Mayhem and confidence: leelikesbikes interview

I did this email interview for Chris O’Brien writing for Might as well post it here.

What would you say you do for a living?

Oh man, that’s a tough question. I do a lot of different things. On the bike side I teach skills clinics, train riders/coaches in the national high school mtb league, write/sell books, run, write marketing copy for bike companies, design/build pump tracks/bike parks and do whatever else I can get my mitts into.

On the non-bike side, I have three major, long-term clients that keep me out of trouble: I built and maintain all communications and technology for a family of shipping sites. I do all marketing, copyrighting, design and user interface development for a major commercial mortgage application. I’m also building the new websites and technological platform for the national high school mountain bike league. And I do whatever else I can get my mitts into.

This is all very hard to explain to regular people. I usually say I figure things out and get sh– done.

How long have you been pro (as in making a living in biking, not racing)?

Doggonnit, I never did get my pro racing card. I could have gotten the auto upgrade when USA Cycling axed the semipro class, but that would have been lame.

I quite my “day job” — it’s in quotes because when you were the last remaining information architect/interface designer at, you worked day and night — in 2002. That’s when I decided to write the definitive mountain bike how-to book, and that got all this rolling.

Bike you ride the most?

Oh man, that depends on the season and my current lifestyle. When I was writing MMBSi, I spent a month in Whistler on my DH bike!

This summer it’s been my 2010 Stumpjumper. I ride it around my neighborhood, for most of my clinics and for most of my trail rides.

No. 2 would be my S-Works Tricross. I use it for errands and road/dirt road training. As busy as I am, more and more of my riding is on the road.

During the winter, it’s the trainer in my garage. Agony in the winter, ecstasy in the summer.

Bike you wish you rode the most and why?

Awesome follow-up question!

I wish I could ride my 2011 carbon Enduro every day. Not just ride it, but wring it out. That would mean I have the time to ride gnarly/technical trails on a daily basis.

What is the number one mistake most riders are making and what can they do to correct it?

They are too far forward or back.

Find your pedals. Heavy feet. Light hands!

You are big on tires; why do you think they are so important?

Tires are the ultimate connection between you and the ground. They determine how fast you roll, how much traction you get, how much shock gets transmitted to your bike and how often you experience fatal failures.

In the end, I think we all need a set of tires that: 1) Rolls fast enough. 2) Gets enough traction. 3) Doesn’t fail. 4) We trust.

No. 4 is the most important.

In fishing there’s this concept of a “confidence lure.” It’s the lure you trust. It’s the first lure you turn to, and, even when the conditions are bad, it’s the lure you’ll keep casting. You’re not worrying, “Should I switch to the green topwater bait?” You’re just hammering your trusty chrome spoon. Because you keep casting and you’re not second-guessing yourself, you catch more fish. (I can go anywhere in the world and catch fish with a chrome spoon.)

The same notion applies to tires. When you get to a new trail, or things get hectic, you don’t want to worry about changing your tire tread, compound or pressure. You need to stay centered and do your thing. That’s one reason I’ve been running Specialized Eskars on my P.3, Stumpy and Enduro for the fast couple years. They roll fast enough. They get enough traction. They rarely fail. I trust them.

We have four distinct seasons here (if you haven’t been to the Mid Atlantic) and a huge variety of conditions due to crazy weather. The winter riding can either be rock hard and fast or foot deep mud with slippery roots. Summer can be three things: like So. California, nice and loamy after summer drizzle or wet from summer storms. Knowing this basic information, how many different tire setups should one have in their arsenal?

See above. I think most riders should pick a tire that works most of the time, then learn how to ride it. I learned this from the man himself: Steve Peat!

That said, when I lived in Norcal, I had two basic tire setups. WTB Mutano raptors during the summer, WTB Moto Raptors during the winter.

What do you think about ten speed? 29ers?

Bikes are rad. If a particular setup helps you enjoy your riding, rock it.

Every time Shimano has introduced another cog, we all worried that it wouldn’t be reliable, but Shimano stuff works (they make excellent fishing reels too). Pretty soon we’ll be questioning 12-speed cassettes.

29ers are smoother than 26ers. The math proves it. My experience proves it. Bigger wheels don’t pump as effectively as small wheels, but most riders don’t know the difference. Bottom line: If a 29er is your confidence lure, cast it!

With your hectic schedule and two kids (correct me if I am wrong), do you ever have time to get rides in for yourself? How do you do it?

Brute force man, brute force.

We actually have two 11-month old girls, plus an 18-year-old boy and a 21-year-old girl. The older kids are more independent, but they create the same amount of mayhem. I think the net mayhem is the same at all ages; the mayhem just changes as they get older. Example: 21-year-old Kate can feed herself, but her college has to be paid for. Mayhem!

1) I fit in rides however I can. I take books to the post office. I try to ride before or after my clinics. I ride the hills around my house. If you give me a bike and a place to ride it, I can have a great time.

2) I take what I can get. For a few years there I was super picky and would get bitchy when my rides weren’t perfect. That was silly. These days, I’ll rock it however I can. If I only have 15 minutes, and it’s dark, I’ll hammer around the neighborhood with lights. Heck, I’ve been known to do timed figure eights in my driveway.

Talk a little bit about your involvement with high school racing. I think this is amazing.

The National Interscholastic Cycling Association is really starting to take hold, with leagues in NorCal, SoCal, Colorado and hopefully soon in Texas and Washington. Yeah man, high school kids are racing mountain bikes!

I have two roles in this organization:

1) I’m helping to build the leagues’ new sites and technological platforms. This fall riders will be able to register for races online, and the leagues will have their own CMS-driven sites. It will be super pro (or at least as pro as we can make it with our budget).

2) I’m also the NICA skills development director. This is more fun. I am developing the curriculum to teach riders and coaches to ride better — and I’m developing the process to teach coaches how to teach riders to ride better. (Wow, that’s a mouthful). I’ve been holding clinics here in Colorado, and I’m working on the handbook that will be used by all NICA coaches. In October I’m going to NorCal to introduce the new program and train the NorCal coaches.

When I first started coaching, this was my goal: to create a standardized program that would be used everywhere. It’s taken some years and some false starts, but it’s happening!

It makes me so proud to help these kids get into something positive. All the kids I’ve worked with are great people, and some have accomplished big things in mountain biking. Joey Schusler is a World Cup racer. Evan Powell is currently at DH Worlds.

No matter who you are or how you ride, mountain bikes are a great way to keep you focused, stoked and on the right track.

Why do you think we are all so crazy about riding our bikes?

Bike riding is everything: healthy, fun, exciting, peaceful, scary, rad.

I like bikes.

Know more. Have more fun!

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