Aaron Gwin Is Race Ready For 2019

Aaron Gwin Interview 2019 - featured image

If you have a kid around the age of three, chances are good they are going to start their cycling history similar to how Aaron Gwin started his. Perhaps a hand-me-down bike from a family member or neighbor will spark a lifetime of experiences enjoyed on two wheels. For those of you not familiar with Aaron, he is America’s best professional downhill mountain bike racer. A thumb injury limited his performance last year, but he’s healthy now and ready to go full-throttle.

When we attended the last round of racing this year at Bootleg Canyon, Aaron was kind enough to answer our questions about his progression from BMX, to motocross, to mountain biking; his dedication and discipline, what he puts in his oatmeal, and that sweet Intense M29 he’s on this season. Thanks for your time Aaron, and good luck this year!

Aaron Gwin Interview 2019 - featured image

Photo by Brett Thompson

MTBK: When you were younger how did you get into riding bikes?

Aaron: Wow. That’s a while back. It started when I was three, I think. My parents got me my first bicycle. My baby-sitter at the time had a bike for her son that was a little older than me and my mom bought it, repainted it and gave it to me for Christmas one year. It was a full-on department store tiny little kid’s bike. We have photos of me riding it still. It had the full red solid wheels. There were no spokes and it was pretty funny. So, that was my first bike. I never had training wheels. My mom just took me out in the park in the grass and started pushing me around until I figured it out.

When I was four, we got a bike – I think it was an Elf. I don’t know if you remember those back in the day, they were these BMX bikes. There was a company called Elf Bicycles. No, I think Elf was the bike after that. I had Dyno before that, it was a Chrome Dyno.

We used to go to the park all the time to just burn off energy because I had a lot of energy as a kid. There was a BMX track right next to the park that we used to go to and I’d watch guys ride. I got all fired up on it. So, my parents got me a track bike then we started going to the track I think right when I turned four. And that’s kind of where it started. My whole life feels like it’s a timeline of racing because I’ve been racing since basically I was four or five so I remember everything based on the races we were doing at that age.

MTBK: Did your parents play a big role in supporting you during the early days?

Aaron: Yeah, for sure. They were 100% supportive from the beginning. It started out as a fun thing. It’s always been fun but we definitely started traveling a bit more. By the time I was six, we were doing some nationals. And by the time I was eight, we were racing BMX all over the country. We were flying around to the nationals and doing all that. Then I moved on to motocross when I was 12. Then I got into downhill right before I turned 20. But until I was 17 or 18 and moved out of the house, my parents were the ones driving me to the races and doing everything. It was a family thing – the three of us for a long time. It was cool.

MTBK: Kids dream of getting their first sponsorship – you got yours when you were eight?

Aaron: Yeah, it was a trip. It wasn’t really anything we set out to do sponsorship wise. BMX is not cheap but it’s not super expensive like motocross or some other sports. It’s really just the travel fees but we started picking up sponsorships. I remember I was sponsored by Vans when I was eight. And I got a free pair of shoes and I thought that was the coolest thing ever because I liked Vans shoes. So, I didn’t really care about bike parts and stuff that was more for my dad but I was pumped on the free shoes.

MTBK: Tell me more about your BMX racing.

Aaron: I think it all just happened pretty naturally. We raced a lot and it just seemed like every year we started racing more and more. Then we were battling for championships and doing all that stuff and it got pretty serious. I think by the time I was about almost nine, I stopped racing. I loved riding my bike. But after all the traveling and all the racing, I just wanted to be a normal kid and hang out with my friends and play baseball and do some other stuff. So, I never stopped riding but I stopped racing when I was eight or nine for a couple of years until I got into motocross. When I was younger, I always wanted to race motocross.

MTBK: How did the transition go from BMX to motocross? That’s a pretty big leap if your family is not already in to motorcycles.

Aaron: For sure. That’s probably why I got into BMX because I wanted to race dirt bikes. My dad was like, “Let’s get you a bike and start there.” And so, I remember asking for a long time. Finally when I was 12, he got me a Kawasaki 80 and we started riding that thing.

