To a greater extent than even mainstream athletes, when professional mountain bike racers retire, there isn’t a clear trajectory about what they should do next. One of New Zealand’s best mountain bike racers, Cameron Cole retired from professional downhill racing at the end of 2014 and went straight to university where he undertook a Commerce degree in marketing and international business. It looked like his days of earning a living from mountain biking might be over. But after graduating and considering a few corporate type roles, he’s now working for Santa Cruz distributors Hyperformance Hardware and is co-owner in professional track building company Trailpro. Cam Cole is now creating for himself a bike-centric future after competitive mountain biking and is still a significant force in the sport, albeit in another capacity.
To get a handle on the metaphorical singletrack that’s led to where Cole is now, and to see what connections exist between Cam Cole the racer and Cam Cole the track builder, I spoke to him on some singletrack out both of our back doors in Brooklyn, Wellington, and over a coffee afterwards. Over our ride/chat/coffee some themes emerge and it becomes clear just a couple of key personality traits have led Cole to where he is now. ‘Controlling the variables’ is one and being thoughtful is another. When I mention that, Cole replies “I guess you could say I’m a control freak”. Being a control freak isn’t usually thought of as an overly good thing, and to be clear, there is a little creative-license from me in handing Cole this title, but Cole readily accepts it and explains it’s been the key to his successes as a professional mountain bike racer, in his university studies, and now as partner in professional trail building business Trailpro, with business partner Byron Scott —“he’s a control freak too” says Cole. Part of that success though is due to another trait he employs in all the things he’s passionate about: being thoughtful. Cole is a thoughtful bike racer, he was a thoughtful student and he’s now a thoughtful businessman. What Cole means by thoughtful is that he always carefully considers what’s he’s trying to achieve.
Cam Cole, whose nickname on the professional race circuit was Horse, is best known for his years as a professional mountain bike racer. Cole first arrived in the big league after winning the 2006 Downhill World Champs in the Juniors. After that, Cole spent the next seven years as a professional downhiller, with multiple World Cup podiums, including a second at Fort William in 2010 (behind Gee Atherton but in front of Greg Minaar and Aaron Gwinn).
I asked him about the highlights of his career: “being a World Champion is a highlight of my career – it’s the highest level you can win at. But also achieving six men’s World Cup podiums is cool because it signifies a rider’s consistency and learning progression across races and over years.”
Trailpro, like racing but different
Be skilled, ask the right questions, take criticism and be thoughtful, that’s some of the key elements to building good trail as Cole sees it. He also believes there’s a shared aim for all mountain bikers. “Something I believe strongly is that all mountain bikers are really looking for the same thing – they’re looking for that feeling of flow. I mean ‘flow’ the psychological state when your abilities are matched with the challenge in front of you.”
If that sounds a little abstract, it isn’t because Cole knows how this translates directly into building tracks: “for example, grade reversals, where a track goes up and down, that’s not just for water run-off, that is a key part of what makes a trail fun to ride, it produces a feeling that all mountain bikers are seeking. So, with a beginner track, you still want to create that sense for the rider that they are on a roller coaster, the track shouldn’t be flat, but the distance between the high points, versus the low point in the middle, should be longer than tracks designed for more skilled riders. As riders progress and begin to understand how the bike can move beneath them and how to control that, they can progress to more advanced tracks. With more advanced tracks, the builder should bring those two high points closer together, so that sense of being on a roller coaster is maintained for the rider’s increased skill level”.
To learn more about Cole’s approach to track building and his future plans, including racing, check out the October/November 2018 issue of New Zealand Mountain Biker mag, for the full story.
Words & Images: Carl Patton & Cameron Mackenzie
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