17 Jan 40 AND ROLLIN’: THE ROLAND LABRECQUE INTERVIEW
Stretched superman at Woodward East. photo: Chris Chitaroni
Trying to write an introduction to an interview with a friend that you admire is always an awkward thing. You don’t want it to come across as some sort of hero worship and blindly praise, or fill it with inside stories that have no relevance to the reader. When it comes to Roland Labrecque, what I can say is that he wears many hats; rider, competitor, contest organizer, ramp builder, father, husband, and more. At 40, he’s been a staple and active member of his city’s BMX community, with a history of efforts to improve relations with the city over the development of parks and equal access for bikes. But don’t be fooled, I don’t think you should know about Roland simply because of his age and pursuits to still shred. He’s an interesting individual beyond just that.
Over the last ten years of knowing him, he’s always been an extremely hard working and modest individual. He puts 100% in to everything he does in his life, no matter how big or small. I sat down to ask him some questions about his past, present, riding, injuries, home renovation, juggling responsibilities, his son, and more. Click below to read the full interview with Roland Labrecque, who is 40 and rollin’.
State your full name, age, hometown, where you presently call home, and what age and year did you start riding?
Roland Labrecque, 40, McLennan, AB now living in Dunrobin, ON. I started riding at around 12 yrs old which puts us back in 1982. I rode before that but that is when it became something more than setting up jumps on the sidewalk. The catalyst was a new kid moved to town. Steve was a few years older, had a cool bike (PK I think), some magazines, and a typed and photo copied mail order catalog from a place in Calgary. I can still picture the hand drawn picture on the pale blue cover in my head. Steve could also bunny hop over large cardboard boxes and kick cans with his back tire. “How cool is that?” So I started working on those. I’m pretty sure that I could bunny hop higher when I was 12 than I can now.
Obviously back then if you rode BMX you took part in all aspects of freestyle and rode everything. What would you say your primary pursuits were, and has that changed now?
Well in the beginning I rode mostly flatland with some curb jumping. It didn’t seem like we really have a choice: we had pavement. I’m not real good with dates but I’m going to guess that I built my first quarter pipe around 1983-84 with the help of my friend Kevin Thibault. It was about 6ft tall with a horrible transition. One of the first days we set this up I met two brothers, Norm and Dean Blais, who were also just getting into bike riding. After that we rode every day we could. Summers were awesome because McLennan is pretty far north. We would start riding around 10 or 11 in the morning and go until 10 or 11 at night before it even hinted at getting dark. I would say we mostly rode ramps. A local cabinet maker built us our first real quarter pipe (the one in the picture) and we worked our asses off clearing off a concrete pad which was all that was left of an apartment building that burned down. Location, Location, Location….LOL. It was across the street from the town hospital. Later we also built a 10ft tall 16ft wide half pipe in Norm and Dean’s parents’ yard. I’m honestly not sure how I convinced everyone these were good ideas…Good friends! Looking back, its really strange, but we rode almost no dirt at all. Its really too bad because we actually had a killer dirt table down by the arena.
So I guess I started by riding only flatland and progressed into ramp riding with it slowly taking over more and more of my time. I actually have really horrible balance so when the rolling tricks came in to style my flatland days were doomed! In the late 80s I also got caught up in the first street wave which consisted of lots of abubacas and bash guards. By 89/90 I was riding street alone while starting college.
Now I ride park almost exclusively. I still love street sessions but it just seems tougher to manage because it takes some arranging. I can just show up at a park and always find someone to ride with so its easier to fit in. The only time I ride flatland is to try to get stuff figured out for ramps. One of the things that has remained constant though is that I love building ramps (except for Rich Redmond because he bitches about everything!). Speaking of Rich, its too bad he had to set up over an hour away (editors note: Rich moved to a town 45 minutes outside of Ottawa and built dirt jumps on his property), because I’m dying for some regular dirt action. One of the main constants though is that I love building ramps!
You took a long break from riding in the 90’s. What motivated you to get back in to it after so many years?
Well I didn’t ride for 10 yrs. I never really quit but after a few years of solo street riding in Grand Prairie, AB I just sort of stopped taking my bike out. When I moved to Edmonton for University I just didn’t bring it with me. It got popular again and I would see it on TV once in a while and think about it. A while after I moved to Ottawa I noticed the Kanata skate park and after driving by it a bunch of times I finally stopped to take a look. I had never seen a skatepark before! In the early 80s there were only 2 or 3 in my known universe and the pros rode those in California. So I called my parents to ship me what was left of my bike. It took them about 3 months to finally send it to me and by that time I had found CapitalBMX and ended up meeting Frank Krul at the Kanata park and buying a bike from him.