So, it was a big step. I remember it being a big deal for him because I had wanted one forever and he’s a physical therapist and my mom’s a nurse – so they see all the injuries and stuff. They weren’t too pumped on it, especially my dad. Finally we broke him down and he got me one. But it took a little while. And then we were kind of full-on with racing dirt bikes for about five or six years and trying to go pro doing that. So, that ended up being the same thing. We went to a lot of nationals and we were riding a lot till I was about 17.

MTBK: What drew you to motocross?

Aaron: I think it just always looked really fun. I would watch the races when I was a kid. And then I had a couple of neighbors that had dirt bikes and I just always thought that they looked super fun. It was kind of like a bicycle that you didn’t have to pedal in my eyes so I liked it.

MTBK: How’s the thumb?

Aaron: The thumb’s good. It’s been a bit of a long process. It was one of those weird injuries where it felt fine to ride for maybe three, four months now – but it’s still a little bit sore. I don’t notice it all when I ride. It’s just the joint and stuff, the ligaments are bit messed up. So, it’s just a slow healing process. Hopefully I won’t land right back on it in the next couple of months. But, it doesn’t bother me when I train or ride at all, so it’s all good.

MTBK: Are you going to be able to go full throttle?

Aaron: Yeah, for sure.

Aaron Gwin downhill race, Bootleg Canyon

Photo by Brett Thompson

MTBK: The DH field is stacked now more than it’s ever been. The younger fast kids are getting faster and it seems everyone is stronger now. With all these guys coming up, what are you looking for to most this year?

Aaron: I’m just looking forward to getting back at the races, being healthy, getting a new bike out and just getting comfortable – and then just seeing where we’re at. I didn’t get to race much last year. Really, I only raced one World Cup before I got hurt. Since I was injured and probably shouldn’t have been riding for most of them. And the other ones I had a very limited time on the bike – so it wasn’t really a fair shot for me. I’m looking forward to being back at the races 100%, getting time in on the new bike and getting everything dialed. I’m excited. There are a lot of guys going fast but I feel good. I’m sure by the time Fort William comes around, we’ll be fired up pretty good.

MTBK: Why do you race at Bootleg Canyon?

Aaron: For training and just fun. I’ve been coming out to this race in March every year for seven or eight years probably now and it’s good for me. It’s so different than what we race on the World Cups; the bike setup, everything is completely different. But there’s always guys here going fast. It’s a longer track, so it’s good to kind of see where your fitness is at and getting some good riding with my buddies. It’s just more of a fun race and a preparation race for me.

Aaron’s Sponsors

Intense Cycles
Fox mtb suspension

MTBK: What can you attribute your discipline to as far as staying healthy, making good choices, staying fit

Aaron: For me, I’ve always been pretty self motivated. I’ve never really lacked the discipline to train and work hard and go after what I want. That’s kind of where I get a lot of the confidence with my racing. It’s in the work that I put in. I feel like my fitness is really the only thing that can hold me back. I feel like if the bike is set up well for me and I’m fit – nobody can beat me. That’s how I’ve always felt.

I feel my fitness is what holds me back the most. It’s pretty rare that I feel like people are just flat out going faster than me. And I think my preparation is what I work really hard at it because that’s what gives me the most confidence when I ride. I’ve just always been willing to put in the work. And as you get older and mature and more, you see the results of your hard work and you’re always learning and improving. I enjoy that process of just getting better and experimenting in the gym or whatever and trying to figure out ways to get stronger. Every year, it’s a constant search to try to get better and to also just try to keep things fresh and be motivated but it doesn’t seem to be too hard for me to stay motivated.

MTBK: You said your fitness is the only thing holding you back and so that leads into my next question, how do you mentally prepare for a race? Has it changed over the years or what do you do now?

Aaron: Nothing really changes mentally. I don’t do a lot to mentally prepare. I think my best mental preparation is just being physically prepared. If I feel physically prepared and I feel good on the bike then my mental game is strong. If I know that the bike’s not 100% working for me or if I’m maybe not where I want to be physically then that’s the place I focus on improving. The mental side is just, I’ve always been a racer and when it’s time to race, I can just get it done. I have the ability that when it counts, I can throw down a good solid run. I don’t ride over my head and I try to just be smart about how I approach my race weekends. So far it’s worked out pretty good for me.

MTBK: What are your current favorite healthy foods?

