Stickied: Vision of a pioneer with Jeff Lenosky
Jeff Lenosky definitly left an important impact in the sport. He has been around for so long that it was time to get to know him a little better and see what biking means to him since he got into it. Jeff had quite a few really good video parts in the Chain Reaction serie as well as in the NWD videos. There was a lot of stuff we wanted to ask Jeff so get ready for a pretty long read. Go grab yourself a cold one and see what Jeff went throught during all those years around the biking world! Hit the Read More link to jump to the reading!
Name: Jeff Lenosky
Hometown: Fairfield, NJ
Current location: Sparta, NJ
Years riding: mtb 21
Sponsors: Giant Bicycles, Teva, Native Eyewear, Shimano, Fox Shox, Fox Head, Mavic, Clif Bar, Maxxis, Monster Audio, Feedback Sports, Resort Rentals
Q: It was probably quite a long time ago, but how did you first get into riding bikes?
A: I got into BMX as a kid, I always enjoyed hitting jumps and stuff and one day I came across a BMX magazine and was hooked. When I was a junior in High School I was super tall and got kinda big for BMX so I got into skateboarding. When I was going to college I picked up a MTB just thinking I'd cruise around on it but I ended up copying what I was doing on my skate and BMX. That following summer I found out about observed trials and since that seemed like the funnest thing to do on a mtb at the time I focused on that.
Q:You probably went through a lot of different bikes and setups during all those years on the bike. What was your first ''good bike''?
A: It's all relative because they all seemed "good" at the time, but looking back some of the set ups were a little wack. My first sponsor was Eastern Wood Research and they made cro-mo trials bikes so that was probably the first good one. I rode for Schwinn from 95-2000 and the last year with them I had a custom bike that was going to go to production call the "hip hop". That bike was great because It was the first bike I got to design. Schwinn filed for bankruptcy right before that bike was supposed to be produced and that's when I started riding for Giant.
Q: Back in the days when riding street on big wheels wasnt very popular, what did your bike setup look like? How did you manage to get a good trials/street bike together when it was hard to get strong components that werent super heavy?
A: It was really difficult, anything good was super light and not too strong. The popularity of downhill really helped out with rims and tires, but everything else was still hit and miss.
Q: What is your bike setup at the moment, and why is it built that way?
A: I have 2 bikes. My street/trials bike and my street bike and they're built really similar. Both bikes have a large Giant STP frame, Fox 831 fork, Shimano Saint Brakes and cranks, a Giant Pivotal seat and seat post and Straitline JL pedals. The difference is my trials bike has a 80mm Pro Stem and Pro FRS bars, 22-17 gearing, a Mavic Crossline front wheel with a DTH tire and the back is a Mavic 321 rim with a Hookworm. Trials bikes need low gearing and a bomber rear wheel. My street set up is almost a couple pounds lighter because both wheels are Crossmax SX wheels and Maxxis DTH tires with a 32-18 gearing and a 70mm stem with 50mm rise Atherton PRO bars. They're both real similar just optimized for their respective purposes, I've realized that I won't be winning any dirt jump contests anytime soon so I ditched the 50mm stem and made the bike fit my style better.
Q: You have been riding for Giant for a really long time now. how are things going between you guys?
A: It's great, I have a lot of input on products like the STP, they have a huge dealer network which is good for trials demonstrations and they're just good people. I really couldn't ask for a better arrangement.
Q: What is your opinion about the whole idea of riding 26'' wheels on the streets? You probably heard the classic ''Just get a BMX man '' sentence pretty often?
A: Honestly, I go back and forth on this quite a bit. Sometimes I agree with those people because I see a lot of people straight up copying BMX on a bigger bike without being original. I came from a trials background and for that sport a mtb is the best tool for the job, when I street ride it's impossible not to be influenced by BMX but I try to let my overall style be a hybrid of both sports. Some 26 inch street riders blow my mind because they're bringing something new to the sport and creating a identity for bigger wheels while some dudes really should just "get a BMX".
