A Blast From The Past

A Blast From The Past

By Chris Hatounian

Dave Cullinan at Big Bear, catching big air aboard his Diamond Back and dominating the men’s Pro Downhill class. Cullinan’s fearless and radical style came from his BMX background. He won the Men’s Downhill World Championship in 1992 and loved racing without gloves. “Cully” later underwent two open-heart surgeries, continued racing afterwards and still rides today.

MBA: Where and when were you born?

Chris: I guess this is where I get to reveal my real age. I was born in 1957 in California.

Volvo/Cannondale’s Alison Sydor was the pride of Canada and nearly impossible to beat in the women’s Pro XC class. Shot at the Cactus Cup in Arizona, Alison had a style that was a blast to photograph.


MBA: When did you get into ing mountain bikes?

Chris: My introduction to mountain bikes came in the late ’80s when my brother brought over his new Specialized Stumpjumper. I loved the looks so much that I went out and bought the same bike the next day. Two days later, I sold it. Too much work. Five years later, I was back into it full-bore.

The King of the Kamikaze Downhill, three-time winner Jimmy Deaton was the leader of the big-ring revolution in the early ’90s with his XXL chainrings.


MBA: Was it BMX or motocross that got you into mountain biking?

Chris: For me it was BMX, with an obsession for motocross, which eventually led to racing motocross and then on to mountain biking.

Greg Herbold, the first-ever UCI Downhill World Champion, was a flamboyant rolling billboard for his many sponsors. Herbold was always good for a great action shot and called everyone by the same name: “Dude.”


MBA: How did you start shooting photos of mountain biking?

Chris: Like everything in my life, the camera always follows me with whatever I’m really into—in this case, mountain bikes. With all my years shooting motocross, mountain bike photography was a smooth transition.

Roger Decoster


On location with the incredibly talented Norco rider Ryan Leech. A great rider and model during this dusk shoot.

MBA: Did you study photography in school?

Chris: I got my degree from the school of self-teaching. No formal education. Just lots of books and trial and error.

Crossed-up at Big Bear: This Volvo/Cannondale pro downhiller’s identity remains a mystery to this day.


MBA: How did you come to start shooting for magazines?

Chris: I was hanging out and riding regularly and looking for an opportunity to work in the cycling industry. Then one day my buddy from Mountain Biking magazine, Steve Giberson, resigned. My opportunity arrived. To show the mag editors how serious I was about wanting the photo editor position, I plopped down five grand at the camera store for all-new Nikon equipment. I guess I passed the audition.

I’ll never forget this race. Riding a prototype Giant fullsuspension bike weighing almost twice the weight of his competitors’ bikes, John Tomac battled for the lead for most of the Pro Men’s XC race. It was amazing to witness. It was 1995, a year of record snowfall at Mammoth Mountain, and the national event was nearly cancelled due to excessive snow and water runoff covering much of the XC course.

MBA: What was your job like?

Chris: Epic in every way. I was a fulltime magazine staffer in a sport I was obsessed with, surrounded by every brand of mountain bike I wanted to ride. I was no stranger to the journalism business with my past experience as an editor of Dirt Rider magazine, so it was a smooth move back into the magazine world.

Chris was a motocross rider and “Dirt Rider” editor in his younger years. That’s him on the cover of the magazine in early 1977. Chris hadn’t yet turned 20 when the photo was taken. You can see the name “Chris” on his helmet if you look closely. Chris appeared on two covers of the magazine during his time with the publication.


Diamond Back’s Susan DeMattei at Big Bear: A top women’s pro XC racer through most of the ’90s, a class act on or off the track, Susan always wore a big smile.


MBA: How did you come to start shooting photos for the bike companies?

Chris: It started with me providing race shots to the bike companies, which eventually led to doing their catalog shoots.

On July 16, 1996, Juli Furtado had just learned of GT President Richard Long’s fatal motorcycle accident while en route to the race at Big Bear. Emotionally drained, Furtado still competed in the Pro Women’s race that day.


MBA: What was that like?

Chris: I loved it. I did action and lifestyle photography for bike companies as well as studio photos of entire bike lines.



Stone Temple Pilots’ lead singer Scott Weiland

Hatounian recall the story of the above photo:” It was Super Bowl Sunday in 1997, and Stone Temple Pilots’ lead singer Scott Weiland was discovered missing from his court-ordered, extended stay at a rehab facility. No one could find him, and the local radio stations were all over the story. Many feared the worst as bandmates and managers searched without success to locate him. So where was Weiland? The last place anyone would ever expect: standing at the front door of my West Hills home. He came here to pick up his new carbon mountain bike that I was able to get for him from Trek. Fully clad in rock-and-roll attire and seemingly relaxed, Weiland spent a couple of hours lounging on my sofa while I explained the benefits of cycling as an alternative to his current lifestyle. No word on if he was able to return to rehab with the bike.”

