Wise Words is our new interview series talking to some of mountain biking’s most switched on people.

We’ll ask our short list of questions to a heap of influential, inspiring and outspoken people that we feel are driving the direction of mountain biking today. Some will make you think, some will make you laugh, some will be plain dumb, some will inspire you to better yourself and your riding. We hope!

Up next for the Wise Words treatment is legendary mountain biker snapper Gary Perkin.

Is there anyone that racks up more air miles than Gary Perkin? If he’s not the top dog then he’s definitely in the top three. Legendary in the World Cup race circuit but now working for Santa Cruz full time shooting various non-race adventures as well as plenty of multi-day missions like Andes Pacifico and the Cape Epic. If it’s a bike and it rolls on dirt, Gary has probably taken a photo of it.

Gary Perkin during stage 4 of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Wellington, South Africa on the 17th March 2016
Photo by Gary Perkin/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

How would your closest riding buddies describe you to someone who has never met you?

A bit of a grump sometimes when trail decisions take a dodgy turn. I was a navigator in the Navy and on yachts and getting lost or indecision on trail winds me up something chronic.

Also as someone who always stops at red lights on road rides and ends up being dropped because of it. But has only been hit by three cars in almost 40 years of riding for that same reason.

Also someone who may be slightly off the pace but can manage that pace all day, but that’s probably just me paraphrasing them saying that I’m slow.

What thing or things have you bought in the last year that had the biggest effect on your life as a mountain biker / cyclist / person that works in the bike industry?

I’m trying lighter cameras but haven’t found anything that can replace my Canon 1DX MKII, which at 1.53kg for the body alone is a bit of a burden to say the least. Until the focus and FPS kicks in of course. Then its worth it’s weight in gold, and end of day yoga to re-align my spine.

Bike-wise I reckon we are in the golden age of equipment. Back when I was starting out in MTB, the 90’s for those who don’t know, it felt like someone would break something on every single ride. We would never have been able to finish the first day of something like Trans-Provence or Andes-Pacifico without having to head to town for more spares and a rebuild. Now you can finish these epics on the same amazing kit you started on.

What unusual habits do you have as a bike rider?

I can make do on a ride with iffy tyre pressures but my stem must be straight! And thanks to riding with a camera bag most of the time I ride my fork way too hard. But that’s better than doing 30kg bench presses all winter.

Photo by Irmo Keizer.

What piece of advice do you think every mountain bike rider should hear? And what piece should they ignore?

Look up… and I don’t just mean look ahead on the trail. I mean look up and take it all in. We get to ride in some amazing places on our bikes and we should appreciate it. We tend to get obsessed with numbers and time and all that. Even on local loops there is plenty to appreciate and that awareness should stand us in good stead when folks want to take away access and we remember what we have to fight for.

Ignore folks who say you don’t need to be prepared on a ride, bring a tube, pump, tool, food, water & jacket/layer. Every time. The time you don’t have it is the time you’ll need it. Ergo take it and hopefully you won’t need it and if you do you’ve got it.

If you could go back and re-ride one day from your life so far, where/what/when/who would it be? Would you change anything?

That’s a tough one… I’ve been lucky to ride a lot of stunning places and amazing trails. I’m of the firm opinion that the company makes the day more special than just a stunning location. But also sometimes you just have to head out on your own for 7 hours and think about things.

A few highlights include Mountain of Hell with the GT crew, Day 4 of the Joberg2c 9 Day stage race, pretty much any day on any Trans-Provence or Andes-Pacifico madness, Graeagle and Downieville in the Sierras, Nydia Bay on that wet day on the 2017 NZ Enduro, Lapland in the first snow of the season, any number of days in Bonny Scotland, any day fresh off a plane with jet lag in Santa Cruz. I could go on but I realise I probably have already.

What have you wasted the most time on in your life as a rider or bike industry career that you wished you’d given up years ago?

The computer/iphone/ipad… There are days when I get stuck behind it working or internetting for no real time critical reason when its a beautiful day for a ride and by the time I get my act together its to late to ride.

But I’m trying to change that, hence I may respond slower than normal to emails. It’s a necessary evil and has its place but sometimes you need to put it down before you get to the bottom of Instagram or Facebook or even your inbox and just look up.

Photo by Jonatha Junge.

How do you motivate yourself when you’re struggling or lacking inspiration?

Funnily enough, I’ve just been through a patch where I haven’t ridden for 10 days, save for a 1 hour FTP test on a stationary bike. For a variety of reasons I just didn’t feel like the admin of deciding a route, getting ready and pedalling away for a few hours.

Work pressure, life pressure, those kinds of things are usually sorted with a good hard pedal but this week I couldn’t even bring myself to do that as much as I knew it would help. Thankfully I sorted that with a 1 1/2 hour ride this morning that included a one hour climb up Table Mountain and that sorted most of the crap out.

What single and specific thing about riding bicycles do you gain the most happiness from?

I find riding different bikes brings a different perspective to things. On a mountain bike you have no time to think on rad descents and that pushes out most of the stuff in my head that is bugging me.

Whereas on the CX / road bike I find the metronomic cadence very zen-like and it allows you to really think things through. Its kind of like the last 10 minutes of the day when you are lying in bed trying to fall asleep and all those amazing ideas come into your head.

Getting outdoors every day brings me huge satisfaction and the warm glow of emptying the tank on an all day mission sure makes you feel good at the end of the day.

Photo by Imro Keizer.

What single thing would you like to erase from cycling history from the last year?

The silly marketing spiel of if you don’t have enough time to train you should get an e-bike. In my experience you can get more out of an hour or even less of solid interval training than doing laps on laps on laps under battery power. I know there loads of uses for them but just not for my MTB needs. I’d rather suffer a bit for my art as they say.

What single thing would you like to make happen in the cycling world in the next year?

I feel we have started on the right track with advocacy and trail stewardship within the industry but we can need to do maintain the momentum. And I hope to be able to do a bit more of that this year.

Also, if we can help more people get into bikes and the outdoors they will understand the benefits and we can help foster a better understanding of how we can all be responsible users of the great and yet immensely threatened outdoors.

Who else should we ask these questions to?

Alex Rankin, Greg Williams of Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, Joe Graney of Santa Cruz Bicycles, Mark Maurissen of GT Bicycles, Elayna Caldwell of SRAM, Sam Needham.

You can read our feature interview with Mr. Gary Perkin about his life in MTB photography here.

You can catch all our previous Wise Words interviews with the likes of Sven Martin, Olly Wilkins, Ric McLaughlin and plenty more here.

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