the sessions until he feel ready to conquer his local Everest, the 11% climb down the road from his house that he used to use for hill reps. From there it will be on and up.

Getting back on the bike

Triathlon for Brett is a matter of favouritism. He finds great displeasure in swimming, and during the race he knows he just has to get it done. Next, on the bike, is where he really comes into his stride. The run is merely a matter of holding on until the end. But it's the rush of enduring that keeps him going.

He'll be back on the bike soon enough, with a little bit of patience and resolve. Bookending the cycling fun with the pain of swimming and running, however, is up to Brett.

At Pillar, we admire the determination Brett has shown by sticking at it through his holdups.

We could all always use a little extra grit, whether we're put off by the bleak winter weather, busy schedules, or simply feeling lost with our training.

When all's said and done, it's the love of the bike that keeps us coming back. For the weekend warriors, the segment hunters, the Zwifters and the triathletes.

We wish Brett good luck in his mission to rediscover and recapture the bike. (And the swimming and running, too.)


Pillar is a smart and dynamic training companion, which creates you a personalised training plan based on your fitness, your goals & your availability.

With real sports science at its core, Pillar takes a holistic approach to your endurance training, rest, and rehabilitation.

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Welcome to Pillar! We’re a small UK-based team (full of real athletes) who are developing an app dedicated to all areas of cycling training. Whatever pains you can think of related to your training, we want to solve them. Pillar is still at an early stage. The first feature we’ve built is an adap…
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Welcome to Pillar! We’re a small UK-based team (full of real athletes) who are developing an app dedicated to all areas of cycling training. Whatever pains you can think of related to your training, we want to solve them. Pillar is still at an early stage. The first feature we’ve built is an adap…

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Matilda Donnachie

Passionate rower, cyclist and all-round sports nerd.