Off Hours: T-Mobile CMO's Bicycling Quest

Mike Butler Even Takes a Bike Everywhere He Flies

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- The Guinness Book has entries for records such as bicycling under water and bicycling backwards while playing the violin.
T-Mobile's on-the-go Chief Marketing Officer Mike Butler takes a bike with him everywhere he flies.
T-Mobile's on-the-go Chief Marketing Officer Mike Butler takes a bike with him everywhere he flies.

30 minutes daily
But T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Mike Butler is going for a different, personal cycling record of sorts, one that may or may not make it into any record books: On March 18, Mr. Butler marked the four-year anniversary of a busy business exec riding a bicycle every day for a minimum of 30 minutes in an aerobic training zone.

On his many travels, Mr. Butler either takes a bike on the plane with him -- which he somewhat begrudgingly noted enriches the airlines to the tune of $100 extra fare each way -- or makes sure in advance a bicycle will be there for him. At a recent executive retreat in Wyoming, Mr. Butler was assured ranch hands had an available bicycle. About 6 a.m. that morning, he wobbled along, bent handle bars, flat tires and all. "I had to do it, otherwise the streak was gone."

$5,000 bikes
It was a far cry from Mr. Butler's seven Tour de France level pedigree bikes costing as much as $5,000 with parts used by some of the world's top racers, Shimano brakes, Dura Ace chains, Zipp wheels and custom-seat posts. In all, he has an estimated $25,000 worth of bikes. For rainy Seattle days, one is a stationary carbon fiber bike on a mount, which allows the cyclist to ride in conditions mirroring different Tour de France stages.

Mr. Butler, 44, a native of Watford, Hertfordshire, outside London, discovered his passion for riding 15 years ago while house sitting for friends in Manchester who suggested he use their bike. He started his ritual as a way to formalize a workout routine after meandering over the years from activities such as playing soccer twice a week to jogging, which damaged his knees and ankles. "I didn't want to have a decision each day on whether I was going to work out," he said.

In the process, Mr. Butler has become an avid "roadie," a biker who takes long rides along country trails or on city lanes, enjoying chatting with others in the group, usually about other trips they've taken or are planning to take.

Roadies understand each other
"The real joy of cycling for me is getting out in the fresh air with a bunch of pals and escaping everything else," he said. The experience is a "leveler," because "roadies around the world understand each other."

The sport, however, is not all pastoral excursions. Mr. Butler calls time trials for the races he does several times a year "a race of truth," where riders "sit on the edge" of the point of excruciating pain. "It's an extremely painful point to stay at which is great fun," he said. In fact, his triathlon relay team in Seattle, consisting of swimmer Bob Moore, president and executive director of T-Mobile agency Publicis in the West, Seattle, and runner Ed Clark, director of corporate strategy at T-Mobile, calls itself "The Pain Train." In last year's Black Diamonds Triathlon outside Seattle, at mid-course in his event, Mr. Butler assumed his aerodynamic pose, crouched over his bike. A momentary loss of concentration, however, and the bike veered off onto a pebbled path leading to a farmhouse. "I maneuvered the bike so I didn't kill myself," he said, slowing to 20 miles per hour and heading into a driveway he thought would lead back to the road. "I thought, 'OK, I'm going to make this,' " he said. Instead, two dogs, one a big German shepherd, viciously charged, causing him to crash into a fence. "I threw the bike over the fence," ran 100 yards through a muddy field, vaulted over another wall, got back in the race. Miraculously, the team won.

Tandem bike
Mr. Butler, who's married with a 6-year-old son, plans "on doing this until basically I expire." In the meantime, he's bought a tandem bike to ride with his son, Ben. Over time, he's hoping the boy will develop some muscles to pick up the slack.

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Passionate about an off-hours activity? Describe it in an email to Mike Ryan at mryan@crain.com
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