As he edges ever more towards the dirty side of bike racing, we catch up with WorldTour road pro Lachlan Morton

Photo by Jordan Clark Haggard. 


By Steve Thomas

Boulder-based Aussie bike racer Lachlan Morton of the EF Pro Cycling WorldTour road team is making quite the name for himself in mountain bike and gravel racing, and his conversion to the straight side of the bars looks set to continue.

We chatted with Lachlan about discovering mountain biking and what it means to him.

When Lachlan started mountain biking, he didn’t want to ruin it with racing but found a way to approach competition and love it.
Photo by Jordan Clark Haggard

What was your introduction to mountain biking?

I didn’t ride mountain bikes growing up; I was very much a roadie. When I moved to Colorado, it was actually a few years in when I picked up a fully rigid 29er and started to play around.

It was more so because I wanted to be able to ride new routes and to push further than the road and gravel bike could take me. I basically started out that way, but it probably wasn’t until the lockdown that I started to mountain bike a lot.

I found myself wanting to improve my skill and to see the new and different places it could take me. Mentally, it set something off in me, and since then I’ve ridden the mountain bike more than I have any other bike.

What is the feel of riding a mountain bike to you when compared to road and gravel?

It’s a number of things; the obvious one is that you can get to more remote and farther-out places, just because of the terrain you encounter.

But, I think what I like is the headspace. You have to really concentrate, which pulls you into the moment because you need to focus or you’ll fall over.

If I go for a road ride, I can basically be as present as I would be sitting on the couch. I can still think, “Ah, I’ve got to write that e-mail.” It’s not engaging to the point where you forget everything, whereas with mountain biking I get that (separation) and can do it for long periods.

And there’s the fact that it challenges you on so many different levels. It’s not just being fit; it’s the technical aspect and putting it all together. It’s very rewarding in many different ways. You don’t have to push a PB or something. You can ride a feature that you were scared of, or nail a descent you used to fumble down, and flow on. There are so many different ways that you can be rewarded.

There’s also the element of fun; you can fly down a descent and feel like you’re 10 years old playing on a bike. There’s a big play element that I really enjoy.

Lachlan riding the Colorado Trail.
Photo by: Thomas Woodson/EF Pro Cycling

If you’d discovered mountain biking before the road, which way do you think things would have gone for you?

With the mindset I had when I was younger, I think I would probably have ruined it. You know, I’m pretty glad that I didn’t find it until I was older. I don’t really treat it like a competitive pursuit, even though I race a lot on the mountain bike now. It’s really fun for me.

If it had come earlier, I think I would probably have focused more on the competition element, and with that there are a lot of pitfalls. I’ve thought about that a lot actually, and I’m pretty glad not to have discovered it until the last couple of years.

On the road, you put in a certain amount of work, and you’re working just as hard to stay there. With mountain biking, I started like a beginner again, at 28 years old. You get that feeling of progression each time you ride, which I hadn’t had for years; it’s rewarding.

To be honest, when I started mountain biking, I decided never to do a race, because I didn’t want to ruin it. But then I found a way that I can approach the racing, and I really love it. It’s an honest form of racing.

With the skill set I have, I think I probably could have done things in mountain biking, but I’m glad I didn’t find it earlier.

How different is the feel and sensation of a mountain bike race compared to a WorldTour road race for you?

It’s super relaxed, and generally it’s just me riding or driving to the start with a little backpack full of kit, and so it’s totally different.

The feeling around mountain biking is very warm and welcoming. The whole scene feels less serious. When you step into the race, everyone goes flat out, and I appreciate that. It doesn’t matter whether you’re racing for 30th or 3rd. No one gives you an inch.

It’s nice, because you show up with the legs and skills you have, and you have to lay it all on the line. There’s obviously some tactics involved, but it’s not really a big factor. You just get out there and go as hard as you can, and there’s a camaraderie that comes with that and with the people you’re racing against.

You either have it or you don’t. There’s no two ways about it, so that’s very different (to road). The feeling in the race is that you’re so focused on the trail and the race that you don’t really have much chance to think about anything outside of it for however long the race is, and so you’re in that zone a lot, and I like that.

In road racing, you’re thinking a lot about the team tactics, the nutrition, what other teams are doing; it’s very much like a game of chess. In mountain biking, it’s not that. The feeling is totally different.

Aside from skills and tactical lessons, what else have you learned from mountain biking that has helped you in life?

