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The matriarch

Trek is a family-owned company that still operates in the small southern Wisconsin town where it was founded by Dick Burke 40 years ago.

Here, it’s not uncommon for an employee to spend an entire career at the Waterloo headquarters. Those who have been here for 20 or 30 years have experienced a great deal of the company’s story. Brand archivists and marketers know a lot of the good stories too. But no one has a more comprehensive understanding of Trek’s history than Elaine “Lainey” Burke.

Because she lived it all.

Lainey, who is affectionately known as Trek’s matriarch, is the mother of five children, including Trek’s President John Burke. She has been with Trek since day one.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Lainey to discuss the early days of the company, Trek’s trials in its long history, family, flowers, and the company’s future.

What this conversation reminded us is that our mothers give us the clearest perspective on our lives. They remember what we don’t. They care for us when we can’t care for ourselves, they witness our growth, and then at a certain point—they step away and let us become who we were meant to be.

This Mother’s Day, and every day, remember to tell your mom you appreciate the ways she’s helped you become you.

Happy Mother’s Day, Lainey! Can you tell us a bit about you?
Well, I have five children. They’ve all worked at Trek in one capacity or another, from picking parts to John’s position at this point. I think he actually picked parts when he started here as well.

I grew up in Madison, and I went to Marquette for college and Edgewood for high school. I grew up on the east side of Madison, and then after Dick and I were married, for a while we lived in Peoria, Illinois, where we both worked for Caterpillar.

For several years, we moved around southern Wisconsin. We lived in a number of towns, including Milwaukee, but eventually settled in the lake country.

When Trek started in 1976, what was life like for you and your family? How did Trek become Trek?
Dick and I started out with Roth distributing, which was an appliance distributorship. When we started, I did the salesman’s commissions. It was a very barebones operation. When the owner passed away unexpectedly in the mid-60s, a group of us got together and purchased the company. And back then, we didn’t have much money at all. In fact, we borrowed $5,000 from my parents and $5,000 from Dick’s parents to buy it. It was a pretty big struggle to keep it going, but it’s impossible to talk about the beginning of Trek without talking about this pivotal moment.

Then one day Dick came home from a business trip all excited because he had met some guy on the plane that had a bicycle store in Madison and needed some money. I’m thinking, “Oh my God, I have five children at home. Here we go.”

But this man he met, Bevil Hogg, was so interesting. He definitely got Dick’s attention. They balanced each other out quite well.

Trek started in that little red barn in Waterloo, Wisconsin, in 1976. In the early days, we would keep a daily count of how many Treks we saw out in the wild. I imagine it’s the same feeling a music group gets the first time they hear their own song on the radio. It was such a thrill! Even today, I’m excited to see Treks on the road.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

So bikes weren’t ever part of the original plan?
No. Bikes just sort of found us.

A lot of people know that Trek is a family-owned business, but a lot of people don’t know that you’re the matriarch. Can you talk about what this means to you?
In a way, you’re speaking of Mother’s Day. First of all, I’m proud of my children. I’m proud of Trek. I’m proud of all the things that all of the people working for Trek have done. The bikes are first-class. I’m proud to see all the good things that this company is known for. The employees love Trek, and that makes me so happy.

Your father was a letter carrier, and he rode his bike into his late-80s. Do you think fate had it that bikes found you because of your father?
My father loved to ride his bike around Lake Monona and all throughout Madison. But I think it was more that Dick was interested in pursuing health and wellness—things like bikes and running. But I do remember the first time I got a bike. My mother was going to show me how to ride. I can still see this scene clear as day in my mind. I watched her ride down the road, over the hill, through the grass, crash, and break her collarbone. That was how I learned to ride a bike. I was eight years old. I will never forget it.

You are still very actively involved with all things Trek. What would you say your current role entails?
Well, I’m currently a member of the board, and I believe I lend a unique perspective in that position, not just because I’m a woman but also because I’ve seen so much of Trek’s history.

In addition to your work with Trek, you are an accomplished floral arranger. Can you tell us about your arrangements and the awards you’ve received?
Well, all of my schooling was in business. After we were married, I liked to host dinner parties. I would put flowers out, but I would always get so frustrated when I couldn’t arrange them how I wanted. So I started taking courses in flower arranging, and as I started getting into it I went to floral school and took design courses. I’ve taken classes in a lot of places, including Paris for a week. I loved the classes and everything that happened before and after!

Editor’s note: Lainey has won several awards and is a world-renowned designer and arranger, but far too modest to say it. So we’re saying it for her.

I’ve belonged to my area garden club for many years. The national chapter has a program for judging big flower shows around the country. I did that, and now I also do some training for judges. I can really do all sorts of flower arranging and designing. That’s what really fascinates me.

You attended the Tour de France, the world’s most iconic bike race. What was your experience like?
I rode in the team car during the 2000 Tour. We were going up Alpe d’Huez at the end, and we were the only car around the leading riders at that point. They were all coming to us for water and everything. We made it to the top, and we had to take the helicopter back to the start. I rode back in the helicopter with some of the executives there. It was a wild experience. It really was fascinating, even how the riders eat while riding. I just admired their stamina and expertise.

When did you first meet Gary Fisher?
I was in Italy with him, and I had the honor of going out to lunch with him. Later on the same trip, we were riding in Tuscany. It was rolling hills, so I got an e-bike. There were three e-bike riders in our group of 15 people. Gary was showing me how to work the bike as we were riding. He was not on an e-bike. After about an hour, I felt like I had heard enough, so I increased the assist speed and shot away from him to be alone.

About 20 minutes later, I could hear him breathing again behind me as he worked to catch up. He had a video camera out. He said to me, “Why don’t you shoot past all these people and show them how it’s done?”

What are some other memorable ride stories?
Let’s not forget about Hawaii. We were on a Trek Travel trip on the big island, and we were riding on the busiest road. We had been warned not to leave the bike lane at any time. I got over this hill—behind the pack, of course—and there were pieces of drywall all over the road.

This was the first time I had ridden this type of road bike. The drywall was on the road at the crest of the hill, and I didn’t see it coming. I tried to ride right over it for fear of leaving the bike lane. I wasn’t able to work around it, so I fell and broke my collarbone.

I ended up at the hospital. They gave me a sling. As I’m coming out, they asked me if I wanted Vicodin or Ibuprofen. I chose Ibuprofen so I could enjoy a couple glasses of wine the rest of my time there. I was still able to enjoy myself the rest of the trip.

What does it mean to you that you’re one of the very few who have seen Trek’s history in its entirety?
I feel very blessed. We had no way of knowing what Trek would become, and it is an incredible privilege to still be part of the dream we had 40 years ago.

I’m so impressed by every person that works here. Everyone does such a great job at what they do, and everybody is so friendly and happy. It seems like people don’t give themselves enough credit here for the great work they do, and I’m just so amazed. I’m so very blessed to be able to see that regularly.

What are your Mother’s Day plans?
Every Mother’s Day is special because my kids are so good to me. I am so thankful. If they aren’t with me, I get nice calls all the time. It’s like Mother’s Day is every day of the year for me.

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