5 Minutes With Leigh Donovan: Even Legends Keep Learning

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If you’re in the MTB Hall of Fame, you know you’ve done some pretty remarkable things. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to hang up your pedals and bask in the glory of the past. Nearly 25 years after she won the trip crown of national slalom championship, national downhill championship and world championship, Leigh Donovan is still working in the industry to increase participation and bring the joy of riding bikes to as many people as possible. Luckily for us, she packed answering our questions into her busy schedule…

Tell us who you are, what you do and why we should go for a bike ride with you…
I’m Leigh Donovan a former champion downhill and dual slalom racer from the early MTB days and today my current job title is mountain bike instructor and ambassador for all things MTB education. I am very slow uphill, but I’m good on the DH’s, so if you like to laugh and ride downhill I’m a great riding partner…I don’t take riding too serious but love to play on the bike, have lots of fun, laugh a lot, hit some jumps and scare myself a little too!

Leigh Donovan
Credit: Craig Glaspell

What has been your best memory or achievement from the last year?
My favourite memory of 2019 on the bike was coaching the US National Downhill team at the World Championships at Mont Saint Anne Quebec. We started off the week going Go-Carting (it’s a Mount Saint Anne tradition). Our Go-Cart bonding kickstarted our week and from there it just got great! This was my first time working with riders/racers at that level and I loved it; the challenge, the study of the track and riders and the energy required to keep things rolling. Watching the riders grow as racers in just 6 days was so inspiring and I truly felt like I was able to share racing knowledge with these new school racers that I wasn’t sure would translate, but it did. I was so proud of what we accomplished.

You crash your bike and can only salvage one thing from it – what would it be and why?
As a spoiled rider who gets almost everything for free I’d say it’s tough to answer this but I’d say I’d have to salvage one thing it would be my custom grips from ODI, sounds silly but I like having something that no one else has even if it’s something as small as grips.

If you could only ride one trail for the rest of your days – which is it?
If I could only ride one trail it would be Angry Pirate (on Whistler mountain). It’s a perfect balance of corners, roots, rocks, and there’s even a little jump in there, plus it’s all downhill (my favourite way to ride).

Leigh Donovan
Credit: Craig Glaspell

Everyone wants to improve, right? What would you like to do better?
When it comes to life it would be learning to live more in the moment (aka: mindfulness) but when it comes to bikes, I would love to be more confident on big jumps with blind landings.

Which component do you break and/or swap the most?
Unless I’m testing a product I generally don’t swap anything out once I build a bike up. The last time I broke something on my bike was a rear carbon wheel in 2017 (which ended up bering recalled) but I’m honestly a pretty smooth rider and I take excellent care of my equipment, but I’ll try to break something for the next interview, haha!

What is your tip to becoming a better mountain biker?
I believe mountain biking is like building a house and just like when you build a house, it’s the foundation that really makes or breaks the home. A strong foundation of skills can make you a better mountain biker. If you can practice only one skill, it would be the Track Stand in my opinion because it gives you the ability to become more comfortable on the bike and forces you to find the balance point, giving you a chance to better understand what traction feels like and how to achieve it. So many riders are way too far back when they ride downhill and many are too far forward when they are climbing which affects traction and control. Obviously it takes time and work… I always tell my clients that their goal should be to Pilot their ride and avoid being a Passenger and that takes a lot of practice. Many riders will go out and ride and some of them are natural athletes and they will get better naturally but for those that aren’t, practicing skills will help every rider grow their foundation and in return help them earn their Pilot’s license, as I like to say.

What one innovation has made mountain bikes better, and why?
For me personally it’s the seat dropper…hands down I’d never ride without one again unless I’m on my DH bike.

Leigh Donovan
Racing at Cranworx, Innsbruck Credit: Sven Martin

Who do you admire most in the mountain bike world?
What a huge question to just pin point one person but I’d have to say when it comes to mountain bikes I truly love what Brandon Semenuk is doing with his career and how hard he works to make mountain biking an art form. I love the arts and bikes so he delivers the whole package and still can win RedBull Rampage, he’s inspiring even to a mom!

What are you hoping to get up to in the next 12 months?
2020 has many new opportunities for me and ichoosebikes. MTB education is my first and foremost priority.  Currently I am in works talking with USA Cycling about some race development camps, talking with PMBIA (Professional Mountain Bike Instructors Association) about a US Coordinator gig, and new partnerships in the eMTB realm. I plan to still host women events and co-ed clinics around North America and hope to grow MTB education everywhere I can!

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