John Lalonde and The Rolling Circus have created something in the Sudbury cycling community.
What exactly it is, at times, is difficult to define.
Certainly, there are some prevailing themes.
The notion of prioritizing fun and a general love of riding far above competition surfaces time and again over the course of a relatively short discussion.
And there is no doubt there’s a bit of a “contra spirit” at play within the group, a badge of honour that comes part and parcel of running opposite the norm.
But for as much as their goal was never about an all-encompassing drive to be fast, the mere fact their passion for being out on their bikes, whatever the kind, occupies much of their free time creates a scenario where speed is going to be an inevitable byproduct.
That is the 2023 conundrum that Lalonde and company now face, one that is vastly different than his first steps into the cycling business when he opened Sessions Ride Company back in 2016.
Born in Sudbury but raised in Espanola until the age of 10 or so, Lalonde and family moved back to Lively at a time when activities such as snowboarding and martial arts would occupy his time as a youth.
All of that changed when he entered the workforce late in his teenage years.
“I got a job in the snowboard shop at Pinnacle Sports,” Lalonde said. “They sold bikes during the summer so I just started learning more and more about bikes.”
Such was his interest in all that the store had to offer that an evolution, of sorts, was almost inevitable.
“We would get these catalogues from suppliers and about three quarters of the stuff was not relevant to Ontario,” the 30-year-old said. “I wanted to figure out what was with the rest of this stuff – so a friend and I moved to Revelstoke (B.C.) – that’s where my real love for cycling kicked in. I biked a fair bit in Ontario, but then I fell in love with mountain biking out there.”
Honestly, to hear Lalonde share the tales, it was far more about the riding environment, the interaction with others who shared a common interest, that germinated a much stronger desire to be out on his bike, enjoying all that it entailed while working at Skookum Bike & Ski, a “West Coast shop”, as he dubs it.
“Everyone was incredibly friendly – that’s just how everyone was,” he said. “You would go out on group rides, with cyclists ranging from pros to older folks in their 50s and 60s, just out to ride their bikes. We would ride to the top of the mountain and people would be hanging out and having a beer.
“It was more about that.”
The plan, as he returned temporarily to Sudbury to spend some time with family and friends, was definitely to return, likely to Kelowna, a job and schooling still awaiting. All of that would be put on hold as Lalonde attempted to recreate that atmosphere that he so enjoyed, back here in his own hometown.
“It was never about selling bikes, selling clothing,” he insisted. “The idea was to build a (riding) community, service that community. It’s about going out and riding with people, taking them through the whole range of things that I like to do. By doing things that way, it kind of caught a wave and grew from there.”
The creation of a race team was almost organic – with Lalonde still bristling slightly at the notion that he is at the forefront of local cycling race teams. Strava, a social media app for cyclists and runners, generated a whole slew of timed segments within the Nickel City, with Lalonde and friends tackling various stretches of roadway early on Saturday mornings.
“We were just playing around, having fun,” he insisted. “We were out there trying to go fast, but it was more about fun. I had done group rides that were all about work for me – but this was never going to be about work. The moment it’s not fun, I am not showing up. That’s kind of how The Rolling Circus got started.”
There was almost a hippy-like counter-culture feel to the whole thing.
“We were trying to show up at races and be disruptive by having an overly normal amount of fun – more fun than everyone else,” Lalonde added with a laugh. “But the deal with that is that it’s infectious. The intention was never to be fast; the intention was to be fun. But as we started to get more riders and going faster, we started training more.”
The dichotomy is evident even on a personal level for Lalonde, having shifted some of his precious cycling time over to the road racing scene.
“With my skill-set, I am definitely a stronger mountain biker,” he said. “To be perfectly honest, I don’t enjoy racing a mountain bike nearly as much as I simply enjoy riding a mountain bike.
“When I am racing, I am thinking about how much more fun I would be having if I tried putting my tires in a different spot – but I can’t do that because I am in the middle of a race.
“I almost find the opposite is true for my road bike,” Lalonde continued. “Races almost feel like Formula 1. I enjoy the strategy.”
Throw in a healthy commitment to gravel bike racing, the Paris to Ancaster spring race now a mainstay on the team calendar, and one can see just how much the initial “West Coast shop” vision has grown in just a short time.
Now, John Lalonde wants to stay true to his core beliefs – finding fun and positivity in all that he does.
The journey should prove fascinating.
Randy Pascal is a sportswriter in Greater Sudbury. Pursuit is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.