Getting To Know: Aspiring World Cup DH Racer Max Morgan
Who is Max Morgan?A 26-year-old aspiring American DH racer.
Where are you from and where do you live now?I'm from Atlanta, Georgia, but for the last two years, I've been living in Neko Mulally's basement in Brevard, North Carolina. I went to school at the University of Vermont. After I graduated in 2015, I moved down to Western NC since I had family nearby.
Did you race in college?Yes, we had a really strong and competitive team at UVM when I was there. It was probably some of the most fun I've ever had racing. Collegiate racing takes all of the good things about racing and gets rid of a lot of the negatives. It was good to have that experience and be apart of a team with other people who were riding bikes more for the fun of it versus strictly competition. It's helped shape my outlook on racing to this day.It was pretty awesome being in the regional conference that we were in because the venues we had to race were world class. Our home race was at Sugarbush Mountain and the conference championships were at Highland Mountain Bike Park. We also raced at Plattekill, Attitash, and other ridiculously technical courses there in the Northeast. Collegiate National Championships were at Beech Mountain in North Carolina the two years I raced at UVM. I had won the Pro GRT there in 2014, and the track suited me well so it felt like a bit of a homecoming to be there racing again for college in a more laid back but still serious setting. Those races were always the most fun and great to be with the team.
What disciplines did you race in college?I raced mainly DH and dual slalom. You could sign up for and do XC and Short Track as well so I did a few of those too. We all pushed each other but had a lot of fun.
Did you race outside of college while you were still taking classes?Yes. Before starting college, I was racing on the Morewood USA Team - that was in 2010. The team was run by the 2008 U.S. downhill National Champion, Gerrit Beytagh. I learned a lot from Gerrit that year, and as one of the best riders in the country, he was a great coach, mentor, and friend. After that year, I was part of a team based here in Asheville, NC - Billy Goat Bikes, where I was able to race regionally and nationally. In 2014 I raced my first World Cup at Mont Sainte Anne and was also selected to be on the United States National Team for World Championships in Norway.I first went to Elon University in central North Carolina. I would try to fit in training and riding in between my busy class schedule. One of the toughest things was negotiating with professors to let me miss class for races. I can vividly remember one professor I had for, of all classes, a “Cultural Experiences” class, dropped me a letter grade because I was going to miss two classes to race the Pan American Championships in Argentina. The Engineering program I was in at Elon wasn't a four-year program, and I knew I was going to transfer to another university at some point to finish my degree. I wasn't sure where I would end up but thanks to my good friend Adam Morse, I ended up in Vermont at UVM where I had ridiculously good riding and skiing all around me.
Did you play other sports growing up or was it always riding bikes?For sure I was always riding bikes growing up, ripping around in the backyard and seeing who could do the longest wheelie with my brother. I didn’t start racing bikes until I was in high school. Most of growing up I played hockey. Being from Georgia, I played a lot of roller hockey and even traveled a bunch for that. Then in college, I played club ice hockey and really enjoyed that.
Who do you ride for?Santa Cruz Bicycles, Newground Hard Dutch Latte, Worldwide Cyclery, Industry Nine, Deity, Maxxis, Julbo, Afton, Royal, Allsport Dynamics, Flat Tire Defender, Bell Helmets, and Galfer Brakes.
What’s been your favorite place to race?That's a hard question. I think as far as World Cups go, I would have to say Andorra.
What are your favorite trails?My favorite trails are right here in Pisgah National Forest. I think they are some of the best trails in the country and I don’t ever get tired of riding here. If I had to pick one, Bennet Gap would be my favorite.
What are your strengths?Resiliency. I think of myself as being a very strong minded person and that has helped me in all aspects of life, not just racing. When I have a goal in mind, I set my mind to it and work hard at it.
What are your weaknesses?I think I’m a bit too strict on myself sometimes. With racing, I could afford to be a bit looser and go with the flow. Also, my whips could definitely be better. Haha. I should probably work on that.
What’s been your worst crash over the years?In 2017, I had a nasty crash training at Windrock and broke my T5 vertebrae. That was a scary one. Four months later I broke my scaphoid in my left wrist racing at Leogang. That was a tough year and have been some of my tougher injuries to overcome.