Q: Being in biking for so long now, you probably saw the whole evolution: from Aaron Chase grinding with a Cannondale Lefty fork to kids with no brakes doing 360 barspins and tailwhips down sets of stairs? What is your opinion on how street MTB became what it is today and would you change something about it if you could?
A: I think its amazing how far it's come. I think it's rad how many different styles of riders there are now and so many guys bring something unique to the game. Before mountain bikes I was way into BMX so I've seen that sport evolve so I always knew it would happen to big bikes as well.
Q: Your riding has changed quite a bit during the years, from trials to street or dirt jump or freeride. How do you feel about all of this, and what do you enjoy the most right now?
A: I've kinda come full circle to where I really enjoy trials riding again. Last year I broke my leg and it was pretty devastating at the time. Once I started riding again I was riding trials a lot because I could go out and just play around and have fun without too much risk and basically fell in love with that style again. Now a year later I'm back to 100 percent and I can go out and push myself and have fun. I ride alone a lot of the time so solo trials missions are more fun then solo street or dirt jump sessions.
Q: Your parts in the older NWD videos were a major inspiration for all the kids starting to ride their bikes on the streets. I personnaly remember watching your parts and it was just awesome. How do you feel about having influenced the street scene that much?
A: It's weird to think that I've impacted the sport so much because at the time we were just doing what we loved to do and it just seemed like everyone should have the same idea to ride like that, but at the time there was still a pretty big racing bias.. I grew up skating and riding bmx so it seemed natural to immitate those two sports on my mountain bike, then i found out about trials and that allowed me to put a unique spin on it.
Q: What does biking mean to you? How do you get motivated to ride, compete or film, and did it change during the years?
A: My motivation to ride has definitely changed over the years. When I first started riding I was really into doing trials competitions. Videos and websites didn't really exist at the time so going to contests were a good opportunity to get out and hang with other riders, see what everyone was up to and see how you were riding relative to them. Once videos started to get more popular I really enjoyed filming for them. I like to ride so many different styles and I felt like I didn't have to conform to fit into a specific genre to compete and be seen anymore. The last two years I competed at trials for a full season was 1999 and 2000 and I won the North American Championship which was awesome but I burned myself out in the process since I felt like I was giving up so much to compete at that level. Since that point I've pretty much focused on photo and video shoots, trials demos and the occasional contest. Photos and videos are awesome because they last forever and I love the process of figuring out something cool to ride or a situation to make a trick look good.
Q: How does it feel to have your own signature frame?
A: It's awesome, I'm really lucky that the guys at Giant really listen to me about how I'd like my bike to ride. When I started riding for Schwinn years ago I would get custom bikes and it was really cool for me, but I get bummed out when anyone was interested in the frame but it wasn't available to the public. Now with the Giant STP anyone can buy the same exact frame I ride, and it's really cool to see people riding the bikes having fun and knowing I helped make that bike what it is.
Q: How did you first meet Aaron Chase? If I am correct you guys have been friends for a really long time?
A: I met Aaron about ten years ago and we've been buddies ever since. I definitely paid attention to him and his riding style in the first two Chain Reaction series. We really started riding together a lot around the time of Chain Reaction 3 and a couple years later I hooked him up with the Freeride Entertainment guys so between those two series we took some pretty memorable trips together. Nowadays we both travel a lot so we definitely don't see each other as much as you'd expect but whenever we do get to hang out or ride it's always fun.
Q: You probably did quite a lot of travelling during all those years as a pro bicycle rider. What would be your top-3 destinations? Not only for biking, just good places to be at.
A: I definitely loved traveling to Barcelona, not only is it an amazing place to ride but the scenery, food and the culture are awesome. Whistler is pretty much bike heaven on earth so that definitely ranks up there. I can spend a week in Whistler and hit awesome DH trails, XC trails, dirt jumps, trials spots or pretty much anything else that comes to mind. Finally, this past winter I took a trip to trail ride in Sedona Arizona with Aaron Chase and George Ryan and it was a blast. There's so much varied terrain, the weathers great in the winter and it's just a really beautiful place.
Q: How is it to live in New Jersey? What do you enjoy there, and what would you change if you could?
