If you’re reading this site, it’s because we’re linked by a common passion. A borderline obsession probably. We may come from different corners of the planet and do different things to finance our riding habit, but we’re all united by a special place that a simple machine connecting two wheels and a human powered chain leads us to.
One of the folks who you may have ridden up the chair within Whistler last summer is Thomas Greiss. A self-admitted bike geek with an interesting day job as an NHL hockey goalie, and two-time Olympian. While the cliché joke in hockey is to send opposing players to the golf course after being eliminated from playoff competition, Greiss (who hates golf) would rather A-Line straight to Whistler after the season. And no, B-Line is not the more appropriate allegory to describe activities for “Greisser,” unless maybe he’s doing a lap with a young fan. Greiss is more likely to be throwing his bike around A-Line, Joyride, or Captain Safety than cruising down B-Line. [Ed note: Don’t explain the difference to his NHL boss.] All of which seems like the opposite of what you’d expect from him if you've witnessed his unwavering calm demeanor during any of his NHL playoff interviews.
He is, as he appears on TV, an incredibly soft spoken guy who never seems to get riled up about anything - even while being the last line of defense in the most intense double overtime playoff games. Plus, he plays a hockey position that’s mostly confined to sliding back and forth across a 6’ x 8’ blue painted box. So, he’d appear to be the least likely guy to get rowdy ripping around on a bike with a bunch of freeriders in Whistler. But while most of his peers’ head to exotic tropical destinations to golf or simply relax and recoup in the off-season, Greiss can more likely be found deep in the forest riding with buddies like Darren Berrecloth or Greg Watts.
So, who is Thomas Greiss? And is he one of us?
Who is Thomas Greiss?
A 30-year-old German living in the States for the last 10 years who likes his beers and all kinds of action sports but didn't have the balls to do them himself so settled on playing hockey. Hometown?
Born in Fussen, Germany. Currently living close to Brevard, NC in the off-season. And of course, New York. You're a pro hockey player for the New York Islanders, Germany (In 2 Olympics) and Team Europe (World Cup of Hockey 2016)? Any sponsors or good folks that help you out?
The biggest one is my hockey equipment sponsor Vaughn. For sure they're great to work with. There are lots of great bike industry people I've gotten to meet over the years who like hockey. The Gravity Cartel with IXS/Spank, Devinci Cycles, Yeti, and Specialized are just a few who I've been lucky enough to meet and ride with! What do you love most about your 'day job'?
Just the competition part. Playing at a high level and pushing yourself as far and hard as possible. Also, it’s just a fun time in the dressing room and traveling with a good group of guys, staying together through the ups and down of a long season.
If playing hockey wasn’t your day job, what would you want to do?
That’s a tough one. I played a lot of sports growing up and was quite good at skiing. Maybe I would have focused more on that. But other than an athletic career, I always enjoyed Engineering and Math so probably something in that direction. Or maybe a ski/bike bum. Why do you ride?
Growing up in south Germany in the Alps, there was a lot of great riding right at my doorstep. My parents are also big bikers to this day, with my dad being almost 75 and still going for 50+ mile mountain bike rides. They got me into mountain biking for sure and started my love for it. I love being out in the woods and on a mountain. It’s also a nice change with being inside a lot with hockey. Also, I dislike running, so biking is a good way to get my cardio in. Plus, there is usually a nice reward for grinding up with a fun downhill coming back down.
Where are your favourite places to ride? Why?
I have been lucky enough to ride in a lot of places, but Whistler and Squamish are up there for sure! I do a bike trip with a bunch of buddies every summer and we have been to Whistler the last few years. We always have a great time there. The trails are so well built and have a great progression and just make you a better rider. Then my home trails around where I am living in NY are pretty fun! When I played with the San Jose Sharks there were great trails (and a great scene) right over the hill in Santa Cruz. When I played for the Coyotes, Phoenix/Scottsdale had some awesome trails, including some that I could ride right from my front door. My last few summers I spent close to Brevard, NC and there are tons of fun trails with a great variety from flowy fast to steep and technical. Plus, they have great beer down there (very important for a German) and good BBQ! Then back home in Germany, it’s always great to ride with friends and family on the trails you grew up on.
