You can count the number of American road racing World Champions on (less than) two hands. And the number of American road racing World Champions who also won an Olympic medal? You'll need just a finger or two. One of them is Dede Barry.
Since she retired from racing, her ambitions have burned just as strong: Motherhood, MBA degree, entrepreneur. She and her husband Michael are transforming Mariposa -- a family steel framebuilding business -- into one of Canada's best-loved cycling eCommerce companies. We're proud that Mariposa is now distributing Allied bicycles throughout Canada.
you’re one of the most successful bicycle racers in American history – both because of the breadth of your huge victories and for how long you rode at that level. Can you tell us about your racing career?
I raced from 1987-2004 with a few years off in the early 2000’s for a number of teams, but primarily, Saturn, T-Mobile and TGI Friday’s. And, of course the US National team. I feel really fortunate to have had the opportunity to race my bike all over the world, as I shared a lot of great adventures with teammates. Being immersed in different cultures widened my perspective and I was able to connect with a lot of wonderful people who became lifelong friends. It definitely shaped who I am today. I won National titles, a World Championships and an Olympic medal but, now, on reflection of 16 years of racing, it was certainly the friendships and experiences we shared that I cherish the most.
You rode the women’s Tour de France back when it was a beast of a race – 1,000km+. What was it like? Did it bear a strong resemblance to the men’s race in terms of quality of organization and media coverage? Were there aspects of the race that you think could be applied to women’s racing nowadays?
Sadly, the women’s tour did not really bear much resemblance to the men’s race, other than that we competed on several of the iconic Alps and Pyrenees climbs: Our stages were much shorter than the men’s Tour de France stages, we often stayed in awful, bed bug ridden accommodations, the food was bland, there were very few fans at the side of the road and it was not televised internationally like the men’s race. But I felt really fortunate to have had the opportunity to compete in the event, as it was a wonderful way to see and experience life in France.
Although it would have been nice to win the women’s Tour de France, it did not have the same prestige or prize money as some of the other women’s events in that era, like the Olympic Games, The Tour de L’Aude, World Championships, the Core States Classic or the Powerbar / Ore-Ida Women’s Challenge, so I went there for the adventure, to gain fitness and felt very little pressure to win. I was able to really soak up the cultural experience and I managed some stage victories as well.
You won the UCI Junior Women’s Road Race World Championship in 1989. I think that makes you one of only a very few Americans to win a rainbow jersey on the road as a junior. I might be wrong, but I think you’re the only American who did that who ended up having a powerhouse racing career afterwards. Why is that leap so hard, and why were your successful?
It’s always easier to be an underdog in sports. Once an athlete achieves a goal / wins a major event, it can be very hard managing both internal and external expectations. Cycling is a challenging sport. Professional cyclists typically race 40-100 race days a year (one season, I raced over 120 days, which is hard to imagine now) and they can’t be at their best in every race. Inevitably, cyclists face a lot of ups and downs, as fitness, motivation, injuries create natural spikes and dips in performance. As you know, even the very best cyclists lose far more races than they have win. So, you’ve got to be able to deal with losing and the pressures associated with not performing to both intrinsic and extrinsic expectations.
I was fortunate, as I had a great support team when I was young and my parents didn’t pressure me. Actually, they would have preferred I take the academic route when I became professional. Over the years, I have seen a lot of good junior riders have a hard time managing the mental aspects of performance and they often have not had the right supports in place at critical junctions in their careers, so they have had a hard time managing expectations, they have struggled to come back from injuries, lost confidence, and in many cases either never showed improvement or quit the sport.
I think one of the reasons that Team Sky / Ineos has been so successful in recent years, is that David Brailsford really understood the challenges that young, talented cyclists face and he put solid supports in place, by hiring a psychiatrist to work with the athletes from the start of Team Sky. I believe it helped support a lot of riders through the natural ups and downs—the majority of teams, including Nationals teams, don’t have those supports.
Another aspect is that I was quite balanced when I was a kid and did a wide range of sports (I competed on the US National speedskating team for 4 years and played soccer at a fairly high level) which, I think, helped keep me mentally fresh and helped me avoid overuse injuries. As I progressed in the sport of cycling, I continued to make an effort to maintain balance by cross country skiing in the off-season and trail running year-round.
Your silver medal in the time trial at the 2004 Olympics: Fulfillment of a lifelong dream, or one podium step short of where you wanted to be?
I definitely achieved a childhood dream, as watching Eric Heiden win his Olympic medals was the reason I was attracted to sport, and then seeing him race past my home in Milwaukee during Superweek was the reason I started cycling. The Olympics were a driving force for me throughout my lifetime as a competitive athlete. I was not that far off the Gold in Athens, but I gave everything I had in that race and Leonteen Van Moorsal was stronger than me that day. She is an amazing athlete and it was an honor to stand on the podium with her.
