Matt Walker’s putting it all together
words by Nick Lambert
images by Boris Beyer
One of my favourite anecdotes about Matt is from 2008, when he was dirtbagging around Europe. In those days, 4X was a big deal, contested by the who’s who of the sport due to the intense level of competition. I was at the World Champs in Val di Sole, Italy, watching Elite 4X training, standing on a berm with a bunch of fast Frenchmen around me, including Fabian Barel. The track had a straight with two lines: one with a massive double, the other with a slightly smaller (but still huge) triple. You know it’s a tough feature when there’s a cluster of the world’s best riders gathered before it, psyching up. There were plenty of ugly cases, with the watching Frenchies jeering and heckling everyone.
Matt rolled in from the start ramp, through the cluster of stationary riders, and didn’t just clear the double, but transitioned across to it from the smaller triple’s takeoff on the other line—all with style. The gathered French mass went quiet, then started mumbling amongst themselves. That moment sums up Matt on a bike: super stylish, fearless, unconventional, and extremely fast.
We never got to see Matt at that World Champs 4X, though, as he axed himself big time in his DH race run. That in itself is part of the story of his bad luck, until this year.
I’ve watched Matt’s race career over the seasons, always feeling he was due for a run of good luck soon. Invariably, something didn’t go right—injuries, plain bad luck, and (in my opinion) being on teams that weren’t a good fit for him.
That’s why it’s satisfying to be writing this now, after Matt’s completed the best season of his career. As recently as March, Matt was managing an injury, working his training around some broken bones in his foot and re-injured ankle ligaments that put him in a cast for six weeks during the peak of pre-season training time.
At that time, it was clear he was enjoying being on the Pivot team. He spoke of not only his fellow team members, Kiwi Eddie Masters and Brit Bernard Kerr, but of the mechanics and managers being on the same wavelength, and how he instantly ‘clicked’ with the bikes. It was apparent even in those early stages that he’d found a home.
We spoke about urban DH races, which Matt excels at, and his excitement at having the Pivot team willing to send him to a select few; his previous team wouldn’t cover costs for him to get to such events. At one stage, Matt sold his car in New Zealand to get to Chile, confident he could do well. He admits to sitting on a plane thinking ‘what the hell am I doing?’. It paid off; he made the podium, earning enough prize money to buy a replacement car on his return home.
Urban DH events, especially those through the chaotic back streets of South America, are intriguing. Though they’re not the priority for a World Cup DH and EWS team, they provide some of the most viewed videos ever. Matt looks forward to them, feeling that he does well because he’s able to block out the consequences of zipping through stone alleyways with 50mm clearance either side of the bars, or dropping flights of stairs with buildings on every side. He takes it a section at a time, noting it’s a relevant carryover to DH and EWS racing: being able to do a short section virtually perfectly. All it takes is to string them together and you have a winning run. He acknowledges it’s different on an EWS run that entails stringing together hundreds of perfect sections, or a World Cup DH, which requires absolute perfection with such close racing.
It’s the World Cup DH and EWS races that are more prestigious for a pro racer, and Matt raced into form this season. With results coming in line with his fun-loving adventures, his Instagram following has hit 27,000 this year. Asked if that means he’s an ‘influencer’ now, he takes it in stride, firing back. “Yeah, I’ve had some pretty random offers through Instagram! From Uber Eats, to clothes, to trips, to races. Instagram is a big part of the sport, so it’s always a goal to continue to grow it with good content!”
He says generating good content is easier said than done, but from what I’ve seen of his feed, he’s living the life we less-talented riders would consider signing a deal with the devil for!
Matt is justifiably chuffed with his season, particularly his eighth overall in the EWS. It’s especially satisfying considering his less-than-ideal buildup and a mechanical at round two, but things clicked towards the end and his consistency shone through. He says, “I surprised myself more than a few times with how I rode in unfamiliar places and terrain. It was a huge confidence boost that I’m heading in the right direction to be where I want to be—and that I can do it!”
His favourite track of the year wasn’t from his best EWS performances, or any of the World Cup DH races, or even any of the other high-profile events like Red Bull Hardline or Crankworx. It was the stages in the Tasmanian round of the EWS. “I would love to get back to Derby to explore and ride there more!” exclaims Matt. “Great terrain, awesome dirt, and well-built trails.”
And although it isn’t really a track, Matt’s standout performance winning the Bogota urban DH produced one of the best POV videos of the year, with fellow Fly-co-sponsored Remy Metailler chasing him down the course. I asked about the random stray dogs they had to dodge, and the wickedly slippery brick paths. His response was of even tougher features: “There were some massively intimidating features, like the switchback wallride. They looked insane, but if you committed and got your head around it, you realised it really wasn’t so bad. The hardest thing was a combination of the altitude (2700m) and the amount of pedalling—it meant anyone’s brain would struggle to keep up. When you’re dropping into a set of steep stairs with no rhythm, it made for a lot of sketchy moments, and big crashes for some”.
Matt’s 2020 season is looking good: having signed to Pivot for another two-year contract, he’ll be racing with a robust team culture. Like the season just gone, he’s going to race every event he can, including full EWS and World Cup DH rounds, plus Red Bull Hardline, Urban DH races, Crankworx, and maybe a few European Cups.
Wrapping up, I asked Matt if he had anything to add. With his reputation for partying as hard as he shreds, I was expecting some tall, unpublishable tale. Instead, he surprised me with a few words of wisdom that encapsulate not only his ethos but what we all should strive for: “Ride what’s best, not what you get the best deal on!”
Followed by his recommendation to “Keep it fun, and the rest will follow!”
Wise words indeed, Matt. We look forward to seeing what your 2020 season on the Pivot team holds in store.