John Tomac: American Mountain Bike Legend - Video

Oct 10, 2017
by Bell Bike Helmets  

Morning comes early on Tomac ranch. Work starts before sunup.

There are crops to tend to, fields to be tilled. The horses and chickens need to be fed. There are a variety of machines to gas up and maintain, and there’s also the matter of two motocross tracks to take care of.

John Tomac runs this operation. He has two full-time ranch workers on staff, but he’s a hands-on boss. Most days, he’s out there getting dirty. The retired pro bike racer, winner of world championships, World Cups and national titles in multiple disciplines, knows that no one ever said ranching was easy. But to see him here on his sprawling 800-acre property, surrounded by the La Plata and San Juan Mountain ranges in the high desert plateau of Cortez, Colorado, is to see a man who is truly in his element.

This rough-hewn life can seem at odds with Tomac’s years as a professional bike racer. Because, let’s face it, he made it look easy. From BMX to cross-country, road racing to downhill, Tomac moved in and out of all varieties of bike racing; and wherever he went, he won. In the late 1980s and ’90s, his image was everywhere. He was a poster boy. A rock star. One week we’d see him bombing down a dusty mountain trail in the Rockies, riding a Yeti with drop handlebars, the next he’d be hammering the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix with Team 7-Eleven.

If you want to read more on Tomac's story, hit the Bell website.

