The start chute falls completely silent. None of us are friends anymore. The referee’s whistle cues my entry into the most painful 45 minutes I have felt since last season. One hundred of us are grinding away, already turned up “to eleven.” Not even 15 seconds pass and I hear front wheel spokes grinding on a rear derailleur two bikes to my right. Then swearing. Two guys I wont have to worry about again. I adopt the Reagan-era defense mantra of “Trust, but verify.” One hundred of us rolled the start line and I only know two other racers. Some guys have skills, some just big motors. I am hoping that clean technique plays well. I need all the help I can get.
This is CrossVegas, the USA Cycling version. One hundred Category 1,2, and 3 racers have paid to race on a course that will later host a World Cup battle of an international peloton of professional cyclocross racers. For me, however, this is simply about seeing how I measure up to my peers. As a middling Cat3 CX racer, I do not expect to blow anybody’s doors off.
The “real cyclocross” debate will never end. Some people think there has to be mud, or tree roots, or deep beach sand, or epic rain. My experience has taught me there is “fast” ‘cross and there is “technical” ‘cross. But it is never “easy.” After my first warmup lap on this year’s CrossVegas course, all I could think of was Marty McFly. “This is heavy, Doc.”
Thick, ripe, wheel-grabbingly lush Bermuda grass covered the entire 3.4km course, save the two plywood flyovers and five barrier/stairs sections. In other words, no rest for the eyes-blown-out-of-their-skulls weary. The diabolical course designer sent us up and down the ramps of this desert retention basin park walls more times than I can remember. But with each racer who pulled off the course ahead of me, crying “Uncle!!,” I mustered the motivation to pedal on. “I beat that guy.”
With two excruciating laps down and two to go, the grenades start blowing. Fit, skinny, carbon-bike-riding young-uns start moving backwards. I relish every second. A guy wearing a hydration-bladder base-layer is complaining about the heat. At 85 degrees Fahrenheit, this is the coldest ride I have made in months. But I am dying a slow death, as well. Very shortly into Lap One, my tongue took the form of a wood rasp rubbing on the 100-grit sandpaper of my soft pallate, and a dry hack now interrupts my gasping. This is so fun. I paid money to do this.
With the ringing of the last Lap, the grudge match ensues between the five of us fighting for 50th place. Yes, 50th. I have no idea who these guys are, but the gradual sifting of racers through the grid has matched us as equals today.
I hear the announcer call the Finish Sprint as we are still just half-way through the course. Almost there. Kill me now. One guy jumps, I try to follow, and three fall off. Bury it. Stay clean through the stairs and maintain. Just maintain. I can hear the huffing behind me through the last few chicanes, but I keep my wheels gripping and grind on. I cross the line head slung down, an anonymous also-ran.
The announcers are talking about the ex-ProTour roadie who placed second and the upcoming Wheelers and Dealers race. I am nobody. Just a guy from Arizona who likes to race cyclocross. All I wanted to do was finish “under par.” I started 69th of 100 and finished 51st.
What does it all mean? Regular Joes can’t play a pickup game at the Staples Center ahead of a Laker game. Nobody plays two-hand-touch on the field in Foxborough before the Patriots. But I can race cyclocross before the best racers in the world rip up the course and remind me that I am just a regular guy with a day job. Why? Because it is there.
Always appreciate late starts. Better yet, super late afternoon starts.
Reigning US Cyclocross Champ Katie Compton (R) chatting it up before the Wheelers and Dealers race.
What's not to love when there's a shark racing on a bicycle and a Jack Daniel's handoff?
RV awning makes a good place to stash the stationary roller.
The BKCP-Crendon boys relax by the CrossVegas cooler
Plenty of wheels for the Telnet-Fidnea cycling team
Custom paint job and custom shoes for the legendary Sven Nys. Oh and check out that slick chain guard
Warming up on the new Feedback Sports Omnium portable trainer
Erica Zevata of Maxxis-Shimano waits as her mechanic does a last minute adjustment
Sometimes the best viewing spot is away from the main crowd.
