Interview: XC racing legend Tinker Juarez

Four decades in the sport and still going strong at the age of 54

Cross Country Race Coverage
Interview: Tinker Juarez

Juarez has been with Cannondale an amazing 20 years. Photo by Adam Campbell

David “Tinker” Juarez has been racing with his sponsor Cannondale for a staggering 20 years. When you add in five years with another sponsor in the 1990s, plus 15 years competing in BMX before that, most of his current competition hasn’t been alive as long as the 54-year-old has been racing.

Juarez’s impressive race resume includes two Olympic appearances, multiple national championship titles, and induction into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. But the man famous for his dreadlocks shows no signs of slowing down.

Mtbr caught up with this living legend in San Dimas, California on the eve of the US Cup event at Bonelli Park. Read on to hear about his plans for the season and look back at his extraordinary career.

Mtbr: You’ve been with Cannondale almost from the start of your XC career. How have things changed over the years?
Tinker Juarez: I’ve been very lucky-Cannondale has been a highlight of my whole career. As for change, I still want to race as an elite pro, but my focus is not really racing cross-country anymore. I’ve become more of an endurance rider.

Mtbr: What about the advances in technology and equipment over the past two decades?
TJ: When it comes to equipment, I want anything on my bike carbon. It’s light, it’s strong, and it works. With components, we have the 1×11 now. I think that’s the best thing that ever came out. It took a little while to figure out the front chainrings because you have some options. When I was first using it, I raced with a 34-tooth chainring and I was getting passed up the climbs. I was thinking, ‘This is not right.’ I realized the problem was my gear so I got a 32 tooth and it made the night-and-day difference. Now I know what works best for me. When I race, I race with either a 32 or 30 depending on how much climbing there is.

Interview: Tinker Juarez
The primary focus this year will be the National Ultra Endurance Series. Photo by Adam Campbell

Mtbr: How do you stay focused on racing over so many seasons?
TJ: I always just try to carefully select my races and create goals for them. My first big race is not for a few weeks still. So right now, I’m just doing a few cross-country events because this is the time they are happening. My season will normally start to pick up in April with two to three races per month. I pick my favorite races and I repeat them over the years, trying to match what I’ve done in the past or to do better. This year the National Ultra Endurance Series will be a focus. Last year, I finished second overall in the pro category. I was happy with second, didn’t win any, but I was consistent. This year I want to try to win the series and hopefully there will be no bad luck. I’m also thinking about doing 24 hour world’s because it is in California, and I haven’t done [a solo race] in at least three or four years. It will be another goal to shoot for.

Mtbr: In the last 20 years, how have you seen racing change?
TJ: I really feel like the endurance format has taken off. Every race that I pick, they’re usually sold out or there are 400 or 500 riders and that’s kind of how they average out. As far as cross-country series, I’ve done it, I’ve had fun at it, but it has changed. The speed is different, they’re shorter distances, with shorter faster, harder climbs. I like riding my bike long, being on the bike, and working hard for it. Look at road racing. It’s not a race that’s over in an hour and a half or two hours. And that’s why I love watching road racing because I appreciate what they do, and how much suffering they go through. Their average races are four hours and they could ride up to six, seven or eight. You’d probably get just as much of a workout on the short races as you would on a seven-hour race, but I still would just rather be on my bike longer. My goal is to work hard, and doing long distances, to me, is working hard. That’s the way I like mountain biking.

Mtbr: What keeps you going?
TJ: I have lived my life in this sport, and BMX too. And that’s why I still hang in it. I still love it, it’s still in my blood, I’m not ready to hang it up. When I race long distance, I feel like I’m at home. I’m not nervous, I’m not nothing. I just get out there and I know it’s going to be tough, but I come ready for it.

About the author: Kristen Gross

Kristen Gross loves bikes, all sorts, and above all, XC mountain bikes. She races in the pro category and gets a lot of joy from teaching others the way of the trail as a mountain bike skills instructor—especially women who are just discovering cycling. She is a USAC-certified coach, and she runs her own freelance writing business based in Carlsbad, Calif. You’ll find her either writing or riding, bringing over 10 years experience to both. Why does she ride? To offset her addiction to Coca Cola and Lay’s Potato Chips.

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  • Crotchety Old Man says:

    Always loved reading about Tinker. Definite legend and helped the sport tremendously! Cheers!

  • loll says:

    Tinker, I told you this in person before, you were my inspiration when I was a kid.

    Reading that you would carry rocks in your backpack and go for 40 miles training ride inspired me. I used to carry my school back pack with full week load of books everyday for my 20 miles daily commute trying to mimic you.

    That made race day a breeze

  • User1 says:

    Good lord! How does trees grow with different slants like that? Pic #1 looks whack!

  • mtbgtr says:

    Tinker is the epitome of style, grace and grit in the world of mountain biking. I’ll never forget at the 94 Worlds in Vail, Tinker came flying up a steep back fire road, upon our group headed to a trailhead, in his big chain ring and slowed to our comparably slow snail pace to say hi and talk with us until we all got to the trailhead.

  • Tinkerfan says:

    Tinker, You’re my MB Hero!

  • Alejandro Vigil says:

    Met Tinker last year before and after finishing first the Chupacabras 100km race. Amazing rider amazingly humble.
    Living legend indeed, an example for everyone.

  • Jeff says:

    Ah the good old days and here’s to the good new days for old dogs, Cheers.

    That is a lot of math in that first paragraph! Go Tinker

  • Victor says:

    This guy it’s a superman… and personally He is a very humble and very thankfull for life ….take my hat off…

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