I was an old man at 30 and now I feel like I’m a young man at 40 and BMX has had a lot to do with that.
You’ve been a very active member in the local BMX scene in Ottawa for a long time now. Putting on day camps and lessons for beginners and even older crowds (i.e. Geriatric BMX Camp), fundraisers, and more. What has been your goal with these activities and what has been your motivation for them?
I guess this really started when Legacy was nearing completion and I got wind of the ‘No Bike’ signs that were going up. We were all pissed off so I decided to organize a protest for the grand opening. I contacted the city to let them know our intentions and I ended up talking to an assistant to the city councilor. I let her know what we were planning and she was really upset because she had personally worked with a small group of skaters and parents for years on this project and we were going to ruin the celebration they earned. The thing about it was that the city people never even knew we wanted in. After talking to some other BMXers we decided not to protest and instead Capital Riders Organization was born so that we would be part of the process moving forward. I learned so much from this experience. It was a lot of work, a lot of stress, but I’m really proud of our accomplishments. All the camps, the Spring Break Contest, all of it…raised funds to show our commitment and our willingness to work for what we wanted. It really made a difference. Don’t be fooled for a second though…I do it all for me! I really enjoyed the camps and the contests and all that and I really want to be able to ride my bike in all the parks.
Can you explain where the nickname Real Dad came from?
Nope. I think you will have to check with (Chris) Chitaroni and the 39C crew on that one. I think it’s because I’m Ottawa’s token old guy.
A few years back you took a hard crash that put you out for a while. Would you care to elaborate on what happened, and how did that change the way you ride or approach riding?
A poor decision, followed by a worse split-second decision, followed by the inability to make a decision. First I decided to nose-pick a 4ft back rail on a 4ft tall quarter. On one attempt I went over the back. I was pretty much free and clear and was going to land on my feet but as I went by the rail I decided to grab it with my hands. My feet swung under the back of the ramp and than my hands slipped whip-lashing me the floor. Not sure how long I was out for. Not too long. A week later I went back to work. A week after that I basically had to lock my self in a room an cover my head with pillows. Concussions are not like other injuries. It took me 6 months before I could even go eat at a restaurant because I couldn’t really handle that much stimulus.
I thought I would never ride again. Maybe I shouldn’t be riding now but I’m lucky to have the support I have. Shelley (wife) didn’t really sign up for this stuff and she definitely doesn’t understand why I do it but she does understand that I wouldn’t be me otherwise. She chooses to trust me to not jeopardize our life and I have to honor that. Hence Roland-Lite…but it’s a tough line to ride.
Tell us about the house that you built that you and your family live in. I know you were up against some tough odds when you were starting it, and trying to get it done before winter. What sort of obstacles did you face with that?
Wow. This is a really really big topic and it was filled with all kinds of challenges. I was fully prepared for learning how to do the construction stuff like framing, plumbing, electrical,….but the toughest parts for me were managing the parts that I didn’t do my self. Hiring people and firing people. I’m just too trusting and it cost my schedule time after time. The first example of this is also the funniest. I built on the same site I’ve been living at for 10yrs. When we first bought the place we completely gutted and re-did the cottage that was here. When it came time to build the new house the for all intensive purposes our cottage was only 8yrs old so I didn’t really want to tear it down so I contacted some house movers to figure out how much it would cost to move in a 75 mile radius and I put it up for sale on Kijjiji. In the end I made a deal with a free spirited older lady who arrived at my house in her convertible TA. She was kind of a hippy who among other things ran most of the petting zoos for the local fairs, a large ranch, and also made natural soaps and other products. Her husband was some kind of engineer who had built a truck for moving small buildings. I still have the handwritten contract we both signed which specified that she would take ownership of, and move my cottage on or before a certain date and in exchange I was to receive a cow, a pig, 2 turkeys, 5 chickens, and a basket full of natural soaps… Of course when it came time to do it I had problems getting in touch with her and when I finally tracked her down in a field north of Almote, 1 month after she was supposed to have taken the cottage she would come get it as soon as her hired hands got out of jail…needless to say I ended up having to tear it down. It did make for some great bonfires on the beach though.