Aaron: There is stuff I eat every day. I wouldn’t say I’m on a diet but I just eat really clean and I try to get the right amounts of the right things at the right times. Pretty much have eggs and oatmeal every morning and I enjoy that. I have to put ham in my eggs. In my oatmeal I put a little bit of yogurt, berries and peanut butter. The yogurt changed the game on the oatmeal for me. It makes it so much easier to eat. It’s not all dry and gnarly. So, I look forward to that every day and then just healthy meals. I think as I’ve gotten older too, I’ve eaten clean. You develop more of a palette for really clean food whether it’s chicken or vegetables or potatoes or whatever. Now I enjoy eating that stuff.

MTBK: One of the things we like about this sport, is accessibility to the athletes. Are you cool with that stuff most the time?

Aaron: I really enjoy it. It was a bit of an adjustment early in my career because nobody ever knew who I was when I came in. And I came in under-the-radar and then started doing well. Once you have success, everybody loves you and then you have a couple of rough years and then you get some negative stuff. That was a little bit hard for me to take back in 2013 or whenever that was. But as you mature over the years and learn to just enjoy what you do and you make the decisions that you think are best and you’re okay with that.

I think as far as the fans go, it’s only fun. Everybody’s got their opinions and their favorite riders and whatever so that’s kind of what makes sports what they are. If everybody loved everybody, so to speak, you wouldn’t really have some of the rivalries, or the hype, or the tension.Now it’s cool and I’m blessed to have a lot of great fans. I get a lot of love from my supporters and it’s a trip for me to think back on now.

I remember showing up to this race 2008 and literally nobody here would have known who I was and now I show up and everybody knows who I am and everybody stops by and says, hello. It’s always a bit of a cool thing coming back to these local races. I remember where I started and where I’m at now. I’m just blessed to be where I’m at. I enjoy it a lot.

MTBK: Do you have any advice for parents with kids who like to race bikes?

Aaron: Everybody’s got to do what they believe is best. It is a sacrifice you make. If you’re going to spend time with your kid going to races, you’re giving up part of your life to do that. You’ve got to be able to make that choice up front so that you don’t feel like your kid owes you success. From my experience of watching the parents and riders we’ve worked with, you need to decide to support your kid at whatever level your kid is happy with. I think knowing that up front is good, then there are not any surprises or expectations. You can just give it your best shot. If it works out, great. And if it doesn’t, you have a great time as a family spending time together. I always had a great time with my parents.

Honestly, when I stopped racing motocross, we never thought I was going to make it. We put in all that work and travel and time and it looked like it wasn’t gonna happen for me – but we didn’t regret it. We got a lot of really fun time together as a family and we’re still really close. Then it ended up working out with downhill. But I think for parents there’s a lot of value.

I’m not a parent, so I can’t speak too far into it. But I think for me as a rider or as a coach, it’s just keeping the kid focused on the things they can control. It’s just learning, getting better at working on their weaknesses – not getting caught up in rivalries with other kids and whatever. It’s about trying to improve each weekend; enjoying what you’re doing and just getting better. That’s always been my goal and it still is now.

Bootleg Canyon MTB Park - Aaron Gwin

MTBK: Tell me about the bike you’re on this year.

Aaron: We’re on the M29 intense. It’s a full downhill bike. I’ve been on the bike a couple of months now since I signed my new contract. We’re kind of going back and forth between the large and the extra large because I’m a little bit between sizes. I think I’ll end up on the extra large for the World Cups and just testing through parts and all kinds of things. It’s been awesome and I’m really liking the bike so far. We’re just trying to get into the races a little bit this year and see where we’re at. I have the opportunity with Intense to sort of change things or do whatever I want but I really like the bike right now. We just want to get it to the races and get it through a season and see where it stacks up.

MTBK: Is this is a stock frame then?

Aaron: Yeah. Everything on this bike is Stock. We had some prototype links we were messing around with a few weeks ago, but I didn’t like them quite as much. I’m just on a full stock bike right now.

Aaron Gwin Intense M29 DH bike - rear brake detail
Aaron Gwin Intense M29 DH bike - all triple crowns

MTBK: Do you have to do things over and over before you know you want to change something?

Aaron: Kind of. It depends. We’re just trying to shorten the rear end a little bit instead of making a whole new carbon mold. We were messing with the links, but it changed the leverage ratio on the bike too much where it just wasn’t worth it. So, like I said, I’m a little bit between sizes but we’re back to stock now and it’s feeling good. I’ll probably just race the stock XL all year.

