Bobby McMullen is crazy about bikes. Year round the visually impaired rider eats, sleeps and dreams about riding, he just can't get enough. For several years now he has been making the long drive up to Whistler from his home in California (okay his girlfriend Heidi drives) to spend a week riding in the Whistler Bike Park and to compete in the Air DH. We caught up with Bobby for a few questions on what he thinks of the Kokanee Crankworx festival and why it keeps drawing him back every year. How long have you been coming to Crankworx?
Heidi Suchard has been referred to as Bobby's "seeing eye girlfriend". She is his most regular guide, no wonder he calls her his much better half.
I believe this is my sixth or seventh year.And what keeps bringing you back?
Look around you. You know Whistler, it's a beautiful place to ride, it's world renowned as a destination resort, you know the people are phenomenal. I really think I was meant to be a Canadian. But it's by far the biggest event I attend and participate in as an athlete and what I think is really unique about it is that while you have the best venue for cycling whether you are a competitor, whether your a downhill racer, a freerider, someone who loves dirt jumping, or even some of the various enduro type, super d type or cross country type events that are available for not only the highest level in the world that come here, but just for the everyday guy. People like me. I can come, go up and choose if I want to ride the Garbanzo. That's World Cup no matter how you think of it. The World Cup downhill here, the Canadian Open. I can go up there and actually point it down. If I want to see tomorrow I choose not to, but then you have something like A Line that is an exciting race, one of the most renowned trails on the planet and you get to kind of see where you fall on the same day, on the same course, the same terms, same jumps, same berms and same finish as the world's best racers all in one place. I don't think I need to say anymore about why I come. You know for me I kinda echo this all the time. It's about sunburned teeth and in the last few days I may be getting a little mud in the teeth from smiling too much, but you know we get to get up here and do what we love and also be fans and I think for the everyday guy who models themselves either parts-wise or clothes-wise, you get to stand in line against these guys and actually talk to them and find out that there's a lot of great individuals involved in this sport and Whistler brings it all together for ten days now.What's the A Line race like?
Wow! It is…it is…ummmm…it's is fun to ride, it's scary to race for me. You know from my perspective it's been years of rolling it, landing on top of tables, you know the biggest tables I hit all year. The A Line race I get in one run I don't know fifty, one hundred of the best jumps and berms I will see in a year's time and I get to go back and do it time and time again. It's thrilling, it's fast, the crowd reaction when you are out there, to hear your name being called, you know go, go, go, pin it. It's incredibly exciting to be part of it.
Every year my times got a little bit better, I've had a couple of spills, I hit the bridge last year. I don't really know what it's going to bring, but for me you know that's racing at the highest level. Some would say, oh it's not that hard, it's not tricky. I think for the everyday Joe though, we go out and ride it and enjoy it and get some air no matter how big or how small. But to put a plate on and race it…that's what racing is. You put a number plate on and you're going to do unreasonable things and A Line is absolutely unreasonable for a visually impaired athlete who depends on a guide to say pull up over twenty foot tabletops.
What do you look for in your guide and what sort of trust do you have to put in him?
Craig Wilson leads Bobby down A Line. When Bobby is in Whistler Craig is his regular guide and has helped him run the Air DH for the past two years.
Ohhh, what do I look for in a guide?
Communication, it sounds odd to start that cause people always think that you gotta be a great rider. I need a solid rider and up here, I ride both with Heidi, I've ridden with yourself, I ride with a number of people who know the mountain and are comfortable on big bikes and are great communicators. I think the level of communication grows with trust and riding. That they trust that I can ride where they take me, or where I ask them to take me. I think the trust comes in that whether I am riding with you, Craig or Heidi, they know that you're gonna get my best each run and for me to ride it, what I love to do at the level I do and at the risks I take, I have to give it a hundred and ten percent. More importantly to me…you know Matty it's, it's that you're taking your time to help me lead the life that I've chosen. On a kind of a sentimental, heart felt note that's important to me…that you've got to gear your riding down, you have to gear your riding style down to allow me to experience something I love to do and that's a pretty major commitment to a person, a major gift to be honest with you and I'm here to ride my bike and pin it like everybody else and when we ride well, if I ride well, my guide's going to ride well. When my guide rides well, I'm going to ride well and the faster, the bigger, the looser, the bigger berms, the harder cornering I can do, when I give my guide a hundred and ten percent, both with commitment and trust and my ability.Craig Wilson has taken you down some pretty serious stuff, tell us about Craig.
Craig is a local, hard working soul. Full time I think he works for the Canadian Transportation Department (Whistler Transit), doing something mysterious about buses. I think he is probably a secret agent for Canada. Uummm and he sends it, the guy sends it and he is such a strong rider and such a hard rider who will ride anything at the highest level that Santa Cruz Bicycles uses him as a test pilot. And I don't mean giving him little pieces of equipment to ride and represent, his job is to go out and try to ruin the stuff. I think that he plays a major role up here on a daily basis, developing the Santa Cruz bikes. Yes I am a Santa Cruz rider for life, I'm sponsored by them and in the back rooms where those bikes are built, well Craig Wilson gets that product and comes out and tests 'em. Everyone says, ohh, what a great job, but in fact what he does is just rides. He doesn't do anything special, he doesn't have special machines, he just rides hard and would be doing the same thing whether he was testing bikes or not.
