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 to you from none other that Mr Stuart Leel.
Stuart Leel is the man behind Shredder MTB Zine, a one-man operation that started from a college project is now one of the coolest mountain bike publications out there and it’s still in print. Far from mainstream but all the radness.
Photos by Adam McGuire.
How would your closest riding buddies describe you to someone who has never met you?
Enthusiastic, excitable, passionate, erratic, hyped, obsessive and a bit eccentric… That goes for both on and off the bike.
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?
Probably not the answer you’d expect, but it would have to be my garden shed that I finished building at the start of this year. Years ago when I lived at home, my parents were surprisingly accommodating when it came to me lugging a dirty bike up their stairs to keep in the spare room. When I worked in a bike shop, I was lucky enough to keep my bike at work which was the ideal set up for a lunchtime cleaning session.
As time went on though, there were a few years where my bikes didn’t have a designated home and were scattered between mates’ houses, local bike shops, my parents’ house and sometimes sketchily hidden in the back of my van. I hated not having my bikes and tools all together in one place, so building the shed to have my own personal workshop literally transformed my life.
I now have a warm, secure place to lock up my bikes, somewhere to change out of my dirty riding kit after a muddy ride, and most importantly, a place where I can hang out on a Friday night, drinking beer whilst looking through boxes of old broken chain devices that I can’t bring myself to throw out for some reason.
What unusual habits do you have as a bike rider?
I guess riding gloveless is still often viewed as being unusual, but I’ve done it for so long now that I really can’t imagine going back to riding in gloves. It’s probably hard to understand if you’ve always worn them, but I just hate the feeling of a thin piece of material between my hands and my grips. I feel weirdly disconnected. I used to struggle to find gloves to fit my large, spindly fingers, which maybe was another contributing factor for opting to ride bareback.
What piece of advice do you think every mountain bike rider should hear? And what piece should they ignore?
Worry less about your bike and how it’s set up and focus more on having a good time. Obviously you want your bike to work well to your preferences, but I’ve seen a few days ruined by riders pointlessly making single click adjustments to rebound settings rather than actually enjoying the ride.
I think a lot of riders could do with ignoring Strava. It can be a big distraction from a social aspect of the ride and can come across as very rude when riders are more focused on their phone than interacting with the people they’ve chosen to go riding with. As long as you’re having fun whilst using it and not taking it too competitively is the main thing I guess.
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?
The Fort William World Cup track always delivers the goods. It’s a 3 and half hour drive to get there for me and I love the full experience; waking up early to load the van, listening to some good tunes on the drive there, the Aviemore bakery pit stop, the gondola lifts to the top and of course, the riding.
Intimidating rock gardens, the tech of the woods, the speed of the drifty turns and ending on the big motorway jumps; it’s such a varied track and it all requires such a crazy level of concentration, I love it. One day in particular that stands out was last year when I took a trip there with my buddies Ceige, Ryan and Jamie. We crammed in the runs, the sun was out and we ended the day with a pizza from Pizzeriach… perfection.
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?
Social media has definitely stolen more time from me than I would have liked. I feel like it’s a necessary evil with making Shredder to inform riders when a new issue comes out, and I try to make that process as much fun for myself as possible by creating release videos and finding unique ways to advertise the zine.
I’m happy to say I no longer have any personal social media accounts and Instagram is the only social media I use for Shredder. I found Facebook to be a horribly toxic online environment and since deleting it I’ve never missed using it. I definitely still spend far too much time aimlessly scrolling on Instagram though.
How do you motivate yourself when you’re struggling or lacking inspiration?
In terms of riding, I’m lucky to say I very rarely lack motivation these days. Working a full time job around making Shredder means I don’t ride nearly as much as I’d like to, so now for me it’s about making the times that I do get out on the bike really count, which I think is motivation in itself.
If I wake up to pissing rain and I’m really not feeling it though, I normally put on a video that I know will get me hyped. My most frequently watched videos are Sprung 3, Earthed 2, Synopsis, Gamble and online edits from Fast As Fuck, Brandon Semenuk and 50to01.
If I’m lacking motivation to work on the next issue of Shredder I normally go out for a ride. A day on the bike can often spark enough ideas to fill a whole issue.
What single and specific thing about riding bicycles do you gain the most happiness from?
Riding my DH bike. It’s been something I’ve thought about a lot recently with more riders in my friendship group choosing to sell their DH steeds in favour of all-rounders. I understand all the arguments of having a do-it-all bike, but for me personally, you just can’t beat the feeling of letting it all hang out on a downhill bike, riding on the edge of your limits through a difficult section that requires you to really think about what you’re doing. As long as I’m still capable of riding I think will always own a DH bike.
What single thing would you like to erase from cycling history from the last year?
Comments sections on popular MTB websites… Social media influencers and Instagram repost accounts would come in a close second and third to round up a horrid podium.
What single thing would you like to make happen in the cycling world in the next year?
I’d love to see a Scottish rider as World Champion… Oh snap! Reece already ticked that one off the list. Getting to see the World Champs and a shortened World Cup season go ahead after a very testing year was amazing, so my answer was going to be to see a more consistent series go ahead for next year. That’s more for my own selfish reasons of enjoying the race coverage though, and who knows what big ‘rona will throw at us next.
To choose one single thing it would be a topic that I’m constantly moaning about, I’d like to see a bigger response to trail tidiness. It blows my mind to think that there are riders out there who think it’s acceptable to carry packaged food/drinks to a riding location and just discard the waste like it’s not an issue. In my local area it always tends to be sugary snack wrappers and energy drink cans that I’m constantly picking up, which I think speaks volumes about the people responsible.
Regardless to who it is, I just think that if you’re into mountain biking then you’re automatically associated as someone who loves the outdoors, so why would you shit in your own backyard? You took the snacks there so you can surely take the empty packaging back with you. Big up communities like Trash Free Trails for spreading a positive message and encouraging riders to do the right thing.
Who else should we ask these questions to?
I’d love to read what topics Josh ‘Loosedog’ Lewis’ would cover for many of these questions as I think he’s an incredible role model for the next generation of mountain bikers.
I also think MTB industry legend Mike Redding would raise some very interesting points and would likely have some cool stories to tell too. I’ve really enjoyed following this interview series and loved the variety of riders you’ve chosen so far. Thanks for asking me to do this, and keep ‘em coming.
Keep tabs on Shredder MTB Zine on their website here.
You can catch all our previous Wise Words interviews with the likes of Sven Martin, Manon Carpenter, Ric McLaughlin and plenty more here.