The 2015 Wade Simmons Interview
When I sat down for an interview with Wade Simmons in the Spring of the year 2000, I didn’t know if northshoremountainbiking.com would ever come to life. It felt like a pipe dream. It was something I was committed to but I didn’t know anything about the web, how to attract visitors, or what people wanted to see. Luckily it turned out that Michael Palethorpe, my business partner, knew how to get us to out to a few 28.8 modems, but I felt like a phony asking Wade for an interview.
I was guided mostly by instinct, and after watching Wade ride in North Shore Extreme, and being amazed by what he could do, I was keen to hear his story. So we met at Cafe du Soleil on Commercial Drive in Vancouver, drank a few beers while I peppered him with questions, and recorded it all on cassette tape. The first instalment was published at the end of June in the year 2000, when we went live for the first time.
After that Wade’s career hit several high water marks, like winning the very first Rampage and stealing the show (and the cover) in NWD III, and some challenges like breaking his femur shooting for North Shore Extreme. Through it all Wade has remained approachable, cheerful, forthright and humble. And one of the smoothest riders around.
When I was starting out as a writer I was fond of bold statements, and I confidently called Wade the best mountain biker in the world. In retrospect there are some other candidates for that throne, but few who have earned the respect and sterling reputation Wade commands. So maybe he’s still the best.
Here’s a generous helping of what Wade had to say recently, in the sort of long form that was possible in the early days of the internet; quite possibly recorded fifteen years to the day since our first conversation.
NSMB – Okay. We’re live Wade. How’s life fifteen years later?
Wade Simmons – How many years?
NSMB – Fifteen.
Wade Simmons – Wow. Life is great. Very busy of course. Family, wicked family, kids, still riding bikes, living in North Van. I always say we live in the upper echelons of life. I mean think about it. Living in North Vancouver, which I consider the best place in Vancouver to live. In Canada, west coast, in a stable country. We won the lottery man. We could be spat out of our mum anywhere. To be spat out here we’re doing pretty good.
NSMB – You say your life is different. What’s the biggest difference in your life today?
Wade – Kids! Kids are the biggest difference for sure. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I wouldn’t trade anything. My life is going great.
NSMB – So you feel like the spheres of your life intersect enough that you’re able to spend enough time with your family and enough with your work.
Wade Simmons – You think you know what having kids will be like but you don’t know until you have kids. I do a lot of hour and a half rips by myself. I ride more by myself than with people, because I’m addicted to riding, I need to ride, which I do, but this is my schedule and I can’t be free when someone else is free. And I do a lot of night riding. When the kids are in bed. Nine or nine-thirty at night. I don’t really care. When you go riding at nine o’clock at night, the first half hour you’re groggy and then by the time you get finished, eleven, eleven thirty you’re saying “that was so good!”
NSMB – A ride is a ride. It doesn’t matter when you do it.
Wade – And then I still go on a lot of trips. Travel for Rocky Mountain and Race Face but fewer and farther between. And not as long. Before kids I could go for three weeks, now it’s max of 10 days. A week is perfect.
NSMB – I was thinking about you talking about the different things you were going to do the first time we sat down. You talked about opening a coffee shop and a bunch of different things. If you looked back at what you imagined the future to be like, when you were scraping out a living as a freerider earning 20 odd thousand, and now you can make a living.
Wade – We can make a living. And I think Schley, Tippie and myself, Shandro, Watson, we kind of blew the doors open for other people. Look at how many riders make a living now. A lot. And after the first Rampage I had three or four years when I was making good money and that kind of kick started me owning a home and things like that and looking back at it now, you don’t really map out your career, and I don’t think freeriders can. There are too many variables. Am I going to get injured…
NSMB – If you look ahead now… You can still say you’re in your prime of riding. You can still hang and do the stuff you want to do…
Wade Simmons – I’m not riding at a level… I’m not breaking new ground. Back when I was filming I was pioneering stuff. I’m not pioneering anymore. Everyone has caught up and surpassed. Kids are doing crazy things now. They have to be doing crazy things because if they were only doing what we were doing they wouldn’t be sponsored. So they are pushing the envelope. But for me, I don’t get caught up in it. I’m a mountain biker first and foremost.
When I’m hanging out with Richie or Tippie, we’re just back where we started. We’re driving around mountain biking. And that’s what we did then.
I just came back from a trip to the Chilcotins and this is what mountain biking is for me. Good friends, deep in the woods, a bit of an adventure factor to it. A bit scary, a bit out there. Riding trails. Mountains, bikes, people; mountain biking. You look at Crankworx. I love Crankworx but part of mountain biking for me… I go mountain biking to get away from people. But Crankworx is kind of freaky right? It’s this coming together of people. Mountain biking is not a coming together, it’s a going away.
NSMB – And yet often a going away with people.
Wade – With good friends. And I think we have a bit of a pioneering spirit, because we like to do things a little against the grain. People we are… When the masses come, when people start going in, I’m not the guy to go, ‘let’s go with those guys,’ I’m more likely to say, ‘why are they going there.’
