Rhys Verner has raced for Canada at the XC World Championships twice, seen success in downhill, finished first in the U21 category in Enduro at Finale Ligure in 2017, been a part of the third-place team at the first-ever Trophy of Nations last year alongside Jesse Melamed and Remi Gauvin, and finished third overall at the Crankworx Summer Series this summer, proving his mettle in Downhill, Dual Slalom, Enduro, and Air DH.
Now that the 23-year-old has graduated from university, he's based in Squamish where he grew up and competing on the Enduro World Series circuit for Kona. We caught up with the jack of all trades ahead of the EWS in Pietra Ligure.
My name is Rhys Verner and I am a 23 year old from Squamish BC. I just graduated University with a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the University of Victoria. I enjoy all different types of sports and like to think of myself as a good all around athlete. Growing up I used to race XC and DH until I was a junior (17 years old) at which point I switched to XC for the following 3 years. I always considered myself a good bike handler, and when I was 20 the opportunity arose to race the Finale Ligure in 2017. I ended up winning that race and had really competitive times in Pro (13th), so I made the switch to full time Enduro for 2018 and I haven’t looked back since!
Where are you from and where do you live?
I’m born and raised in Squamish, BC and currently am living there as well. Squamish sucks though so no one else move there. Would be nice to bring the property value down so I can afford a house without having to be a doctor and a lawyer. The past 5 years I have spent most of my time on Vancouver Island in Victoria though as that was where I went to University. Now that that’s all finished up though I’m back in Squamish full time.
Who do you ride for?
I’m currently riding for Kona bikes and the Factory Team sponsors, as well as Giro as a more personal sponsor.
What are some of the accomplishments that you're most proud of?
Some of my accomplishments that I am most proud of are:
- 1st place Finale Ligure 2017 U21 (4th place overall on a stage and 13th overall)
- 2x 2nd place Junior Canadian XC national championships
- 2x Gold medalist at Canada Summer Games in XC
- Ability to continue racing at a high level while also pursuing full time University and graduating with exceptional grades.
What were some of the highlights of the 2019 season for you?
The highlight of my 2019 season would have to be the EWS Trophy of Nations. I got selected to race for Canada along with teammates Jesse Melamed and Remi Gauvin. We ended up finishing 3rd place and I was able to follow those two and hang on the entire time. It was a bit of a breakthrough ride for me as both those guys are top 10 dudes and I was fully able to hang and keep up. It proved to me I have the ability to be racing at the front; I just need to put everything together.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I try to keep my days pretty up in the air just to keep things exciting, but I will definitely do some sort of exercise every day. I probably go for a ride 5-6 times a week but I mix it up whether I ride Enduro, XC, and DH if Whistler is open. I also really enjoy running and mountaineering sort of things and try and fit in those activities whenever I can. I try and do my exercise in the mornings and then I normally hangout with friends in the afternoon. A lot of my friends aren’t bikers so we do different types of things. I try and spend pretty much my whole days outside and have a tough time with full rest days… they’re too boring.
How did you get into mountain biking?
I kind of just grew up doing it. My dad and grandpa used to take my brothers and I riding a ton when we were kids. When I was around 10 or so my dad realized that he wasn’t able to keep up anymore or ride the trails that I wanted to ride. So he convinced a family friend to take me out riding once a week. I ended up getting pretty good and my parents supported me all the way through. When I was a U17 I raced XC and DH, and often used to do both in the same weekend. I was winning at both events but I knew once I went into Junior I would be better off picking one discipline. I ended up choosing XC based on the fact that I just loved riding my bike. I could ride XC from my house and ride as long as I want. At the time I didn’t have a driver's license so to go ride downhill I always had to convince my parents to shuttle me, or find a ride to Whistler to hit the park. After choosing XC, I made the Canadian national team for both my junior years finishing second place at nationals twice, and competed at World Championships in Norway as well as Andorra.
What is something you believe that other people think is crazy?
The sun is definitely flat.
What's the hardest part about being a mountain bike racer?
The hardest part I think is trying to stay close with friends that don’t bike. The travel schedules can be pretty hectic sometimes and I end up not being around for the majority of summers.
What's the best part about being a mountain bike racer?
Getting to travel around the world and visit really cool places for sure. I don’t take these opportunities lightly and every time I get to visit a new place I try and really take it in and experience it to the fullest.
What are your strengths?
I would say my main strength is consistency and the ability to adapt to different scenarios. I really just enjoy riding bikes and any time I get to do it I am having a good time. I don’t think one type of riding necessarily sticks out as being a strength of mine. I might be more of a jack-of-all-trades, master of none type of guy.