A pro man checking out the pro women's race
High-speed high-fives during course inspection
Ellen Van Loy warms up between RVs
Noosa Professional Cyclocross team mechanic Daimeon Shanks power washes one of Meredith Miller's race bikes minutes before start.
A well-organized tool case is crucial for a smooth running pit.
Photographers getting ready to shoot the women's start
Meredith Miller (Noosa) and Georgia Gould (Luna) push through the sand pit
A spectator-friendly run-up
Waiting for the racers to come.
Katerina Nash solo to the first CrossVegas World Cup win
Boulder Cycle Sport / YogaGlo's Crystal Anthony rests on the grass after finishing 7th
An exhausted Arley Kemmerer at the finish
The winners of the women's CrossVegas World Cup
And here comes the pro men.
The always chaotic start
The pit at CrossVegas saw much less action compared to a typical Cyclocross World Cup which is usually held in colder and wetter conditions (and in Europe), but teams took zero chances and had multiple backup bikes and wheels
The king welcomes the racers and dusts through the sand pit with open arms.
... Another reason to have a backup at the pit.
Corne Van Kessel gives chase through the barriers
Eventual winner Wout Van Aert leads Sven Nyst through the Raleigh Ramp...
While reigning US Cyclcross Champ Jeremy Powers opts to ride on the grass instead
The top of the Sram race truck makes a nice race vantage point.
Anti-doping controls. Don't ever miss this.
The winners of the men's CrossVegas world cup
Over this past year or so I kept asking myself what draws me to want to photograph cycling. I love riding my bike and thanks to my understanding wife (love ya babe) I was able to do some very cool projects. Gravel Worlds, Tour of California, and now CrossVegas.
The beauty of photographing cycling is the access and the creative freedom it allows. With the amount of PR and handlers involved, access to pro athletes is such a rarity these days. But at CrossVegas, you can just walk up to pro guys like legendary Sven Nys and Katie Compton and say hello, check out their fancy super bikes, talk more trash, and make fun happy snappies. Trying to do that at a NFL/MLB/NBA game will result in your credential getting pulled and never to be seen again.
We at Element.ly were fortunate to go behind the scenes with Team Hincapie at this past Tour of California and we’re stoked to photograph CrossVegas given that it’s the first time that a WorldCup Cyclocross race is taking place in America.
Shooting CrossVegas after spending a day on the show floor at the annual InterBike convention is really akin to working a second job after a long day at the office. But the crowds! The crowds were amazing and the racing was straight up badass. Wout Van Aert and Katerina Nash drilled it.
Anyways, time to head back to the InterBike show floor. Enjoy the gallery and stay tuned for our InterBike coverage!
I was a hater when the stand-up paddleboarding craze hit. At the time I was an intern at Outside magazine, and the attitude there was very much “Oh God, here we go.” Like it was going to be somewhere between rollerblading and crossfit (a little bit ridiculous, cultish, and misunderstood). Except my officemate, who wouldn’t shut up about the sport.
I gave her too little credit. Now I’m hooked. Who’d have thought my 83-year-old grandma would be the catalyst? She’s always been a great enabler, gifting sporting goods to her clan before we even realized we needed them. Kayaks at the lake, a snowboard upon which I immediately broke my arm. When she suggested selling the old motorboat in the wake of my grandpa’s death, and replacing it with a couple paddleboards, it seemed … perfect.
And it was. I didn’t feel nearly as ridiculous as I would have expected just a couple years ago. I didn’t fall in. It’s actually decent exercise, especially for the core. You can do it with a back injury. The “Hey! This is fun!” moment came virtually instantly.
The boards we bought were two $750 “Dura-Ace” paddleboards from Bic sports. (Somehow, Bic makes pens, lighters, and paddleboards. One of these things is not like the other.) “Dura” because you can knock it about without too much worry, and “Ace” because … it helps your poker game. Or something.