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156 Comments

  • + 230
 People always throw the term legend around. Tomac to me is the definition of bike legend. Period.
  • + 23
 Absolute legend and worthy hero. The sport misses him, IMO
  • + 1
 yep, for MTB i think Tomac, Barel and that's it... when or if Peaty and Minnar start doing some couching to pass on the torch to the younger generation I would call them legends too.
  • + 70
 G.O.A.T! Best JT story is from 1990 NORBA National at Mt. Snow when he won the hillclimb, XC & DH all on the same fully rigid drop-bar Yeti w/ toeclips. As a 20 year old starry eyed sport class racer he was our hero and as fans we went crazy cheering every time we heard the sound of the tension disc wheel coming through the woods as we knew we we're in for a good show!
  • + 14
 I can still hear the buzz of his Tioga tires
  • + 11
 i'm an old man but i am proud to say i have seen tomac race in person. during the twilight of his DH career he made that Tomac 204 Magnum and raced that sick bike around 1998. still remember that in the video Headliners. his riding style was ahead of its time.
  • + 0
 If I remember correctly he ran a 26 up front and a 24 in the rear. Downhillers have been mixing it up since the late 90s.24" on a BFR (big fat rim).
  • + 7
 @properp: Farmer Johns- I thought he designed them.
  • + 14
 www.pinkbike.com/photo/15258731 every 90s mountain bikers dream bike
  • + 3
 @properp: Don't recall him ever running a 24" in a race.
In memory, of the top pros only John Kitkcaldie on an RM9, a few Intense racers and the almost non-existent Specialized pros om Big Hits ran a 24" rear in competition.
  • + 2
 I grew up in MTB on a diet of MBA and Tomac articles and pics. I even had those Tiogas on my Giant ATX hardtail!
  • + 1
 @slabba53: I had the Farmer John Cousins that came out shortly after..
  • + 1
 @properp: Farmer John tires.........those were the days
  • + 1
 @rivercitycycles: in multicolored please
  • + 1
 @bizutch: I do have some short-term memory loss.
  • + 3
 @rivercitycycles: the days when you could take parts off one bicycle and Bolt them onto another.
  • + 1
 @properp: Yeah. The days when you took your trail bike with you to a DH race bike so you'd have spare parts.
At some point several years back, I went to toss my bike on the back headed to a race and realized there wasn't a single part other than the saddle I could rob from my trail bike if something broke.
  • + 0
 @properp: The industry had issues with standards back then....remember 130mm rear spacing then it jumped to 135mm.
  • + 2
 @rivercitycycles: lol the bike industry now has one standard. They will f## k any one with $.
  • + 58
 love this image: rigid yeti c-26, drop bars, team 7-11 kit, hairnet, oakley blades, raw loamer, and beer. badass: i.pinimg.com/736x/31/41/55/31415590117d5bedab31868a8d1e51d1--coors-light-long-hair.jpg
  • + 5
 That is an awesome picture!!
  • + 2
 looks like he's crackin a Coors light lol
  • + 3
 I used to drool over those Oakley Razor Blades at the original Cambria Bicycle when I was a kid. I've been buying up the anniversay reissue pairs over the last year and rock them all the time. The wife hates them.
  • + 47
 1991 gunnison 'rage in the sage' , Tomac was on lap 2 (pros did 2 laps) I was halfway thru my 1st lap (sport class did 1 lap, so I was getting lapped big time) I was on the side of the trail banging my bent front ring with a rock. Tomac went by yelled something about using a bigger rock. A couple of weeks later in Crested Butte , Tomac bent his ring during the race thru town, When I went around him I said 'use a bigger rock' he just laughed. The good old days, John,Tinker, Ned, Sarah, Hairball. Hanging out with Bradbury in the parking lots watching him change out elastomers on the manitou's. If you had one of his forks he would service it himself.
  • + 14
 I was there. Got lapped by Furtado. It was a privilege!
  • + 10
 That rock story is pure gold!!!!
  • + 1
 @Skootur: Isn't that the key to all success in life: "Use a bigger rock!"???
  • + 41
 I remember back in 94, he won both the WC XC race & WC DH race on the same weekend. That will never ever be repeated. He had heaps of grunt & masses of skill, in recent times I always thought he would be the ultimate Enduro racer. He was way ahead of his time.
  • + 13
 & I still wear my Tomac Shorts & Jersey's to races today. Every now & again someone will comment on them but most don't know what "Tomac" on my clothes stands for......Mountain Biker.
  • + 5
 Exactly. A true stud!
  • + 2
 Crazy I wasnt even born yet
  • + 2
 For sure.....
  • + 1
 I still run Nevegals on my 4X bike. Just for Tomac
  • + 23
 Interesting that he believes doping/EPO had an impact on XC racing in the 90's as well, and that he didn't want his son to be exposed to this. I wonder what the state of doping programs is like in World Cup mountain biking these days. We have seen super-human like results/domination in recent years from certain athletes, whether it be in XC, Enduro, or DH.
  • + 10
 Not saying his son is doping in moto racing but its also happening there. Also, Gwin is super human. God would never let dope!
  • + 8
 Jerome Chiotti was stripped of XC World championship title in 94 or 95. He handed himself in. He had been a pro roadie and did one or two seasons in mtb (same era that Cadel Evans was racing mtb and Paola Pezzo (spelling might be wrong there) was womens world champion). Chiotti was on a few cocktails. He's the only one I know of, but it coincided with the north American domination suddenly curtailing...
  • + 2
 Didn't one of the Grewal brothers get done as well?
  • + 1
 @alwayslivingthedream: Training with Tomac may not include doping but that doesn't mean it's not an unfair advantage.
  • + 1
 I don't think he means mountain bike racing. He means the road racing scene in the early 90s.
  • + 1
 I'd say that aside of specifics of the sport (roadies get more from dope than DHillers) likelyhood of doping is proportional to the money in the sport. An average member of pro roadie team earns much more than a top 10 DHiller, possibly XCer as well. Then there's plenty of know how required in positive test evasion. You need knowledgeable doctors, you need to corrupt officials. I think there's simply too little bang for the buck in mtb, at least DH and Enduro, to make dope worth it. Unless UCI testing in MTB is on a really low level
  • + 26
 "I did everything I could, and I did it the right way, and I have no regrets."

So awesome. How many people can say that?
  • + 1
 Believe me or not, I can say that about my trolling
  • + 17
 The one and only. ! Long time fan since the early of MBA etc.

Had the pleasure of being the uk tomac brand manager for short period a few years ago, and rode round Cwmcarn in South Wales on a media trip with him and joe smith.

