Interview: Ned Overend, Specialized ambassador

Twenty years and there's no slowing him down

Longevity and loyalty are two words that best describe Ned Overend and his relationship with Specialized Bicycles. The 53-year-old athlete, now referred to as ‘Captain’, has been involved with them for an impressive 20 years as a racer and a … well, we’ll let him tell you.

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Born in Taiwan to an American diplomat, Overend competed in two Ironman triathlons in 1980 and `81 after a decent effort running marathons (personal record: 2:28) before switching to road and mountain bike racing.

Overend won the unofficial mountain bike world championships in 1987, stamping his authority against younger competitors for the next nine years as he won six NORBA National Mountain Biking Championships. It’s no wonder he was called ‘Deadly Nedly’ and ‘The Lung’ during those years.

Although the 1990 UCI World Mountain Bike cross country champion officially retired from the professional dirt scene in 1996, Overend has curiously not gone away like most retirees. Instead, Overend still races competitively on the road and dirt, just like he’s been doing since he caught the two-wheeled bug in the early 1980s after relocating to Durango, Colorado to become a Porsche and Volkswagen mechanic. The father of two has also won several Xterra world championships, road races, and two national cyclo-cross championships.

Now a full-time salaried Specialized employee, Overend, like his industry peer Hans Rey with GT, is involved in a myriad of things for his employer, chief among them being an ambassador for the sport as well as the brand. He is heavily involved with product development, launching new Specialized dealers in the US and abroad, managing the stable of world champion athletes racing for the Morgan Hill, California company, and giving his two cents on product development.

BikeRadar: Tell us about your transition from being a Schwinn-sponsored athlete in the mid 1980s to becoming part of the Specialized family.

Ned Overend: I raced for Schwinn from 1984 – 1987. I was originally brought on by a guy involved with Schwinn’s BMX team, and after he left I wasn’t all that convinced that Schwinn was committed to mountain bike racing. They thought racing was more of a fad. Then (Specialzied owner) Mike Sinyard and some of his product guys came to Durango and asked me if I’d like to join their team. They talked about bringing me on board to race and help develop products through their racing program. It was a pretty easy decision to make.

Mike Powell/Allsport

Now I’m a salaried employee with Specialized; I work a variety of different areas with the company. I have input on how products evolve, and am heavily involved with product testing. I help explain new products to the media, and launching the products to dealers. We brought six hundred US and three hundred international dealers to Colorado to introduce them to our 2009 line. I’m on my way to Tokyo to help launch our new line to a hundred of our dealers there.

I help Specialized in its advocacy efforts both in Washington DC and here in Colorado. I also work closely with our marketing department in negotiating contracts with our teams and riders. I’m hands-on with Christoph (Sauser), Liam (Killeen), two of our mountain bike stars. I also manage contracts with Conrad Stoltz and Chris McCormack, our multi-sport athletes.

You and GT’s Hans Rey are the two longest-standing ambassadors for your bike company sponsors. To what do you attribute your tenure with Specialized?

Staying interested in a job is a challenge. My role at Specialized has really evolved over the years; road is huge right now. Ours is a very competitive industry, and there are several categories growing all at once for the first time in years. Twenty-six inch mountain bikes have always done well for us, and now there’s 29ers. I’m one of Specialized’s biggest 29er advocates.

For me, one of the best things about working for Specialized are the challenges. One thing Mike (Sinyard) has done well is acquiring some incredible talent in product development, engineering, and marketing. This is one of the main reasons I’ve stuck with Specialized so long. I love variety, and I don’t have time to race too much as in the past, so I’ve kept myself from burning out. One thing I really like is not having the pressure anymore to win races.

How do you choose the events you race these days?

I cross-check my travel schedule. There’s always something going on in California and Colorado, where much of my travels take me. I have a nose for finding events.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

51-year-old Overend winning the Trek Hill Climb at the Teva Mountain Games in 2007

How has age changed the way you train?

I’ve realized I have to train less. I ride 10 – 12 hours a week. I’m travelling a lot these days, so I have to fit that in. I believe in riding hard, with intensity. As one gets older, one has to allow time for recovery. I’d love to do a three-hour mountain bike ride today, but my schedule won’t allow it. Nutrition also plays an important part in my routine.

To what extent do you watch what you eat?

I’m pretty lucky; I have a great metabolism. I make sure I get fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, plenty of protein. Post-ride and post-race nutrition, along with proper hydration, has been the key for me. The more intense I train the more careful I am about what I eat.

What gets you more fired up, dirt or road?

A combination of the two, actually. This is what keeps me fresh. I really enjoy cyclo-cross as well. Mountain biking on singletrack is always an amazing experience for me.

Ned Overend

Ned and son Rhyler in 1997

You’ve certainly kept your competitive fires burning. Does your son Rhyler carry that same passion for two wheels?

He loves to ride, and he rides a lot. He doesn’t have my same passion for racing, though. To him all the preparation with downhilling is too much of a hassle. He just loves to ride.

Specialized Bicycles

You’ve obviously spent gobs of time in the saddle. In your opinion, what have been some of the better innovations since you’ve been racing? Could be road or mountain or both.

Innovation happened slowly. I’m reminded of the biggest leap in technology when I ride the latest full suspension mountain bikes. They’re so efficient and light! Today’s full-suspension bikes weigh less than the cross-country rigid bikes I was racing in the 1980s. Clipless pedals and indexed shifting are important, but full suspension tops them all.

Which bike do you choose for more casual rides?

This past year has been so busy for me, so I really don’t get to ride casually much. I’ve been working on the Epic, and before that it was the Stumpjumper. I’m focused on helping to develop our suspension platform, so saddle time is usually more concentrated on the job at hand versus just cruising around.

Even though you’ve most famously associated with Specialized, some may be surprised that you’re also part owner of Bouré Bicycle Clothing. How long have you and Drew Bourey been working together? Tell us about how the relationship started and how the company is doing today.

Since 1982 or so. I got involved in 1992, and Bouré is a small company, but that’s how we like it. All our stuff is made in Durango, although we outsource our sublimated products. We focus on quality for the enthusiasts.

Living the good life in Colorado

Tell us about Durango’s bike culture and why you’ve chosen to live there so long.

Durango’s an amazing town for cyclists. Road, mountain, cyclo-cross. I moved there before I really got into cycling. It was for rock climbing originally. Our Tuesday night road rides are loaded with pros from several different teams, including BMC, Kelly Benefits, Jittery Joe’s, HealthNet, Colavita; picture these guys doing their Tuesday night hammer session in their full team kit! Bob Roll lives here and rides when he’s in town as well. There are plenty of local races to keep people happy.

The weather doesn’t always lend itself to cycling outdoors, but if one likes living in the mountains, Nordic skiing is wonderful in these parts. The athletic health of Durango is very vibrant.

Who’s your best friend?

Definitely my wife Pam. We’ve been together 27 years, and we’ve been through a lot. We have two kids, and she’s used to my travel schedule. She’s always had her own life and her own identity, which is important. She’s a nurse, and she likes to travel, but selectively. She doesn’t need to be wrapped up entirely in my life.

Ned riding 2008 Stumpjumper

John Tomac, Tinker Juarez and Ned Overend racing in Durango

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Ned Overend – interview from the early 1990s