This particular board sits atop the water, rather than cutting through it like a kayak. Pretty near the whole family tried it, to great success. It’s less ideal for long distance and carrying gear. But I’m pigheaded enough to go for miles around the lake in all directions.
My daytime fantasies now consist of loading one of these up with a couple dry sacks worth of gear and setting off on a long-distance adventure, portaging my way through northern Minnesota and maybe Canada.
They’re slow, of course—a kayak will outpace you without even trying, especially into any kind of wind—but if you’re chasing solitude, they’re great.
As you become more comfortable, the anchor of your feet to the board transitions from a firm plant to a symbiosis, and you roll on the chop underneath the board like you’re one with it. At night, after a long day on the board, the waves keep passing beneath you in bed.
People around the lake always comment—everybody seems like they’re thinking about buying one.
Wind is maddening. Especially when you need to get somewhere fast, like that time I got caught in a thunderstorm and had to seek shelter on a little island. Overreacting? Maybe. But it seemed unwise to be out on the water with a seven-foot carbon-fiber paddle lightning rod.
I’ve noticed I’m seeking out more alone time. And during that time, I think. Or I don’t. The movement and the swell of the water takes the place of your problems, your consciousness. It’s liquid meditation.
This isn’t unique to paddleboarding of course. That’s what bicycling does, too. That’s why I put on headphones and snowboard alone. But it’s my new favorite escape.
So here’s my promise. The next time someone talks up a trend to me, I’ll be a little more forgiving. Maybe I’ll even try it, and now wait several years. Except of course fat bikes. Those are ridiculous. Get out of here with that.
With a sign this big you won't miss it if you're driving by.
Bryan pulling a demo helmet off the shelve for a coworker.
There's also this half pipe amongst all the helmets in the warehouse.
You can always find something interesting at Brad's workbench. Here's a part of a prototype rig Brad made to demonstrate how Bumper Fit 2.0 works in their line of helmets. It's an early rough prototype, but a really cool demonstrator at least.
A prototype Kali Tava aero helmet overloaded with Armourgel
A fully-equipped bike work area
Wall ride anyone?
Helmets, and more helmets.
An early helmet prototype in Brad's office
Prototype Bumper Fit layers in various shape and sizes. These never made the final cut.
With a growing line of products Brad is pretty busy nowadays, but he still rides as much as he could. Motorcycles, bikes, or in this case, a skateboard.
If you want to talk about helmets, fighter jets, motorcycles, carbon fiber and beer in one conversation, Kali Protectives’ head honcho Brad Waldron is your guy.
Coming from a successful career building some of the most well-known fighter jets currently in existence and later as director of engineering at Specialized, Brad is the type of CEO that loves to get his hands dirty. Not from the comfort of his air-conditioned office but in his R&D “lab,” deep in the back of this cavernous warehouse. There he plans and prototypes the next big thing, hidden behind rows of helmets, in front of panels of whiteboards that he absolutely cannot live without — so much so that all the walls in his office are covered with them from top to bottom.
Well, Brad knows how to party too. He commutes on a skateboard around the office. There are dirt jumps on a purposely-built dirt track out back and he even has a half-pipe in the warehouse all in the name of fun. So we made a trip down to Morgan Hill for a quick visit and chatted over burritos.
So what do you really do for work?
You know, you start the stuff you do thinking you’re going to ride all the time. It’s like I am now in the industry, I’ve got my own company and I can ride all the time. But the reality isn’t that. You steal your time away right? That’s why we built the half-pipe, dirt jumps in the back so we can ride.
The first thing you would do on your first day as a captain of a pirate ship?
First we’d kill all the lawyers … I used to live on a sailboat, I love the ocean, I love ships. But first thing I would do is just set sail, course, destination and enjoy.