We started on a big climb.. he was 3-4 riders behind me.. (I'd ridden the climb loads before) but this time my heart was racing just a little bit more ! And yeah, before I knew it he "bigger ringed' it past me and straight lined it through a load of rocks (uphill!)

So yeah, I ate his dust. And I loved it.

Top geezer, softly spoken and a true gent.
  • + 20
 Claudio + JohnnyT course preview would be next level MTB OG.
  • + 7
 I have a feeling Eli could handle a DH track. Claudio with a double Tomac course preview.
  • + 18
 John Tomac was my hero when I started MTB'ing. Great feature. Although I suspect most users on PB are probably too young to know :p
  • + 9
 Legendary father of hard core mtb. Sounds like a top notch dad also.
  • + 12
 Just listen to the voice. The voice will go down in history. The words and the emotions behind them will never be forgotten. He is the all American legend. It's nice to see and here the legend again. We need that a lot more from him. Everyone is looking for that one piece of ambition. Don't be a stranger John.
  • + 11
 Two best Tomac memories... Getting our picture with him at the 92 Cactus Cup while he was wearing his Worlds jersey and his trademark cowboy hat Having him crack open beers for us at Sea Otter when he sponsored the RLX Polo XC team in 2003... He just oozed friendly, down to earth. loved his job kind of guy.
  • + 11
 Saw him, Tinker and Ned battle it out at World cup finals in Vernon BC back in the day. always nice to watch and always friendly. brought a smile to my face to see this today.
  • + 5
 That's incredible. Where were they racing? I used to read MBA as a kid and thought those three were insanely amazing.
  • + 3
 Saw that race in 94 too. Got photos of them all. Still remember one climb out of the ravine. All the riders were shifting into small ring, or jumping off and running, cyclocross style. JT came down the bank, across the creek, and BIG RINGED it up the other side. Blew my mind. Animal!
  • + 8
 He has always been my Mountainbike Hero. Calm, collected, damn fast, be it on the road, the bmx track, in xc lycra or baggy downhill. This guy had it all. His heart at the right spot.. He is the soul of mountainbike racing and true source of inspiration. Thx, Mr.Tomac!
  • + 8
 Met John at Crested Butte 1991 fat tire bike week. Racing NORBA at the time. He was staying across the hall from us at the old town inn. We asked him to sign some autographs. He came in our room looked around saw the Jack Daniels and a bong, laughed and said ' wow you guys take this racing serious'. He was always so smooth and fast.
  • + 4
 Fresh out of collage I had just moved to Crested Butte that year. Coming from the East I had that "go west young man" urge and thought they have Fat Tire Bike Week there so the trails must be good. I will never forget the sound of that tension disc wheel and watching his smooth stile. Just butter. I was too much of a shy mountain bike geek to ask for autograph though.
  • + 11
 Can't wait to see your boy in the upcoming SX season. Hopefully roczen will be back and healthy for some great battles
  • + 10
 When I was a kid, this man was my hero. I'm 41 years old and he still is. The term 'Legend' doesn't do him justice...
  • + 6
 I'm with ya, I'm now 38 and no idea where the time has gone. Hope my work ethos shadows his hard work as I get older. ????
  • + 9
 So wanted the painted helmets like he had, but all I could do was grow the goatee. My only ever sports hero. Proud to say that I was, and still am a fan.
  • + 9
 Only individual I have ever been star struck by. Saw him in the gondola line for the '93 Kamikaze race at Mammoth. Was too nervous to talk to him. Pure shredder.
  • + 6
 He didn't do such a bad job as Gwin's trainer either. I wonder if he's still involved with Aaron. He was the man. Hands down - the most versatile biker there was, is or will be.
  • + 4
 Tomac was always the quiet man that let his legs do his talking back in his racing days. It's great to hear how thoughtful and articulate he is. Kudos to Bell for the video, and for not making his relationship with them the central feature of it.