A: I love living in New Jersey and with all the traveling I do I haven't really found anywhere else I'd want to live. I like the east coast vibe, I can get into New York City in an hour but where I live it's pretty slow paced with great spots to ride. For street riding and trials it's hard to beat the east coast, The only thing I don't like is when mother nature gives us a winter like last year. That just about drove me crazy!
Q: As a US resident and older guy than the average bike rider, what do you think of the way the country is going in the hands of Obama, compared to when it was Bush that was in control?
A: Thats a complicated question, obviously as a representative of the US on a global stage I'm way more proud of Obama. As a professional athlete you're pretty much a small business owner though and some of the programs he supports don't necessarily make it easy on us. I'm still not completely sold on a universal healthcare system, I pay so much for my family and myself every month but the flip side is we have the best medical care in the world hands down. I have professional athlete friends in other countries who have to wait months for their "free" specialist visits or surgeries. That's not the greatest thing when you have people expecting you to get healed up and riding again. At the end of the day in a democracy you always have to compromise and a president doesn't have any absolute power so they really can't screw thing up too bad.
Q: I remember seeing you at Rye Airfield riding with your kid a couple years ago. How did having kids change your vision of life?
A: It changes everything and really puts life in perspective and allows you to see what's really important. I have 3 kids now, Jack who's 10, Katie is 7 and Max who just turned 1. Having them is really what life is all about in my opinion, sure I can do some tricks on a bike and be involved in a cool sport now, but when all that's over and no one remembers or cares about Jeff Lenosky they'll be contributing to society. Hopefully they'll be having kids of their own and each of them can hopefully make the world a little better while they're here. They say every generation should be better then the last so just imagine how awesome my kids' kids will be. Haha
Q: Do you have any other interests or hobbies aside from Biking?
A: I pretty much only have time to ride my bike, handle the business of riding my bike and spend time with my family. I'll ride mini bikes or snowboard in the winter but I wouldn't really consider them full fledged hobbies.
Q: In your many years riding bikes, it is probably hard to pick the best experience that happened to you, so what would be your top-3 best moments ever that had to do with bikes?
A: That's a really tough question because when you're living your life and riding your bike you get so caught up in it that it's difficult to stand back and have any perspective on what you're doing. I guess one of the coolest thing was when I rode for Schwinn I taped a pilot episode for a TV show called Ordinary Extroadinary. This was probably in 1996 or so and Jay Miron pulled the first ever double backflip on a box jump. Being there in person and seeing it was probably the most amazing bike feat I've ever seen. The second thing was traveling to Poland in 2000 and winning the UCI Indoor Trials Grand Prix. To my knowledge no US rider had won an elite trials event and afterwards we partied so hard with the riders it was unbelievable. There was a crazy language barrier so no one knew what one another was saying but we still had so much fun. The dollar was so strong over there I paid the entire bar tab for the night which was about $100 US! I think the third thing happened most recently when I was shooting a photo for Decline. It was a ledge ride over some pipes off a crumpled up curb and it was a really high jump considering the kicker and a pretty tech line. Sticking that move and getting a good photo was such a great feeling because it was the first picture I got that I was stoked on since I broke my leg a year earlier. I had done photo shoots previously but they were just kinda stock shots riding what I could, but nothing real cool. After such a serious injury it's hard not to doubt yourself so getting a shot that I was real proud of was a great feeling that I'll never take for granted again.
Q: On the other hand, its obviously not a fun question, but what was your worst crash riding a bike?
A: I was lucky, but eventually luck has to run out. I had been riding for 25 years without any major injuries, just a couple concussions and seperated shoulders but never anything that forced me off my bike for any extended period of time. A year ago this past February I broke my tibia and fibula hitting a jump in Aaron's back yard. As soon as I landed I knew there was a good chance I broke it and when I went to move I could feel my entire lower leg flop around. It was the grossest thing I've ever felt and I remember it didn't hurt that bad at first but I was so angry because I knew I was totally screwed. It took me an entire year to recover from that injury to get back to the point where I felt like I was 100% again.
Jeff's leg when the cast came off
Q: I dont know if you are the kind of guy that likes to party but whatever, do you have some anecdotes about crazy parties that happened during trips or events?
