Former linebacker Dhani Jones had a distinguished career in the NFL, playing for the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints and the Cincinnati Bengals. The 43-year-old even made it to the Super Bowl with Andy Reid’s 2005 Eagles before eventually retiring just over a decade ago. Now a successful TV personality and entrepreneur, Jones bases himself in Maryland and is firmly entrenched in cycling. Later this month he will saddle up for SBT Gravel – one of the premier events in the US calendar – but cycling is about more than just competition for the former NFL player.
Cyclingnews: We’ve got to start with your path into cycling and what got you into the sport.
Dhani Jones: I played a lot of sports but my first love was jumping on the bike and enjoying the freedom that it afforded you at a very young age. It was a progression for me, from the little bikes to the bigger bikes to the even bigger bikes, to mountain biking and road. And now gravel. As we get older we take new paths on new equipment that allows us to see the world from a different perspective.
CN: I read that back in the day you’d even cycle to practice during your NFL days.
DJ: I did it a bit when I was in New York but that was a bit precarious because of the roads. I didn’t do it as much in Philadelphia but when I got to Cincinnati it really became commonplace for me to ride my fixed gear bike to and from the stadium. Especially on game day. I’d use it as a way of warming up and I’d really like to get a sense of what the fans were feeling as a cycled to the stadium. When you’re in the car you’re just sat there listening to music and it’s completely different. So I’d ride my bike to the game and then back home because it was a great way of warming up and winding down.
CN: So you’d do four quarters of intense contact sport as an NFL linebacker and then cycle back home like it was a typical day in the office?
DJ: What else are you going to do? That was ten years ago but now I’m doing on average about 150 to 200 miles a week and whether I’m on the road or gravel I’m really just aiming to keep my body healthy and my joints in good condition and my mind focused.
CN: That image or idea of an NFL star riding home from Games in front of tens of thousands of fans is completely at odds with the perception of what most people think of when they imagine pro football and athletes.
DJ: Everyone is different. Some guys would go straight to the bar and others would go swimming. A lot of people are just happy that the game is over and just don’t do anything at all.
CN: Of course you played in the Super Bowl too?
DJ: Yes, back in 2005 against the Patriots. That was when I was with the Eagles. That was fun. We played down in Jacksonville but it’s completely different from any other game. A lot of people think that it’s just like a regular game but it’s totally different.
CN: You race, you ride at a recreational level. Do you pour a similar level of enthusiasm and dedication into cycling as you did football?
DJ: One was my job but the energy is similar. Football and being at a training camp are completely different from preparing for Steamboat Gravel or a triathlon that I might do with my sister but I'm still passionate. The physical implications are a lot less but the mental ones are similar. That’s elevated by riding on gravel though because then you’re just mesmerized by the scenic beauty that you’re taking in. I don’t think I take a competitive side from football into racing though. I certainly have goals that I set for myself but I recognise my limitations at the same time. So in a world where I’m not at the level of the NFL equivalent, then all I want is to do is do my best, have fun, take in the sights and enjoy the race.
CN: So what is it about gravel that drew your attention?
DJ: I’ve really only just started. I’ve been riding road and mountain bike since I was about eight years old but then gravel came into the equation when so many of my friends decided that they didn’t want to be on the road anymore with so many drivers, so to speak. They’ve had some traumatic experiences, as have I, but riding in the mountains gives you an entirely different belonging. It’s wilderness and you’re passing through unique communities that you might not have ever seen. It’s technical, you need to be more mindful and it gives you a different experience, whereby instead of avoiding cars you might be avoiding a random cow in a field or rocks.
What made you sign up for SBT Gravel?
DJ: They sign up 3,000 people so fast. It’s the lure and the community and the team there are fantastic. The town is fantastic, and I’ve done some non-profit work there and I recall just how beautiful the landscape is. That’s part of it but it’s also another part, and that is the opportunity to build a gravel community. It takes the experience to the next level, so people can be competitive and they can have fun.
CN: Which course are you doing at the race? Black, 144 miles, Blue 103, Red 64 or Green 37?
DJ: I’m debating it. I’m still debating between blue and red. I have to check my capacity when I get to the line but right now I’m signed up to blue. I’m going to feel my legs and see if they’re talking to me or not. Then I’ll be good to go.
CN: You’re doing 200 miles a week. You’ll be fine.
DJ: Elevation. What’s the elevation?
CN: OK. It's over 6,000ft.
DJ: At altitude… at altitude. Sometimes my competitive side gets the better of me and I tell myself that I’m going to do one thing but I should listen to my body and do another.
CN: Don’t let your head talk yourself out of it.
DJ: I’m not, I’m not. Look, I know I’m not doing the black route. I know a bunch of people doing the black route but I’m going blue or red. I’m leaning towards blue.
CN: What’s your ride?
DJ: I’ll be on my Speedvagen. Sacha White who started Vanilla built up my custom Speedvagen. They’re based out in Portland Oregon and Sacha is honestly a legend. I ride my SRAM E-tap and my Zipp wheels too, so my bike is decked out, it’s decked out. I don’t change bikes that often and it’s been a while since I got a new bike but I’d been waiting for ages for this one.
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