What are your weaknesses?
I would say my weakness is bouncing back from a crash or a sub par result. I think I generally do a lot better if I have confidence and feel good about what I’m doing. If I screw something up and my confidence takes a hit it can sometimes take me some time to build it back up.
Where is your favourite place to ride?
Its hard to compete with the quality and quantity of trails we have in the Sea to Sky, so I would have to say riding at home in Squamish is my favourite. A close second would be riding on Mount Prevost in Duncan.
Where is the coolest place you have ever ridden?
For sure the coolest place my bike has ever taken me is the Annapurna region in Nepal. I competed in a 7-day stage race last November where we raced around the Annapurna circuit. That experience was one of the coolest I have ever had, just racing and riders underneath the tallest mountains in the world had me in awe. We climbed over the Thorong La pass and topped out at an elevation of 5416m which was pretty freaking nuts… I’ve never felt so out of shape in my life, but the experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. Immediately after the pass we were rewarded with a 3000m descent and that was just phenomenal. We had amazing views of Dhaulagiri (7th tallest mountain in the world) and the whole environment there really just blew my mind.
What's been your worst crash over the years?
I’ve been fortunate to last this long without really having any massive crashes but there is one that sticks out in my mind. When I was maybe 15, I was riding down a paved road and I had my hands under my armpits because I was freezing. At the same time I got a big chunk of mud in my eye and was trying to rub it out. I remember opening my eyes and I was a split second away from hitting a curb and tomahawking into a ditch. I knocked myself out, broke my arm, and had to make my way back home still. By the time I got home I was in pretty rough shape and my Mom drove me to the hospital. My injuries weren’t too bad but it was a pretty bad crash and kind of a worst-case scenario as to how I crashed.
Who's your favourite rider?
My favourite riders are Jacob Jewett, Steve Smith, Sam Hill, and Nino Schurter.
What's your favourite motto or saying?
I don’t really have a favourite motto or saying, but I saw some quote on instagram last week that read “everything can kill you, so you might as well do something cool” and I thought that was pretty funny.
What annoys you?
I tend to get impatient with slow walkers in the mall, or incompetence in airports. Other than those things I would say I’m a pretty chill guy that doesn’t really get bothered by too many things.
What makes you happy?
Anytime I am exercising or spending time outside I’m happy. I’m a big fan of “type 2 fun”, the type where it is pretty hard when its happening but you feel extremely rewarded after the fact. Pretty much every time I go for a run I go as fast as I can and really work myself over. It gives me a pretty good sense of accomplishment after and it definitely makes me feel good about myself. Any type of thing like that and I’m happy as can be.
What do you enjoy away from bikes?
I enjoy pretty much all other individual sports, but do a lot of running as well as skiing. I also enjoy learning new things and really enjoyed my time at University.
What's your favourite non-bike website?
I don’t really have a go to website but I really like watching motocross and supercross. So any website I can stream the races on is probably my favourite website. I also read a lot of articles on the Economist.
If you weren't a pro mountain biker, what would you be doing?
If I wasn’t a pro mountain biker I think I would probably still be in school and probably be pursuing a master’s degree in something. I got my undergrad in Economics but I am pretty interested in computers and that type of thing. So I would probably be trying to learn about that and getting some more education on computer science.
Where do you think the future of enduro is headed?
I really have no idea. I think the EWS has done a good job of having us race in lots of cool areas around the world, and I think that trend will continue. I would love to try some Trans racing where the racing is all blind and just based on how well you can read a trail. I think enduro should continue to differentiate itself from downhill and having either one practice lap or no practice laps is a step in the right direction. Although it might be a logistical nightmare, I would also like to see an EWS race in Asia or more North American rounds.
How do you want to be remembered?
I would love to be remembered as a nice guy that liked to have a good time. I hope to move up into the top 10 and I believe I have what it takes. Especially now that I have so much more free time having finished up school. I would just like to be remembered as a good bike rider, and not so much a niche rider. I grew up racing XC as well as DH so hopefully people can see me as someone that had a skill set that made me a good bike rider across the board.
What does the future hold for Rhys Verner?
For the time being I am going to continue racing EWS and try to move up the rankings. I think if I keep putting in effort I can get the results that I want. However I would also love to try and race a DH world cup, as well as do some cool XC stage races or trans enduro races in the future. This past winter I did a gnarly XC stage race in Nepal called the Yak Attack and I absolutely loved it. I could really see myself doing more stuff like that once I get older. I will definitely never stop riding bikes.