Life is a bike race for this race promoter, and whoever has the most fun wins
Words by Karen Kefauver • Photos by Ted Ketai
Snapshot of SuperPro Racing’s Murphy Mack
Born: Lansing, Michigan
Raised: Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “I spent weekends on farms on big farm equipment at my dad’s John Deere dealership, hunting birds and having fun.”
Military Service: “I joined when I was 17.” Three years in the Army, three years in the Air Force.
Studied: University of Iowa; Russian and East European studies, then switched to business.
Bike History: Four years organizing alley cat races in San Francisco, Team Director at Sheila Moon/Big Swingin’ Cycles, Founder/Owner of Gestalt Haus Beer, Brats and Bikes.
Current Residence: San Francisco
Website and team name: “The name SuperPro Racing is tongue in cheek,” said Murphy. “We’re so pro it’s one word.” Team members range from cat 5 racers to former national champions.
Motto: “Big rides, hard races, remote places.”
Favorite Bike Spot: “One I haven’t been to yet…I do love Soquel Demo (State Forest) and Jackson Demo (State Forest) in Fort Bragg.”
Murphy Mack is a bicycle race promoter, road warrior, diehard adventurer and bike fanatic. The 43-year-old San Francisco resident claims he sleeps but it’s hard to imagine that someone who directs a cyclo-cross series, road/gravel races, and gonzo adventure trips called, “Get in the Van,” has time for any shut-eye. Those events are the heart of his five-year-old business, SuperPro Racing. Murphy also has a devoted group of about 50 riders on his SuperPro Team and is co-owner of Gestalt Haus, a beloved bike pub in Fairfax. Plus, he’s engaged to his “long-suffering girlfriend,” Emily McLanahan, whom he calls “the brains of this operation.”
When asked about his whirlwind schedule, Murphy commented, “I consider my ADD an asset, not a liability. Also, I have a great team of volunteers.”
“There’s a lot of kinetic energy surrounding Murphy that comes out in everything he does,” said Chris DuBurg, Murphy’s friend and SuperPro team member. “Murphy is the ringleader. His events are his personality and what he brings is a sort of organized chaos that’s a lot of fun. There is no other event like a Murphy Mack event,” said DuBurg, a web designer and promoter of The Big Sandy mountain bike race in the San Joaquin River Valley.
“At some point you are going to be angry, at some point you are going to say it’s the most fun you’ve ever had, but you are going to do something you wouldn’t have done on your own,” said DuBurg of a SuperPro race.
“You can be out in the middle of nowhere and suddenly there could be a mountain to climb that he didn’t mention…It’s like being a kid in a game. He’s always seeking out something new.”
Murphy was in his truck scouting turf in Vallejo for his races when I caught up with him for a phone interview. He’s stoked about rolling out a new race series for 2015. Here’s an excerpt from our interview.
ASJ: Tell me about this new race series you are organizing.
MM: It’s called the California Gravel Gauntlet. There are three races in it: the Tainthammer (now in its third year), Menso’s SLO Ride to Hell, and Rumble in the Ranchlands. The inspiration is doing big, long remote rides in places people don’t normally go. I offer fully stocked aid stations so you don’t have to carry 15 pounds of food and water. There may be a hot grilled cheese sandwich for you at mile 50 or French fries at mile 90. These are remote, obscure places. A lot of our rides begin where the sign says, “Not a Through Road.” My answer to that is, “Lies!” … I am not a lawbreaker. Everything we do is on public thoroughfares or we get permission.
ASJ: What is a gravel grinder race?
MM: There are dirt roads and pavement so horrible you would wish it were unpaved. It’s a mixed terrain race with road, rocks and dirt. People ride cross bikes sometimes mountain bikes.
ASJ: So you are on the road a lot?
MM: I drive at least 30,000 miles a year. If you want to ride bikes in cool places, you gotta travel… I do cover a lot of ground. Mendocino, Sedona, Fruita, Portland. I’m a road warrior. I’m all over the state. That’s a lot of windshield time running reconnaissance on the roads.
ASJ: How did you get involved with biking?
MM: I was rowing at University of Iowa. One day, I just wandered into a bike shop in the early ‘90s. Mountain bikes were becoming mainstream and it was a whole new world. I was just fascinated and wanted to do it. I kept riding in the Midwest. Of course in Iowa there are no mountains.
ASJ: How did you land in California?
MM: I moved here in 2004 from Chicago. I put my stuff in the truck, drove out here and never looked back. I got a mountain bike and started going to races and everything else just melted away. All I wanted to do was ride a bike. It was the race scene in Northern California where I found my family.
ASJ: Were you working in the bike industry at the time?
MM: I was working in telecom and just living for every weekend to ride somewhere. It became apparent to me that I had to make the passion pay enough. I just had bikes on the brain and my job got in the way.
ASJ: What other sports do you do?
MM: Other than cyclo-cross, bike touring, road riding, mixed terrain riding, that’s it! Bikes, bikes, bikes … I have 20 or so bikes. They come and go. I have a couple of long-term love affairs and a couple short-term flings.
ASJ: What’s on your bicycle bucket list?
MM: I want to ride my mountain bike in Morocco in the Atlas Mountains; sleep in a Berber tent village. In November, I’m riding from Monterey to LA on mostly dirt over six days on the most remote backwoods ranch and forest roads with about a dozen guys from across the state.
ASJ: Tell me about the Gestalt Haus in Fairfax that’s near Repack Road, the historic fire road that was the first downhill race course in mountain biking.
MM: You can duck in after a ride when your bike is wet and you smell and are covered in mud and talk about your ride.
ASJ: What does the bike community mean to you?
MM: After our races, we have a good barbecue or farm-to-buffet meal and beers. We put on an awesome race that buries people. I want to hear everyone’s stories: about the near-miss, the super-pro move, how you dropped in dirt and got up.” I don’t want people to scatter after the race. You miss out on all that awesome camaraderie. I wanted to create a super rad event and then have a way to share highs and lows of the bike race. We have a place to share that. It’s a community once you are part of the traveling circus.
SuperPro’s “Get in the Van” Rides
“Get in the Van – that’s what they say when you are being kidnapped, right?” said Murphy Mack with a devilish laugh. “That’s kind of what it’s like. Bring whatever bike you want for a two, three, four or six-day ride somewhere you’ve never been or never heard of. It’s a half organized tour and you do some exploring. The Mojave 2-Day Adventure Ride was across the Mojave Desert on the Mojave Trail, which is a non-sign-posted, double track dirt trail across the desert. Get in the Van is about wild remote places we get to that don’t show up on the Strava map. They have been ridden so few times or not at all. I love the sense of isolation.”