Interview: Tinker Juarez

Former BMXer now endurance king

Tinker Juarez

We speak to the grand old man of Mountain Biking

Tinker Juarez has been a big name in bike racing since the mid 1970s when he raced BMX for the dominant Mongoose team. Having won everything there was to win in BMX, including being crowned King of Skateparks, in the ’80s Tinker turned his attention to the new sport of mountain biking. Surprisingly for someone with a BMX background, Tinker started racing cross country, and before long he was one of the best racers in the world, racing for the dominant Volvo-Cannondale team. He still rides for Cannondale today, testimony to the relationship he’s built up with the company over a long career at the top.

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In 1996, aged 35 he was one of only two U.S. riders selected to race in the first ever Olympic MTB XC race in Atlanta. At an age when most riders consider retiring, Tinker kept on racing – and winning – and was again selected for the U.S. Olympic team for the 2000 Olympics in Atlanta.

Since then he’s turned his hand to endurance racing and this weekend he’ll be racing 24hrs solo at the Saab Solomen Mountain Mayhem in the Malverns. We caught up with him in Bristol to find out a bit more about what makes Tinker Juarez tick.

MBUK: Although we know you now as an Olympic XC racer and more recently an endurance racer, you started off racing BMX at the highest level, how has that affected the way you ride an MTB?

Tinker: Well I’ve been riding mountain bikes right since the beginning when MTBing was a brand new sport. I knew right off the back that the skills I had from BMX were perfect for this sport because it’s all about handling a bike on dirt trails and I knew how to race and ride on dirt; you know, being flexible and being smooth on sketchy corners – the only thing I needed to work on was my endurance because a BMX race is over in like, one minute! That was a BIG challenge for me because MTB races were like two or three hours. I was excited at first to be getting into a sport where there didn’t seem to be an age limit – in BMX I was feeling like an old man.

MBUK: If you were a young kid coming into the sport now would you have taken the same route? Would you have started in BMX?

Tinker: I don’t know, BMX is so different now and when when I got into MTBing, it was a new sport, now it’s so much more advanced. I think if I was to get into the sport now I think I would want a road background because that gives you the speed and the power you need as well as the endurance. Truthfully I don’t think I would have got into BMX.

MBUK: Cycling is quite cliquey now, you’ve got downhillers, freeriders, BMXers, roadies, XC riders, dirt jumpers etc. and the groups don’t really mix that much. You’ve done most things on two wheels at the highest level which is pretty rare…

Tinker: I was a mountain biker from the beginning and a BMXer before that. When I first started riding MTBs I started riding a road bike for training and now I’m hoping to ride the Race Across America (RAAM) endurance race. Really though, I see myself as mountain biker, and I’m really lucky because it’s hard to make a career like I have out of mountain biking.

MBUK: During you BMX career you were King of Skateparks – do you ever go to skateparks now just for fun?

Tinker: Parks were really popular back then and there were a lot of concrete parks and I just saw it as really good place to ride, with shaped jumps and good landings. I was one of the first ones who started riding the parks – it’s nice to have that as one of your accomplishments.

I don’t really see so many parks nowadays – there aren’t as many in the States. I can still do some stuff on ramps but not very often. I can still get on a bike and if there’s a course with a jump on it I can do it but nowadays I’m a bit concerned about getting hurt.

MBUK: The boundaries between BMX and MTB have begun to blur a bit over the last few years with events like the Slopestyle and Crankworks. Do you find that interesting?

Tinker: Yeah, I see those guys riding and it reminds of things I wanted to do when I was racing BMX. Now everyone’s on extreme bikes with 8″ of travel so you can launch off anything without worrying about breaking your bike. On a BMX with 20″ wheels you’ve always got to be smooth. Now it’s more like a motor bike.

MBUK: John Tomac came from the same BMX background as you and ended being as well known for his downhill racing as his XC racing. Did you ever consider racing downhill?

Tinker: He was much younger than me. I never got a chance to see him racing BMX. He accomplished a lot in mountain biking, no doubt. I started thinking about downhill but you know I took a lot of risks when I was growing up racing BMX and I had my share of falls, and I was just beginning to get chicken, there was no way I wanted to take that kind of risk. A big part of mountain biking for me is that I want to go up hills as well as down – I don’t want to spend the whole day riding the same section of trail, which is pretty much what I spent a career doing in BMX. I didn’t want to start all over again.

MBUK: You’re what, 44 now? That’s over 30 years of racing – will there ever be a time when you quit?

Tinker: Yeah, 33 years now. I really can’t forsee a time when I won’t race. My girlfriend’s really positive about it and is always trying to motivate me even more.

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I’m as motivated now as most 15 year-old kids – I still wake up in the morning looking forward to getting on my bike and I’m still super competitive. When that disapears, then it’s time to quit.