How do you train for the Enduro World Series? Build a pump track in your backyard.
Ross Schnell is living the dream. He earns a decent living racing bikes. He owns a Porsche (1966, restored). There’s a urinal in his garage, a kegerator on his back porch, and pump track in his backyard. His sprawling house on the south side of Grand Junction is 10 minutes from the Lunch Loops, one the finest networks of techy mountain bike trails in Colorado or anywhere else.
Right now, though, Schnell is mowing the lawn, because well, that’s what married fathers do. He also does maintenance work at the handful of rental properties he owns, works on his own bikes, helps take care of his young daughter, and for the most part lives a decidedly normal life. Or at least as normal as can be for a 34-year-old nicknamed ‘Rad’ who can shred just about any trail this side of the moon, and do it faster than all but a handful of the other world-class shredders who spend their working hours chasing glory on the Enduro World Series.
Schnell was 32nd in Nevados de Chillan, Chile, the first stop of this year’s seven-race EWS circuit. Not bad considering it was his first major competition following extended time on the bench due to a nasty crash last July in Winter Park. Schnell overcooked a wooden man-made bridge at the Colorado stop of the EWS and as he puts it, “went 25 feet to flat.” Smack! The trail’s called No Quarter and gave none. Schnell dislocated and fractured his shoulder and tore a “bunch of stuff,” he recalls. “It was a long recovery.”
Plenty of time to mull over his new lot in life. Nineteen months ago, Schnell and wife Cathryn welcomed their first child into the world. Perspective has changed. “Now when I’m at an event I have to remember that there is something more important that I need to come home to,” he says during an at-home interview with Mtbr.com in early May. “But managing risk is all part of it. I usually have one big crash a year and that was it. When you’re going for it, things happen.”
The Schnell man cave includes a fleet of bikes, tools, and a urinal.
Schnell should know. He’s been riding on the ragged edge since he was a 6-year-old bumping elbows on the local BMX circuit. Back then it was cool to have a nickname. “Rad Ross” was born. Schnell won seven Colorado state BMX titles, then tore up the collegiate ranks, bringing XC and dual slalom national titles home for Mesa State, where he studied radiology. He flirted with life as a cross-country pro, wearing national team Lycra at a handful of races. But endurance sport wasn’t a good fit. He bagged racing and put his degree to use for about a year.
“But all my buddies that I’d grown up racing juniors with were still going strong,” he recalls. “So I edged back into racing on weekends while still working full time.”
Initially cross-country was again the focus, but in 2008 Schnell grabbed the unofficial all-mountain world title, winning California’s famed Downieville Classic. Buh-bye carbon hardtail, hello fun. Schnell has spent most of the ensuing years on the “hybrid” circuit, racing a Super D here, an enduro there, with lots of filming and photo ops in between. This year the primary focus is again the Enduro World Series, with secondary emphasis on the growing slate of North American races, especially the Big Mountain Enduro events.
The enduro racing weapon of choice, a 27.5 Trek Slash 9 with Fox suspension and Shimano drivetrain.
“The EWS is the biggest thing going right now,” says Schnell, of a circuit that includes stops in Scotland, France, Italy, Colorado and Canada. “But I have to pick my battles when deciding where to spend time and expense budget. I love doing the North American events, too, because at lot of them are close to home, so I can drive there in the camper van with the family and camp out.”
Yes, camp out. While Schnell has solid sponsor support from the likes of Trek, Bontrager, Fox, POC and Shimano, there’s still a certain privateer feel to his racing pursuits. Some of that is by necessity, some by choice. This is not a racer who needs a team of suspension engineers or doting soigneurs just to get through a weekend.
“I like to do stuff on my own,” says Schnell, who besides maintaining his small fleet of bikes, also loves tinkering with cars and motorcycles. “I wont say I’m the most handy guy in the world. It usually takes me a long time to get stuff done.”
Screw the tomato garden, this is what a backyard should look like.
Modest talk for a guy who has a car lift in one of his three garages and who recently finished a total rebuild of a 1966 Honda Black Bomber motorcycle. “It took about a year,” he says. “At first I was just going to clean the gas tank and fire it up. But I ended up pulling the frame completely apart and basically redoing everything.”
Every garage should have one of these.
Schnell’s other recent project of note is the aforementioned pump track. Initially he vacillated between bringing in the dirt or simply building a workshop. But dirt won out. “The pump track benefits me more when I’m a racing bikes,” he explains. “It’s a really valuable training tool.”
It’s also a de-facto baby sitter. When wife Cathryn is off at her job as a physician’s assistant, Schnell draws childcare duty. “I can come back here, plop her down in the middle of the track and do legitimate training,” he says. “In between my intervals, my daughter jumps on her bike and cruises around the track. She loves it. It’s the perfect set-up.”
How long this perfect set-up will last is tough to say. Schnell knows his racing career will wind down at some point. “But even if it went away tomorrow I’d be thankful for what I’ve had,” he says. “But I definitely think I have a few more years. As long as I’m still competitive and doing well at the events I’ll keep going. The goal is to maintain the lifestyle of sleeping in and drinking coffee for half the day, and always doing things that I love being involved in. I can’t say what will come next but it will probably be fun.”
See more of the Schnell compound in the video and extended photo gallery below, including a tour of his garage and a detailed look at his Trek Slash 9 27.5 enduro race bike.