MTBK: Aside from Intense, who’s sponsoring this year’s campaign?

Aaron: We’ve got a lot of the same people that I’ve been with the last three years. With TRP, we got a full drive terrain breaks derailleur, shifter everything with them that we’ve just developed over the last couple of years, actually. It’s just now getting to be available to the public. Fox Suspension which has been with me my entire career. E13 wheels and cranks, they’ve been with me last three years and that’s been great. Then STG, Renthal, ODI, HT pedals, kind of everything I’ve had design input in and stuff like that. So, it’s great.

And then our new sponsor this year is Kenda Tires and that’s been exciting. We got some new tires in the works and I’m really liking the tires that we got so far. So, we’ve got a lot of big plans over probably the first half of this year to introduce a few more tires to their lineup. It’s a good group of supporters. And definitely we’re really happy to have everybody we’re working with.

Meet Hannah Finchamp – Pro Mountain Biker, NICA Alumna

Hannan Rae Finchamp - race start/finish

Hannah Finchamp is a professional mountain biker on the Clif Pro Team. She started her career as a triathlete competing in, and winning XTERRA world championships. Hannah was kind enough to answer all our questions about her training regimen, high school experience as a NICA athlete, and what’s coming up for this mountain biking season. Before you read on, we would like to sincerely thank Hannah for her time.

Hannan Rae Finchamp - race start/finish

Photo by Cano Fotosports

MTBK: You recently did the Mediterranean Epic with a top 10 finish – is that correct?

Hannah: Yeah, I was 9th this year.

MTBK: Was a top-ten finish one of your goals or did you meet your goal(s) for that race?

Hannah: I did meet my goals. I would say my goal for that race was more the experience than anything. In the past, being in college, I’ve never really done a solid pre-season event. And so this year, I said I just kind of want to see what I can do. And that’s kind of my mantra for the season. I was just like, “Let’s see what I can do.” I decided to go to Spain, do a pre-season race and kind of take each stage as a different gamble and discover the different things I can do.

MTBK: Were there athletes that you recognized from past events doing that race as well?

Hannah: There were but it was really cool. I travelled over there with Kaysee Armstrong, another American. We are competitors and friends so we could at least have each other there. And we were pretty much the only North American athletes. Everyone there were people that I’ve maybe raced against but mostly watched on Red Bull TV or something like that. I wanted to just see what I could do so I didn’t want to put all kinds of expectations in my head. I purposely didn’t look at the starter list or anything. When I started the first day I thought, “Whoa, this is a big event.”

MTBK: When did you start riding mountain bikes?

Hannah: My journey to mountain biking was a little bit different actually. I started racing triathlon when I was nine. In triathlon I did the XTERRA races, so I rode a mountain bike. Throughout that time for training I would do various mountain bike races. But it really wasn’t until NICA that I started doing mountain bike races without the swim and the run.

When I was 16, at the XTERRA World Championships, I won the event and a Clif Bar rep was standing at the finish line. The Clif team manager asked me if I would want to race for them and that was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. A few years into my journey with Clif Bar they switched their focus entirely to mountain biking. With me being so young, they offered me the opportunity to make that switch with them. I did. And ever since, I’ve been a full time mountain biker.

Hannah Rae Finchamp - BC Bike Race, 2018

Photo by Todd Weselake

Keep Up With Hannah

Hannah writes and maintains a blog. She told us, “Every single time I start a race I write a post try and be as open as possible about it, so hopefully someone can relate to a thing or two on there”. Be sure to take a look at Hannah’s writing and follow her on Instagram.

MTBK: Do you miss the XTERRA races? Now that you’ve been able to tour the world in a different discipline, do you miss the swimming and the running?

Hannah: I miss it because it was a big part of my life and I do love the competition, but I don’t regret the decision I made in any capacity. I love mountain biking and it’s definitely what I was meant to do. I don’t plan on changing that anytime soon.

MTBK: How did you start your triathlon career? Did your parents play a role?

Hannah: I started as a soccer player and I felt as a young kid, “I never get tired on the field. I just want to run all day long.” And so, I asked to go to a running race and at that running race there was a booth at the race that was advertising a triathlon. I pointed to that booth and I said, “Mom, I want to race the triathlon.” She said, “Oh, they don’t have this for kids.” And the guy at the booth said, “Oh yes they do!” So, I went through a triathlon camp. I learned how to do it and then that was that.