NSMB – You don’t have fear of missing out.
Wade – I don’t get FOMO. I’m more like, what’s next. I’m meeting (Rocky Product Manager) Alex Cogger tomorrow. We’ve got these new Sherpa bikes, 27 plus bikes, we’re going to go plus around up at Cypress. I’m addicted to mountain biking, but I’m not an early adopter, but the plus size bike (27.5 Plus) is pretty rad.
NSMB – Why is it rad?
Wade – It’s rad because it makes it easier. It’s not a fat bike. Fat bikes, they’re gimicky. You need sand or snow, but on regular trail? Not so fun. But the plus size bikes, they’re just enough so you can still shred it. I had one in Europe at the Garda Fest. Long story, but I had my bike stolen on Saturday night, and we were doing tours, with Shimano, so I borrowed the Sherpa. The things shreds. We’re doing these shuttles so I let people ride it. And people were skeptical. “Plus size, another god-damned size.” But Cam – I have a great argument. You know people are like ‘why do we need another size, why is the industry pushing another wheel size?’ But you know what? It’s not so different. Think of how many shoes you have? You’ve got running shoes, you’ve got hiking boots; that’s what bikes are like. That’s what wheel sizes are. I let people ride it and they were blown away. The traction is so good.When you are riding 2.4s, you still gotta pick your line. ‘I can’t hit that rock or I’m gonna flat.’ These bikes, (Monster truck noises) motor over everything.
NSMB – But they are still maneuverable?
Wade – You can still pop and bunny hop. Shredable. Off the trail you can just four wheel drive over shit. Think about Baja trucks? They got big tires but they shred.
NSMB – Big tires, low pressures.
Wade – All you need is horsepower. Sure you aren’t going to win a cross country race, but if you ‘ve got the power to push a little extra weight. They are perfect for Grouse (local trails on Mt. Fromme) where things are rough and rooty. They smooth things out. I just got one – have you guys tested one yet?
NSMB – No we haven’t.
Wade – Why don’t you take my bike? It’s a large. I’ve started to realize Cam that I’m kind of like, I’m an in-betweener. I’ve been riding mediums my whole life but I have really long arms. I have 6’3” reach. I’ve been riding some larges and it fits me better. Longer top tube and a short stem. I’m right in between.
So I’m excited about this new stuff. If you have fun that’s the bottom line.
NSMB – When we had our conversation fifteen years ago there were duallies and hardtails. Pretty much XC bikes and full downhill bikes. What do you think about how bikes have evolved in that time?
Wade – Well first of all bikes are awesome now. We were saying that in the Chilcotins. How durable they are. Bikes, they take a shit kicking and keep on working. I like the travel and the lightness but what I don’t like is all the… If you look at handlebars now, there are so many levers and shit. Simplicity. Having a lever with a lockout and then your dropper post. It’s too much.
NSMB – You need one by.
Wade – I run one-by because I’m running Raceface cranks now. Back to your question, they aren’t making it easier for consumers, like people say on the forums. All the different sizes. I wish it was a bit more industry-wide these changes. The boost rear end. I have to build up numerous bikes for testing. You know how much shit I’ve got to find? Different wheels? Rear ends and axle sizes and spacers…
NSMB – If it’s a pain in the ass for you imagine what it’s like for Joe Consumer.
Wade – Well yeah. I get test bikes and R&D bikes, and there are press fit BBs, lots of hassles. Which is funny because my first mountain bike was a Klein Pinnacle. Back in ‘87. Well – my first nice mountain bike. And it had a press fit BB.
NSMB – I wanted to ask you about sponsorship. Of all the athletes I can think of who have been sponsored for a long time, I can’t think of any who have been with the same sponsors for so long.
Wade – I left Marzocchi just last year and I’m on Fox now. And I’m happy about that because they make great products but I’m kind of sad about that as well, because I’m a long term guy. I’m not driven 100% by money. It’s kind of a family. I like to align myself with companies who hold the same ideals about mountain biking. And then you get in with a company and build that relationship, why would you want to leave that? For ten grand more? Sure I could use ten grand more, but not that bad. I’d rather pick up a new sponsor than leave one for some more money.
NSMB – Since you haven’t embraced social media do you ever feel like you’re missing this new generation of riders?
Wade – No! Because life isn’t social media. Life is life. Social media is showcasing life. Like a broadcast of life. It’s a story about life. I live life! I’m quite persuasive when I want to get people riding. I always say, ‘come on, we’re doing this big ride tomorrow, do you want to make history or do you want to read about history?’
NSMB – I noticed you commented when I re-posted our original interview saying you’re okay about being called The Godfather now.
Wade – I think that because I’m moving into godfather age I’m okay with it. In fact I am a godfather now. Lisa and I are godparents.
NSMB – I’m sure tonnes of young guys ask you how to get to the next level.
