Canadian Stacy Kohut, a leading light of the gravity MTB scene, talks exclusively to Rough Riderz about his life and his passion for the sport. After a fall in 1992 left him paralysed he then went on to become the first Canadian to win a Gold Medal and World Championship title, racing in a sit-ski.
Now, with his team mate Johnny Therien, they spend their summers competing on the North American and Canadian downhill MTB circuits. So, here in his own words, the remarkable Stacy Kohut gives us a glimpse into his world…
■ Where and why did gravity bike racing start?
“The original incarnation of the sport goes all the way back to the late 1980’s, early ‘90’s. The Cobra, a gravity four wheeler, which was designed by the infamous John Castellano, was the first gravity machine that I ever saw… that was the beginning of what we now call gravity biking. This ride was piloted by the equally infamous John Davis, and the Cobra/Davis combination was the benchmark for the sport for many years.”
“Davis was a staunch supporter and promoter of complete integration with the 2 wheeled DH MTB race scene. Castellano and Davis were able to lay the roots for the future, and they knew it. They had started a sport that was going to be a sport for everyone to participate in, sit down users and full able-bodied alike. Davis has commented more than once, that this sport will evolve into something very unique. When you talk about the birth of the fully integrated sport of gravity biking, it starts and ends with John Davis and John Castellano.”
“By the end of 1999, I had secured myself an amazing ride in the form of the DH-1, built and designed by Bill Grove. Bill and I became friends during this year; he was constantly amazed at what I was doing with his ride. I would e-mail him action shots, and he commented many times that the ride needed to be updated to reflect the new riding style I was developing.”
■ How did you and Johnny get involved in it and what got you both hooked?
“I first met Johnny Therien at the Joyride DH Festival in 2000 where there was quite a few gravity bike racers at the event. We were both fully hooked on the sport individually when we met. We raced that year, and then saw each other again the next summer in 2001, where we rode together, learned from each other, and just got to know each other. Bill Grove had quit by then, I had talked to him about the ride, and I know Johnny had also talked to Bill about the future of the sport.”
“I moved to Whistler in 2002, and when I went up to Johnny’s shop he had his first DH-1 mainframe sitting in front of him. He knew changes needed to be made to keep up to what both of us were doing, and just built one with the ultimate ok from Bill Grove himself. He then asked me if I wanted to ride his first bike, test it, and give him feedback… damn, I was blown away and so stoked, and in all reality this was the start of Johnny Therien and I becoming partners in the scene and creating R-One.”
“It didn’t take long for Johnny and I to begin the process of updating the ride, and as R-One, we were now the owners of the design and had free reign to test here in Whistler Bike Park. We made vast improvements and crucial modifications to take the durability and performance of our bikes to our level of riding. Johnny’s ability to ride and build at a high level has definitely been a key part of the whole equation too. We both got hooked because simply, gravity biking is the most progressive and integrated sport out there.”
■ How established is the sport and what events include a four wheeled class?
“The straight up answer is that there probably is not a single race, organisation, group or series that would say ‘no’ to a gravity biker entering a race or event, provided they have the skill set appropriate for the race or event. The sport is accepted, the riders all welcome. Integration is the key, seamless integration is the goal.”
■ How many riders usually compete?
“I have seen 10 riders or more at certain events, both male and female, and on the other end of the scale, there have been many times when I was the only one racing at the event, fully integrated into the male pro class. Both situations are healthy and needed for the sport to grow. Also remember this, some owners of gravity bikes have no desire to race; they just ride and have fun with it, that’s cool too. I fully respect that.”
■ Where and how much time do you spend riding / training for your season?
“I take time off during the winter months, but other than that its full-on, 4 to 7 days a week, with all different degrees of intensity. I usually try to peak at the big events. The norm is 4 days a week, 12 runs a day, very focused riding or race prep. Mental training plays a big part also and many hours a week are spent in this area. Hey, and don’t forget bike maintenance mixed into the week.”
“You can spend over 40 hours a week on the sport real fast. It’s my job. Like I said, it ramps up in days and intensity before an event, and I do have some rest periods during the 6 month season also, it is needed. It is quite intense, and I have great background in sport to draw from, and so I use that background to make sure each season is progressive. I am trying to set the benchmark as high as possible, and keep that benchmark evolving and changing. I ride for fun, but I race to win!”
“It takes a lot of sacrifice to ride and race at the level I do. Johnny has been great in supporting my fanatical approach to riding. He has really met the benchmark level with the R-One Fourcross’ performance and durability. The bike I am currently riding has had the same mainframe going on its 4th year, it already has over 3.6 million vertical feet ridden on it, and still its fresh and ready to go.”
■ How long have you been competing?
“I have been racing since 1999. I love everything about it, the bikes, the people, the scene, the full integration, the support from the mainstream media, everything man, everything! I stopped all other sports for this, but its so worth it. Why bother with the rest when you have found the best! Gravity biking is bad ass. Johnny has been at it, racing and riding since way back in 1997.”
■ What is your most memorable race or moment to date?
“The first race that really blew my mind was the 2000 NORBA Finals in Mammoth Mountain California. It was the season finale for my first full season, and I was battling John Davis for the overall series title. The course was amazingly technical and very demanding. Small mistakes were not just going to cost us seconds on the clock, they could ruin our rides and/or bodies even more.”