A: See the "Poland Story" above. The other best party story I have was when Aaron, Kyle Ebbett, Lance Trappe, Chris Clark and Don Hampton traveled down to Asheville, NC for a street comp. The promoters threw a after party at their house and I think they were kinda stoked to have some "pro" riders. Someone busted out a funnel which led to keg stands which led to all of us mud wresting with each other in a puddle on their dirt driveway. We were pulling dudes out of the party and pretty much everyone was fair game until we were completely covered from head to toe in mud. I remember walking through the lobby shirtless covered in mud looking like a group of aborigines and there were mud smears shoulder height down the hallway from us walking into the walls on the way to our rooms. The following year I went back with my wife and Jack who was just over a year old and when I went to check in my name came up as black listed!! I totally felt like a loser but it was totally worth it.
Q: Tell us something about you that would surprise us. Don't be shy.
A: I can't listen to a familiar song without singing along. It seriously drives friends and road trip companions crazy but I just can't sit and listen without participating in the performance.
Q: From filming for a videopart, 10 years ago, to kids filming with Iphones or $300 photo cameras that make decent HD videos nowadays, what is you opinion on how media and internet technologies affect the sport?
A: I think it's good and bad. It awesome that kids can get their riding out there to the masses so easily, it allows them to get noticed, but it makes it difficult to really make a name for yourself. Its almost like there's a media overload and it's TOO accessible. Its kind of a catch 22, when I got started people would wait for New World Disorder sections or Chain Reaction and it really allowed me to establish myself. If you're starting out today you're only as good as your last web edit. It seems like there's way more opportunities but those opportunities are fleeting. That said, it's incredible for the progression of the sport.
Q: What do you think about the way Slopestyle is going these days? Would you change something about it?
A: I think the spectacle of slope style is good to watch but the bigger it gets the more disconnect you begin to get with the average rider. Skateboarding and BMX street have done a great job to keep their sports accurately represented in contests. The courses are a little bigger but for the most part any kid that's into skating or BMX could roll around an x games course and have fun. It seems like MTB riders are at the front of a developing sport and they're willing to do anything to make a name for themselves and jump off what ever is put in from of them. Sometimes I feel that slope style courses are getting too big and that it loses any relevance to the average mountain bike rider spectating, It's a fine line between progression and losing touch with your core audience. I could easily see it turning into a spectacle sport like freestyle motocross where people love to watch it but it basically receives zero support form the industry it is a part of. The tricky part is freestyle motocross gets lots of television time so there is lots of main stream sponsor support that allow the pro riders to make a living and continue progressing the sport. The majority of sponsorship dollars for slope style riders still comes from the bike industry so it that goes away it could really affect the sport.
Q: I noticed that you are getting more and more involved in the organisation of events and contests in the last couple years, how is it to still be around the whole bike industry as a pro rider and being involved in many other aspects of it at the same time?
A: it's great, I've spent so many years going to crappy events and complaining about it that I finally have the opportunity to put some on myself. The only bad part is when I want to compete in the events I'm usually wiped out, but the truth is I'd rather put on a good event then win a crappy one.
Q: What are your plans for the near future, and where do you see yourself in 5 years?
A: The dreaded question! I have a degree in Sports Management and I've been running my own deal for 15 years now so I have a pretty broad background to offer. I definitely want to stay involved in the bike industry and ride as long as I can which is why I look for partners now that allow me to get involved beyond my role as an athlete.
Q: What advice would you give to anyone out there just getting started riding bikes?
A: Do it because you love it. It sounds really cliche' but you shouldn't ride to be cool or to get sponsored or to win contests, you should ride because it's something you love. I LOVE riding bikes, if I didn't I would have never made it this far. Riding for a living isn't always as glamorous as it sounds, but when you enjoy it all the drama becomes worthwhile.
Q: Do you have any shout outs or people to thank?
A: I want to thank everyone who's ever supported me, cheered for me, ridden with me or had any other involvement in making this wild life a reality.
Thanks a lot for answering this, and we wish you to continue having fun on and off the bike for a long time!
Don't forget to check out Jeff's personal website to see what he's up to!