An interview with Israeli mountain bike guide Nimi Cohen

Mountain Biking in Israel: Part 2.

The mountain goat: Nimi Cohen

Photos by Marc Gasch and Alon Ron // Interview by Pete Scullion

Last week we published Pete’s story from his adventure to Israel. The architect of our Israel adventure was Nimi Cohen, a man hugely passionate about cycling and according to everyone we spoke to the big dog of mountain biking in Israel.

Despite having welcomed his first child into the world two weeks prior to the trip Nimi was full of energy and working tirelessly to show us his world.

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So, who is Nimi Cohen?

I’m just a bicycle guy. I ride bikes, I make my living out of riding, guiding and by organizing cycling events, and I try to help the Israeli cycling culture develop and evolve. I’m the manager and founder of Ez Harim (translates as ‘Mountain Goat’). I’m a cycling guide and instructor, sports event organizer, events announcer.

What is riding bikes to you?

“riding bikes is the salvation, the redemption and the solution”

Oh! stop me when I get too heavy! For me, living here in the hectic and intense Israel riding bikes is the salvation, the redemption and the solution. It’s my way to create a bubble around me, a bubble I need in order not to totally lose it. So me and my friends are creating this cycling bubble around us, designing and building trails, creating and organizing crazy events, going our for crazy challenging rides, and pretending life here is as normal as in Boulder Colorado or Whistler B.C. for example. It’s also my way to counter the capitalist-western race and way of living. After finishing my law degree studies at Tel Aviv university I was on my way to study MBA abroad and running the life of a young motivated and ambitious manager who wants to progress, make money blah blah.

“I found out that I almost don’t ride anymore. I didn’t have quality time with my girlfriend. I got disconnected from ‘the source’ and from my center.”

I had a good managing job in a well known company and I found out that I almost don’t ride anymore. I didn’t have quality time with my girlfriend. I got disconnected from ‘the source’ and from my center. I took a gamble, quit my job, decided to make my living from guiding and instructing mountain biking and from writing about riding and bikes.

The skeptics told me it’s a big mistake and I would eventually hate my hobby but I chose to listen to other smart guys who told me that if I work doing what I love, I won’t work a single day in my life.

“The skeptics told me it’s a big mistake and I would eventually hate my hobby …”

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How did Ez Harim come about?

I was making my living as a teacher but I wanted to teach people real stuff, not how to trick a test. I wanted to teach the Israeli riders how to ride off-road properly. My friend, Boaz was Israel’s top free falling instructor and also rode a lot but wanted to stop jumping out of aeroplanes and start instructing mountain biking. So we teamed up, gathered the knowledge, wrote down the theory, developed a system and a method, trained some young talented instructors and we had a new rocking company.

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After a few years we found out that instructing mountain bikes was didn’t create enough dough to finance two households. Because we were the most professional body of knowledge for mountain biking here in Israel, we got lots of offers from private companies or municipalities to design courses or organise a race or a cycling event for them. The first client was Red Bull Israel. We built the first pro DH course for them in the north of Israel, and organised a 3 days invitees only race for them. That was Speed Freaks 2003.

The name Ez Harim is Hebrew for mountain goat, correct? How did you settle on that name?

It used to be that if you wanted to complement a guy who succeeded riding a really tough and technical part of a trail you would tell him: “damn buddy! You are such a mountain goat!”. It was synonymous to a very talented technical rider, climbing or descending, jumping and landing, never falls off. It’s the ideal for us and for our clients and students.

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What does your day to day job entail?

From early on I found out that you need to put your rides in your calender as the first thing and only then put in the other stuff … or you won’t ride at the end. For me that’s the core. I have to ride bikes in order to keep the passion, the internal fire and the drive alive. So if I’m training for an event, I’ll ride between 4 to 5 times a week. If It’s a regular week, I guess I will settle on 3 rides.

“I have to ride bikes in order to keep the passion, the internal fire and the drive alive”

Around my rides I try to fill up the week with meetings with potential sponsors, clients for whom I organize cycling and cross country running events, location excursion for future events or races, preparation trips with other guides before we have a trip like you guys had, some marketing and PR, some accounting, some meetings with my partner in the Instructing business. I would be very happy to say I’m spending most of my time in the forest on my bike, but would be a lie. As most managers and specifically producers, I spend most of my week in front of my laptop, with my mobile phone and in my car!

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Why should people consider Israel as a mountain bike destination, rather than, say, the Alps, Spain, or Canada?

I have traveled with my bike to half the world. I was in big events like the Cape Epic, Transalp and recently the B.C. Bike Race, and I have never seen a country so diverse in the riding conditions that Israel offers. We have it all from alpine snowy mountains in the north to three different kinds of desert at the south. There are Oak and Pine forests in the Galilee and the Carmel mountains in which you have never ending shaded singletrack, twisting and flowing between rocks and trees. There is crazy steep, technical, rocky and sometimes violent singletrack in the mountains surrounding Jerusalem and totally open, fast and loose trails in the desert without any trees or shade to cool off.  What’s so nice about all this diversity is the fact that it all exists in a country smaller than New Jersey.

“I have never seen a country so diverse in the riding conditions that Israel offers”

Around all this singletrack happiness you’ll find full modern services, one of the world’s richest and fresh cuisines, beautiful beaches, old Jerusalem, crazy Tel Aviv with It’s night life and chics, history, history, history and lots of nice, straight forward Israelis that are fluent in English and ready to help, assist and make conversation.

Wideopenmag MTB in Israel (9 of 12)So where in Israel is your favourite place to ride and why?

The south in the desert during the winter. You can’t go out on an epic desert ride throughout most of the year because It’s too hot. But during 4-5 months, you can ride long days, in desolate trails, hear the quietness, not see a single electricity line or a car for miles and hours. All whilst wearing short sleeves while it’s raining and muddy in the rest of Israel. So It’s like a riding vacation abroad even for us. I also like the local riders over there. Super nice, technical, strong and quiet.

Any any final words?

First of all I want to thank you guys to come over here with a mindset free of prejudice, experiencing a kind of Israel only known to locals. To Yael, my dear wife who agrees to live with my madness, to the guys from the Israeli Ministry of Tourism who are making it happen – Nira, David and Pini – and to all the guides and instructors who helped us hosting you here. Big cheers and see you soon!

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