So we connected, the four of us a couple years ago and he expressed interest in being on the front for me. We took a couple of runs, he's an amazing rider and he can make millisecond adjustments to his riding to allow me to get through the sketchiest, or the biggest, the loosest, the wettest roots, rocks, drops and the guy just seems to be in my head too. He'll make the right call, the right line to get me back adjusted if I am off line, to set me up right for jumps, and I think it really helps that we are on the same page and I am very fortunate to have connected with such a high level rider.
He's a beer drinking, or cocktail drinking fool like myself who laughs a lot, works incredibly hard in what he does, he's got a couple of different jobs and when I come up here I just add to the mix and add to his stress probably by saying, "hey want to go for a couple runs?"
What is your favourite event here?
Bobby loves to have air under his tires. The Whistler Bike Park crew have done such a good job sculpting their jumps that even a blind guy can hit them.
Riding everyday. Any trail you put me on that is an event in itself, just being here for the whole week of it. I get the opportunity to race the A Line event, since day one, one of my favourite events, I look forward to it every year. At the same time they do some events here that are completely unreasonable for me and every year I come up thinking I want to go try the Garbanzo, but heck I can't ride sections.
The have an enduro now, that is such a growing sport. What they are doing now allows more people in the sport to participate. You know downhilling isn't for everybody, but where they go out in the raw trails out there and developed a race where pedaling matters, but it's not the most important thing like XC racing. The choices for me just get more and more and more, but I get to spend a limited amount of time here and I just love the park so when I tee it up on every run I get a chance to be a freerider. I can be Simmons or Berrecloth on any given run. You know, it's just that opportunity to ride with these people, to experience the terrain that the Craig Wilson's get to experience.
For me that's the treat, that's the event. Everyday I roll out of bed I go, 'I get to go up the mountain today and hit the best trails today that I will see all year' and so I want to capitalize and that in itself is my favourite event.
Now…how does someone with rather limited eyesight enjoy the slopestyle?
Riding with Bobby is an eye opening experience. For a blind guy he is fast! Here he is going into the step-down on Heart of Darkness.
(Laughs) In year's past I get great play by plays, it's a lot like sitting through the fourth of July in the States. A bunch of ooohhhhing and aaahhhhing and the announcers are solid. I have no idea when they describe the flatspin, chickenbone, one footer landing, you know inverted off the box. I know what a box is, I know what upside down means and when the crowd roars, I roar. I pick up a lot of the vibe from the audience, but it's great, it is a crowd pleaser. Those guys, just again, are operating at the highest level, and just hucking their carcasses and how do you not just cheer all you can for that?
Heidi tries to describe it and Bjorn Enga one year tried and I just love it when they go 'ahhhh, oh my god'. And I'll go, 'what just happened', and they'll go 'I don't know, I can't even describe it myself'.
Alright, any thank you's to sponsors or anyone else like that that you'd like to mention?
Bobby hits up the GLC Drop in the 2011 Air DH. It is only the second time he has hit it in the race. When he has confidence in his guide it is amazing what he will try.
Oh my Gosh, I want to thank, ahhhh, you and Pinkbike for picking on me for a little bit, cause I deserve it. Whistler Bike Park has always been awesome to me, they have taken great care of me and of course my sponsors, WTB, Santa Cruz Bikes, SR Suntour, Clifbar, Kali Protectives, Crankbrothers, DVS shoes. They take great time and pride in making sure I get to events like this, and I'm lucky to do what I do.
I have to thank Miss Heidi Suchard, my much, much better half, for being patient with me on the trails and Mr. Craig Wilson cause we're gonna get up and kill it a few more times. And everybody out there who finds interest in what I do, I'm lucky to have these opportunities and for every person who comes up and taps me in line or sees me on the trail and pulls aside with the utmost respect to let me do what I do and recognize that, that's a privilege. I'm very, very thankful for all of that.
Finally, could you beat Lopes at a game of darts?
Bobby is so stoked all of the time, he has an incredible amount of energy. Here he points out the riders hitting the GLC Drop.
I have a great story about that and I've got to share it. It wasn't darts, we were in Mark Weir's garage and he has a game where you pound a nail into the wall and you tie a ring onto the end of a piece of string that is tied to one of the rafters . The idea is that you stand on a line and you try to get that ring, by arcing it correctly onto this nail. And Weir considers himself quite a master at this, but guys will just compete. You get ten tosses, then the next guy gets ten tosses and the next guy and the next guy. Well Weir nails it down in six or seven tries, you know home field advantage and the rest of the guys are drinking beer and banging 'em down once in a while. Well, Lopes gets up and he is up there forever, and he is such a competitor, and that is one of his greatest strengths. That's why he is still around, he's an athlete and a competitor and dedicated. He was as dedicated at this ring game that he couldn't master. Well, he gave it up.
And I'm like, I'll give it a try, so Weir lines me up and the first one kind of tinges off, second toss, onto the nail, complete, blind luck. I don't know if I have ever been around Lopes since then when he's been so intent on doing something. Dude banged away at it and couldn't do it.
Favourite Lopes story, awesome, great competitor that guy, absolutely, we're good friends, I know he will share a laugh with that one.
|I get to go up the mountain today and hit the best trails that I will see all year! - Blind Bobby McMullen|