Catching up with Ned Overend

Words by Josh Patterson, photos by Shannon Mominee and Josh Patterson

If you look up Ned Overend’s Wikipedia entry you’ll notice it claims he retired from professional racing in 1996, which goes to show you that you can’t trust everything you read on the Internet. While it may be technically true, Overend did stop racing mountain bikes full time to focus on other endeavors, like winning two XTERRA World Championships. Racing is no longer part of Overend’s job description; his daily duties include marketing and product development for Specialized, his long-time sponsor.

That’s not to say Overend is a desk jockey. One certainly couldn’t tell he was no longer racing and training at the professional level from his showing at this year’s Cross Country National Championship in Sun Valley, ID. “Deadly Nedly” finished ahead of 48 professional racers decades younger than himself—it has to sting knowing this guy was in his prime while you were in diapers, and you still can’t hold his wheel… Today, Overend is a legend in his spare time.

What has been your most rewarding accomplishment as a mountain biker?

Well, there are individual races, but at this point it’s longevity. When people talk to me that is what they are excited about. The fact I’m still passionate about racing has become my biggest accomplishment, more than winning a World Cup or World Championship.

Is there a race you look forward to each year?

I always look for different races, but the Road Apple Rally in New Mexico is a favorite. It’s a high-speed race with bermed turns—not as painful as a lot of other races. It is also the oldest mountain bike race in the country, must be going on 30 years.

Road, mountain or cyclocross, do you have a favorite?

Mountain for sure. I love ‘cross racing for the intensity, even though it doesn’t so much suit my style. It tends to be more power-oriented.

This July you finished 14th at Cross Country Nationals. How does it feel to be 56 and able to leave riders half your age in the dust?

[Laughs] I’m conflicted. I do a lot of different stuff for Specialized, my job is more than racing, but it does allow me to train a lot. At the same time, when I get a result like this, I think “Jeeze! If I focused more on training then I could probably improve that result.” That’s just the way a racer thinks. It’s cool to be able to perform at this level still—I think it helps that there’s no pressure for me to race.

Any advice to master’s athletes, or any mountain biker who wants to be able to ride at their full potential, regardless of their age?

I’m not too obsessive about cycling, or training in general. My training approach has obviously worked for me. You need to be informed about the training process, don’t rely on a coach. Living in the mountains has helped me—it forces me off the bike in the winter. I Nordic ski and do other sports to create a physical balance that I think is responsible for my longevity.

What is your favorite trail?

We have a new trail in Durango, the Skyline Trail. It was initially built for the Singlespeed World Championships in 2009. There was a lot of hike-a-bike back then—we made the climb more rideable. It’s a super technical trail along a ridgeline.

Tech question #1: Do you see 29ers taking over the XC market?

I do. The 29er has reinvigorated the hardtail market. They have evolved to the point where they are a superior bike for cross country in most situations. There are a lot of situations where 29ers are faster and very few where they are slower. I think this year is the tipping point for 29ers in Europe.

Tech Question #2: What do you think the future holds for disc brakes in cyclocross?

[Todd] Wells and I have had cross bikes with disc brakes for a while. It gives those bikes a lot of range. It gets boring training in the grass, we like to go out and do trail rides on our ‘cross bikes in a variety of riding conditions. That is where disc brakes excel. We’re still trying to figure out how big the disc needs to be—the weight really needs to come down, but discs will evolve in ‘cross and on the road.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

[Laughs] I don’t know. I didn’t see myself doing this 10 years ago! I’m for sure a lifestyle rider—this will be part of my lifestyle. My wife and I moved closer to town for more of an urban lifestyle, I see ourselves moving even closer to town and using our bikes more and cars less.

Drink of choice?

IPA. We have some great breweries in Durango. Someone needs to start brewing more IPA’s in Europe! I enjoy the beer over there, but a good IPA is one thing I look forward to when I get home.