If you can get a boat right now what would you get?
It’ll be something like a CT-41, a tall rig, something that can handle blue water cruiser anywhere in the world. Wouldn’t be brand new and super plastic—it’d be much sturdier.
Uphill or Downhill?
Oh damn, good question. Downhill. But l like to earn it.
Friend’s coming over, what would you cook?
Ribs. I’d slow cook them in beer for four hours, steam them for four hours before I throw them on the barbeque and lather on the barbeque sauce. It’s easy.
Describe your idea of perfect holiday.
Wake up early, do some riding whether it’s on the motorcycle or a bike. Something to get your blood pumping. I am a little bit of an adrenaline junkie. So something that kicks your day off before the family gets up. You get home, you’re juiced up from that adrenaline and you bring your wife coffee, as she wakes up.
What would you be your chosen superpower?
Unlimited muscle recovery so you can just go forever. So if you want to climb straight up for eight hours you can do without thinking about it. Wouldn’t it be nice? I don’t need strength, I don’t need flying, but to do the things that you love to do and never get tired from doing them, that’d be pretty cool.
Carne asada burritos.
What are you most proud of?
Obviously family. But when it comes to Kali, I am most proud that we never have to make a compromise. We never compromise anything about safety and nobody has ever put me in the position that I have to say I wouldn’t wear this or I wouldn’t put this on my kid’s head.
What is the transition like from building cool planes to helmets?
I was super fortunate because I was in R&D and working with military aircrafts, so I got to spend unlimited timelines and budgets. But when you move to consumer goods, it is very difficult because now there is a defined timeline and a defined amount of money you can spend. I am still accused from time to time of spending more time getting products ready than some people would like.
I would tell people when I was the director of engineering at Specialized that if I saw my own resume, I would have chucked it immediately because that transition from high-end aerospace to consumer goods is not an easy transition. You have to change your mentality. You have to think in shorter timelines.
When we were building an aircraft, I was able to build some that never saw the light of day, you did’t care what color it was. You didn’t care what the esthetics were. You just care about performance. Purely about performance.
Helmets are safety products. But in addition to that, they’re also fashion products. It’s something that if it looks stupid, people aren’t going to wear it. You have to have the balance between aesthetics, colors, graphics and everything like that.
I think it’s a very exciting time for helmets. We are really big into using softer foams. But the way the test standards are built, you have to use a hard foam to pass the test.
So engineers like me were always whining, “Oh the standards aren’t really good because they make our helmets too hard. We should change the standard, especially on the motorcycle side, the foam density is too hard.”
But what it started to do is force us to start looking at how to take care of the things that are important such as low-G impacts and smaller impacts without changing the standard. Instead of going about whining that the standards are wrong, it’s now like how do I accomplish what I want and still fit the standard. You’re starting to see a lot of people paying attention to low-G impacts.
It’s not required by the standards but we believe in it. We believe that foam densities are too hard so therefore how do we attack that problem and still pass the standard as they’re written.
Some companies start their design as an art project. So they start with a shape and then build in the engineering. We go the other way around. Giro did this great video on how they design helmets. It’s how we did it at Specialized, it’s how most people do it. It’s a good video. It starts with a designer, he started sketching out designs, started claying it, and then they brought in the engineer and said make this work.
While this is how helmets have been designed forever and it’s run by the design side, we like to start with the engineering and materials first and then see where we can fit it into the aesthetic side. You can’t do it without both. It’s got to be a marriage between performance, engineering, and the aesthetics.
Are you a morning person or a night person?
All out morning. I am dead by 10 o’clock at night but 5 o’clock in the morning—love that time. Nobody’s out, it’s that adrenaline junkie time. I get a lot more done in that time of day. How did that happen? I don’t know.
What is your favorite cocktail?
I am a beer guy at heart. But if I am going to have a cocktail, it’s going to be a Hendrix gin martini.
What about beer then?