MTBK: What’s the best thing about participating in high school mountain biking for you? What did you like the best?

Hannah: My favorite part of high school mountain biking was getting to race with kids my age. Because starting in triathlon so young I was always racing against adults and I never really even thought twice about the fact that there was maybe one or two people in my age group, I was focused on whoever’s in front of me. When I came to the high school events and was lining up all around girls my age it was just so much more fun because we could all relate and we all have the same things going on in our lives. When I went to high school practice, kids would stay around when the ride was over and just hang out doing wheelies and tricks. I feel like that is so valuable and it’s so missed when you don’t have that opportunity to play with your peers.

MTBK: What was the most challenging thing about participating in the NICA races for you? As a world-class athlete, did you find the competition satisfying at your NICA races?

Hannah: It was a different experience for me. There definitely was competition. I never went to a race thinking, “I’m just going to do the race.” It was never like that. The girls were strong and there were a lot of them. I think was most challenging was finding the time for it all.

Mountain biking does take more time than cross country running and some other sports. I was on the swim team. I was on the cross country team and I raced NICA. For me, the time commitment was challenging and I’m sure it was challenging for everyone. When running, I could just throw on my shoes, run for 45 minutes and call it a day and that was great after school and then you still have time to study and everything. With mountain biking, I couldn’t run and mountain bike. I couldn’t swim and mountain bike.

It’s really hard for someone to do high school mountain biking without either their high school having a very committed team that’s going to settle all these kids to the race- or without having a parent that’s going to drive them to the trails and manage logistics. It’s not like soccer where one parent can say, “Okay, this time I’ll drive the kids to the game. Okay, I have a minivan, six of you pile in,” or whatever it might be its like six kids and six bikes. So, even if one parent is willing or one club is willing, it really does take a lot to bring all the kids and the equipment and the bikes and whatever else.

Hannah Rae Finchamp - Clif Pro Team, BC Bike Race

Photo by Todd Weselake

MTBK: Did mountain biking affect your academic work in school?

Hannah: Once again, I was swimming and running and cycling. I feel like I had a lot on my plate but if anything I think it made it better because school always came first. If school ever were to slip then I wasn’t going to go to practice. I brought a lot of the dedication that I had on the bike to my school work as well. I’m really thankful for that because I loved school and I loved college and I love learning and I think that translates back-and-forth. Even on the bike I’m a very analytical person. I don’t just want to send it down the rocker. I want to know why based on physics or whatever else I can get my bike from here to there without crashing. (Read Ways Mountain Biking Can Help Your Kids Be Successful)

MTBK: Tell us about some motivational coaches you’ve had.

Hannah: I’ve been blessed with a lot of really fantastic coaches, two in particular really come to mind. One is the one that I have right now, Coach Chris Mileski. He started coaching me when I made the transition from triathlon to mountain biking. We really connect well and he’s motivating. For the first few years of working together, his mantra for me was ‘Always honor the process.’ We’d really talk about, if you can jump into this sport and be one of the best people right away what does that mean for the sport? It means it’s not that competitive. And so, he helped me take on the attitude of honor the process and be thankful for those finishes where you recognize, “Wow, I was not as fast as I wanted to be in this group of people,” because that’s what helps you grow and learn.

The other coach that really comes to mind is the coach that I had in high school. He was actually the swim team coach at my high school but he loved cycling and so my junior year he would take me out to go riding. Because I was a young girl, I couldn’t always ride the trails alone and he helped me start the mountain bike team at my high school. His name is Joe Zambrano and I think he is what so many high school coaches should be like. He was the person everyone wants to talk to. When I think of high school sports, he’s who I think of. Because there are so many people who joined the team just because they wanted him as a mentor. I think that is amazing.

About Hannah’s Sponsors

Hannah tells us, “I’m currently on the Clif Pro Team with the primary sponsor of Clif Bar. We are also sponsored by and grateful for the support of Fox, Maxxis, Sierra Nevada, Orbea, Shimano and more.”

Clif Bar
Fox mtb suspension
Maxxis mtb tires
Sierra Nevada

MTBK: What advice would you offer to high school coaches on how to get more girls on mountain bikes? NICA has even created a the GRiT program (Girls Riding Together).

