Confessions of a Mountain Bike Zealot

I don’t know why but last night I was thinking back over the past several years and I realized just how much mountain biking has shaped my life. When I got my first mountain bike I was living in Santa Barbara, CA and was in a bad spot. I was relatively new in town, didn’t have too many friends that weren’t associated with my psycho ex-girlfriend and I remember dreading the weekends because I simply did not know what I was going to do with myself.

I do know one thing for certain… mountain biking is more than a hobby or a past time for me…it is a way of life and an obsession.

I bought that first mountain bike because I wanted something to ride to work on. I was working for a company that certified personal trainers and made decent money for a 23 year old bachelor sharing a 1 bedroom apartment with a community college student so I decided to drop a few hundred bucks and get a decent bike (a Marin Nail Trail). While I spent the first few weeks just riding around town I knew that this was something I was going to enjoy and found myself going on some long rides exploring the back roads on the weekends.

I don’t know what exactly inspired me to do it but I eventually took my bike and road up a fire road. When I got to the top I was out of breath, my legs burned and I had a huge grin on my face. When I turned the bike around and started heading back down I was hooked for life – mountain biking was the best thing ever!

That first mountain bike was my “in” to a whole new world. I soon met a guy who was nice enough to take me around and show me that there were far more than just fire roads in those mountains behind Santa Barbara. He was my first riding buddy and some of my best friends since then have been because of our connection to the love of the trail.

I met my soon-to-be wife not long after getting that first bike and the funny thing is that mountain biking helped me decide she was the one. I let her borrow my original hardtail (I had since upgraded to a full suspension rig) and we were riding around a local park that had some rocks you could ride up and off of. She tried to catch some air off of one and went down in a heap. I remember thinking “great, she’ll never want to do this again” but instead heard her laughing. She had a bloody elbow and dirt all over her and thought it was all pretty funny. I pretty much decided right then and there that she was the one.

After leaving Santa Barbara I moved to Encinitas, CA and got a job as a trainer in a local LA Fitness (which totally sucked). I wanted to know more about bikes so I bugged a local bike shop owner, ol’ Fred at Leucadia Cyclery, to let me come in on my days off and work at the shop for store credit. So I worked 4 days a week training, 2 days in the shop and rode as much as possible in between.

When I lived in Hawaii I ran some mountain bike tours and managed a local bike shop (Bicycle John’s in Lihue on Kaua’i). I even ran a mobile bike shop out of my X Terra for about a year after I had a falling out with the owner of the shop.

When I lived in Texas I converted my backyard into a riding playground because there was very little in the way of decent riding in the Tyler area. I decided to move to Fruita based on little more than the outstanding riding in the area. I had no job lined up, quit a decent paying job managing a gym and just packed up and moved here, knowing that I would just make it work so I could have access to all this riding.

All the while I was also working on creating ways to enhance my own riding through strength training. While it started with something I was just doing for myself, it evolved to the point that I started MTB Strength Training Systems and have been obsessed with trying to spread the word about how much strength training has to offer every rider in the world.

Over the last few years I’ve had the chance to work with riders like Aaron Gwin (current DH World Champ and former client) and Ross Schnell (single speed world champ) . I have guys like Gene Hamilton and Lee McCormack come to me for training advice and get to write for Decline Magazine and All of this because of that first mountain bike I bought all those years ago in Santa Barbara.

Again, I’m not sure exactly why I’m telling you all of this but I do know one thing for certain… mountain biking is more than a hobby or a past time for me…it is a way of life and an obsession. It has shaped my life like nothing else has and will continue to do so for as long as I can throw a leg over a top tube. I guess I just wanted to explain why I come across as a mountain biking zealot from time to time…because I am!

-James Wilson-

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  1. Phil says:

    Great story! I have a friend over here that is about 30 that is making his living in the bike world and has some exciting possibilities on the horizon. I know it has to be pretty cool to make it doing the thing that you love. Good for you and good for us too!


    Reply • August 8 at 9:02 am
  2. Michael says:

    Nice! There’s nothing like knowing your passion is there? This mountain bike thing is just too awesome. Like Phil said, good for you and good for us too.


    Reply • August 8 at 10:53 am
  3. Gregg Howard says:

    Always best to follow your passions, grasshopper … Then play it forward….Which you seem to be doing. Ride on!

    Reply • August 9 at 12:33 pm
  4. HundredDollar says:

    That’s a good story man. I like it. I think a lot of people like you have made friends and relationships that were based on mountain biking. I know I have. It’s not my career because I can’t make it pay like you have (which is super, super awesome), but it’s still an important part of my life. There’s the obvious stuff like how it keeps you in shape, it’s exciting, etc. But for me it’s a way to get my mind straight, and it forces me to face my fears. Having to cowboy up and find the courage to take drops and do terrain I am intimidated by has taught me a lot about my mindset and psychology. And it’s cool when you see others face the same thing and come out laughing at the danger, like you saw the future wife do.

    Reply • August 9 at 10:12 pm
  5. Jonathan says:

    Inspiring. Funny how one, seemingly little thing at the time can have a huge impact on our lives. Thanks for sharing the story.

    Reply • August 15 at 3:45 pm

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