Interview: The Multiple Paths of a Cyclist — Eric Bryan of the UCLA Cycling Team and his Specialized Epic Expert Carbon
Eric epitomizes dedication. Currently a second-year undergraduate at UCLA, majoring in Bio-engineering and economics, he also has a passion for business and culture. Eric walks multiple career paths simultaneously. This is also true of his cycling. While he serves as the VP of the 2015 UCLA Road Team, his also heart belongs to the trail. He has taken multiple titles in both disciplines, a testament to his commitment. Panjo caught up with Eric and asked him about his history with cycling, what he feels are the major differences between road and mountain biking, and where he plans to go from here.
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Eric, tell me a bit about your cycling history. How long have you been riding?
I’ve been riding bikes competitively for 4 years, first on a mountain bike and now with a road bike. I still dabble in the mountain from time to time, but I am primarily focused on road.
How I got into cycling revolves around a few small coincidences. It started when I grew out of my childhood bike and needed a new way to get to school. That was the end of freshman year of high school. I tried riding my mom’s road bike and from that first pedal stroke, it was like my whole life had changed. My smile could not have been bigger when I knew how fast I could go. It took only two weeks of riding my mom’s bike to convince my parents to get me my own.
I think that story would resonate with thousands of other cyclists. My first road bike was my mother’s old Schwinn and then my aunt’s ’73 Peugeot. It was that low top bar! I also remember my first full sprint down the street, totally different from other popular bikes in the 90's (BMX, mountain). Did you ride alone?
My friends were part of a local mountain biking team. They saw me riding around and quickly recruited me to the team. I rode with them for the rest of my high school career, leading the team to two state championship victories.
Tell me more about your high school mountain bike team. What position did you hold?
I was on the Redwood High School Mountain Bike team for three years. I never had an official position because high school teams are generally parent/teacher run, unlike college teams. I was however, one of the most active members and took as much of a leadership role as I was available.
What is your fondest team memory?
My greatest memory was when I was a senior. We were underdogs for the State Championships that year, like every year. I hadn’t had the best race.
When they named 2nd and 3rd places and we hadn’t made the cut, no one on the team thought we won. We were saying things like, “I knew we didn’t do great, but I thought we did well enough to at least hit the podium.” When they announced Redwood City as State Champions, I was screaming and smiling!
It felt like everything I had so worked for had paid off.
Have the values you learned during that time carried over to your career as VP of the UCLA team?
I think that feeling of supreme-dedication-paying-off definitely has transferred over to my dedication to the UCLA team. That’s why I was so eager to take a big role in the team leadership.
Have you ever had a job in cycling?
When I was in high school, I snagged a job as a salesman at the local shop, Mike’s Bikes. Let me tell you, when you are in love with bikes as much as I am, a job where you get paid to talk about bikes all day is a dream come true.
Agreed! On a typical day, do you get more of a kick out of riding or nerding out over cycling gear? Ever thought about a career in cycling R&D?
On a perfect day, I get to ride and talk about bikes at the same time! I definitely have a better time riding than reading, but it’s a close second. You know that saying, “5 things I love almost as much as riding my bike”? That’s definitely describes me.
I have considered a career in the bike industry many, many times. Still not ruled out in the grand scheme of things. I know bio-engineering is probably the least relatable engineering major for bike production, but who knows, at some point maybe I’ll do a total about-face and switch over to mechanical or materials engineering. Maybe I’ll use my econ major to start my own bike company. Everything is a possibility.
What discipline do you primarily focus on at UCLA?
I race more on the road, but I’ve kept up on mountain biking as well, taking trips to Oregon and Utah and picking up a collegiate mountain championship win my freshman year.
That’s pretty amazing. Many riders can’t say they are champions of two significantly different disciplines. Not that this will ever happen, but if you had to choose one to do for the rest of your life, which would it be?
Ahhhh!! The most horrible of limiting circumstances. I hate any limits on life, so many times I end up doing too many things. If I had to pick one, it would probably be mountain biking because there are so many awesome places to explore on a mountain bike. There is also more variation in the types of mountain biking; cross country is far different from DH (downhill). But I can always get my competitive fix with other sports.
Your Specialized Epic Expert is a great bike. Tell me a little about it. How did you get it? What makes it unique?
This bike is a real treat to ride. As a cross-country mountain bike racer, I am obsessed with efficiency and all-out climbing potential. So in seeking the best race bike to suit my needs, the Specialized Epic was the obvious choice. It was at the top of the competition by far. I like loud colors on a mountain bike; who wouldn’t like standing out with an orange bike? I could go on forever about what makes the bike awesome, but suffice to say, it is one of the lightest full-suspension mountain bikes around and the suspension design is such that it offers optimum efficiency in all situations.
The surprising thing about this race bike is its versatility. With the dropper seat-post I added coupled with the speed requirements for fast trail riding, one might assume they would need a much burlier bike. I’ve ridden this bike in terrain from Oregon to SoCal to Utah. The Epic can handle all of it. In every instance, it has surprised me with it’s capabilities.
