Like most professional cyclists, Brooke Miller relied on a combination of training, determination and skill to get her to the winner’s podium.

But Miller also had an unlikely trick up her jersey sleeve when it came to racing: a 2007 Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from UC Santa Cruz.

 “In behavioral ecology we studied a lot of game theory,” said Miller, now 36. Game theory is the study of strategic decision-making where the outcome of a participant’s action depends on the actions of other contestants.

“The whole time I was racing I would be thinking: What is my image score? What do other riders think about me?” Miller said.  That strategic way of thinking in a sport that combines teamwork with individual sprints, landed her on the TIBCO professional bike racing team and won her a string of top finishes, including a 2008 national championship in both road and criterium (a circuit course) events.

But Miller, who started racing for the Cycling Club at UCSC and is now  retired from the sport, isn’t the only one whose bicycling career got a boost while studying at UCSC.

The campus is both bike-conscientious and eco-friendly—despite a killer climb from town to class. Twisting mountain roads and beautiful single-track trails lie nearby, while a culture of healthy and sustainable transportation permeates the campus. It’s no coincidence, then, that the university boasts strong participation in annual Bike to Work Week festivities and that a number of Slugs have gone on to make careers out of their biking obsessions.

Twin wheelmen

Twins Ben Jacques-Maynes (Cowell, ’03, environmental studies and economics) and Andy Jacques-Maynes (Crown, ’00, economics), for instance, are both professional bike riders who came out of UCSC. So is Julian Martinez (Cowell, ’10 environmental studies) who rides for the Fremont Bank Cycling Team. 

Neal Rogers (Cowell, ’95, anthropology and American literature) is editor in chief of Velo magazine and Sean Holman (Cowell, ’99, business management/economics) founded a cycling business that includes an upcoming fund-raising race, which combines his passion for bicycling with his interest in sustainability and green energy. Others have gone on to work as bike team mechanics, product designers, and cycling advocates, while 45 students are currently registered on the UCSC Cycling Club teams.

Among two-wheeled travelers are staff, students, and faculty who use the UCSC Bike Shuttle (an average of 221 per day during the fall quarter of 2011) or who simply huff their way up the hill. The campus also draws countless community members who use sanctioned trails and roads for recreation or training.

 “It’s a little cycling mecca,” said Skippy Givens, UCSC’s intramural and sports club advisor, of the campus and its environs.

Magic in the hills

For Velo magazine’s Rogers, 39, UCSC was a magical place where “when you got to campus you were literally next to world-class single track.”

He evolved from a party-loving student when he arrived at UCSC to an outdoors-loving surfer who wore bike shoes to class so he could hit the trails between lectures.  It was a passion that led him to an internship at Velo and eventually to the top spot.

“If I hadn’t gone to school in Santa Cruz, I might not be sitting in this chair,” he said.

It’s the proximity to technical trails and pulse-raising roads that makes the campus a draw for adventurous riders, including the pro-cycling Jacques-Maynes twins.

Andy, 33, used the twisting Wilder Ranch trails to de-stress between his part-time job and classes. He went on to race professionally, then work as a product manager for Specialized, one of the world’s largest bike companies, before he returned to his first love, racing.  He recently won the prestigious San Dimas Stage Race, riding for the Kenda/5-Hour Energy team.

His brother, Ben, who rides for Bissell, the No. 1-ranked cycling team in the nation, said it was his time at UCSC, racing with friends, that reignited his love of the sport. May 14, he will be returning to his old training grounds up Bonny Doon and Empire Grade roads when he takes part in the renowned Tour of California.

Holman, 38, founder of the bike venture Velo Cruz, managed to combine his love of cycling with a passion for the environment, both sparked by his time at UCSC.  Now director of business development for the wind-energy firm, Talco, he not only formed Velo Cruz to host cycling tours and training camps but also started a fund-raising event he hopes will become a Santa Cruz tradition.

The 56-mile ride, called The Green Fondo, will raise money for five community non-profits including Save Our Shores and Ecology Action, and will be followed by a three-course slow-food dinner.  The race is set for April 29 (greenfondo.com).

A training ground

Meanwhile, a new crop of riders populates the campus.  The UCSC Cycling Club has 45 official members who race at varying levels in the Western Collegiate Cycling Conference, in road, mountain bike and cyclocross events.

Some like Nick Newcomb and Will Curtis, (both Stevenson ’14, human biology) place regularly in the top 10 in the competitive Category A level.  Curtis won the conference mountain biking championship this season and Newcomb is headed to the nationals in road racing. 

Others come out simply for the camaraderie and race at more novice levels.  The culture of riding is so ingrained, there is even an unofficial, off-campus “Bike House” which, for the past six or seven years, has been populated exclusively by Cycling Club members.

 And while faculty, staff and students at flat campuses like UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara regularly ride to class and work, the estimated 500-600 bike commuters who visit the UCSC campus every day should be given their due.

Some brave the 600-foot elevation climb from town to Science Hill while others use the free UCSC Bike Shuttle up the hill then ride back down home.  Deb Collins, administrative analyst in the audit department, has used both methods.

For her, cycling around the UCSC campus offers an experience flatlanders might not find.  She regularly spots bobcats, deer, and dew-dropped spider webs. She watches the sun break over fog-shrouded hills.

Along with the energizing aspects of riding, nature offers her those daily gifts.

“That totally keeps me going up the hill,” she said.