I remember being at Mt. Snow back in '91 or so, when Tomac and Thomas Frischknecht (another class guy and victim of the dope culture emerging in mountain bike racing in the 90s) were battling it out for a World Cup win. While in the lead, Tomac hit a spectator who wandered out in front of him, and lost his front brake. He still fought back to finish second on that very gnarly course. Amazing!
  • + 6
 I have that original poster from the '95 Kamikaze that was in that video, hanging up at the We Are One HQ. Its just a poster but its an important possession for me.
  • + 8
 i bought a yeti fro because of mr tomac
  • + 5
 I remember watching him race in the late 90's and noticing how he didn't quite jump the rough stuff, but was always unweighting the bike over little rough patches to keep speed. I still think about that when I ride.
  • + 8
 i became a road racer because of him...
  • - 29
flag mollow (Oct 10, 2017 at 21:10) (Below Threshold)
 Pathetic
  • + 3
 @mollow: Why you gotta be a douchebag?
  • + 8
 @mollow: HA- wtf do you know about anything... bikes are bikes, and no matter what bike they are on, racers are racers... back in those days most of the top MTB riders crossed over from road, or were doing both... like Tomac... it was clear that to be a top XC rider you had to have all the endurance and power that road racers had PLUS skills on the dirt... so i started racing road also... and became pro and became a national champion on the track... and now, back to the MTB... and because of my incredible and fulfilling experience following my dreams as a rider, i am continually giving back to the sport by putting on races, creating a pro team for young riders, and now working to create and grow the California Enduro Series... you have to be open to things in life bro- nothing pathetic about being inspired, following what the greatest athletes in your sport are doing, and allowing yourself to have a real experience to be your best... you should try it...
  • + 5
 @nohit45: you answered your own question. He has to be because he is.
  • + 2
 @eriksaun: you can lead a douchebag to water but you can't make the douchebag drink
  • + 3
 Great piece. Johnny T was always someone to respect and admire: then and today. His words cast a shadow on professional XC racing: those of us who watch it can't help but wonder about the ethics surrounding PEDs, and the consequences for those who do not choose a path that includes training and/or racing on PEDs. The ethical, hardworking racers who stay clean may likely never reach the top. This likely holds true for many athletes: sacrifice one's ethics and values early on for a chance at more wins and lucrative sponsorship deals. Hard to imagine being a talented upcoming racer knowing you'll face this fork in the road... I question as a spectator how to change this, other than to stop watching...
  • + 5
 Saw John Tomac take the win in 1994 in The World Cup at La Casa de Campo in Madrid, epic win. About doping,anything to say,it is very sad.
  • + 5
 What a guy, fond memories of watching him crush it in the 90s. Now he makes you want to be better at riding and better at life.
  • + 8
 what a legend.
  • + 5
 Still to this day when we get Hero Dirt, and I am cornering way faster than normal, I think to myself this is what it is like to be John Tomac.
  • + 1
 Tomac on how to ride faster: "don't touch the brakes."
  • + 4
 Tomac is the reason for Mountain Biking, no one made more of a difference to an industry, a sport-than Johnny T. In the world of sports heroes, he is the benchmark.
  • + 4
 Top bloke, John Tomac for President! Joking aside I started my early days of MTBing with this guy to look up to. Thank you, the sport we love salutes you! ????
  • + 2
 I've met a lot of celebrities and athletes in my time and Tomac was one of the few that I asked for an autograph from. When the Worlds cam to Vail in '94 I got my picture taken with him. When they came back to Vail in '01 I brought the picture and had him sign it. He was just as stoked as I was.
  • + 2
 I scrolled and didn't read a single comment about his biggest signature. When he came by in slalom or XC, he had his teeth clinched like he was picking up a 500lb deadlift. It was the most ruthless snarl on the circuit. Boy...you knew a freight train was a coming.
  • + 2
 The Tomes. One of the best all around cyclists ever. He is a living legend and is still an inspiring person in all aspects of life. Much respect! As a cyclist, he was a cardiopulmonary mutant, master bike handler, fierce competitor, hardcore worker, and supreme tactician who knew how to win with style and class.
  • + 6
 Best ad I've seen in quite some time
  • + 3
 The man, the myth, the legend! Thanks to Jt and guys like Tinker and Overend a generation of MTB riders were born, still on the trails damn near 30 years later! Cheers Big Grin
  • + 1
 Been lucky to have seen him race two or 3 times in the early nineties. Big inspiration. GOAT for sure. I remember seeing a small picure of him in an early nineties MBA mag where he pops a huge tabletop on a BMX bike, over a pile of snow or something...
  • + 3
 Kinda surprised to see him on a Specialized, its cool but I just always picture Tomes on a Yeti or some other super high end handmade frame.
  • + 5
 I think Eli is a sponsored Specialized rider. Not sure Yeti's are hand made!
  • + 2
 @MX298:

