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 come to you from Maya Atkinson.
Maya Atkinson is part of the current wave of young, female riding talent coming out of the UK and taking it to the World Cup downhill scene, with 2021 seeing her join the Canyon Collective as an ambassador in her second year in Elite.
How would your closest riding buddies describe you to someone who has never met you?
I was curious to what they would actually say so I asked a close mountain biking buddy of mine. She said that I am both the most intense and the most laid-back person you will ever meet. So, take that as you will! Then I thought about this myself and I think most would say that ‘I am a cheerful mess!’ As I can be a little all over the place sometimes.
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?
Definitely, my van. I saved up and bought a 2002 Ford Transit high top. I was so happy to have the freedom to live and ride wherever I could drive. Last year, I was very lucky to be able to travel all around Europe, even during this pandemic. I was staying safe and wearing masks like I should, but things were definitely more relaxed than now.
The 5 months I spent riding in Europe using a 21-bikepark season pass (The Gravity Card), was the best time of my life. And now we are back in lockdown, it made me appreciate all the riding and all the memories I made.
What unusual habits do you have as a bike rider?
I am extremely punctual, but I will always forget something on a ride. Be it gloves, snacks, water, axles and even the soles of my shoes. I think this is because I rush a lot. So, having my van with all my possessions in is such a lifesaver.
What piece of advice do you think every mountain bike rider should hear? And what piece should they ignore?
Please don’t take racing too seriously. Especially the local races. I have coached many riders, young and old who are too focused on winning, that they forget that they are there to have fun. It is important to try your hardest, sometimes we are fast, sometimes slow; but at the end of the day, we are here because we love riding our bikes.
Take this with a pinch of salt, but ignore ‘look before you leap’. This doesn’t apply to gnarly features or maybe beginners. Sometimes I think riding a trail blind is one of the best ways to up your riding and also one of the best feelings when you react to something just from instinct. I find looking at obstacles too long can freak me out. (but please stay safe peeps).
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?
Fort William World cup 2017. It was my first junior World cup, and I was so stoked. I had met so many of the world cup pros and even the GMBN team. When I went for my race run, I must have not checked my rear axle. When I arrived at the gnarly woods sections (this was the year it was carnage and the mud like peanut butter) my bike stopped. I couldn’t pedal and I started to panic.
I was on the side of the track, trying to get my bike back together when I realized the axle was out by 7 cm. I put it back in, but I forgot to put the chain back on the cassette. I finished the track with no chain and with a 10 minute run on the clock. I was devastated to find I was up on the split just before the woods. I was confident that I could have podiumed that weekend.
So, remember to always check your bike properly before you ride.
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?
Caring too much about what other people think. When I was younger, I was so conscious of my appearance and riding that I would always try to look cool in my kit and try not to fail on the bike (at skate parks especially). I still care what people think, but I am trying to ride how I want and not be afraid to make mistakes or look uncool. I don’t think I am super cool right now, but I hope a younger me would.
How do you motivate yourself when you’re struggling or lacking inspiration?
To be honest, right now I am struggling to be motivated. With the lockdown I am finding it very hard as I am sure everyone is. But I think it is okay to struggle at this moment, especially when things are so uncertain. Before the pandemic, when we could ride in groups, I felt really motivated, which pushed me to be a better rider.
The social isolation makes mountain biking much harder, e.g you can’t ride hard technical tracks by yourself, it’s just not safe. So, I end up doing solo XC rides, which lacks the thrill of downhill! But there is hope soon.
Recently, we were allowed to exercise with 1 other person from another household in Wales. The other day I went for a ride with a friend and was the happiest I been riding for a while; I can’t wait to ride with everyone soon. I now cherish every ride I have.
What single and specific thing about riding bicycles do you gain the most happiness from?
Riding with people. The mountain bike community is so wholesome and cool, and I am so proud to be a part of it. Doesn’t matter where you are, there will always be a friendly atmosphere and people where mountain bikes are involved.
What single thing would you like to erase from cycling history from the last year?
My World Champs run. It was not the best run and I got a torn labrum in my shoulder from it. I am in physio now but I was still glad I was there; I was just excited to be able to race.
What single thing would you like to make happen in the cycling world in the next year?
Greater numbers qualifying at World Cups.
Since they cut the numbers down in the women’s category to 15, I have felt they really damaged women’s participation in World Cups. The top 10 spots are most likely factory riders, leaving only 5 spaces left. It is disappointing that the privateer is slowly being pushed out of the top racing scene, even in the Men’s elite and junior. There is more to racing than what you see on TV.
Who else should we ask these questions to?
Vicky Balfour is a mechanic I know, she is awesome and has a daughter with special needs, I love seeing her and her daughter riding and I think it so inspirational.
Keep tabs on Maya’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.