Monday, October 20, 2014
Finding the Flow at Home and Abroad:
by Mark Condon
Interview with Maine's own, Adam Craig
One of the most prolific mountain bike racers in U.S. history is one of New England's own. An Olympian, World Cup racer, and winner of 18 national championships, Adam Craig, 33, started his racing and cycling apprenticeship on the rocks and roots in Maine.
A native of the small New England town of Exeter, Maine, who now hails in Bend, Oregon, Craig attributes much of his World Cup racing success to the skills he learned riding on the trails in the Maine woods. SingleTracks caught up with Craig, a member of the Giant Factory Off-Road Team, to discuss his New England roots, racing career, and the next chapter of his career-international Enduro races and epic riding intertwined with mountain bike advocacy.
How did you start mountain biking?
I started like any other kid riding in the woods around his home. Exeter, Maine had enough snowmobile and ATV trails to get me out and about in the early years. Once I discovered the trails around Bangor: Essex Street Hill and The Bog, it was on!
What did you like about it?
It was fun! Exploring, figuring out new ways to get around, no matter how short and silly, and the challenge of actually riding the routes we'd find.
Do you remember your first mountain bike?
My first proper MTB was a 24" wheeled Giant Awesome courtesy of Pat's Bike Shop in 1992. I ended up with this bike after a knee injury acquired riding my motocross bike, which my Mom subsequently sold to fund the MTB. At the time I was bummed, but turns out she's pretty smart…
How'd you get into mountain bike racing?
The crew at Pat's Bike Shop was well into racing; anyone who frequented the shop couldn't help but pick up their enthusiasm. There was a local "downhill" race at Hermon Mountain they told me about. I checked it out. 7th place, Junior Beginner, 1993.
You are one of the most decorated American riders—an 18 time National champion—do you have a favorite racing moment?
There've been a lot of great moments, the bulk of them happening at Mount Snow, Vermont, but the real standout was placing 5th at the World Cup finals in Livigno, Italy in 2004. Riding like I could do no wrong and charging through the field to secure our first American podium in years and years was a great feeling. And made missing out on the Olympics that year sting a bit less.
How did learning to ride and race in New England influence your career?
The riding in New England forces each and every person who perseveres on these trails to be a pretty dang good rider. There's no other option. Steep, rocky, rooty trails mean if you want to ride at all, you've got to figure it out. I'll always cherish finding flow at home.
You've raced many disciplines—mountain biking, cyclocross, singlespeed, Super D, marathon. How did you end up racing so many?
I've never really considered myself anything but a bike rider. All of these niche events involve riding a bike, so I'd eventually end up trying them out, even if by accident, and, since they all involve riding a bike, I'd end up having a good time, and maybe doing well. It's great to get done with a summer of Enduro racing, traveling to exotic lands, cheating death at every switchback and look forward to a mellow romp around a city park on a 'cross bike.
After 10 years on the World Cup racing mountain bikes, you are transitioning to Enduro racing. Why the switch?
Ultimately, because I can. And why wouldn't I? All due respect to the last decade of racing the World Cup, the allure of mountain biking is going to new places and riding new trails. Once I'd been to all the same places for years at a time, the allure started to wear off a bit. Fortunately, the next big thing was there to keep it fresh. Enduro is the essence of exploring on a bike.
What's the attraction of enduro racing?
The attraction of Enduro is two-fold. One, you get to ride a large sampling of the best trails in any given location, rather than simply a Downhill or Cross Country course over and over again. Second, while riding these tracks, you get to really focus on the best part, figuring out the fastest, smoothest, smartest way to cover each descent. This has bred a whole new skill set, developed already to an impressively high level, of reading trail on the fly and riding it absolutely beautifully.
On your web site, you talk about working with sponsors, media, and "John Q. Mountain Biker" to evolve the sport. What will that entail?
I have a lot of ideas for continuing to improve our already fantastic sport for folks on a lot of different levels. Trail access and infrastructure is a big one, trying to keep some local, rootsy flavor in an otherwise IMBA-spec world. Another is helping pass on the knowledge I'm continually developing of the nuances of bike riding that will hopefully put more smiles on more folks' faces. However, the reality is that while I'm racing full time, there isn't going to be much time for any of this, and there are already a whole load of folks doing a great job on these fronts, so I'll just have to wait until the time is right to start giving back properly to this fine activity.
You've now ridden all over the world, all kinds of places, all kinds of terrain. How does mountain biking in New England compare?
New England will always be tops for me. Not because it's perfect, but because it isn't. Everyone needs to appreciate trails that make you think, work, struggle. It makes us all better riders and people.
You can find more about Adam Craig on Facebook and on his blog at adamcraig.net. And check out www.vimeo.com/92711830 for a video taken by fellow Maine native Sebastian Boyington following Craig down an Enduro race course in Chile. This article appeared in the September 2014 issue of SingleTracks Magazine, #135