Ya Eli is sponsored by specialized
  • + 1
 And preferring B+ nonetheless - "I normally ride a bike with about 120mm of suspension, 650b wheels and 3-inch wide tires to handle the nasty, rough terrain"
  • + 1
 @MX298 - Yetis are hand made - just like every single carbon frame out there, from S-Works to S-Works replicas on Ali Express. The moment a sales rep tells you that their carbon frames are handmade, tell him that you would like to see one made by a machine.
  • + 5
 Favorite guy in the whole sport.
  • + 1
 Tomac legend for sure, but I wonder if he (or any of you out there) have read the paper on TheLancet re EPO and how it was medically / scientifically proven to have no significant performance increase. It amazed me that the UCI and WADA hadn't done their research before adding this to their banned substance list.
  • + 3
 Lucky enough to watch him race a few times for norba national races. Saw him flying downhill passing other xc riders like they were standing still.
  • + 2
 He was my hero and in 97 worlds in Switzerland watching him practice and race and be able to scream when he went by
"go Johny go" was sooooo goood.
Cheers and congrats on his son being National Champion.
  • + 1
 I get the sense that JT had some bitterness towards the sport that he loved, I'm glad he is able to still be able to ride for the enjoyment of being on two wheels. It's sad that folks will take things into that depth of darkness in order to win, but i suppose that is the nature of competition. It happens in every sport on the planet. "If you ain't cheatin, you ain't tryin," right??
My first exposure to JT was a MBA magazine in the early 90's as a kid and have admired him since.
  • + 1
 I wanted to buy a '78 Special back in the day. Got to email with John a few times, very nice person to talk to. Sadly, the bike was delayed and then delayed again, so I went to Rocky Mountain. Still love the guy. That '78 Special turned out a real looker, but sadly wasn't a big success in the market.
  • + 1
 Salt of the earth is a term that comes to mind when thinking of this hero. He was good enough to excel in DH and XC back then and although today is different with more specialization I think he would be able to specialize in either today and excell. He is so right about doping and other cheating. It means nothing. You didn't win the race your drugs did. I kind of feel this way about ebikes. You didn't climb your bike did. That don't impress me much.
  • + 7
 Nice to meet you, Shania. Who would have thought you rode? Wink
  • + 5
 So. Bad. Ass.
  • + 4
 He slops the pigs, Momma shucks the corn, He'll be your Johnny on the spot
  • + 5
 Wonder if he has a Chevy with a Mopar cam.
  • + 1
 Follow John Tomac on a gnarly (for the time) XC drop off at your own risk!
youtu.be/S5L7WmY709U?t=6m51s
1994 XC World Championships in Vail...
  • + 1
 Met him at a NORBA racing event in VT back in the day, super cool guy and easy to talk to. I even have his DH poster still hanging up in my old room at my folks house.
  • + 1
 Nothing but a Legend! I remember the days of riding when Tioga´s "Farmer John" and "Farmer John´s Cousin" tires was a killer set up!
  • + 2
 A Bad Ass Legend that kept feeding my mountain bike joys in the early 90's when I started!!
  • + 2
 So glad to see an interview with him, last time I saw him in media was back in the days ESPN featured MTB'ing.
  • + 3
 ELI TOMAC FTW! Way to raise a ripper son!
  • + 2
 (John shows up wearing cowboy hat) "hey eli!"
Eli: "dad dont embarrass me!"
  • + 6
 JT gets mad respect in the mx pits There is no embarrassment going on for Eli
  • + 2
