Have a question you always wanted to ask a living legend?
Then ask Johnny. Email us your questions and we will post the answers here on the website.
I have been following your career since the 1990's and think you and Lance Armstrong are the best riders from the USA. I'm currently saving for a Tomac Snyper. Your bikes are awesome! Two questions for you; Did you ever get shaken up or scare yourself silly on any particular event and; Did you ever meet the late UK rider Jason McRoy and are you friendly with any British riders?
Thanks for considering me a fine rider from the USA. I did scare myself a few times racing. But even better than that, I also hurt myself a few times racing. I can remember a few times downhilling having very close calls to megadeath wrecks (extended nose wheelies at 40mph etc…), but those did not really bother me all that much. It was the ones when I did hit the ground that were the problem. Hey Jason McRoy was the original international UK downhiller! I knew him fairly well and he was a great guy. He lead the way for some other great UK DH'ers like Rob Warner and Steve Peat. Keep saving for that Snyper, some things are just worth it!
After you've made the choice of tire for the terrain, then comes the decision as to how much air.
I've been recently berated for my low psi recommendations of 24-26 psi (for a 136 pound rider). These are the pressures I have used for the past 25 years. It rolls well and grips well, but a lot of riders still think 60 psi is the way to go for fast rolling and grip.
Could I have your view on this?
I like to run it fairly low pressures. I always prefer traction over some rolling resistance under most course conditions (unless it's as smooth as asphalt/then pump them up hard). The casing and rim size (width) will also dictate what you can get away with. It also depends on whether you are using a sealant (tubeless) or tube set up. You can run it as low as you can get away without pinching, folding the casing or burping air thru the bead with a tubeless. Another consideration is hardtail versus suspension. If it's hardtail and the course is bumpy, that lower pressure will help your ride significantly. So let your friends run 60 psi and you can go blowing by them on tricky climbs and sketchy turns. 24-26 psi sounds a little low… but at your light weight you are probably not too far off from where you need to be.
Do you still spend lots of time hanging with Bob Roll? And riding around Durango area?
I see only Bobke occasionally now. I did ride with him last year, but only once. He`s quite busy with his TV job and I am also doing things, so the schedules do not line up too well. We are both way slower than we used to be. The older I get, the faster I was! Those are the words I live by now. I still love riding the Durango area, although I live about an hour away now, so I do not ride over there as much as I would like to.
What was your greatest victory, and why?
I feel like six or so events stand out as exceptional for me. The list includes: my BMX National Championship in 1984, my first big pro mountain bike win at the Ross Fat Tire Stage Race in 1986, a National Road Criterium Championship in 1988, my UCI Mountain Bike World Championship win in Italy in 1991, a World Cup XC race win in Madrid in 1994, and my World Cup Finals DH win in Kaprun in 1997. They were all different and special in their own way. If I had to pick one, I guess it would be the World Championships in 1991. It was the pinnacle achievement in XC racing for me. I worked extremely hard that season, living in Europe most of the year, and really put a huge effort into winning that event. It all paid off on that day. It was really more than just an accomplishment for that year, but for all of the previous 6 years I had been racing. That would be the one.
I remember you having some epic battles with Ned Overand back in the day, but would you consider him your greatest rival? Also, who would you consider your best friend on the race circuit back then?
Crested Butte, CO
Ned was definitely my biggest XC rival, Frischknecht would also rank right up there, but I battled Ned for years and have a great respect for me. I know he made me a better racer and I would hope that I also helped to elevate his game. We had very different styles, so it made the races quite interesting. He was the man at elevation, an amazing climber in his prime.
My best friend in racing was probably Greg Herbold. I met him around 1986 and spend a lot of time with him in Durango, and at all the races over 15 years. He helped me get a foothold in the Durango area and was just a good guy to hang out with. I also really like handing out with Bob Roll when we were road racing and later mountain bike racing together. He was a great guy to hang out with and a stout training partner for a few years.
I just read about your son racing motocross. I know it's a lot different, but in terms of training, dedication and skill, do you think it's harder to race competitive cross country mountain bikes or motocross?
Joel, I am quite surprised you can read. Are you sure your son Ethan did not read that to you? Anyhow, I have done both sports and I would say mountain bike racing is harder. To win championships, I would say both take equal dedication, work and desire, but a 2 to 3 hour XC race kicks the crap out of a 35 minute moto, or even the second 35 minute moto. You might also want to check in with Johnny O'Mara for his opinion on that one also.
What's one race you really wanted to win but never did? Also, what's the hardest race you ever did?
Paris Roubaix on the road is the one I really wanted to win. I did it twice. It would have taken at least five more attempts to get that one. And the DH World Champs. I was 2nd twice, but never won it. What a shame! You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need. The hardest race? Paris Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders are for real men. Any XC race you blow up in is also not too pretty.
We hear about doping and cycling all the time now, but did it exist back when you were racing? I know you always stayed clean, but were you ever tempted?
I will keep this very complicated subject a bit short and sweet. Doper suck and they are cheaters. They take the easy way out and what good is a win if it is not real. Early XC mountain bike racing was clean, but it changed in the early to mid 1990s in my opinion. When I was road racing as a pro in Europe in 1990 and 1991, I knew it was not on the level, so I left that sport and went back to full time mountain bike racing. Then it crept into mountain bike racing which sucked, but at least mountain bike racing was a bit technical and you can't dope up skills. I was never really all the tempted because I made a moral decision not to do it early on. Once I decided that, I just did the work and did the best with what I had.
Keep it real! No regrets to the grave!
I remember buying mountain bike magazines here in the U.K back in the 90s when you rode for Raleigh U.S.A (with the Tioga rear disc wheel), and to this day, there isn't a human being on the planet who can ride on a hard tail like you used to. I even remember those crazy Mammoth Mountain days. To me, that's real mountain biking-old school stuff.
Anyway, my question is: How did you pull off those massive jumps at speed on a hard tail, and is it a lot to do with the rider and the way his mind works (i.e. no fear).
Well dude. I am 32 year old now and yet I still think I am like John Tomac when I am out riding on the trails. Should I tell my wife that?
OK… if you take a rock and throw it straight out from you nice and gently it will land fairly hard on the ground with a "thud". If you take the same rock and throw it straight out from you as hard as you can it will skip along the ground and land with less impact. So… that being said, you have to go as fast as you can when going big on a hard tail (of course that requires skills and bravery), a nice back side slope to land on can also help, but that is cheating a bit. Much of the skills required to jump hardtails I learned early on, on my BMX bike, as a kid. Correct use of the body (arms and legs) as a big shock absorber is also key.
Finally, I also like to think I am like John Tomac when I am out riding the trails, except I did tell my wife that and she doesn't really care! She only gets angry when I pressure her and buzz her rear tire on the climbs!
If you were a young xc racer today would you be using a hardtail or a fully?
Today's fully suspended xc bikes are very fast and light, much more efficient than the ones from days gone by. That being said, it still depends on how rough the terrain is and your riding style. I think a 22-24lb 3"-4" travel fully is a pretty good choice if you have to pedal a lot over rough terrain or the descents and climbs are fairly rough. If it's fairly smooth and you can pedal seated and not get too hammered by the terrain, then go with the hardtail as it is the lightest and most efficient under those conditions. I also really like using a suspension post sometimes with the hardtail, that can take the edge off of some of the bumps and still give you power to the ground output. The choice between the two is a tough one, especially if you are traveling around and racing all kinds of different terrain. One last thing to remember is, you can set up a fully to ride almost like a hardtail (with a weight penalty of a pound or two), but you cannot make a hardtail ride like a good 100mm travel xc bike. Good luck and cya at the races!
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