“There were many sections that John Davis and I could barely get through at a very slow pace during course inspection, let alone rip the section at race speed. After that initial course inspection, that was it, we did not ride together or do training runs together for the next 3 days. Each one of us working on dialling in the course as best we could, and certainly not wanting to show each other our techniques and moves through some sections. Come race day it was insane, the lines we were ripping, the chances we were taking, the spectators’ and official’s jaws we were dropping. Shit was going down!”
“In the end Davis took the series overall after I flipped my bike on the final turn coming into the finish line bowl area. After it was over, in the pits Davis and I talked about how gnarly the race was. We laughed and were amazed at the fact we had just done something that 4 days earlier seemed impossible. The sections we had dialled from the start were attacked with amazing speed and risk, we both admitted to each other that we had pushed ourselves and our rides further and faster than we had gone before. This race had solidified my belief that this was one of the most demanding and dynamic gravity sports out there. I never looked at what I did, or what the others did in the sport in the same way again. It all seemed that much more valid and real after that week in Mammoth.”
“The second race that was memorable was the 2005 B.C. CUP race in Mission, British Columbia. Johnny and I were the only racers there, and we got ourselves into something we couldn’t back out of, it was just not an option. We had shot our mouths off for months on how we were going to race this course, no problem. This race would be on a very flat course that was littered with uphill sections and demanded that you used your mind to problem solve other parts that were completely nuts!”
“This course was beyond just a downhill; it was on the verge of being a lung bursting, arm pumping, endurance race for Fourcross riders. At race speed it was off the hook, controlling your breathing and your timing with certain power moves was crucial to getting through sections, let alone finishing the race. Ripping some sections at speed meant that by all accounts, we were risking our lives. By mid race I was tasting blood coming from my lungs, by ¾ of the way down, I was hyperventilating and seeing black spots in certain sections.”
“As I got to the finish I could not feel my arms, I could not really see all that well. I was spitting up blood from my lungs and, as I crossed the line, I could not talk or focus on anything other than getting some sort of rhythm back to my breathing. It was brutal. This race was simply something I will never forget. It was one of the most intense things I have ever done!”
■ What do you feel are your biggest achievements in the sport so far?
“You know, one of my biggest achievements I believe has been my ability to encourage newcomers and those with less high performance goals to feel welcome in the sport. This sport is not just about racing and being competitive; there is a whole other side that is about riding and expressing yourself on the trails and jumps. That and being able to portray this sport in the mainstream media as a sport for everyone, integrated with the mainstream events and bike parks.”
■ How would you like to see the sport develop further in the future?
“I believe that the sport’s future lies in integrated clubs, such as yours, as well as integrated rentals and lessons at the bike parks that are now everywhere on the planet. Of course, I also believe that if someone wants nothing to do with clubs or races, they should be able to just buy a bike and go rip down the trails with their friends.”
“Freedom really. This sport’s future does not lie in being tagged an ‘adaptive sport’, the sport’s future is bigger than that. The athletes involved are more worldly than that, its all about fitting into existing programs and not segregating the sport. The riders of gravity bikes will develop the future, not men and women in suits, sitting in offices, telling us ‘how its is’. Lets not make the mistake many sports have made before… keep the wankers out!”
■ What would you say to encourage more newcomers to try the sport?
“First of all, get somewhat fit. This sport, any sport, is easier to enjoy and participate in with a good general level of fitness. Realize that in a lot of ways, this is a lifestyle, not a sport. You don’t just try gravity biking, you live it.”
■ What tips, tricks and advice can you give our new riders to help them improve their skills and ability?
“Again, get fit to start with, and take some lessons. Two wheeled instructors will have the basics of upper body positioning already dialled, the upper body is the same, setting up for corners is the same, braking is the same, that’s enough to work on for a while.”
“Also, as you move through your progression, try to be as independent as possible, it makes for a strong body, mind, and spirit; which is very helpful in the sport. And again, speaking of progression, have a plan for the season, ease into it, get some miles in before you start going crazy. Ease into new situations, keep moving forward, but use the ‘ol noodle to help you stay healthy and riding.”
■ How different is it to riding two wheels downhill?
“Not much really, it truly is an insane combination of MTB, BMX, MX, truck racing and supercross. A lot of similar actions and body positions for all the sports, gravity biking just has some from each… pretty cool if you think about it really. The main thing for beginners is that with riding a gravity bike, you can not fall over, and that can be a very comforting thing for a lot of potential riders these days. Four wheels has much appeal to many people.”
■ What are your main goals for the future of the scene now?
“Keep riding, keep racing… keep progressing as people and riders. I want people to know that if we go down a slope where the focus of the sport is the machine and not the athletes, we could be entering a situation where the riders get marginalized and de-valued. It’s the riders that make the sport what it is, the bike technology will always play a part, but it’s the riders that are the real attraction. The riders will ultimately sell the sport with their passion and performances.”
■ What other changes and/or improvements would you like to see?
“There are so many potential riders out there right now sitting on the fence whether to buy a bike or not. I say ‘do it’, you will not regret it! You just need to follow your gut. So that’s really the only improvement gravity biking needs right now, more riders and some more racers. Other than that, there is no need to re-invent the wheel. Gravity biking is moving ahead at a nice organic pace, nothing is being forced or faked. I like that.”
“I want to finish with a big thanks to all my friends, sponsors, fans, family, R-ONE and you Phil. Can’t wait to ride with you dude!”
So, that’s all folks! We just want to give a big shout out to our ‘Fourcross friends’ in Whistler. A massive thank you to Mr Kohut and Mr Therien, aka R-ONE, for this great interview too!