Wise Words | Lael Wilcox.

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!

Wise Words this week comes from someone who is definitely not afraid of a few miles, ladies and gentlemen, Lael Wilcox.

If you don’t know who Lael Wilcox is then you need to do your homework. She holds the record for the Tour Divide and Baja Divide routes, as well as being the first American to win the Trans Am race. That’s over 8,500 miles in just three races. Lael probably rides further than you drive a car in a year.

Photos by Rue Kaladyte.

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

I asked my girlfriend Rue, she says, “you’re someone who oozes positivity and always has a smile on your face.”

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 got a pair of Western Mountaineering down pants for bike packing races and they’ve made my life so much better. I can wear them while I sleep and also on the bike for really cold weather.

While racing in Kyrgyzstan in August, night time temperatures were well below freezing. I spent a significant amount of time riding in these pants.

What unusual habits do you have as a bike rider?

I participate in self-supported ultra distance racing, typically 1,000km or more. A big piece of this style of racing is making sacrifices to stay on the bike. I minimise sleep, typically sleeping four hours in a sleeping bag on the side of the road. I typically don’t stop to eat, but instead pack food to go and eat on my bike.

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

I wish people would stop feeling bad about the skills they don’t have. No one was born with mountain bike skills and there are always ways to improve. Ride what you can, walk what you can’t and don’t worry about it.

Particularly for beginners, ignore gear advice, ride what you have until you find the equipment’s limits. Make your own gear choices from experience.

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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?

My single day favourite ride is the Denali Park Road in Alaska. It is a 92 mile dirt road into Denali National Park and it’s closed to traffic. There are so many wild animals in the park, bears, moose, caribou, wolves and more. I’ve ridden this three times and I’ll never get tired of it. I grew up in Alaska. I love my home state. It’s really wild.

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 don’t think I’ve wasted too much time. I spend a lot of time in the saddle and I never get sick of it.

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

I rarely get bored. On long races, I’ll spend up to 20 hours a day. I have a few different strategies. If I’m feeling really bad physically, sometimes I’ll look at the clock and tell myself I’ll check in in an hour and see how I feel. I always feel better.

Another strategy, if I’m feeling bad mentally, thinking that I’m doing poorly, I’ll check to see if I’m doing the best I can in the circumstances. If the answer is yes, then that’s the best I can do and I’ll stop beating myself up. The whole idea is to stay positive. If I keep a good attitude, I ride better. And then, there’s always pop music and caffeine, a definite mood-lifter.

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

Riding through sunrises and sunsets during long days in the saddle. Those beautiful moments are so fleeting and special.

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

Personally, the way I was treated while documenting my 2019 Tour Divide Race. I received a lot of backlash, that I was trying to cheat or gain advantage. Honestly, I don’t think having a video crew out for two weeks of racing self-supported makes me go any faster, but it’s a necessary component in helping me share my story.

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

I’m collaborating with Bikepacking.com and Conservation International to establish a 500km dirt route around Bogota, Colombia to bring awareness to the Paramos, a plant that captures moisture and provides all of the drinking water to Bogota, a city of 8 million.

The Paramos are threatened by development. We will be making a video to share the story about route development, environmental concerns and I will try to ride the route as fast as possible. This route is intended to be part of a series of seven around the world.

Who else should we ask these questions to?

I don’t know.

You can follow Lael Wilcox on her adventures on her 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.