The past four years I have bled Niner… literally, and it has been one hell of a ride representing Niner Bikes for much of my racing career. I cannot begin to emphasize my gratitude towards this company. It truly has been a life changing experience that will remain with me forever. I can tell you for certain that no matter how many bikes I ride, or how many times I move, there will always be at least one Niner in my garage. (Any guesses on the model?) Although the demise of the Niner Factory Team was a huge disappointment, I accepted it as the end of a chapter, an era if you will. The people I’ve met, the places I’ve traveled (far and near), and the stories inscribed will always remain. Today marks the beginning of a new chapter in my racing career; this is my hobby, my passion, and the one thing in life that allows me to escape reality. I figured an explanation for switching teams was in order and since I cannot seem to maintain a blog, well, here it goes.
Dejay Birch is the individual responsible for starting the Niner Team in 2008 and inviting me to join. It all began with a conversation, some beers, and huge aspirations to travel the world and race our mountain bikes. At this point, Niner was a small brand with little (but significant) recognition in the marketplace. We raced our hearts out on aluminum hard tails and tried our best to rep Niner – on and off the bike! As the company grew, so did the team. It was too good to be true at the time; testing prototype Air9 Carbons and having influence on their design prior to production. Carla Hukee was instrumental in the development of the Niner – Ergon Team and bringing new sponsors to the table. We had an awesome program that was successful in so many ways!
Aside from racing heavily throughout the US, Niner sponsored two huge trips during my time racing for them that I will never forget. The first one was a 24 hour race in Italy where we spent the week on the coast with Chris Sugai (The owner of Niner). We raced as a 6 man singlespeed team and won the overall. This was in the summer of 2009, shortly after I had joined Niner’s Team. Luckily, Lauren (my girlfriend at the time) was able to join me on this trip since we had both just graduated from Northern Arizona University and were planning on moving to Colorado. It was the perfect opportunity to pack up our crap and move out of Flagstaff (into my Dad’s basement) – cross the pond and literally have a trip of a lifetime. We traveled from Nice to Finale Liguria then on to the Piedmont Region for some incredible wine tasting. From there we went up into the Alps to Sauze d’Oulx, then Venice, Lake Como, Bellagio, and finally Milan! The second trip was in August of 2011, I went to Ireland for the Singlespeed World Championships where I proposed to Lauren at the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher! (see post below for more details)
These experiences are just one reason that I race bikes. I love to travel with my bike and experience new places and cultures. There is something special about exploring a new town or trail network by bike. Working with a company like Niner, who was generous enough to support my hobby all these years was an honor. I have been loyal to the brand since day one and throughout the years when other teams or brands approached me, I would respectfully decline and explain my utmost loyalty to Niner. I had no reason to look for another team or a better deal, it was that simple. It wasn’t until December, 5th 2013 when I received a phone call from the Niner Team Manager. It was brief but heartfelt. Carla explained that Niner appreciated my representation for all these years and that the company considers me part of the family, but… the company was going a different direction with the team. I was blindsided, frustrated, but most of all, disappointed. I really couldn’t imagine myself riding a different brand or “jumping ship”.
So here’s where it gets interesting!
Earlier in the season while drinking a beer after one of the Winter Park Series races, Kalan (Orbea Tuff Shed Pro Racer) was hanging out in the Feedback Sports tent and chatting it up – typical post-race banter. He asked me what my deal was with Niner and if I had any plans for the upcoming 2013 mountain bike season. He said the Orbea Tuff Shed was looking to grow and they wanted me to join. Without thinking twice I replied, “Staying with Niner, assuming they continue with the program”. Kalan seemed to respect my decision and there wasn’t much else said on the topic. I thanked him for the offer and thought it was super cool that he thought of me.
The irony of the whole deal is fascinating to me. Literally, within 20 minutes of the phone call from Carla, I noticed this post on Kalan’s facebook http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/orbea-tuff-shed-mountain-bike-team-grows The official announcement of the team and what I thought was a missed opportunity.
I let the reality of the situation sink in and I completely understand Niner’s decision. I certainly didn’t feel entitled to my sponsorship and I have always tried to keep that insight. It is easy to let reality slip away when a company is paying you money to race their bikes and giving you multiple free bikes every year, not to mention all of the cool components that constantly show up on my doorstep from companies like Ergon, Thomson, Genuine Innovations, Kali Protectives, Honey Stinger, Feedback Sports, and so many others. How long can something that awesome last? I never felt worthy but instead I felt fortunate to be in such a position. It always felt too good to be true.
After a few weeks went by and I weighed out my options, I decided to reach out to the Feedback Sports sponsored, Orbea Tuff Shed Team Owner, Laura Kindregan. I explained my situation and my understanding that I missed the boat so to speak. Without delay, she excitedly replied, “Ahh the timing stinks, but we will try to make it work.” I knew it would be a good fit, representing a local Colorado based team of great people. The fact that Feedback was already a team sponsor was a definite plus. I asked for her consideration over the holidays and explained that she didn’t need to make a decision right away.
The rest is history…
I am on board with Orbea Tuff Shed for 2013 and could not be more excited! I welcome change and am looking forward to growing with this team. My focus hasn’t changed and it remains to have as much fun as possible, after all, this is my hobby. I plan to diversify my racing by jumping on the enduro scene this year. The reason enduro racing is appealing to me is because it is a test of bike handling moreover fitness. “The dopers will not prevail in enduro racing” If you care to learn more about this sector of cycling check out this link: http://www.bigmountainenduro.com/big-mountain-enduro-races.html
For the record: I have never liked/supported Lance, or any doper for that matter. It is unfortunate that performance enhancing drugs are so prevalent in our sport and most professional sports for that matter. No one has ever accused me, but I feel that it’s appropriate to put this in writing. I solemnly swear that I have never taken any performance enhancing drugs, ever. There is absolutely nothing worth putting my body, friends, family, sponsors, and sport through such a devastating ordeal. I seriously have zero respect for anyone who doped or dopes. Keep cycling clean. Keep cycling fun. That’s all.
Thanks for reading and I hope to see you out on the trails!