By Mary Swanson, guest columnist
Image Credit: Robert Snow
Earlier this last month Ink had the opportunity to cover Lockn’ Festival in its second year. If you’ve ever attended a festival you’ notice that other activities are offered in addition to the music, disc golf being the most common. This year, Lockn’ switched it up and encouraged attendees to bring their bikes, not just for transportation but also to participate in guided bike tours, led by Red Bull athletes. On Saturday morning I sat down with Addison Zawada to discuss his experience as a multi-discipline Red Bull sponsored cyclist.
INK: At what age did you first become interested into cycling?
Addison Zawada: I’ve always liked riding, I think I picked up cycling probably… probably when I was about eight or so. I started riding just around the neighborhood with friends, just having fun, and we always raced around the neighborhood and did stuff like that, just being goofballs. Then I actually picked up racing BMX when I was eleven, 2003, and the ball just started rolling from there. I got started in this type of cycling, in endurance cycling, which is what I do for Red Bull now, probably about three years ago. I picked it up originally as endurance training for my BMX racing, but it just sort of spiraled, I had a good time, I was just sort of falling into it, and then everything snowballed from there.
I: When did you first come to realize that this could be something you could turn into a career?
AZ: Probably thirteen or fourteen, we did a lot of travelling that year. We travelled up and down the entire east coast, we went out west a little bit, my family drove me all around to race BMX. It’s such a good culture, I just fell in love with it and realized I’d like to make a living riding my bike.
I: What would you say is the most rewarding part of being involved in the culture?
AZ: The people, it’s so… cycling is almost like the festival life, it’s sort of almost like everybody just becomes a family. After a while you see the same people every weekend because you travel every weekend of the year so you see the same people every weekend and it just becomes family and that’s just what you know.
I: When was the last time you experienced a major turning point or breakthrough in your career?
AZ: When I signed with Red Bull actually, which was two years ago, so 2012. That was the moment where I was like, okay, I might actually be able to make a living riding my bike. Until you find a big sponsor like that, it’s really hard to make a living just winning races because they don’t pay that great, so to really make a living you have to pick up some kind of corporate sponsor that’s willing to pay you to ride and travel and that kind of stuff, because until you do that there’s just not enough to live on
I: What is the best way to go about getting sponsored as a cyclist?
AZ: One is always have a good attitude, because sponsorships are not always about who’s the fastest, it’s who is the best with people, who’s the best at talking, and just in general being a good person. Cycling is a huge community and if you can make a huge difference in that community, growing it or benefiting it, people really take notice. And then just racing the right races, and making sure that you talk to people, you communicate with everybody, sort of let people know who you are.
I: What steps do you take to benefit the cycling community?
AZ: Well I do a lot of events like this, I’ve started doing a lot more like this, where they’ll bring me in and I’ll just volunteer to do stuff like this. I volunteer to work at festivals, I do a lot of BMX coaching, I’m very heavy in with the mountain biking association in Florida. Just trying to coach and help as many people through it as possible, because a lot people get really scared when they come into cycling because they’re new to it, it’s different to them, they don’t know what to do… so even when I’m not officially coaching, I still try and help people through things.
I: How do you mentally prepare yourself for a difficult competition?
AZ: I almost just try and clear my mind and try and forget about everything. If I start thinking about things I’ll just stress about it too much so I’ll just go on a long bike ride, just by myself, just me and the bike. That’s one thing that road cycling has offered me is just a way to clear my head. The furthest ride I’ve done was nine hours, 176 miles. You just sort of forget about things after a while, you’re just cruising, riding a bike, having a good time, it’s just you and the bike, and it really just helps everything sort of melt away. When you’re on the bike you don’t have time to think about can I pay rent this month, this girl, that girl, this kind of stuff. Everything just sort of goes away.
I: What is the most challenging thing that you encounter on a regular basis as a cyclist?
AZ: As mentally strong-minded as I am, that’s also my weakness, being mentally strong-minded. Just talking myself through things, like on that ride I did from Jacksonville to Daytona, after a certain amount of time… I always do rides out and back, so if I go on a long ride, I go out to a certain point so I have to ride all the way back, and it just, it’s taught me to sort of just, okay you’re in pain, and you don’t really want to be here right now, but you don’t have an option so you sort of get over it and you keep going. Mental preparation has always been a big thing for me and it’s sort of been a stepping stone and those long rides help me teach myself how to be mentally strong.
I: I understand that you do multiple disciplines, including BMX, mountain biking, and fixed gear. What is the biggest factor that separates fixed gear from the others?
AZ: The simplicity of it. Fixed gear has one gear, typically no brakes, it’s a very simple, simple bike. It basically takes the bike and dumbs it down as much as possible. It’s two wheels, a chain, and a piece of metal between them. It’s very versatile, you don’t have to maintain it, it pretty much takes care of itself, it’s just… it works. It’s not necessarily the best at anything but it works.
I: What draws you to fixed gear over other disciplines?
AZ: Just the enjoyment of it, the crowd is a little bit different than typical cycling crowds. It’s a very laid-back, relaxed crowd. When it comes to fixed gear riding, most people that are doing it are doing it purely for the love of cycling. You’re not making a lot of money doing it, it’s not necessarily the most fun all the time, but you just generally love riding a bike.
I: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
AZ: Other cyclists, other athletes, companies like Red Bull, some of the biggest athletes in the world like Travis Pastrana. People that just continue to push boundaries, because I like pushing boundaries, it’s my own, everyone else is just… pushing boundaries has always been a big thing to me. Watching other athletes take it to the next level inspires me to do more. And then you have companies like Red Bull that are always throwing a wrench in everything. Everybody’s sort of going this one way and Red Bull just takes a hard right-hand turn and goes the complete opposite way with everything.
I: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a cyclist?
AZ: Probably… Just keep going. It’s really simple and it’s really cliche, but it’s true, if something happens, like a lot of stuff is happening in my life, a lot of stuff is happening in so many big athletes’ lives and it’s sort of just a drive to just sort of keep moving, you just gotta keep the ball rolling forward. Life’s like a bike, you gotta keep moving to stay up.
I: Is there advice you would like to offer to any aspiring cyclists?
AZ: Always have fun. That’s the best thing about cycling, it can be competitive but you have to have fun doing it. If you don’t have fun it’s not worth doing, cycling should always be fun.