Ned, Overend’s Bikes Then and Now
Ned Overend is one of the most successful racers in mountain bike history as a six-time NORBA cross-country national champion and multi-time world champion. He’s a mountain bike Hall of Famer who demands respect on the trail, simply because you know that “Deadly Nedly” has been putting the hurt on riders for longer than mountain bikes have even existed. He’s 60 years old but strikes fear in the hearts of racers in their prime because he simply knows how to ride really, really fast. Dare we say, he’s a bit like the Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood of riding. He’s cool, he’s calculated and he knows exactly how to pick you apart on the trail.
Ned has been an ambassador for Specialized since 1987 and has been an important part of bike development for them ever since. He’s been a critical cog in the machine for projects like the Epic, which we described as “the best mountain bike we’ve ever ridden” back when we tested it in 2010. We caught up with Ned to chat about his time spent racing for Specialized to see what makes it so “special.”
MBA: How did your riding career start?
Ned Overend: I ran XC in high school, and one of the guys on the team was from Sweden. He went home and brought back a Crescent 531 chromoly road bike with Campy Record and tubular tires. It was too small for him, so I bought it and cruised the roads and fire roads around Marin County in California. That was in 1972 when I was 17 years old. I rode that bike hard, but always by myself. I didn’t have any idea about racing at the time. It was the same bike I used when I got into road racing 10 years later after moving to Colorado. When I moved to Durango in 1980, I became a pretty serious mountain runner. I won several events and was second in the Pikes Peak Marathon in ’80 and ’81. All runners get injured eventually, and when I developed a hip problem as a result, I turned to road bike racing to stay in shape. When I was healed up, I started doing some triathlons, too.
MBA: Were you into moto, BMX or any other sports prior to your success on a bike?
Ned: I was a distance runner in high school and college. I also raced motocross and worked as a motorcycle mechanic at San Francisco Yamaha and San Diego Suzuki. Those moto skills came in handy when I discovered mountain bikes.
MBA: At what point did you realize you could make your living as a professional mountain biker?
Ned: From 1980–1983 I was an auto mechanic in Durango. In 1984 I got a job working at a Schwinn dealer, The Outdoorsman in Durango, with the intention of focusing on being either a triathlete or a road racer. Mountain bike racing was pretty new at the time. I bought a stock Schwinn High Sierra and did the Pacific Suntour series races on the West Coast. I won the series, called Schwinn, and Fred Teeman offered me a sponsorship. Fred had been in charge of their BMX team before that and wanted to start a mountain bike team. It consisted of equipment, traveling expenses, a few hundred dollars start money for the bigger races and a few hundred dollars in bonuses for the same races. I think I made $6000–$8000 that first year. I spent that winter in San Diego to focus on training. I had a job at Straw Hat Pizza during the winter to support myself while I trained. My salary increased in ’85 and again in ’86, and that was the year I probably made about 35k in all, which was similar to my salary as a car mechanic.
MBA: If you had to pick one particular bike as your favorite, which one would it be? A World Championship winner? One that’s in the Hall of Fame? Or simply whichever one you’re riding at the moment?
Ned: I’m having more fun on the new bikes, so I would have to say the current Epic is my all-around favorite. With the growth of enduro racing, places seem to be building more technical trails. That’s the case in Durango, and we now have some great trails for 6-inch bikes with slacker angles like the Stumpjumper and Enduro.
MBA: When we tested the Specialized Epic a few years ago, we said, “This is the best mountain bike we’ve ever ridden.” Would you agree with that statement?
Ned: Yes, it’s the best XC bike I’ve ridden. The current Epic loves to be ridden fast. Of course, it’s not as forgiving as a Camber or a Stumpjumper on steep, rough descents. It’s more like an F1 car, where you have to pay attention to the trail. It’s wicked fast on a variety of terrain, though.
The addition of the XCP dropper seatpost this year definitely makes it more comfortable on the rocky drops, and the 29-inch wheels help as well.
MBA: How has the Epic evolved over the years?
Ned: I started racing on full-suspension bikes exclusively in ’97 and won the Xterra Worlds on the FSR XC in ’98 and ’99. The suspension wasn’t efficient enough for the World Cup circuit, since we didn’t have time to be flipping switches to lock out a shock in a World Cup race. So, Mike McAndrews came up with the idea of the inertia “Brain” shock. In 2003, the first generation Epic was crude by today’s standards, but at the time it was state of the art for a full-suspension XC racing bike. We have worked at improving it every year—with carbon, 29-inch wheels and bringing the weight down—but especially improving the function of the shock and the suspension kinematics. It has won several World XC and marathon titles.
MBA: Has sticking with a consistent sponsor helped with your impressively lengthy career?
Ned: Yes, clearly my relationship with Specialized has worked well over the years. From 1988 until 1996 I was primarily focused on racing, chasing the NORBA Nationals, World Cups and World Championships. After ’96 I became a regular employee contributing to sports marketing, product development and public relations. I continued to race a variety of events as it related to product and PR and just events I hadn’t had the time to do while chasing the World Cup.
Another thing that has helped me is the variety of product that Specialized produces and how there is a culture to constantly strive to improve it. I am passionate about all kinds of bikes: mountain bikes, XC, trail- bikes, fat bikes, etc, but also cyclocross, gravel and road bikes too. Having so much different product to get excited about has helped keep me motivated.
MBA: Who were the key people along the way who helped you with your riding and racing success?
Ned: My wife Pam has been with me for the whole journey. When I met her in 1979, I was training for the Ironman in Hawaii, so she’s used to the stuff that comes along with racing. She keeps me grounded. The support staff and my fellow teammates have also been a huge help. In the very early days the racers had to be their own mechanics, but as the sport grew and there were more sponsors, we had team managers, soigneurs and mechanics. As racing got more competitive and more international, good support became critical for getting results.
Having support staff and teammates to travel with made the whole race experience a lot more rewarding. I’ve had some great teammates—too many to mention—but Steve Tilford, Todd Wells and Daryl Price were some great ones.
MBA: What was the most difficult race you ever did?
Ned: It’s hard to say, because pain fades over time. And if you win, it doesn’t seem as difficult as when you suffer and do poorly. I did the Garda Marathon in Italy several times. One year we started in the pouring rain and climbed 3000 feet. At the top it was slush and snow, and I wasn’t prepared. It was a long day, and riding while you’re freezing is never good.
MBA: What advice can you give to an aspiring rider or racer who wants to go pro?
Ned: It’s very hard to make a living racing mountain bikes, so I wouldn’t advise sacrificing an education to go racing. I encourage every rider who has a passion for racing to see how far he or she can go. The best way to go about it is through high school or collegiate programs. The beauty of NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling Association) and collegiate programs is that they offer coaching and the chance to learn from your teammates. Many of the successful pros moved up through the collegiate and high school systems. Todd Wells, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, Keegan Swenson, Howard Grotts, Kate Courtney and Chris Blevins are all examples of that.
Ned: The bike I won the 1990 Worlds on is lost. It was in a museum in Switzerland for a while, and after that we lost track of it. I’m hoping it’s going to show up in a bike shop in Europe somewhere.
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