Jesus Salazar has a knack for breaking bikes. He doesn’t mean to break them; it’s just a curse.
It all started when he was a kid in Mexico City. He didn’t have a bike then, but his neighbor did. All the kids in the neighborhood shared that one bike, Salazar said. Then Salazar broke it.
He didn’t ride a bike again for about 30 years. Then he met Andrea. When he picked her up for a date one night, he noticed her bike.
“That’s a nice bike,” he told her.
“It’s a mountain bike,” she told him.
“I don’t know what a mountain bike is,” he said.
A few days later, Andrea and Salazar went on another date, a mountain biking date. She had borrowed her sister’s bike for Salazar to ride. He broke it — well at least the chain, but not before he fell in love — with mountain biking and with Andrea.
Salazar proposed to Andrea on the Rodney Ridge Trail. On the day of their wedding in November 2010, they went for a mountain bike ride.
Another thing Salazar is known for is his irrepressible smile.
“He’s always upbeat,” said Jim Barnes, owner of Big Sky Cycling and Fitness. “He’s always fun to go biking with.”
Barnes sold Salazar his first bike about four years ago. He also helps to fix the things that Salazar breaks. Salazar recently upgraded to a better bike and he now races for the Big Sky Cycling team.
“When I find something that is challenging for me, I have to figure out that challenge,” Salazar said.
In addition to poring over biking magazines and websites, Salazar grills fellow riders for advice.
“Bikers here in Helena are really friendly,” he said. “They’re always trying to help you.”
On Saturday, Salazar was about 60 miles into a 100-mile mountain bike race — the Butte 100 — when his rear derailleur broke. He stopped smiling. He had also lost his sunglasses and some of his food in earlier tumbles on the trail.
As other riders passed him, he’d call out, “Are you a mechanic?”
But while they had sympathy and kind words to spare, no one knew how to help him with his mechanical issue.
He recalled some words of wisdom from fellow Helena rider and Butte 100 competitor, John Doran.
“He told me, ‘Just keep riding your bike,’” Salazar said.
The advice was the same that mountain biking legend and two-time Butte 100 winner, Tinker Juarez, had told Salazar earlier in the day, “Just keep riding your bike, man.”
Salazar got back on his bike and climbed — his granny gear was inoperable. He made it to an aid station at mile 70, where a race volunteer repaired the problem as best as he could.
At the aid station, Salazar saw several other riders who were calling it quits and dropping out of the race. He saw one woman crying.
“I have to finish this,” he said.
At mile 80, it started raining.
“I thought to myself, ‘Oh, my god, it feels so good.’”
When the rain stopped, Salazar said he saw one of the most beautiful views he’s ever seen — green meadows, rocks glistening with rain drops.
“I am enjoying the last 30 miles,” he said.
Salazar crossed the finish line with a smile on his face. He was 17th in the men’s open competition — with a time of 13 hours, 23 minutes and 3 seconds. Doran had crossed the finish line a couple hours earlier, in fourth place in the men’s open competition with a time of 11 hours, 15 minutes and 55 seconds. Tinker Juarez beat his last year’s time by an hour and came in first in the men’s elite division with a time of 8 hours, 22 minutes and 41 seconds.
“Jesus is such a hard-working and passionate cyclist,” Doran said. “He has improved more than anyone I know over the past few years and he is only going to keep getting better. His enthusiasm for the sport is contagious. The Butte 100 is a brutally tough race, but with his determination, I had no doubt Jesus would finish and finish strong.”
On Tuesday, Salazar had not gotten back on his bike since finishing the race, but he said he felt great. His hands were a little sore — he said he had some trouble buttoning his shirt. He was smiling.
“I grew up in an environment where biking was just for rich people,” he said. “I love riding with bikers who have ridden all their lives; it was an honor to ride with them in the Butte 100.”
Salazar, 39, said he wants to encourage others to take up a challenge.
“You can start with the cheapest bike — a bike that you get from Goodwill — and just try it,” Salazar said. “And just say to yourself, ‘This is what I have. I will do it this way.’”