In Whistler, it would be Schleyer, Original Sin, Clown Shoes, and all those technical trails. I’m not a big jumper but love the technical stuff. Freight Train is fun to mix it up and Fade to Black is a fun one, especially because I have never seen braking bumps in there! Around Brevard, it would be Benett Gap and Farlow Gap. Both easy pedals up and fun technical downhill, with a bunch of stream crossings on Farlow. Santa Cruz has too many fun trails to even start picking one! Tom’s Thumb was the out the door go-to in Arizona. But lot’s of fun stuff between Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Sedona. Any folks you like to ride with?
Anybody who has fun riding their bike, that’s one of the great things about mountain biking; you meet lots of cool people. You’re on your way up in the chairlift, meet somebody new, maybe do a few laps together. And it’s always great when I get to ride with my buddies from back home or North America. One place you’d love to ride, but haven’t made it yet?
New Zealand. It just looks amazing over there. Unluckily, with the hockey schedule, it’s not the easiest destination to go hit up. But it's on the bucket list for sure. I love the scenery over there and the trails seem to be killer.
One guy or gal you’d love to ride with, but haven’t yet?
Biking has lots of great characters! But I am a big Steve Peat fan. I think it would be a fun time riding with him. At least ‘till he leaves me in the dust two turns into the track. Where are you happiest?
Lots of places; playing hockey, riding bikes, and the biggest one is probably spending time with the family. What is (or was) your favourite hockey venue and/or event?
Chicago has one of the best rinks in the NHL. The anthem singer is the best in the league and gets the crowd really fired up. The Olympics in Vancouver was special as well. The Canadian's love for hockey made for a great tournament and experience. What are your strengths as a rider?
I am a pretty big (as in 230 lb.) rider with decent strength. So, I am pretty natural at muscling the bike around and just holding a straight line to plow through the rough stuff
Weaknesses as a rider?
I'm not the most comfortable jumper. I always feel like if I go down hard with a big injury it would happen on a big jump.
Tell us about your worst crash over the years.
I have been pretty lucky over the last few years with nothing major. I ride on the safer side of things as an injury could be pretty bad for the whole hockey thing. A few stitches here and there were the biggest penalties since I've been in North America. Back home in Germany when I was younger I managed to knock myself out after my head met a tree. Which bike from over the years conjures up the best memories?
Nowadays pretty much all bikes are so well designed and fun it’s hard to pick one, but thinking back my first real mountain bike; fully rigid, but with decent rim brakes was awesome! It started the love for biking that is still going strong. Current bikes and build?
Yeti SB6C XO1 stock build. No carbon wheels. Only modification; Magura MT7 brakes. Devinci Wilson 26, Spank wheels and handlebar and Shimano Saint brakes.
Who or what inspires you?
Every time I see a Matt Hunter 'Trail Hunter' video I just wanna go ride my bike. I think he is one of the best at just bringing the joy of riding onto the computer screen. Also, just the pure fun of playing hockey and riding bikes. At the end of the day, I am very lucky to play a game for work. Sometimes it can get a bit too serious, but I always gotta remember why I started playing, and that's just for the pure love of it.
What do you enjoy doing away from bikes and the hockey arena?
Spending time with the family and our three dogs. They keep me busy and are a good distraction from hockey. What are you listening to right now? (pre-game)?
Pre-game we have one of the younger guys in charge as the DJ. There is a pretty wild mix of pump up songs from hip-hop to rock to some classic stuff. Just hanging out or on the plane I love Pandora or services like that. My favorite bands are Coldplay, older Green Day and Offspring. Favourite movie/TV show?
Family Guy, Batman movies, Iron Man. Favourite non-bike website?
Google. Favourite motto or saying?
Not a motto really, but I saw a quote this summer that I liked: "The average cyclist pedals 1852 miles per year and drinks 22 gallons of beer. That's 84 MPG." What makes you happy?
Riding bikes, family time, and BBQ's with German beer. What grinds your gears?
Traffic. Especially here in NY.
If you were in charge of the sport of mountain biking, what changes would you make?
Pay the riders a salary more deserving of their skill and work ethic and make sure they have great health care. We see you actively support Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day and Autism Awareness, anything you'd like to comment on that?
The smiles say it all. Special skills?
Can cook 1-minute rice in 57 seconds. When you hang up your skates, how do you want to be remembered?
Good teammate. One that played hard for the guys in the locker room. What does the future hold for Thomas Greiss?
Hopefully a few more good years of hockey. And maybe after that somebody will hire me somewhere to bum around in a bike shop. Or who knows, maybe something totally unexpected will present itself.