Wise Words | Dan Cook.

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

Wise Words is where 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!

Wise Words this week come to you via the medium of Mr. Dan Cook.

According to the gospel that is Nick Hamilton, and this week’s Wise Words candidate Dan Cook is a British Cycling Mountain bike leadership leader and manager, as well as an old school bike racer. All you have to do is try and keep up.

Big thanks to Nick Hamilton for suggesting so many folk to interview for our Wise Words series.

Wise Words Dan Cook
Dan, on the right, sporting a mighty mullet.

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

I suspect they would say ‘Don’t trust this man, avoid if at all possible ……’! In reality, I think they would probably say ‘quiet and reserved… until you get to know him. Oh, and be careful following him through techy stuff; he sees some properly different lines!’

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?

From a work point of view (I’m out leading groups regularly), its probably a blizzard bag. It’s yet to be used, at least for the reasons its intended and I’m hoping it’ll stay that way for a good while yet, but it should be really helpful as and when I have to deal with an injured rider in staving off their exposure (hypothermia).

Although I didn’t buy it, the other item I’ve made is a flexible warning sign I can put up on a trail if I am coaching or working on trail maintenance/inspection to warn approaching riders. I cant prove its worked, but at least I am trying.

What unusual habits do you have as a bike rider?

Matching sock to shoe colour. Unfortunately, my dancing (summer) mtb shoes are predominantly white so I have a hard job keeping socks sufficiently white most summers (2018 being the welcome exception of course).

Also I’ll always wear two tops, no matter how hot it is.

One underlayer to do what the manufacturers claim and wick the stinky sweat away whilst the two tops slide over each other in the event of me crashing, so protecting my skin – or so the theory goes. Not that I crash that much – I’m a bit too old and it hurts too much if I push the boundaries now.

More 80s hair on the top of the Gula Guli Pass, Georgia.

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

‘Be nice say hi!’ obviously. To extend that, its really not about Strava times or adrenaline constantly – take your time, laugh with your riding buddies, stop and look at the view and appreciate the amazing places we get to ride. And when you do want to blast, pick your time and place.

They should ignore the call from the manufacturers that they need the latest piece of kit, eagle, wireless gears blah di blah. Sure they (usually) make things feel half a percent better, but they really aren’t going to make you a better rider, only you can make that change. Whatever you have to ride, get on with it and jfr (I’ll leave you to work out the acronym, but it involves ‘just’ and ‘ride’).

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?

I’ve been mountain biking for over 30 years now and ridden in some amazing places. There are two days that really stand out. The first was an expedition in the Indian Himalayas through Jammu and Kashmir. We were only the second riders ever to be in that region on mtb’s. After several days riding over the Trans Himalayan Highway (it sounds big and busy, but was in reality a landrover track) then down the Zanskar valley we looped back over a couple of 5000m high passes.

Merida OneSixty Leaderboard 2023

The riding was amazing. Miles of rough singletrack in the valleys and glaciers either side of the passes. Some sort of illness bug caught up with me on the last pass so I was pretty out of it and Mark who stayed with me whilst the rest of the group went on was expecting us to have to bivy out that night. Fortunately I recovered enough to catch back up with the group at that nights camp but being a bit out of it, I did miss quite an experience I think including an avalanche on a slope to the side of us, and would love to have had more wherewithal for that day.

Unfortunately that area is really close to the Indian / Pakistan border and isn’t accessible to visitors any more, so I can’t imagine I’ll ever be able to return.

The other day was a ride out after the European Championships in about ’92 I think. These were in the Austrian Alps and just four of us; my Orange teammate Kevin ‘Sabo’ Sabiston, Sian and Dafydd Roberts headed up to the alpine pastures and back down. The main descent was astounding. It seemed to go on forever, full of hairpins and sweeping testing natural corners and features.

We were all riding close and it seemed to fall into a pattern for a few miles of the drop: the lead rider would get a corner wrong, put a foot down, go off the trail etc. The other three would go past and that rider recover to drop in at the back. It kept on rotating like that all the way down. I remember just laughing from top to bottom. What a cracking time.

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?

I’m struggling to find anything that I have wasted time on. Sure some big projects have led to dead ends, but change one thing and you never know how that might have impacted later on – moving away from my life path – a bit of sliding doors right there.

Photo by Olly Townsend

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

Well going for a ride is a pretty obvious answer to this and depending on the circumstances I’ll either look for some gnarly stuff to reset my origin or I’ll stop at a viewpoint somewhere, sit down, take in the view and contemplate options, impacts and perspective.

A few years ago, there was a pretty tough Christmas approaching. It was Christmas eve and there was some fresh snow overnight. I left work early afternoon, rode over to Stanage and sat on the edge above the plantation descent. The snow absorbed all sounds; the weather was decent for December.

For anyone who has ever been there and taken five, the view across the Peak District vast and that day it was immense. No-one had been down the descent, even walking; there was no sound, no movement. It felt so isolating, yet familiar, and the drop to the valley is always brilliant. I loved it and it perked me up for a good few days.

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

Seeing others begin to enjoy mountain biking. One of my key motivators and the reason I developed and now run mountain bike leader qualifications is to help other leaders enable their riders to ask the same question I was asked when I started out leading rides: ‘That was amazing, when can we go mountain biking again?’ I can’t be doing too badly at that as the insight says I help 1.5million led MTB rides happen annually.

Photo by Olly Townsend.

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

The politics. It’s frustrating when organisations claim wins to be all theirs or don’t acknowledge the driver of change.

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

I’ve worked really hard in the background to get the Welsh Government to agree to changing their access policy. I want to see that come to fruition over the next year to make societal change through improved health, well-being, economy and transport in Wales. Of course mountain bikers will also benefit significantly as a vital by-product.

Oh and then my ten year plan is for that to drive change in access across England.

Who else should we ask these questions to?

It’d be great to see a broader demographic in mountain biking. I think you should identify and talk to some female role models like Annie Last, Evie Richards, Lee Craigie, Juliet Elliot and Rachael Crewesmith.

You can follow Dan’s adventures on his Instagram feed here.

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

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