Wade – You can’t fake it. Ride as much as possible, be a good person and things will come down the pike. If it’s meant to be. You have to have the skills. And also you have to be a good quality human being. If those things come together it’ll happen.
NSMB – Okay – here’s an example for you that popped into my head. I know a rider who does really well on social media and he has huge following and he’s a really talented rider in many different ways. But he doesn’t seem to be able to get to the next level because he doesn’t have a really outgoing personality.
Wade – I know many people like that. Maybe they aren’t meant to be. Only so many make it. When you look at Richie and Tippie and I, we had to be partiers. We’d go to visit Dirk in Germany (Dirk Janz – a Rocky distributor), and he’d take you to dealers and you had to party. You gotta be very adaptable. You have to be able to talk to anybody, you can’t give any attitude, because people talk about that. If somebody says ‘we met Simmons and Schley, those guys are dicks,’ as soon as you get that reputation you’re done. We’re fun loving people. You can be the best rider in the world, and if you’re winning you can be a dick. But once you stop winning you can’t be a dick anymore if you want to ride a bike because people aren’t going to give a shit about you.
NSMB – A lot of riders don’t seem to be able to transcend their dick period.
Wade – No. When you’re on top of the world and you’re killing it you can tell people to fuck off and they’ll lick your feet clean. But when you’re not winning anymore you have to turn that around.
NSMB – It seems like a lot of the riders who have been winning and doing huge stuff lately don’t have that ability to be with anybody.
Wade – The guards are changing. Look at DH racing.
NSMB – How do you feel about your riding now. You just did that video on the Shore and it was fantastic. Do you feel like powers have diminished or changed?
Wade – What you lose is your willingness to crash. I’ve kissed the ground a lot and I don’t want to have those big crashes anymore. I love crashing, and I’ve always said this, you’ve gotta be a better crasher to be a better riders. I hit the ground all the time but it’s those big crashes, thirty or forty foot games when you come up short and really smoke yourself. I don’t have any of those in me anymore. It seems like whenever I hit the ground hard I break something. It’s all calculated. I can go big, because going big is normal.
NSMB – Calculated big.
Wade – Exactly. But it’s mountain biking Cam, and I still evolve. There’s the trials aspect, there’s technical climbing, there’s high speed descending and low speed descending, there’s manualling, jumping. It’s like guitar. You never end. You can always be better. That’s what mountain biking is like. You can always be a a little better.
NSMB – One of the thing that keeps surprising me is how much fun I still have. How would you compare the fun you have now compared to when you were in your prime.
Wade – I have the same amount of fun. My level of fun has not diminished. Shredding is fun. In the Chilcotins we had full back packs but we were doing the final descent and of course our packs were lighter because we’d eaten our food, and we were just drifting with these 60 pound packs on. We were getting loose. Drifting corners and bunny hopping trees. Connor (Macleod) said it’s probably the best helmet cam he’s ever got, ‘Dude that was the sickest helmet cam ever!’
NSMB – What would you say to 26-year old Wade Simmons if you could whisper something in your own ear.
Wade – I’d say follow your dreams. You know that dream you thought you could never do? You can do it. You can always survive. Humans are resourceful.
NSMB – But you’ve kind of done that.
Wade – I guess I have. I wish I had been a little more responsible with a few things. I’m a bit anti-institution and I think it influences the way I do life. After the Chilcotins when we were coming through Whistler I got stopped by this newbie cop, a young guy. Connor and Margus were passed out in the back and the cop says to me ‘I followed you through town, you were going a little fast,’ but I was watching the digital display so I told him, ‘Dude, I got the digital display here,I was doing 68, come on.’ So he was like ‘well I need your license and registration.’ So he comes back and asks me if I had anything to drink so I said, ‘I had one in the god-damned Chilcotin four hours ago after our ride, and I’m trying to get home to my wife so can you please hurry up?’ So he says he’s doing to have to do the Breathalyzer. So I asked him on what grounds, you have to have grounds, but he gave me the Breathalyzer and I blew zero.
NSMB – So, besides how to deal with cops, what has the life you’ve lead taught you?
Wade – Experience is more important than finances. Money will come if you follow what you want to do. If you are unhappy change. Don’t drag it out. You are in control of your own destiny. And am I scared at 42 with two kids? I am but I know we’ll figure it out.
NSMB – In our very first conversation together you said ‘I’m looking forward to being 40 and still riding the gnarly stuff.’
Wade – I’m 42 and I’m still having fun.
NSMB – Thanks very much buddy! When I approached you fifteen years ago and we hadn’t even launched you were all in. So thanks very much for that.
Wade – No worries! I’m always all in! I’m a bit argumentative. I like to get to people’s roots. I’m not opinionated but I like to see how much people believe in their point.
NSMB – I guess I fooled you, because I didn’t have much belief back then. You’re a devil’s advocate.
Wade – I am. If you convince me that I should believe you then I’ll believe you. I’d rather people have opinions than not.
Feel free to give the Godfather a shout out, now that he’s okay being called that.