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The ROOST Questionnaire #9, Sven Martin

Sven Martin, age 44, would have been called a troubadour if he had lived a thousand years ago, and had carried a lute instead of a camera. It was the troubadour’s calling to travel the land collecting stories, bringing his tales on to the next village, and then the next again, to spread word of what was happening in far away places. Sven does exactly this with a camera and a microphone for us, the fans of competitive mountain biking, and he is widely regarded as the best in the business. Skateboarder, mountain biker, competitor, teacher, mentor, journalist, documentarian, storyteller, the man with many nicknames also wears many hats, and keeps very busy year-round. But the more one learns about him, the more one thing becomes clear: the long hours of hard work stem from Sven Martin’s LOVE for the sport of mountain biking. Here, in our longest Roost Questionnaire to date, Sven spills the beans on first-time mud, armpit-sniffers, OCD-ness, Worlds-tears, and bling-matching. - cover photo by @maddogboris

Sven a few hours ago!

Be sure to listen to the Vital MTB Inside Line podcast with Sven Martin for many more tales from far away places.

What is your second favorite sport or athletic endeavor?

Surfing; although at times it may be my most favorite. I just don’t get to do it enough because mountain biking is the mountains.

What is your favorite non-mtb bicycle or vehicle?

Skateboard. Or our ’91 70 Series Toyota Landcruiser.


What is your preferred or ideal post-ride ritual?

The clichéd cold beers with endorphin-filled friends. Well, actually I prefer to start on a sweet cold cider, then move to a dry pilsner.

Which mechanical glitch, imperfection, or problem will you tolerate on a ride? Which can you not tolerate?

I tolerate creeks and squeaks; I have to, as I’m not one for too much maintenance or washing my bike. I can’t tolerate my brakes not being perfect - angle, reach and grab need to be spot on.

I also can’t tolerate riding with others who have a badly routed front brake cable (outside of the fork leg) or helmet visor too far up or down. I have an OCD-like need to fix it for them.

What bicycle maintenance procedure do you most enjoy?

I don’t do much maintenance, so maybe I enjoy a fresh drop of chain lube as it’s something I know how to do. I’m also a big stickler for tire pressure and always set it with a digital tire gauge before every ride. 23psi front and 28 rear regularly. Unless I’m pushing hard with faster riders then need 25/30.

Would you rather: turn your bike as much as you like, but never again have your tires leave the ground; or jump as much and as high as you like, but only ever ride in a straight line for the rest of time?

Turns for sure. But luckily there is no need for choice or compromise. Jumping into and out of turns also trumps straight airs any day. Fake media squid scrubs (armpit-sniffers) for days.

Would you rather go for a three-hour ride on: a bike with 15-year-old geometry and brand new suspension; or a bike with 15-year-old suspension and up-to-date geometry?

Probably up to date geometry, since 15 years ago the suspension was so short it wouldn’t matter much anyway.


What do you consider to be the greatest World Cup or World Championship race run of all time?

Now, a lot of people will say Aaron Gwin at MSA this year, but it’s not "the greatest" as there were at least five others that came within striking range that race, in the same conditions.

So I’ll still probably go with Sam Hill in Champery earning 3rd place in the wet. With a crash, he still almost won it and the others who rode in the same conditions were nowhere near close to him; some literally minutes behind. Same can be said for his VDS World Champs slide-out run.

But for World Champs I’m going to go with Steve Peat’s Canberra win; nothing standout about the track, and he didn’t smash it out the park, but 2009 was his year. Two World Cup wins and he was back on it with possibly his last chance ever to win the World Champs that still eluded him. Because of the track, it was always going to be tight so the run had to be perfect and the bike had to be perfect, too. While others chose light hybrids with mods and lock-out shocks, Steve did it on a full blown DH and made time in the one rough rock garden. He had a light, new SRAM Red road 10-speed cassette I think, but that was it. With four others in the same second, he ended up beating friend and teammate, Greg Minnaar, by only 0.05 seconds. I got to spend some quiet time with him right after, where I caught him shedding a tear on the phone to his wife and son back home in the UK. I won’t ever forget that moment when everything just felt right.