Hannah: It definitely is a challenge and I think that’s probably the first thing to recognize is that it is going to be a challenge and what works for some might not work for others. I think at the end of the day, it’s about breaking down barriers. It’s about accessibility and it’s about community.

Regarding accessibility – I would really love to see more opportunities to try the sport without commitment, because I think that’s the hard thing. I think more girls would sign up if they could go for a ride and then say if they like it or not, because that’s not as intimidating to a girl. It’s hard to commit to something, especially when you don’t know if you’re going to be good or not. And just statistically speaking, girls are more self-conscious – especially during that age and that’s when you statistically see a lot more girls drop out of sports because their confidence goes down and they think, “Oh, maybe I can’t do this, it’s too hard.”

The GRiT program really does have it down, which is Girls Riding Together. Girls need other girls most of the time because I think people don’t realize that mountain biking is a social sport. Cross country was one of the biggest sports on campus because it was so fun to run together and chat and hang out – and it’s the same on the bike. I think the more girls we see come into the sport, it will exponentially grow because the girls in the sport will bring more girls, and so on.

MTBK: Are female coaches a big component of this too? Realistically, will a female coach make younger girls more comfortable riding bikes together?

Hannah: I think so. I coach and some girls have specifically sought me out because I’m female. It’s harder for the high school teams because I understand that whoever is running the team – they can’t change who they are. But yeah, I think adding a woman to all the team rosters makes a huge difference. Because it’s more relatable. Girls will say more things to women.

Hannah Rae Finchamp - BC Bike Race, loam

Photo by Todd Weselake

MTBK: What’s your most memorable biking experience?

Hannah: If I had to single out one I would pick the BC Bike Race last year. It actually gives me chills just thinking about it. That is where I actually met Kaysee Armstrong. We formed a good friendship there. We camped that whole week with everyone else participating at the race.

At the BC Bike Race, you’re camping and you’re eating whatever food they have, and you’re taking care of your own bike and everything else. Everything’s not going to be perfect. And it really taught me that it doesn’t have to be perfect in order to be great. That was a huge lesson I learned and I’ve been trying to carry it with me ever since then. It just showed me what I was capable of. Because sometimes when you have a staff around you and you have managers and friends and competitors and mechanics and everything else, it feels like your only job is to race, which is great. But when all that’s taken away, you learn that you’re so much more capable than you would ever think. That’s probably my favorite part of the sport.

MTBK: Did you have any “Oh, crap” moments at the BC Bike Race that put your independence to the test?

Hannah: My hardest moment, personally and mentally during that race was on the hardest and longest stage. It actually started on a descent and as we were coming down a big fire road and there was a huge water bar in the middle. With everyone there I didn’t know it was coming until everyone in front of me disappeared down into it and then came back up the other side and I just shot off the front and actually slammed into the other side of the water bar. After that, people started descending almost on top of me, I was just curled up in a ball in the bottom of this thing. I got up and all my stuff was everywhere. It was like two yard sales. I was bleeding. I’m thinking, “I have a really long ways to go.”

In that moment I thought I have a decision. I thought to myself, “This is a seven-day race. You’re not going to quit – you’re not going to. So, how do you want to handle it?” And I said, “I’m going to give myself 60 seconds and I can do whatever I want for the 60 seconds and then after that I’m not thinking about this again.” And everyone must have thought I was crazy. Just for the next 60 seconds I just talked a lot of crap like, “This is horrible. I’m in so much pain. Everything is terrible.” And then after 60 seconds it was just like, “Hey, I’m fine now.” You have to take advantage of those moments where you learn it, them push it away because you don’t want it to happen again.

MTBK: Where would you like to go mountain biking that you haven’t been yet?

Hannah: The answer to that question would be anywhere I haven’t been. Every time I ride a new trail I get so excited and I love travel. My goal in life is to visit at least 50 countries. So, the idea of traveling with my bike, in and of itself, is my dream. If I had to pick a place without even much knowledge, I would probably say Patagonia. I’m sure someone will say, “Why would you go there?” Honestly, I just want to go everywhere. So, it’s really hard for me to pick one location.

MTBK: Are you happy with where your fitness is right now?