Just being open to improving in different ways, because with mountain biking, it’s not just like going and doing more than anybody else. Your weaknesses always show through.

You can be as fit as you like, but if you haven’t worked on your technical ability, you’re going to get dropped. Likewise, if you go super fast on the downhills, it’s still going to be hard uphill.

It has opened my mind to different ways of improvement, which obviously flows into your life. You learn to think about approaching things in a different way. When I first started mountain biking, I had this weird road mentality, like when there was a feature I couldn’t ride, I’d just walk it and keep going. After a while, if I couldn’t get something, then I’d just session it and could spend half an hour on just one feature. I realized that I was getting so much more progression from that than just keeping on so that I stayed on the pedals.

Also, just opening your mind to satisfaction and reward in different ways. I can do a ride on my mountain bike that has a few parts that I don’t know or goes up a climb or descent I haven’t been able to clear; then I just go and do it by myself and nail it. I go home with the same satisfaction from that as winning a race. It has definitely shifted my idea of success in many ways.

It has also given me a deeper appreciation of all those mountain bikers out there who might be in their mid 50s, working a full time job, have three to four kids—the antithesis of what you’d call an athlete, or how I would have described an athlete four years ago. My definition has changed.

These people have done more than half the people in the WorldTour could have, and that’s a definite shift I’ve had in mentality.

In early 2022, Lachlan set a new FKT time of 10 hours 12 minutes and 1 second on the Camí de Cavalls, a 185-km (115 mile) trail that circumnavigates Menorca, Spain.

Photo by Jordi Saragossa/Camí de Cavalls 360º

What is your go-to bike?

I’ve ridden my (Cannondale) Scalpel (100mm travel) the most. It has the SRAM wireless groupset and ASX dropper, and I just love it. Those bikes are so capable now, and for the majority of the riding I do, it is enough bike. It’s so efficient that I can do massive loops, which is what I love to do.

I also have a Habit, which has 140mm of travel. It’s super fun, but it’s the kind of bike I use only 20 to 30 times a year when I do downhill-orientated rides with groups or if I go to a bike park.

That’s fun, because it reminds me of being on a motorbike when I was a kid. Those bikes are insane, and I can ride things that I wouldn’t even have considered two years ago. But, that said, you can also get yourself into trouble quickly, and so I tend to ride it when there are other people with a higher ability than me around so that I can gauge things better.

You’ve done some pretty amazing rides and set some impressive FKTs on trails. How do these all come about?

I’ll speak to someone, and they’ll tell me about a route, like the Menorca ride. A Catalan friend reached out and told me there was this sweet trail around the island and there was an FKT for it, and that there was an organization that wanted to get in touch with me about it.

I looked and thought, “Ah, whatever.” But, when I looked closer at it, I thought it looked really unique. I guess the first part of these rides is me getting genuinely stoked about it, because I definitely don’t do (or try not to do) things that don’t get me genuinely excited.

I guess there are a couple of people within the team that I can lean on to help with logistics and stuff, but for the most part I kind of work it out myself. If the team is trying to capture photos and video around it, they step in, which is great, because it’s not my biggest interest.

I’m lucky in that I have people who can document it and make it more worthwhile from a sponsorship angle. Then, yeah, I just go and do it. Generally, I don’t like to prepare. I like to know what I’m getting into, but I don’t like to prepare to a point where nothing (bad) can happen. I like to leave it open.

When people are around and see my approach, it looks like I’m very underprepared or relaxed, but that’s the way I like to approach things. I like to be open to the experience, not fixate on a time. I just go out there and go as fast as I can, but in a way that I can enjoy the experience and remember it forever, no matter the outcome.

In Menorca there were some motorbike mechanics on the island that helped prep my bike, as I wasn’t there with a mechanic or anyone from the team. I just hired a car and went there by ferry with my wife, and that’s the way I prefer to go about it.

The less fuss, the better for me, but sometimes it’s not possible as things get bigger and there’s more outside involvement. I’m very grateful for all the support from the team, but I am also grateful that they give me the flexibility to just go and do things the way I want. That’s more important to me than the final outcome.

Could an enduro race be in Lachlan’s future? Maybe in a few years…

What amount of flexibility do you have in your program, and how acceptable is it to not succeed?

I get quite a lot of flexibility now, which is great. In the first year or so of the “alt” calendar (I guess that’s what we call it), I guess it was about proving the validity of it over just road racing.