What do you consider to be the greatest injustice in mountain bike history?

Sam Hill Crashing in VDS and Champery as stated above. Flat tires in winning race runs, injuries; but these are hardly things of consequence, first world problems if you will. Maybe something more significant then - land access issues and losing so many good people too soon.

What do you consider to be the greatest bicycle paint job ever?

Man, there have been some good ones over the years. Maybe Peaty’s Spitfire Paint job and matching Royal Kit and TLD helmet. All the parts custom-painted too, and all the little details with all the World Cup wins as bombs. Last Orders. But greatest? That’s a hard one. There are a few.

If you could move one World Cup track to another World Cup venue, which would you move, and to where?

Fort William to Cairns. I love Scotland but the accommodation, midges, weather, and internet speeds make working there hard. Cairns on the other hand: our accommodation is on the beach with a pool, fast internet and a cafe with good food and coffee. But it would be sacrilegious to mess with everything that makes Fort Bill Sundays so special.


Which is your favorite World Cup race track?

It varies under different conditions. Currently, maybe Val di Sole because it’s just got everything.

What is your favorite color for a bike frame?

Not too fussed. I’ve done the stealth/matte black subtle builds and the bright matching fluoro and pinks: frames, parts, wheels, gloves, all the way down to the sunglass frames, haha! Now I’m building up some in-between earthy themed Santa Cruz’s. But I’m still a sucker for a bit of Chris King bling-matching here and there.

What is your favorite vintage downhill bike? (pre-2002 only)

Pre-2002 would have to be a Turner DHR because that’s what we raced. Especially when we drilled back the rear shock mount bolt by 7-9 mm, dropping our bottom brackets by 9-12mm and slacking the head angle by a degree or so. That bike cornered.

What is your favorite story or legend in downhill history?

For me it would be my first-ever World Cup. I had only been riding MTB for about two years, moved up through the classes and ranks the year before and got my Pro license. So, 2003 Kaprun, Austria, my first-ever World Cup. Being from Southern California at the time, in Laguna Beach, I had pretty much never ever ridden in the rain, and never raced in Europe. 2003 Kaprun was just mud, off-camber, and rain. You were pretty much in survival mode. You needed flats and spikes or else you were done for. I had NEVER ridden on either. I started MTB in clips and since I had never ridden in mud (or off-camber probably) I had never used spikes. I think it was Sam Hill who gave me the advice to just ride as if it was dry, and when in doubt, pedal it out or drop your heels. Anyway, I hung on, just qualified with a crash and made it out alive in the finals. Beating Neethling, Hill, Chris Ball, Claudio Caluori and a few others.

What is your favorite story or legend in freeride history?

Probably watching/working at the Red Bull Rampage. Real life Rampage is next level. People can definitely die out there. It’s nuts. Watching people like Zink and Strait literally grow up from little kids into who they are now over the years. The little snippets and anecdotes from each event or boundary pushing endeavor that happens behind the scenes is pretty special. Maybe it’s not super freeride-related but just from the early days, when I was just a rider and racer and not a MTB photographer, then getting to know and work with all those “stars” who you looked up to in the early days who you now count as your friends.

#doyouevendriftbro @iagogaray @world_enduro ??

A post shared by Sven Martin (@svenmartinphoto) on


What cycling industry job would you try that you haven't already?

Team owner/manager. I think given the right resources there are still ways to do it better; and it would be a great challenge to put something memorable together.

If you could upload the skills and style of another rider to your brain and body, Matrix-style, whose skills and style would you choose?

Brendan Fairclough or Josh Bryceland's skills and playfulness, with maybe Dan Atherton’s simple, soulful, rootsy style. It’s not about a big bag of tricks. Just flow and style with a few skids and jibs thrown in for fun along the way.


What is the biggest or best gift mountain biking has given you?

So much time traveling outdoors in nature through beautiful places with my wife and best friend, Anka.

Where is the best dirt in the world?

Home right here in NZ. Beech leaf litter with loamy dirt is why we moved here, but in saying that it’s been a pretty dry summer so far, and I can’t believe I’m actually wishing for rain in New Zealand of all places!

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