This was something I had always dreamed of doing and despite the challenges I have no regrets and I’m very proud of the house that Roland and Shelley built.
Sometimes you fall. photo: Chris Chitaroni
BMX isn’t easy on the body. Even in my mid 20’s my body doesn’t handle the activity, let alone the failures, like it did in my teenage years. How do you deal with the toll riding takes on your body now, as opposed to in your youth?
I may joke otherwise sometimes but truthfully, at this point in my life I don’t find my body responds that much worse to the bumps and bruises than it did 20 yrs ago. I’m bracing myself for this to get worse very soon but I think this is affected by your general state of health and how old you feel more so than by your actual age. It was worse when I was a 30yr old slug. That being said I am smarter about icing stuff at times and ibuprofen seems to help things heal faster because it is an anti-inflamitory… taking a decade off has also done wonders.
If I tried to party like a 20 yr old than I’d be in trouble!
Now you have a son, Rev, and even he rides. You guys go to parks together, and even enter contests together. How much has he impacted your riding, and what are the benefits and drawbacks (if any) of having him with you shredding?
The big benefit is that I can combine spending time with Rev with something else I love to do. On the days it works this is truthfully the best thing ever. I love watching him pedal at stuff. There are challenges too though. As a dad the hardest thing I have to do is let him make his own mistakes and I find this no different at the skatepark. When we first started going I nearly ruined the whole thing for him because I was always after him about park etiquette stuff. It was really no fun for either of us. Kids are learning all the time but so are their parents. Over the last year I’ve gotten a little more chill about it, it scares the hell out of me though.
You obviously do a lot of traveling with your job, and seem to manage to bring you bike along with you on a lot of business trips. How often do you get to sneak away and ride, how do your co-workers perceive what you do, and where are some of the places you’ve gotten to go and ride because of it?
I work for a smallish, specialized software consulting company and travel to different client sites regularly. I try to bring my bike everywhere just in case … but it doesn’t always get unpacked.
I did get to do a lot of riding in Pittsburgh and more recently in Seattle. One of the great things about it is having friends everywhere even though you haven’t met them yet. I have found managing the BMX thing a little tricky at times thought. A lot is expected from us when we arrive at a clients site. We are supposed to be to experts in our field but a lot of the times we don’t know any more than they do when we arrive…they don’t want to know that though! They want to be confident in our abilities so I don’t usually bring up the fact that I’m an overgrown child trying to wrap this up as quickly as possible so I can get to a session…at least not until I get a good read on the situation. My somewhat limited experience so far is that the BMX thing is well received on the west coast but less so in the mid and and eastern parts of North America.
Still riding and progressing at the age of 40 is something only a handful of riders that have grown up on BMX can say they do. What still motivates you at this age, and what has changed for you?
Well it helps that I wasn’t very good when I was younger because it gave me so much more room for growth. I actually find this question very tough to answer. I am definitely still motivated to progress on my bike but I’m not really sure I understand it. I place a lot of value on creativity and have always wanted to do things that have never been done before so that hasn’t changed. I have also always liked to challenge myself but I do choose different ways now. As you get older you understand yourself better and for me the hardest thing to do is dial things in. I’m just not a detail guy but I’m definitely motivated to work at this now because it goes against my nature.
Somewhere in here lies one of my biggest frustrations. I have a lot of ideas for new stuff that I know is possible and I am finally at a skill level where I know I could get them done. The frustration comes from reconciling the fact that I have to choose not to try.
Pocket air handplant. photo: Chris Chitaroni
This is obviously a very broad question, but what in BMX have you seen change over the span of your time spent in it, for better or for worse?
It’s all just about having fun riding little kids bikes. How could that change unless we start trying to make everyone conform to our notions of what it is….
Any last words, thanks, or things to mention?
Keep dreaming. I believe how you hear these words and say them to others can define you. To some “Keep Dreaming” is a negative or sarcastic statement reflecting impossibility. To others it’s a statement of infinite possibility. We all have dreams big and small. As a parent I see it as one of my biggest responsibilities to teach my son to dream and to use his dreams to help guide his decisions so that he always moves towards them.
Shelley – thanks for dreaming with me. To my friends and especially my son Revelin – Keep dreaming.