If it’s dry and over 20 degrees, you’ll find Denver attorney Jim Brown biking to work.
“I tried it once at 20-below,” says Brown, who has been practicing law for 32 years. “I looked like the Michelin man, all bundled up. And then I got a flat tire. That was just too dang cold.”
Brown is more than an avid cyclist. He races, commutes between 20 and 50 miles a day and participates in a 40-mile training ride each Sunday. If he needs to be across town for a real estate closing, he bikes. Most clients expect him to arrive in biking gear. He’ll even bike to the courtroom, although you won’t find him before a judge in spandex and bike helmet. “There’s a dress code,” he says with a chuckle.
Brown’s fascination with cycling began in 1971, when he arrived in Colorado to attend the University of Denver College of Law. Biking was already a cheap form of transportation for him. Then one day on his ride home, he stopped at a new shop called Turin Bicycles. “It was the first time I’d ever seen a drop-handlebar racing bicycle,” Brown says. “I fell in love.”
Brown took a job as a bike mechanic at the store to pay his way through law school. Soon he was racing with the Rocky Mountain Road Club, Denver’s longest-running bike racing team. Even after graduating and joining Denver’s Grant, McHendrie, Haines and Crouse, he found that briefs and depositions couldn’t compete with the lure of cycling. So in 1977 he approached the firm about taking a year off to race full time.
“They were incredibly supportive,” he says. “I’d been with them for several years, and they told me: ‘This is the opportunity to live your dream.’”
Through prizes and cash stipends from sponsors, he scraped by. He raced in both lap courses and longer multiple-day “stage” rides. His races took him from the famed City Park Criterium ride in Denver to road races ranging between 80 and 120 miles. Never a professional, Brown was in the highest amateur class, and once ranked as the third-best cyclist in Colorado.
He returned to law but never left cycling. The high point of his cycling career was racing the Red Zinger/Coors International Cycling Classic—which from 1975 to 1988 was America’s miniature Tour de France, running most years through California, Nevada and Colorado. Among Brown’s competitors were such cycling legends as Phil Anderson and “this young guy they were calling Le Monster—Greg LeMond.”
Brown wasn’t on the winning team, but the experience stayed with him. “I was dropped by the best of them,” he says.
During those years, one of his fellow racers, Steve Tesich, whom Brown remembers as “a terrific bicycle racer, and a real character,” wrote a screenplay about a cycling enthusiast from Indiana. While Brown was in Hollywood on legal business, Brown pitched the story to a movie producer. The producer was unimpressed. “That story is going no place,” he told Brown flatly.
Tesich eventually found his producer, and the film, Breaking Away, became the sleeper hit of 1979. It was nominated for five Academy Awards and won Tesich an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. When Tesich later came to Denver to film scenes for 1985’s American Flyer, he cast Brown as a cycling extra.
These days Brown is hardly slowing down. He owns five bicycles, including a “beautiful tandem racer.” He’s especially proud of his 17-pound Eddy Merckx bicycle. “What a rocket ship!” he says, giddy with excitement. He’s speaking almost literally. The bike’s frame is made from scandium, which is used to make missile warheads. “You can spend $5,000 on a bike and ride the same thing the guys making $3 million a year ride,” he says. “It’s like buying and driving a Formula One race car.”
For Brown, the attractions of biking are many: it’s good for the environment, great for your health, and best of all, a kick in the pants. “It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on,” he says.