Hannah: I’m really happy where my fitness is. It’s been a really exciting winter for me because I’ve gotten into new territory this winter. This is my first year entering the sport where I’m not a student as well. I graduated college in May. The preparation has been different and that has been exciting. Doing the same thing over and over again was Einstein’s definition of insanity. I’m excited to have done something different and to feel prepared.

I think a big goal for me this season is to expect the unexpected. One of my favorite things someone said to me one time is, “How fast would you be if you didn’t know how fast you are?” My goal is to enter this season with that mindset. So many times we stand on the start line, and count the people that we know and think, “Okay, well, for sure her, her, her, her – they’ll all beat me,” just based on history. But one day you have to step up and clear that history.

MTBK: It’s one thing to be at your level of racing, but it’s another thing to be competitive in a race at your level. What are the things that you’re focusing on to make that difference?

Hannah: I think the training is the first step. Training is a big deal – the way you train, the coach you have, matching your own physiology, training your weaknesses, racing your strengths. I think, once you get to a certain level, everyone’s doing those things. Everyone’s training hard. You look at social media and you can be either overly confident or overly intimidated. It seems like everyone’s putting in the mileage.

The things that make the difference are how you’re resting and then your mind. Those, I think, are the really big steps that I’ve been working towards this season – especially now that I’m not in school. I want to do all of those little things a little bit more perfectly. You take one step at a time. I think resting better and really exercising your mind the same way you do your body will make a difference.

Hannah Rae Finchamp - Mediterranean Epic, alley

Photo by Cano Fotosports

MTBK: When you were winning XTERRA World Championships what was your mindset then? Was it just like go out there, go as hard as you can and see what happens versus this additional mindset and mental preparedness? How does that compare six years ago?

Hannah: It’s so funny as I’ve asked myself that a lot of times as well because in mental preparation, that’s what you do. You think back to your most perfect races and you think how did I feel then. I’ve had a lot of great moments on the mountain bike that I could pull on to. I’ve won Collegiate national championships and I have those moments and I can think of what I felt then, but to think back to XTERRA worlds, it’s different for me. It’s hard for me to put myself there and I’ve come to the conclusion that I was so young then.

There just weren’t so many thoughts. I think that in and of itself, is a discovery. I think that’s so beautiful and that’s what I would encourage other high school kids to take advantage of. Not that you don’t have thoughts, because if someone had said that to me in high school I would have been like, “You are not inside my head.” But there’s a beauty in the years and in the fact that I didn’t have every single moment of the race necessarily calculated. I was just out there doing my absolute best. I would encourage kids to stick with what works for them and not let noise from the outside begin to cloud the quietness.

MTBK: How often do you lift weights or run as part of your training regimen?

Hannah: I lift weights twice a week and I start that during the offseason in November. I up the intensity all the way through about now in March and then I start a maintenance program throughout the season. There might be a few big blocks when I’m not racing as much but I mostly just stick with maintenance throughout the season and I keep it at twice a week. And then really the only time I run is during cyclo-cross season or during the off season.

MTBK: Is a day on the mountain bike mainly just climbing tough hills over and over?

Hannah: I do a lot of interval work so I spend quite a few days on the road, even if it’s still on my mountain bike. I like to do intervals on my mountain bike just because it is a slightly different feel than a road bike and so it’s more sports specific. Throughout the week, I’ll have maybe three really hard interval days and then depending on where we’re at, maybe less intense ones or aerobic rides where I am just going out and loving my bike. Over time you get so used to those parameters that you really can just relax, find your rhythm, and ride the trails. We’re so lucky here in Salt Lake and close to Park City. We have so many miles to explore. I’m really happy to be living here now.

MTBK: What are your favorite healthy foods?

Hannah: I love sweet potatoes. That’s probably my number one favorite. Sweet potatoes and then every Monday it’s salmon night at my house.

MTBK: My math could be wrong but you’re aging out of the U23 category this year, is that correct?

Hannah: It was actually last year for me. I’m 23 this year but I have a December birthday. It’s been brutal. I feel like that December birthday haunted me. I’m finally passed it. There’s no more aging out. I’m committed now and I’m not going to feel it anymore.

MTBK: What’s your upcoming race schedule?

Hannah: I’ll do the first two UCI Pro XCT races in California, Bonelli and Vail Lake. A few weeks after those I’ll go to Sea Otter.

