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 Mr Leo Kokkonen.
Leo Kokkonen is the man behind Pole Bicycles, those CNC machined bikes of progressive geometry that hail from Finland. Beyond driving the brand that creates the bikes he wants to make, he’s the fastest 40-49 year old in Finland when it comes to racing enduro and isn’t too shabby when it comes to rolling up to the start line of an EWS.
How would your closest riding buddies describe you to someone who has never met you?
I’m a straight-talker with a lot of ideas. I’m passionate about things, and I like to help people. I want to get things done, so I’m not the one who is advancing slowly on the trail.
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 bought a motorcycle, and I have regained interest in pimping up my ride. I used to paint and sticker up my bicycles before I founded Pole. Now I don’t need to do that because I always have the bike I have designed myself.
I’ve learned through motorbikes that it has similarities to cycling in culture. As I see it, road motorcycling is all about style because all bikes are more powerful than needed. There are cruisers, sportbikes, adventure bikes, choppers etc., and people are dressing up accordingly. The bicycle industry is very fashion-driven, and I see people are not always driven by performance. I believe that e-bikes will be the future motorbikes that people are pimping up in their garages.
What unusual habits do you have as a bike rider?
I ride alone a lot. I want to think while I ride, and usually, I ride very hard. I want to learn something on every ride, and I see all my rides as training.
I want to keep my bike the same setup as long as possible. I use a massive amount of time on testing and choosing the right gear and parts, and when I am happy, I don’t want to change. Don’t fix it if it’s not broken.
What piece of advice do you think every mountain bike rider should hear? And what piece should they ignore?
“You can do it!” Eventually, if you train hard. It’s mainly you and not the bike. Good gear helps, but it’s you. We don’t drive; we ride.
On the other hand, people should ignore “All the gear and no idea” comments. This is an equipment sport, and everyone has a different taste and budget.
Just don’t mix these two things together too much.
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 most memorable day is when I rode Lord of The Squirrels in Whistler with Joel Harwood from Vital MTB.
I did not do research on this ride because generally when you ride with media, the rides are quick in and outs. I had heard of “Lord of the Squirrels”, but I didn’t know the loop’s profile. I should have checked how much elevation we are actually climbing and put some trail tires on. I had DH casing and the prototype Meganorris on both wheels. I had put lighter tires on the media bikes because I shredded park with mine.
At the trail fork before the climb, both said, “let’s take it easy,” but I think we had a competition to the top that neither of us admitted. I should have changed my tires for the morning ride and got more water and energy bars. Joel is a badass squid.
After the ride, I took a nap and went to ride as many runs in the Whistler bike park as possible. My body was cooked after this day. I got the idea for Stamina 180 from this trip. I wanted to do more of that kind of riding where you pedal up the first part of the day and ride park the rest of the day, with more stamina. Therefore, more travel with an excellent pedalling platform was needed.
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 drew a blank here. I either do stuff that has a purpose or just for fun. If something is neither of those, I simply don’t do it. Email is probably the only thing I can’t get rid of.
How do you motivate yourself when you’re struggling or lacking inspiration?
So far, I have not ever felt that I’ve lost my inspiration. If I need the motivation to get something done, I use logic. If something needs to get done, it has to get done. However, I prioritize stuff a lot. My desk can be a mess for a long time, but it won’t be like that forever. I’m just spending my energy on something more substantial. If something is not worth doing, I just don’t do it. I am good at saying no.
What single and specific thing about riding bicycles do you gain the most happiness from?
Versatility. The bicycle is the most simple machine in the world that takes you to places, gives you thrills and danger. It is such a versatile invention that just has taken my interest as an athlete and innovator for years. My friend put it very simple. While we were riding warm summer in the midnight sunshine, tired and wasted from a rock festival: “Isn’t bicycle an incredible machine. You get the wind blowing through your hair with minimum effort, moving from A to B.”
What single thing would you like to erase from cycling history from the last year?
I would like to say Corona, but I think it just did good things to the industry in the long run. Last year, nothing really happened, so I need to call out the FIM “World Championship” e-bike race on the Motocross track in 2019. I think nobody wanted to see that.
What single thing would you like to make happen in the cycling world in the next year?
Corona has taken all events and travelling opportunities away from us, and I think we need them back. I miss riding in the mountains.
Who else should we ask these questions to?
Michael Saunders from Switchbacks MTB.
Keep tabs on Leo’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.