From learning to ride on a bike with one training wheel, to pedaling hundreds of miles in Patagonia, to working in the Wisconsin bike industry, Madison resident Pepe Barros hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for two-wheeled adventures.
For Pepe, growing up in Santiago, Chile, meant hanging with his brothers, learning to ride a bike and becoming a devotee of cycling around town, on the road and especially in the mountains of Patagonia!
“First I had a trike,” recalls Pepe.
“Then I stepped up to a two-wheel bike with training wheels. I loved that bike! I rode it so much one of the training wheels broke off, but I kept riding it with one training wheel and just leaned sideways!” Pepe adds.
Pepe’s two older brothers later helped launch Pepe into the full freedom of cycling. Pepe lived on a short street that was safe for him to ride on as a youngster. “I’d been riding with that one training wheel until one night after bedtime my two older brothers came into my room and told me I was going to learn to ride my bike without the training wheel.”
His brothers escorted him outside and removed his one remaining training wheel. “I was scared and thrilled. They told me they would hang onto each end of my handlebars, and I’d hang on in the middle of the handlebars between them. Then they took off running as fast as they could pulling me and my bike along until they let go. As I pedaled away, they were shouting at me to keep pedaling and go! I kept going and, with excited confidence, peddled back to them with a big smile on my face.”
That first ride without a training wheel began a lifetime of two-wheel riding, including a 900-mile, month-long ride in the magnificent Chilean Patagonia region.
Pepe’s ride was part of a bike tour that helped bring attention to the drawbacks of building dams being proposed in Patagonia. The bike tour was part of a grassroots movement called ‘Patagonia sin represas,’ (Patagonia without dams). “My brother and I took that statement and turned it into a Bike Tour. We planned a month-long ride to learn more about the region, to connect with people living there and discuss how dam projects affect local communities. We wanted to gather information about dams and power plants that were being planned and built in Patagonia, to connect with local leaders to get their opinions and share with them the conversations that were taking place in the capital. My brother posted about our ride online to bring attention to our efforts and the movement. Over the course of the month of our bike tour, about 45 people joined us for parts of our route. Our passion was purely about the environment. We want to make sure our grandchildren can enjoy a Patagonia with its unique ecosystems and pristine waters.”
The ride had its highs and lows. “The first 14 days of the ride it rained, so I had wet clothes and a wet tent and I slept wet. My Mom asked if I was crazy for doing that. After we finished the ride, I felt so powerful and infinite!”
Along with using cycling to explore and connect, commuting has been important for Pepe. “I bike commuted everywhere. Commuting throughout school gave me a sense of independence. I didn’t buy my first car until I was 28,” Pepe explains. “Now I have a son and work a distance from home, so it’s a balance. I mostly recreational ride now.”
“Riding gives me a break from the routines and lets me be in nature. It helps me think and process things.”
Pepe has a well-rounded collection of bikes, including a mountain bike, a road bike, a commuter/traveling bike and two cargo bikes.
“I don’t have a fat-tire bike, but I have studded tires and love winter riding,” Pepe says. “I love riding in the snow when it’s quiet and the rides are so smooth. I love it, love it, love it!”
Pepe’s passion for cycling even led him to work in the bicycle industry. After college, he moved to Wisconsin with his new bride, whom he met at school in Chile while she was studying abroad from her hometown Milwaukee. His first job after moving to Wisconsin was working with the Wisconsin Bike Fed. “Now I work for Trek. I’ve been working in manufacturing and have just started a new position at the Red Barn where Trek started in 1976. We’re transforming the barn into a community space in Waterloo for a bicycle recycling/refurbishing center. It’s an amazing project and a great connection with the community along with a chance to show what’s possible to make biking accessible for everyone.”
“There are so many lives the Wisconsin Bike Fed changes through their education efforts and programming throughout the state. I don’t have the words to say how important the work they’re doing now is.”PEPE BARROS, BIKE FED MEMBER SINCE 2018
As a Wisconsin Bike Fed member, Pepe’s enthusiastic about the organization and its biking advocacy. “The Bike Fed was my first employer in the U.S. and I’ll always appreciate that. The Bike Fed’s impact is huge. These amazing people are always ready to lend a hand to promote biking and walking safety in our communities.”
– By Doug Freeman, Bike Fed volunteer writer of the “Wisconsin Cycling Lives” series and retired radio broadcaster and communications professional at UnitedHealthcare, Associated Bank and Advocate Aurora Health. Doug looks forward to chatting with more members for future profiles.
Featured image at top of story: Pepe rides in the shadow of the majestic Andes Mountains