Caleb and I arrived at the Wide Open HQ to meet up with their team riders and get amongst some photo and video action. Crouching behind a laptop in the offices was a silent figure, tapping constantly at the keys, obviously busy with some very important business and completely tuned out from the commotion around him as we caught up with the Wide Open crew, discussed our latest escapades, talked smack on Brook MacDonald’s mustache and put together a plan for the following days.
After a few minutes the figure behind the laptop stood up, smiled and joined right in with the banter. Matt Whittaker entered the room and did the ‘official’ intro; “everyone, meet Matt ‘V’ from FSA.” ‘Matt V’ he was dubbed for the next few days. Just look at that surname; until it was written in front of us we had no idea how it was actually said or written. Amateurs! (In hindsight I don’t really know why we were struggling with this at all!)
We spent a bit of time with Matt over the following days, with him presenting the 2011 product range seamlessly to the New Zealand dealers, and shredding a little of the Whakarewarewa forest while he was in town.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Matt VanEnkevort.
How old are you?
Just turned 50 this year. Geez, that seems ancient…..
Where do you live?
Kirkland, Washington, just outside of Seattle, on the edge of a MTB park.
I think it was a Schwinn Varsity, bright orange, with 27″ steel wheels, and stem shifters. I broke it jumping off some sweet bit of dirt, and my parents were pissed. My first mountain bike was a 1982 Stumpjumper Sport, and I rode the hell out of it. We took them up glaciers in Alaska, and on every old mining road or trail we could find. I did my first race in 1983, and rode that bike until I broke it in 1986.
What’s your day job?
I am the managing director of Full Speed Ahead, Inc., in the USA. We manufacture, sell, and market FSA, Gravity, and Vision brand products.
Best thing about your day job?
We make bike parts, all day long, and sell them to bike companies and re-sellers. So, basically I hang out with a bunch of bike nerds all the time.
What motivates you to get out of bed and go to work each day?
The hunt for the almighty dollar! Not really. I’m pretty personally motivated, and I identify with our brands so closely that I feel like it’s my butt on the line every day. Also, I am a competitor. I like to win if possible.
Best spot in the world to ride?
Hard to say. Washington has some incredible singletrack, but it’s under snow much of the year. Moab is hard to beat in the spring. I still ride the park in Whistler, but as I get older, I worry a little about eating it hard and missing work. If I had to choose one, I would say Cascade Mountains in Washington. There’s miles and miles of singletrack, and seriously long descents (20-25km).
What can’t you travel without?
iPhone, laptop, Kindle eBook reader, and sunglasses. We don’t get a lot of sun in Seattle, so I squint a lot.
What can you not live without?
My wife, coffee, good bourbon, and adventure. I grew up in Alaska, and I really enjoy climbing, backcountry skiing, etc. I gotta get outside as much as I can. Life is only worth living if it has a little danger and excitement.
With winter hitting the US now, what will you do over the colder season?
I backcountry ski a fair bit, and do some winter mountaineering, but mostly ride bikes. Sure, it’s pissy wet, cold, and dark, but it’s still riding.
What’s wrong with mountain biking?
Right now, I would say that suspension design evolution has peaked, and brands are using smaller points of differentiation to compete. So, you’ll see many brands with similar design features, and just small colour or dimensional differences. This is part of what’s causing further fragmentation in the market. MTB’s now are so specific—big bikes, DJ bikes, AM bikes, park bikes, XC bikes, enduro, etc—remember when it was just a mountain bike and you did everything with it?
What’s right with mountain biking?
If you compared the bikes we ride now to the bikes we rode in the 80s, they are so much better. Try doing a 50k cross-country race with no suspension. Okay, many riders still do go rigid, but most folks would be destroyed. The durability, performance, and comfort is so much better than it used to be. That’s how an old fart like me can still ride the bike parks.
Who do you look up to?
Anyone who rides well, and lives for it. If it had to be a specific rider, I would say Ned Overend. He’s 50+ years old, and just won a national XC championship for singlespeeders. Or John Tomac, ’cause back in my day, he was the man!
Where do you live?
Uh, I think I already answered that. In a house.
What do you like best about living where you do?
Mountains, ocean, all within a reasonable distance. It reminds me a lot of New Zealand. We got the same kind of environment (wet, green), and have definite seasons, not like Southern California, where it’s always summer. A little winter is good for you.
What do you dislike about living where you do?
Traffic sucks. It can be a bit snobby in places.
Favourite piece of bike kit?
My DaKine bike pack. Room for everything, so comfortable, and stylish too. Makes me look like I know what’s what.
What are your vices?
Do you have enough space for this list? Okay, there’s not really that many. I enjoy a nice bottle of the grain sometimes. Good bourbon never lasts more than a few days in my house. I can be lazy, but I also obsess. Once I start some project, I have a hard time stopping. I can be a bit sarcastic.
Any crazy injury stories you’d like to share?
Oh, I’ve had some good ones. I’ve eaten it pretty good in the Whistler Bike park before, and had full body length bruises, but I suppose the worst was losing my right thumb. I was road riding, descending a pretty fast switchback, hit some greasy wet leaves, and went banging into the guard rail. My right hand got caught between the rail and the handlebar, and sliced my right thumb off at the base. Luckily, I found it before the ambulance came, and they sewed it back on. Some of it died, but I got to keep about half, which is a hell of a lot better than none. I can still grip a bar pretty well, but I have to be a bit more careful not to blow off of a grip.
Got any dirt / story of a pro MTBer you’d like to share?
I’ve done some pretty fun rides with some old school MTB racers like Andreas Hestler, and Greg Randolph (aka Chopper). They both know how to ride the S*** out of a bike, and still throw down around the campfire. Dre (Andreas) showed us all this fireside game called Bear-Cowboy-Ninja. Without going into much detail, it’s like the rock-paper-scissors game, but with your whole body. It gets kinda heated at times, depending on your level of intoxication, and I vaguely remember Dre falling backward into the fire at some point. Not sure if that’s the kind of dirt you mean.
Some word association:
Kelly McGarry – hair farmer with a big smile
Red Bull Rampage – mental illness personified
Tour De France – hard way to make a living
Lycra – not suitable some audiences
Dirt Jumping – falling out of the sky
Carbon Fibre – alternate use for oil
Lastly what’s your favourite FSA product and why?
Headsets. Deceptively simple, tremendously durable, and you can’t ride switchbacks without them.