I think my perceived role within the team has changed now, and they now see that it is better if I go chase these different things, and so now I get quite a lot of flexibility from within the team, which is amazing.

Obviously, from their (the team) perspective, it’s better if you succeed. But, I think they’ve also shifted their mentality a bit. There are a lot different ways you can succeed. You don’t necessarily have to be the fastest or win at all costs.

It’s more about approaching it in this or that way and telling the story the way that suits, and so the outcome becomes just a part of what you’re doing.

I think the first time that shift happened was when we went to Cape Epic, because we had to change plans. I wasn’t able to aim for a result there. I rode with Kenneth, a young rider from Kenya, and he was very much developing. My role became about helping him with that, and in that process we got to tell a great story. We got a lot out of that; I got a lot out of it personally. Kenneth got a huge amount of experience out of it, and I think the team also got the chance to be part of something that was bigger than just racing.

That was a breakthrough moment on that front. Initially, when I went to Kokopelli, they were very much focused on whether I could go the fastest, and I kind of let on that I could do it. But, in my head, I had absolutely no idea; I just wanted to do it. I was happy to get that time, but the feeling was that if someone came along after and beat it, I didn’t think I’d go back and do it again.

Even at Menorca, I was absolutely 100 percent sure I wouldn’t get it. The guy who had the FKT had spent a lot of time on the course. He made it a project, and he’s a Catalan guy with a huge amount of skill and ability. If I hadn’t gotten that record, it would have just validated that route and his ride, which is also a great outcome.

If you go to the Colorado trail and don’t get the record, then it just opens up things to a whole bunch of people, maybe a relatively unknown rider who has spent the time and research on the course, and it validates that, which is important.

It’s not like, “Okay, I’m on a WorldTour team. I can jump in anything and be the best.” In reality, the chances are that there’s probably someone there better than I am who can do it faster.

What has been the most rewarding achievement in your mountain biking life?

I think the best ride I had was probably Menorca. I put it all together really well, rode well technically. Physically, I was in a good spot, and I was very happy with that.

I did a three-day mountain bike race in Catalunya, and even being in the race with some “real mountain bikers” was super rewarding to be able to see that I’d progressed to that point.

But, to be honest, the majority of the rewards have just come on random rides by myself. Just mentally being in a place, knowing I’ve found this new form of riding that’s giving me this much happiness, riding stuff that I’d looked at two years ago and thought, “How the heck?”But, now I can just fly down it.

Lachlan seems to enjoy the flexibility and creativity that come with mountain biking. Photo by Jordi Saragossa/Camí de Cavalls 360º

How does it feel knowing that you’ve managed to effectively buck the old-school road system and create a place where you can do things mostly on your own terms?

For the most part, I just feel very grateful. I’ve been able to put myself in a situation, and it has become reality. I didn’t fall into the situation. There was a lot of work that went into it—and there still is.

When I was racing primarily on the road, I felt there was very little room for a creative outlet, or to just put your own personal heart into it. It’s hard to explain, and I think for a lot of riders that’s not the case. But, for me, that was how I felt.

There were a lot of things I felt I could be doing on a bike, and I spent three to four years wrestling with that and then took a kind of leap of faith in deciding to do things that were not just road racing.

At that point, it was a kind of a risk, but it was one I had to take, and I was willing to do it just to see what else I could do. Ultimately, it allowed me to have a bigger impact within the bike riding community than I think I would have had on the road.

It was a definite decision, but I was also very lucky in that the people, the team and sponsors around me were willing to let me have a shot at it. I feel it’s my duty to repay them by doing as much as I can. It’s just how I am.

Are there any major bucket-list rides and events you want to do?

There are a lot. I’m off to La Ruta (Costa Rica), which has been a bucket lister for a few years now.

I’d love to go back to Cape Epic and throw everything I’ve got at it to see where that gets me. I don’t have a specific goal there, but I’d really love to race it once.

The Colorado Trail is still a big one for me, because it kicked my butt so bad. I feel I need to go back and do a ride there, and I think I can.

I’ve been second and third at Leadville and would love to crack that one day. But, my main goal is just to continue to progress, because there are so many ways to do that, and just keep it as I’ve done, so that I can just play.

I get so excited every morning when I get up and think about where I’m going to ride. It’s not about how I’m going to train this or that way. I’m just having so much fun.

At the moment I seem to have found the ultimate balance, and I just want to progress with that mindset. At one point I’d like to try an enduro race, but that might be a few years down the track.

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