Hannah Rae Finchamp - Mediterranean Epic, Beach

Photo by Cano Fotosports

Giro Disciple Helmet Review

Featured view of the Giro Disciple mountain bike helmet

Let’s face it. Comfort is a factor when choosing the best mountain biking helmet for your kids. Of course, safety features come first, but without comfort, your kid won’t fully enjoy the ride. The Giro Disciple MIPS helmet manages to balance both of these things – comfort and safety with ease. Plus, it has some interesting modern features.

Featured view of the Giro Disciple mountain bike helmet

Size Chart For The Giro Disciple Bike Helmet

Size (in)Size (cm)
Small20.5 - 21.7552 - 55.5
Medium21.75 - 2355.5 - 59
Large23 - 24.2559 - 62.5
Extra-Large24.5 - 25.562.5 - 65

These sizes are for the circumference of the noggin. Get out the tape measure and see what size you need. Our 15 year-old wears a medium. The EVO site tells us the small size weighs in at 1150 grams and the large weighs 1300 grams.

Detail of vents in the chin bar on the Giro Disciple
Goggles and the Giro Disciple mountain bike helmet

Safety Features For The Giro Disciple Mountain Bike Helmet 

Above all else, safety features matter and the Giro Disciple with MIPS protection has plenty of them. The exterior of the helmet is made of fiberglass with custom-injected gasket trimmings. The jawline contains some additional padding, in the form of vinyl nitrile, adding to the helmet’s overall impact cushioning power. On top of this, the MIPS system redirects the energy produced by an impact, protecting your child’s head should they fall mid-ride. On top of this, the visor bolts on (no tools needed) and there are also emergency removable cheek pads, just to provide some extra cushioning.

Giro Disciple full face helmet - manufacturer photo - side view
Giro Disciple full face helmet - manufacturer photo - rear view
Giro Disciple full face helmet - manufacturer photo - three quarter view

Comfort And Color Choices 

Thanks to the interior padding and the vented brow ports, the Giro Disciple is as comfortable to wear as it is safe. The vents allows in air, cooling down the head mid-ride, while the padding not only gives them some additional cushioning, but it prevents their head from pushing right up against the fiberglass helmet. We all know that this matters, as kids are more likely to complain less when wearing a comfortable helmet.

See current prices and color choice on: Backcountry | EVO | Jenson USA

Giro Disciple helmet for safety on the jumps
Giro Disciple full face helmet paired with a neck brace
The Giro Disciple helmet is a full-face helmet for mountain biking

What Our Kid Thinks 

We have the luxury of living close to the Backcountry warehouse in Salt Lake City and that allows us to have access to a lot of merchandise. We stopped by for a fitting for our 15 year old prior to a trip last year and he tried on several helmets before choosing this one. When asked why he chose the Giro Disciple, he said “I really like all the vents in this helmet because that helps make if comfortable. For enduro races, I can also remove the cheek pads so I have additional ventilation. I kind of have a Hawaii Five-O style going on right now, so I really like the graphics. The only thing I would change is how the chin strap fastens. I’d replace the old school d-ring with a buckle.”

Action camera attached to the Giro Disciple mountain bike helmet
Rear detail view of the Giro Disciple full face mtb helmet

Built In Action Camera Mount and Headphone Pockets 

Recording point of view rides with this helmet is easy as it comes with a built-in camera mount. With this integrated breakaway P.O.V. mount, you can hook up an action camera to the helmet and experience your womp rats’ trips down the trails later on, from the comfort and safety of your couch.

Inserting headphones in the Giro Disciple mountain bike helmet
Headphones inserted in the Giro Disciple full face mountain bike helmet for kids
Headphones concealed in the Giro Disciple mtb helmet

The helmet even has built-in speaker pockets that are compatible with Tuneups Audio Speakers and O-Snap Audio Cable management, making it simple for them to set up their smartphones and listen to their own riding playlists no matter which trail they’re on.

Use headphones responsibly and make good choices when riding. If you believe using headphones while riding will affect your safety or the safety of others – unplug or silence your device.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the Giro Disciple with MIPS protection is a full-face mountain bike helmet that checks many things off of the list. It’s impact resistant, has plenty of padding to make it comfortable, and the camera mount and speaker pockets are good contemporary technological features.