How lucky are we living in northern California. I love a good micro beer – So many great options. City Beer is a great place, right next to SF Moto and has all the beers you want. My day-to-day beer is a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
What is the one job in the world you would love to do?
This one, without all of the administrative part of running a company. I love being a designer, an engineer, and making new products. So if you would have told me 5, 10, 20 years ago that I’ll be doing this today I would have done anything to have this job.
Had I known all the other parts of this, I might not be quite as excited but I feel very, very fortunate to be in this position.
Favorite book or movie?
Not a huge movie person. I do love the Bourne series. I love action thrillers with a twist.
A recent bike trip found me near Molas Pass in Colorado. We were biking a stunning section of the Colorado Trail and ran into Nick Hanze, a thru-hiker from Germany. He had about 60 miles to go to Durango and the end of the CT. Even though he had a Lufthansa to catch in a week, he agreed to take a few minutes and answer some questions about his trek.
How long have you been on the trail, and how many miles have you hiked?
Nick Hanze: I’ve been on the trail about 4 weeks, and I’m at about 416 or 419 miles, not really sure.
What do you look forward to eating most when you get to town?
Usually I do a bacon cheeseburger, it’s like the classic, and in the mornings I’m usually looking forward to blueberry pancakes.
Have you had Internet withdraw?
Ummmm, no. No.
What have you been eating on the trail?
On the trail I’ve been doing oatmeal in the morning, a tortilla with peanut butter or Nutella for lunch, and Mountain House for dinner.
What is your favorite flavor of Mountain House?
I like the lasagna.
How have the ladies treated you, have you met a lot of trail babes?
A few but not too many, there could be more (sad laugh)
Favorite piece of gear on the trip?
That would be my spork I would say, just because it always reminds me of eating. When I see it, it means I get some food.
Are you excited about returning to a life where you poop in a bathroom or will you miss taking care of business in the woods?
I would say both, pooping in the woods is pretty fun if you get used to it and practice a little bit.
Have you felt like you life was in danger at any point?
I think it was three days ago, I was on the continental divide when a dark cloud came up, I didn’t want to be there at that point, but the black clouds came rolling to me, so I ran off the trail at the first possible option, it wasn’t even a trail, just getting down to get away from the lightning, I’m not sure if I was in real danger, but I was definitely scared.
The Colorado Trail runs from Denver to Durango, with a total length of 486 miles, and an average elevation of 10,300 feet. Nick is headed to university when he gets back to Germany, assuming he doesn’t fall in love with a Durango mountain girl.
In just a few short days, most of the American bicycle industry will be mulling about a Las Vegas casino convention center at Interbike, drooling over products already seen at Eurobike or on the interwebs. A more entertaining lot, however, will convene at a municipal soccer complex just a few miles west of the Strip. “Soccer?” you ask. No. Not even “futbol.”
CrossVegas has been seen by many as the start of the American cyclocross calendar. Yes, some national promoters have held cyclocross races earlier, but CrossVegas is considered the first real event. What used to be a race for Interbike attendees and U.S. elite racers has exploded into an international phenomenon that attracts racers from all over the world, including the cyclocross motherland of Belgium, and even Cuba.
This year’s event is a particularly big deal because it’s the opener for the UCI Cyclocross World Cup. That’s newsworthy because there has never been a UCI Cyclocross World Cup race outside of Continental Europe.
Every National Federation that cares about cyclocross will be sending their best athletes to race. The United States received a bonus “double” and is allowed to send 32 athletes, men and women. Many spectators will look to the Belgian and Dutch teams to dominate, but the current Women’s World Champion is French. The United States has several racers who have “home turf” advantage.
So, don’t sleep on this event if you’re anywhere in town. The best cyclists in the world are going to light up the grass like Jerry Garcia could have only wished. Plus, it’s at night, under the lights, and there is beer. And Elvis.