A few years after your retirement from racing you pursued an MBA degree. What was that transition like for you?
Although I loved racing my bike until the very end of my career, I was ready to close that chapter of my life after the 2004 Olympics. I was 31 years old, married and wanted to have a family. I was fortunate to get pregnant couple of months after the 2004 Olympic Games and in the summer of 2005, we had our first child, Liam. My transition out of racing could not have been better, as I was healthy, had a smooth pregnancy and was really excited to welcome Liam in our life. I actually embarked on the MBA program at IESE in Barcelona in 2010. We had two children, Liam and Ashlin who both were heading off to pre-school and I felt like it was good timing to begin transitioning back to work. Although it was challenging to manage the MBA program with our family schedule, I had a lot of support from Michael and his parents, so was able to benefit fully from the stimulating and inspiring classes and case studies.
Were certain industries or subjects particularly interesting to you as you went through business school?
Towards the end of the MBA program, I began working with one of my classmates on a innovative water project, which we had hoped to take to market. We took it fairly far, but never went to market with the product, as we hit a few roadblocks and Michael’s mom was diagnosed with her third bout of cancer in 2012, which prompted us to move to Toronto shortly after I finished the MBA program, but that said, it was an excellent learning experience and much of what I learned, I apply to what I am currently working on.
Now you’re at Mariposa Bicycles – a second-generation family business. When I think about MBA degrees, I envision Fortune 500 companies. Was joining Mariposa a tough decision, or did it feel like an especially valuable way to apply the skills you developed in school?
When we moved to Toronto, I was initially working as a consultant, but in 2014 Michael decided that he wanted to restart the family business. He needed some help and it seemed like a natural choice / transition at the time. In the first few years, there was steep learning curve for us both, but I think that in many ways, this business is a natural extension for us, as we have been able to use our experience and expertise in the sport and industry of cycling to get more people leading a healthy lifestyle and riding better bikes.
I’ve heard impressive things about the Toronto cycling community. What is it like? And what is the riding in Toronto like?
Toronto has a vibrant cycling community: on the road, trails and velodrome. Toronto has a natural playground for those who love to ride the trails-- I don’t think there is any other major city in the world with such an extensive ravine trail network. In fact, there is a 160 km loop we sometimes ride that is comprised of a mixture of gravel, single track, paved bike paths and a few neighborhood streets and it is all within 30 km of the financial center.
The one downside to cycling in Toronto, is that with 6 million people in the sprawling Greater Toronto Area, it can be very tough to escape the city safely on a bike if you opt to ride on the city streets. Good cycling infrastructure is key to getting people to use bikes for transport and for exercise. The infrastructure was really lacking when we moved here in 2012, but in 2016, the Toronto City Council approved the 10 Year Cycling Network Plan to connect, grow and renew infrastructure for Toronto's cycling routes. We continue to see improvement.
COVID-19 has accelerated the need for better infrastructure, as public transport is not currently a good option for those that commute. The city recently launched the ActiveTO program, whereby wide sections of the centre of city are closed to cars to allow for cyclists and pedestrians to use to the streets to social distance while they commute and exercise. There is talk of closing some of the major thoroughfares, such as Yonge Street (the central street in downtown Toronto) to cars for bike commuters as well.
Girona or Toronto: Pick one! Tell us why.
Although Toronto is a creative, vibrant city with excellent educational opportunity for our children, it’s tough to beat the lifestyle, culture, and environment in Girona.
Girona really became a home for us when our children were born there and we then developed a wonderful group of friends to whom we remain close. I miss it so much that I often get a pit in my stomach when I think about it.
Fortunately, we are able to visit there often for vacations and work, as we lead cycling tours in and around the area. Toronto is a very busy city. Most of the population lives on a fast-moving treadmill, which gives me all the more appreciation for the Ravines and the daily escape that the park near our house provides. We live one block from the entrance and I spend time in there daily walking the dog, cycling and running on the trails. I also commute to work through the Ravines. It provides me with a sense of serenity in the craziness of major metropolis.
What’s a classic Toronto loop, and why do you like it so much?
While adhering to the social distancing recommendations during the Covid-19 pandemic, most of my recent rides have been alone or with Michael and the kids. We have also been working long hours, as bicycle shops have been deemed an essential service in Toronto, so my rides have been mainly on the trails, close to home in the Ravines. This single-track loop is only 41 km in length, but takes me approximately 3-3.5 hours to complete as it contains a mixture of technical single track trails with punchy hills. It’s pretty awesome to have access to these within minutes of our house in a city of 6 million.