What’s been your luckiest escape?Andorra 2018. I had a massive crash that came out of nowhere on my last practice run the morning before the race. After flipping head over heels, somehow I ended up only dislocating my toe. I got my toe put back in place, one of the mechanics from the IJ Racing team, Mesti, helped get my bike back together, and got to the start gate with just enough time for a short warm-up before the race.
Which bike from over the years, conjures up the best memories?I’m really enjoying the new Santa Cruz V10.7 that I’m riding now. Santa Cruz launched the new V10 last month and it’s the real deal. Another bike that really stands out from over the years is my 2014 Devinci Wilson race bike. It was right when 27.5" wheels were gaining traction so we took a 26" wheeled frame and took a ball peen hammer to the chainstay to clear the bigger wheel. My teammate Brandon who was also an engineer at Cane Creek came up with a custom length shock that lowered the bottom bracket back down and shortened the travel to 200mm. I ended up designing custom angle set headset cups that steepened the head angle back to around 63 degrees to counteract the shock. There weren’t any 27.5 forks available at the time either so we ended up running a Manitou Dorado fork which uses an inverted design and had no problem holding the bigger wheel. It was really cool to develop parts for that bike to make it work and I had some really good success on it as well.
What bikes are you riding right now?A Santa Cruz V10 for downhill and a Santa Cruz Hightower as my everyday trail bike.
Who’s your favorite rider?My favorite rider is probably Demetri Triantafillou. He is such a sick rider and has got the coolest style.
Who has influenced your racing?Like I had mentioned before, in the beginning, Geritt Beytagh gave me so much guidance when I was a junior. When I was racing on the Billy Goat Bike team, the owner Matt Haynes and his family put so much time and energy into helping me succeed. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am now without my time with them. More recently, I had hired Christopher Herndon as my coach. He taught me a lot about training and helped me develop my race craft. Neko Mulally has also been someone I’ve always looked up to as a racer. He is always helping everyone around him and does a lot for the sport. He also lets me live in his basement.
What do you enjoy doing away from bikes?I really enjoy working with cars. My brother races drift cars now and that’s something we always talk about together. I grew up around a car with my Dad so I guess it’s just in my blood. Even though I have a sprinter van I've been building out currently, I would love to have a more fun (and agile) project car one day. Right now I’m fixed on a BMW e36 coupe.
What are you listening to right now?Whatever comes up on my Jeff Foxworthy Pandora station.
What’s your favourite bike movie?"Won’t Back Down - The Steve Peat Story"
What's your favorite non-bike movie/TV show?Re-runs of "Friends" on Netflix. I also have a soft spot for a good romantic comedy.
What’s your favorite non-bike website?YouTube. I’ve been watching a cool series on the Street Bandito channel lately.
What’s your favorite motto or saying?"To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." - Steve Prefontaine
What frustrates you?How much it's been raining recently here in Pisgah Forest.
What makes you happy?I love that feeling of being fully dialed in on a downhill bike. Riding trail bikes is so much fun, but nothing compares to being fully pinned on a big bike.
If you weren’t a pro mountain biker, what would you be doing?I would probably have some kind of engineering career, hopefully in the outdoor or automotive industries.
When you're done racing, how do you want to be remembered in the sport?I want to be remembered as someone that was always approachable and always gave my all. I think in today’s world of instant gratification, it’s even more important to define your own success. So many people have an opinion on what they think is being successful, especially with racing. Set your own goals and take satisfaction in working your hardest towards them.
What races and events are you looking forward to this year?This year I’m pumped to be racing the full World Cup series, a few national races, National Championships, Crankworx Whistler, and hopefully the Pan American Championships.
What does the future hold outside of racing?I want to use my education and background in mechanical engineering to find a place in the cycling or automotive industries where I can work on product design and development. I enjoy using that creative and problem-solving part of my brain. I like to work with my hands and bringing ideas to life is something that I'm passionate about.
Photos by: Sergi Barnils, Dave Trumpore, Jack Berg