I work for Cube... As I'm keen on mountain biking, it was a big thing for me to get into the Cube family and get started there. And now I am doing product management and try to give feedback to the engineers to make the best possible frames for us, then spec the best possible parts for a price for that and doing design and trying to make people happy with Cube bikes. With the design, the function and all the performance in the woods, on the streets, having fun on the bikes and keep smiling all day when they ride.
When did you start riding?
I think I started as every kid did in the 80's with BMX riding, just riding round the corner making drifts or something like that, wearing down the rear tyres to make my parents angry. I think I started again at 14 when I saw the first Hans Rey trial movie and said, "That's cool, I want to do that." I did that for two or three years, but I was just messing around alone, so I didn't really get any better. Then I lost the point of biking a bit - I was doing lots of snowboarding. When I left school to go to university I realised I needed a bike to go to classes. I just wanted something small with big tyres and a rigid fork to just go to university and perhaps jump around in the skatepark. That got me back into skateparks and BMX riding then when I was at home one weekend, walking in the woods, I saw a guy riding really technical trails and I wanted to try it. I noticed that he was just living five metres away from me, so we started hanging out. I would say it was a good skill swap because he could ride down really steep things, but he could not wheelie. So I showed him how to wheelie and he showed me how to ride steeps. At this time, I would say what I did was called freeriding, but for me it was just mountain biking - some people would say it's enduro riding or all-mountain, but for me it's just mountain biking. The tracks here are technical.
Can you explain the problems you have with your eyes?
The thing is that I have quite bad eyesight - I have only ten percent of my vision. It was from birth, so I don't know any better. It's not manageable with glasses or something like that because it's the nerves that are quite destroyed. I think the best way to explain it would be to say that if you had a really good TV and really good BluRay player, but have a bad cable in between. So you get the information, but it doesn't all get to the screen so it is hard for my brain to put some things together, like speed and seeing the whole trail. It's really horrible when I go night riding because I don't see the sides of the trail, so I can't see how steep it is or how fast I am going to manage that. But, in fact, it pushed me to keep riding all day, to keep rolling all day on two wheels. So, I manage to ride to work every day, I try to ride a different bicycle nearly every day. Sometimes I ride five days a week and bike to work to understand the bikes and understand how people use our bikes for commuting, for road racing, for mountain biking. To feel every aspect of biking, I don't want to just say, "Okay, we do a cool mountain bike for that price," but to try and see who our customers are and I want to get people smiling when they ride our bikes.
Having ridden with you, it's clear that you're a fast rider, not just for a guy with bad eyes, but simply a fast rider.
The fun thing is that I get a lot of questions from our sponsored riders who I have been riding with, like our Action Team, who ask me, "Hey, why do you ride so fast?" I explain to them that they can look around the corner and say, "No, I can't do that." I can't see! If there are more corners it's more fun because I can't see around. The scariest thing for me is a fast fire road, descending at 70km/h or 80km/h, that's the scariest thing for me. Like at Lake Garda where I race the marathon, I overtake everybody in the technical descents, but they overtake me on the fire roads because I won't ride faster than 70km/h there because it's too scary for me, ha-ha.
So you ride a lot with Cube's athletes?
When we had our first dealer camp at the home of one of our reps and we did some laps, talked to them about the suspension and the bikes' performance. I think this was maybe eight or nine years ago, and Andrewagenacht had just joined with us, at the time he was still racing World Cup downhill. I met him for the first time there, and in the evening he said, "What's up with your eyes?" So I explained and he asked me whether I wanted to try doing some rally riding? I didn't know what this was, so he explained that he would call out the corners, the jumps, the points to manual and I would ride two metres behind him on the track. We tried it on the downhill track and it was really great fun because I could keep his speed, I know he was slowing down for me, but it was still fast for me. But in the last corner, he forgot to say left and right, so I crashed so hard! He yelled, "left..." then "No, Right! Right! Right!" I crashed so hard into the woods that it was impossible for me to get off the bike, I just slammed. He was on the floor laughing because he didn't think I would still be on his back wheel by this time. It was so funny, like blind rally driving or something like that!
So corners are your nemesis?
A few years ago we had an event with our Action Team called The Longest Day in Latsch, and the idea was to do as many metres down as we could in one day. I think we did about 9,000m down using gondolas and shuttles. I got to the track quite late and then I saw all the riders standing below me on the road, I was about 50m above the road through some rocks. I just hopped through some rocks and then on down. At the bottom Nico Lau says to me, "I didn't see that line!" I told him, "I didn't see it either, but I didn't want to slam on the road and I didn't see everybody else's line!"
Having seen you ride, what seems almost counter-intuitive for someone with your condition is that you seem to take the most enjoyment from searching for new, fun lines on the trail.
Yeah, there is definitely a small window for me for speed, because if I'm too fast I won't catch the line that I want to, but it's fun. I also do technical lessons for mountain bikers here in the mountains. It's funny because when I am showing them lines I might explain to them that there are three lines through a section. They cannot see three lines, so I explain that there is this line, this line and this line too. They tend to ask me why, so I explain that if you're too fast, you have to ride this line because you just hold your handlebar and get it through, if you are at a medium speed you can jump this, bunny-hop this, manual this and get through fast, or if you're slow you can corner around the rocks. It all depends on your speed. If you know that here in the Fichtel Mountains, most rocks aren't big enough to throw you over on 27.5" wheels, so if you are not feeling confident you can just let go of the brakes and keep it going.
What other sports do you do these days?
Living here, it's cool living in quite a remote area. In the winter we have quite a lot of snow, there is a lot of cross-country skiing, we even do lunchtime skiing sometimes from the company, and we can have 7-50 people with us at lunchtime. I also do normal skiing and ski touring. I have a BMX, a dirt jump bike, a pump track bike, a road bike and I'm also trying to do some bouldering in the winter to get some fitness. There are definitely some days when you don't want to go out in the cold, dark and wet to ride... As Cube is a multi-sport company, you have lots of people around you doing different sports. We now have two engineers who are really good BMX riders, one who does cyclocross on the weekends and one who does bike polo. Twice last week we went slacklining at lunch. I have also started to do some no drop rides for the new people in the company, which means that the slowest person sets the speed for the group and we avoid technical trails, to get them motivated to come mountain biking. The first time I did this I had 25 people with me and the second time there were 35! It's really spreading the word that is cool to come for a couple of hours riding in the woods, perhaps have a beer after and talk to them. Cube grew really quickly, so there are lots of people in the company, but we still want to keep a small company mindset, not over-engineering things, just doing the bikes because we love biking. If can keep this path, I think we will be a great company.