Driving through the Dolomites is far less challenging then pedaling them, but not nearly as rewarding.
Tire pressures are checked in the early morning hours.
The Maratona corral is a packed full of nervous energy.
Bikes and views abound at the Maratona.
The winding roads of the Dolomites are attacked by 9,000 riders every year at the Maratona.
Pizza and beer are a just reward for a day spent in the saddle.
It is almost impossible to capture Italy with a camera, no matter how hard you try.
I’m on my bike for the third day in the Dolomites. I’m doing a short ride up over and back on the Passo Campolongo. And by short I mean the minute I leave the hotel parking lot I start going up and don’t stop until I reach the top, 5.8 kilometers later.
Most consider the Campolongo to be a “less-than” Dolomite climb, but today it is just the right amount of difficult, without being discouraging. It is the perfect bit of switchback goodness to inspirational vista, so as to make you fully aware of what the Dolomites have to offer without completely scaring you shitless.
The other little bit of news I have rolling around in the back of my head is I’ll be riding the Maratona tomorrow.
The Maratona is to the Dolomites what the Apple Cider Century is to Southwestern Michigan. It is a ride for which, if you are anywhere near Northern Italy in July, or you have the wherewithall to get there, you have to attend.
It is thousands of riders, 9000 actually, spending the day shoulder-to-shoulder, wheel-to-wheel and pedalstroke-to-pedalstroke riding some of the most amazing roads in all the world.
And this is just the start of my extended stay in Italy.
I’ll try to tell you about spending almost a month riding in Italy without sounding like a douchebag, but I also have to tell it like it is. There’s no downplaying it, riding in Italy is amazing. I mean, just from a bike history standpoint, being in Italy is mindboggling.
This is the coutnry that brought us Marco “el pirata” Pantani and the Pinarello, Gianni Bugno and ball bearings, Gino Bartoli and the glass mirror, Fausto Coppi and even the first casino.
Italy is a land frozen in time.
Ok, not exactly frozen in time. They have embraced technology and some modern habits, but from the saddle you get the impression a good portion of the country is as it was ages ago. A time when things were built to last, neighbors talked to each other and the roads were built without consideration for large American automobiles.
Italians drink their Caffe in Cafes. They like their water frizzante and their maps made of paper instead of computerized.
The roads either going up or they are going down. The cars are tiny, the roads well-maintained and absolutely no one honks.
The Italians believe breakfast is coffee and a pastry, lunch is some kind of weird crustless, dry jabon sandwich and dinner is an affair to be savored in multiple course over an extended period of time.
They drink aperol spritzes on the square. Somehow the pizza melts in your mouth.
No one walks around with coffee or food, fountains deliver fresh spring water on almost every square, and the locals do their damndest to understand my horrible Italian.
The cyclist shout “Ciao” as they pass by, plenty of them riding vintage steel steeds and every road seems to lead to another amazing town, village, or cluster of building held in time.
There appear to be no strip malls, 7-11 stores, or Chuck E. Cheeses, only mom and pop all-in-one stores of convenience.
The train will take you anywhere, with surprising convenience and low-ish cost.
I’ve settled into a plodding climbing cadence on the Passo Sella, having gone up and over the Pordoi and heading for the Gardena and I can’t help but think about the fact that I will have only scratched the surface of Italy on my visit.
I will ride in the Dolomites and Chianti and even in Turin, but Italy is expansive and the riding is breathtaking.
I don’t mean to be gluttonous, but I will need more.
Installation on my 2010 Colnago CX-1 was fairly straight forward, provided you RTFM’d, and props to Pioneer for producing an informative installation video. As soon as I had it installed, I was off, and I’ve been using it steadily over the past few months. So far the system has worked flawlessly, minus a few hiccups that were solved by replacing the battery.
Starting it up...
And the inside view of the drive side power meter unit. Notice the slick sensor integration into the crank itself.
The SGX-CA500 is as big as my camera card reader, but I do like its size - It's just right.