MBA: Whom did you shoot for?

Chris: Specialized, Cannondale, Trek, Diamond Back, GT, Bianchi, etc. All the major players.

MBA: In checking out your photos, it looks like you also took a lot of pictures of rock stars. Who were some of the more famous rock stars you got to shoot?

Eddie Van Halen


Chris: With sobriety a growing trend among musicians, big-name rockers were looking for a clean alternative to polluting their bodies, and I was in the right place to connect with most of these guys. Duff McKagen [Guns and Roses], John Taylor [Duran Duran], Scott Weiland [Stone Temple Pilots], Steve Jones [The Sex Pistols], Billy Duffy [The Cult] and Eddie Money to name a few.

Tinker Juarez leading a freight train of international pros up the first climb at the Sea Otter Classic. A trademark of his racing methods, Tinker was leading the group up the long hill in his big chainring!

MBA: Where did your rockstar photos get published?

Chris: Mountain Biking, Rolling Stone, The Source and Musician Magazine to name a few.

MBA: Were many of those rock stars also mountain bikers?

Chris: All the rockers I knew were riding when I got to know them.

Missy Giove , catching air at the bottom of Mammoth Mountain’s legendary Kamikaze Run in the early 90’s. Missy was at the peak of her career aboard a Yeti before jumping camp for a much more lucrative deal with Volvo/Cannondale. One of my favorite female pros on or off the track, Missy’s aggressive riding style lent itself to many great images in my archive.

MBA: Who are some of your favorite mountain bike pros, and what made them so memorable?

Chris: That’s easy. John Tomac tops the list. He was such a class act in every way. Not the most chatty guy when interviewing but a great rider to photograph. But right up there were Ned Overend, Wayne Croasdale, Missy Giove, Mike King, Eric Carter, Jake Watson, Dave Cullinan and many more. Great athletes and lots of fun to be around. I’m glad you didn’t ask me who some of my least favorite mountain bike pros were [laughs].

John Tomac


MBA: Have you ever thought about producing a book or gallery showing of your favorite photos?

Chris: I’ve got a book nearly completed titled Every Picture Has a Story. It’s 40 years of photographing rock stars, massive fires, cycling, motocross, landscapes and so much more, and some incredible stories to go with the images. It would be a shame not to share them.

In addition to shooting race photos, I also enjoyed shooting photos off the race track for both bike companies and magazines, like this shot of Bryson Martin, Jr., of DVO Suspension, from 2015.


MBA: Can you tell us about the bad crash you suffered a while back?

Chris: Two years ago and still plenty of pain. I was up at Frazier Park doing a video and still shoot with the guys for KHS. We decided to do a run down the singletrack before the shoot. One minute I was in my groove, shredding down the mountain. The next minute, lights out—nine broken ribs, punctured and collapsed lung, broken sternum, dislocated shoulder and a $22,000 helicopter ride to the ICU at Henry Mayo. I was barely breathing when they got me there. Three weeks total in the hospital and many months of agonizing physical therapy to follow. A truly life-changing experience.

Tinker Juarez hits the grinds!
Johnny T in hammer mode.

MBA: How many years did you shoot photos for KHS?

Chris: Eighteen years. It was a great run. Wayne Gray and agency head Brian Hemsworth were fantastic when it came to letting me flex my creative muscles on most of those photoshoots. Some of my best lifestyle and action photos were from all those outings.

Dave Cullinan busts-out a one-legged cross up.


MBA: Do you still shoot much mountain biking these days?

Chris: Not nearly as much as I’d like to.

Bryson Martin, Jr. in speed blur.


MBA: How do you mainly earn a living these days?

Chris: I currently divide my time between photography and an equally creative profession—home remodeling. It’s great exercise and a wonderful networking tool. But, I’m not trading in my Nikon equipment for a nail gun just yet.


Mountain Bike Action is a monthly magazine devoted to all things mountain biking (yes, that’s 12 times a year because we never take a month off of mountain biking). It has been around since 1986 and we’re still having fun.

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Chris Hatouniandiamond back bicyclesgiant bicylesJohn TomacJuli Furtadophoto galleryphotosRyan LeechShimanoSusan DeMatteiTinker Juarez