 Had the opportunity to meet him and his son on the local trails once, super nice guy. Definitely a legend.
  • + 1
 I'd like to know who shapes his cowboy hat. You can tell a lot about a person from the crease in his brim.
  • + 2
 Nothing more than pure brilliance!????????????
  • + 2
 WHoLeY CRAP!! ELi looks JUST LIKE him!!!
  • + 2
 Now I see where Eli Tomac gets his good genes from Smile
  • + 2
 Two legends, same blood line and extremely nice people!!
  • + 5
 Hope Eli will kick ass at the Supercross this winter, I was so bummed when he let it slip last season.
  • + 1
 @bonkywonky: Yes, but he won the National outdoor title!!! Which speaks even more of his toughness and dedication to training as it is a much more physically demanding segment of the sport( longer motos, more grueling courses ) imho!!
  • + 2
 @keithrad: True but for me it was painful watching him fold under pressure at the SX so I'd like to see him take revenge, although Dungey quit. Curious to see what Roczen will bring to the table...
  • + 2
 True Ambassador for the world of cycling!!
  • + 3
 "Farmer Johns"...
  • + 2
 So many memories of watching this guy tear Mt Snow to shreds in the 90's.
  • + 2
 Nice work Bell. (Chuchacabra)
  • + 0
 Back in the day seeing the race rusults I remember thinking “is anyone going to challenge this guy”. Too bad he is not more involved
  • + 1
 Thanks for the video Bell! It was a very enjoyable watch and I have a ton of respect for John and Eli.
  • + 1
 is cycling a sport were you collect money from your sponsors even after you retire??? always wondered. cool video
  • + 1
 If your name is John Tomac, you command so much respect in your field that sponsors WANT to retain you. It's about respect. Mutual respect. Tomac raced Bell for as long as we can remember. Very few riders stay with a brand these days - its always "Who's paying more?!". When a Rider respects his sponsor, and they're as good as Tomac, the sponsor is happy to continue providing equipment and sending a cheque out 3-4 times a year because they know that their future customers see Tomac allign with their brand and even if they don't have the lightest/this seasons colour, they know people will be thinking "Tomac rides this.... What a Legend.... *clicks sponsor website to investigate product*" Its about respect. People would so well to take a leaf out of his book.
  • + 1
 Great ad. Respect to JT!
  • + 2
 And that hat is sweet!
  • + 2
 The man!
  • + 2
 The Boss
  • + 1
 I remember him doing the Milk Race (UK road stage-race) - legend !!
  • + 1
 well that needed to happen! thx jt
  • + 1
 Does tomac still advise Gwin?
  • + 1
 Is that a Specialized he’s riding or ?? Can’t tell.
  • + 1
 Yeah, its one of their newer plus bikes. Camber maybe.
  • + 1
 yeah looks like an Enduro
  • + 4
 Stumpjumper 650b+.

Take that Internet.
  • + 1
 S-Works 6Fattie. Smart man. The bike rocks! I know this.
  • - 2
 Cool. He was legendary on crazy geometry Mtn bikes. Almost lost me at "two full-time workers." Having grown up on a ranch this was unheard of, even with the finances to back it. Sounds more like a luxury hobby.
  • + 1
 Tomac.. Dam! I still have a white tioga tyre I ran on front!! ;
  • + 1
 Great clip, dig it. Good man.
  • + 2
 Effing legend.
  • + 1
 What's it take to get a ranch like that, damn!
  • + 2
 A rainbow jersey and a World Cup title helps! ! !
  • + 2
 Farmer John! Legend!!!
  • + 1
 ...you wild Colorado... Dream life right there.
  • + 2
 He is the man .
  • + 2
 has my respect
  • + 1
 GOAT!!
  • + 1
 Mr. Coors
  • + 1
 #hero .
  • + 0
 Mammoth mountain!!
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