The box of the Pioneer SGX-CA500 computer
The box with the power meter unit
The SGX-CA500 computer has also been easy to use and allows you to navigate via the touchscreen or with physical buttons. You don’t necessarily have to use the Pioneer computer—the power meter will pair with any ANT+ computer—but they work nicely together and help unlock the full array of metrics the Pioneer system is capable of producing.
I particularly liked that the Pioneer computer shows left and right leg output, and pedaling efficiency, live. It’s a neat feature and it helped me realize that I need to improve on my pedaling technique. Thanks to the built-in wifi, your workouts can be automatically uploaded after a ride.
CycloSphere, like Garmin’s Garmin Connect, is Pioneer’s online cloud platform where your data gets stored. It’s a treasure trove of information, but not super easy to use. I liked that you can customize what you see in CycloSphere, and I suspect it will get better over time as the Pioneer system gets more popular. Note to Pioneer: as you make improvements, I want to be able to configure my SGX-CA500 settings while plugged into my computer for better visualization.
Currently, the system is limited to Shimano Dura Ace and Ultegra level cranks. At $1,849 for the Dura-Ace power meter and $299 for the computer, it’s not cheap. But if you’re into data, you should take a look. For those who already own a Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 and Ultegra 6800 crankset, Pioneer offers an installation service, where you can ship your existing crankarms in to be converted. This is less expensive at $999.
But I’m in Italy riding your bike, so complaining seems like a bad idea.
The water bottles are full, tires have been inflated, route map has been downloaded to the Garmin, caffe spot has been chosen and pockets are packed full of handmade treats.
And today I’m sporting the new Rapha Pro Team Climber’s Jersey. The first thing I notice is, even though I’ve stuffed my pockets with preparedness, there is very little sag from the packed pockets.
The second thing I notice is nothing. There is nothing to notice. The Rapha jersey is exactly what is says it is, a crazy lightweight jersey for hot and humid days in the saddle. Mesh panels here and mesh panels there allow this jersey to breath like few others.
Even though it is hot enough to bake a margherita pizza on the pavement the jersey goes basically unnoticed. Which on a day like today is exactly what I want.
Hans ‘No Way’ Rey is a legend. Mountain bike hall of famer, multiple world and national trials champion, freeride pioneer, the guy in that “Monkey See Monkey Do” video — on VHS, of course.
Those were the days where the GT LTS/RTS carbon were the hottest full suspension bikes on the block, The days of 56K modems, AOL 1,000 hour CDs in a tin can, Magura hydraulic rim brakes, print magazines …
Fast forward to 2015. The evergreen Hans is as strong as ever and still goes on epic bike trips across the globe riding in partnership with GT Bicycle. In fact, Hans is the longest GT-sponsored athlete for a whopping 28 years and running ever since the early days of mountain biking.
With that in mind, we sat down with Hans for a quick fireside (okay, a hotel lobby) chat in Park City, Utah.
So how did you get into mountain biking?
I started as a trials rider in Europe when it was just really trendy, kid’s sport really. I was about to retire from that and go to a university when an American trials rider came to Europe. Trials was a European sport then but he started telling us about this new sport in America called mountain biking and how there are always these stage races where a rider has to do downhill, cross country, and trials on the same bike. He said I should come over and show Americans what real trials are and I figured that’d be a great ending to my career.
I was 19-20 years old so I thought why don’t I take a semester off from the university and check it out.
I went over and the guy’s name is Kevin Norton and he had a real big interest in promoting trials and making it bigger. He introduced me not only to the mountain bike world but also into the whole BMX world because at that point trials was kind of living in both worlds. It went so well that I got a contract with GT and then I got hooked up at Swatch. They wanted me to tour America with skateboarder Rodney Mullen together to do shows and stuff so I thought maybe if I stay little bit longer I can take another semester off and it’ll be a great way to learn the language and see the country a bit. One year became two, three and next year will be number 30.
How has mountain biking changed over the years, from your point of view?
If you look at the bikes from back then, you wonder how could you ride down these trails. Some of the trails you ride today are more or less the same trails you rode back then and it makes you sometimes wonder how you pulled it off.
I wasn’t one of the first guys but I was definitely there when the boom started. My roots go deep into all different sub-cultures of sport because I would eventually start racing some downhill, slalom … I even got third place at the Slalom World Championship one year.
I then started doing adventures on a mountain bike that really brought me the respect from the people that everyone who has a mountain bike knew how hard it was to bunny hop up and down a curb and this guy rides over cars and whatever.
The last 15-20 years were really based on changes and technology of the bike. I think the next 10-15 years will be about how we ride the bikes, purposed-built trails for example and all that stuff.
Was it more fun?
Usually when you look back at things you always be like the good old days were always better. You can look at that side too, but I don’t think the fun has stopped.
I’ve always said my philosophy is “I am going to do this as long as I have fun.” That hasn’t really stopped and that’s probably why I am still doing it. I embrace all the new trends, technologies and changes and have fun with it.
I still try to spread my roots. My roots are really deep now after being there for so long and I have a really solid foundation. And I still am interested in all the subcultures. My weekly riding habit involves several forms of riding. I do a lot of all-mountain stuff in connection with my adventure trips, regular mountain bike ride, but I ride trials once a week still. Sometimes I do shuttle runs, downhill runs and I even train on the road bike every once in a while to get some miles in. I even enjoy riding e-bikes sometimes.
Up hill or downhill?
Describe your idea of a perfect holiday.
For me it might be not to touch my bike. But no, I can only do that for a couple of days. My wife always says I get antsy if I am dis-attached from my bike for too long. But sometimes it’s nice to just go somewhere to relax, do nothing, to enjoy nature, and some spend time with my wife.
Any Particular place?
I like to go to new places. I like to go to special remote places, like I went to this really cool island with my wife a few years ago to Fiji. It was just a really nice vacation. Really special place with one-on-one time.
I get to do a lot of the cool biking stuff as my job. Luckily I have a dream job and I appreciate that. My office is some of the coolest biking trails and locations around the world so I don’t necessarily have to do that on my holiday.
If you had to choose a car that represents your personality, what would it be?
I am a fan of Audi, or a Land Rover kind of guy.
How much would you charge to wash all the windows in your town?
Probably a 7-figure amount.
How many golf balls can you fit in a schoolbus?
Tell us your most embarrassing riding story.
In my downhill racing days which I was never really the guy to necessarily take home the world championships, I did start the world championship three times. I didn’t take it so serious, I was more just doing it without much preparation in those days. You have a water bottle with you and I was even drinking during my runs and stuff. But in one particular one at the Worlds in Italy in ’91, in the qualifying run I started out the gate and forgot to put my goggles on. It was really foggy and muddy … and I had to stop to put my goggles on and then continue riding. Hence the fact that I didn’t qualify in that one.
What are your guilty pleasures?
I like my cocktails and drinks.
Any advice for riders out there?
Well, if you want to make a living and be a professional, you’ve got to be professional. You have to treat it like a job. At the same time you don’t want to treat it too serious. You’ve got to have fun with it. At the end of the day, you have to make it happen for yourself.
We are a relatively small sport. It’s not like there are talent scouts out there looking for you. A lot of the guys who start becoming sponsored at one level or another often don’t understand the big picture — that it’s a business and these sponsors don’t just do it because they like you. There needs to be something in return. That “thing” in return can be in many different ways: It can be with a good
result, it can be with media exposure, it can be being a spokesperson or a communicator for the brand.
It could be in many forms, but you have to deliver that and you have to document it and show it to them. The bottom line is, have fun with it. As long you have fun, you’ve already won a lot.
If you could pick a super power, what would it be?