The Epic is a killer bike. It is a top end racer yet remains an overall fun ride. Would you recommend it to an up-and-coming racer or a weekend warrior?
I would absolutely recommend it for both types of riders. Make no mistake, this is an all out race machine, but its race pedigree doesn’t limit it. I’ve kept up on some pretty gnarly trails following people on trail and enduro bikes.
Are there any life changing events or accomplishments associated with it?
This particular bike has taken me to some fun races, including a 24 hour mountain bike race in Arizona and a win at the WCCC (Western Collegiate Cycling Conference) championships. This was my first collegiate race ever.
Of all the races and trips you have taken with this bike, is there one that sticks out the most?
Besides racing, the best trip I’ve ever taken on this bike was week-long trip to Bend and Oakridge, Oregon. This has now become an annual event for me. If I could move somewhere and live there for the rest of my life, it’d be Bend. It’s such a beautiful place with awesome people, amazing riding, a laid-back atmosphere, and just about everything I could want. This is the bike that took me there and I couldn’t find a spot that was too much for it, which speaks volumes to its versatility.
You ride for the Bruins road team but clearly have a passion for mountain biking. What do you like about each discipline?
The duality of living both as a mountain biker and a road biker is a hard to wrap your head around. The videos by YouTube comedy channel IFHT (visit via link) about mountain bikers and road bikers are hilarious. But they are also scarily accurate.
The duality of living both as a mountain biker and a road biker is a hard to wrap your head around.
I fell in love with bikes riding a speedy road bike and became permanently hooked on bike racing using a cross-country mountain bike. And I have had some amazingly fun experiences on bike trips on enduro/DH bikes. Each of has an extremely different culture.
The best part of road racing is the pure speed. There is also an incredible amount of tactics and strategy that most people don’t realize occur during the 4 hour races. The best part of XC (cross-country) mountain bike racing is the suffer-fest, where people are putting themselves deep into the pain cave, hammering up steep climbs and railing down swooping single-tracks. The best part of enduro mountain biking is the absolute fun-oriented vibe, sometimes even skipping the climbing by shuttling so that we can enjoy hours of pure descending on narrow, technical, adrenaline pumping trails.
What is it like having your foot in multiple cycling worlds? What do you think are the key differences between riders of each in terms of technique and approach to cycling?
The differences between a roadie and a mountain biker are as vast as the grand canyon, from the shaved legs and spandex of a roadie to the dirt filled smile of a mountain biker. The slang is different, the races are different, the equipment is different, even technological advances from one discipline are viewed with skepticism by the other. I wouldn’t pick one culture over the other. They have both given me the best times of my life.
Right. It’s interesting to see the steady adoption of disk breaks on newer road models. I want to talk more about this. What are some of the biggest cultural differences off the bike? Is being a self-described “cyclist” more prominent for one group than the other?
Dang, I’d say most roadies take pride in the term “cyclist,” whereas mountain bikers prefer “biker.” Roadies have a unique sense of pride about certain aspects, like tan lines and shaved legs. Mountain bikers aren’t so quirky, but they’ve got their unique aspects too, like being obsessed with action shots and “edits,” using slang like “so enduro” or “schralp” or “shred” or “gnar” in everyday life.
There are a lot of quirks that both groups share, like their affinity for marginal gains (for roadies it’s aero, mountain bikers it’s the best suspension), a love of carbon, pushing themselves into the pain cave, etc. I’d say as much as each wants to believe they are different, there are actually way more similarities than differences.
Tell me about your history with the Bruins.
My history with the UCLA team started on day one of college. My first priority was not to find my classes but to find the cycling team and find out how to get involved. I got quickly to know the team members and I was surprised at how small the team was. Luckily with some other passionate riders who joined last year, we’ve practically tripled the size of the team from the time I joined to now.
I like dedicating myself to the things I love, so it was natural for me to dive right in and in my second year I am now a rider on the A’s road squad and the vice-president of the team. The future of the UCLA team is looking really bright. We have some excellent talent, amazing leadership and everyone is extremely dedicated.
What are some of your long and short-term goals as VP of the team? How do you bond as a team? Where would you like to see the team in 5 years? Does the team do any outreach beyond races around campus?
I think my number one goal is growth. At such a large campus, I think we could have a far larger team. I don’t think we really need more talent, that’s all there already. We have such a strong squad, I think you’ll be seeing a very strong showing at the National Championships this year.
As a team, I think our small size has put us in the perfect position to make really tight bonds. Almost all of our officers are second or third year students, so we’ll be around for a while. In addition, we’re all really close friends. There were only a few of us last year, but we all consistently went out to races together. Long drives and long weekends in close proximity makes for strong bonds.
I don’t think we really need more talent, that’s all there already.
I think in 5 years, when I’m finally gone, the team will be in great shape to field a strong, large team every year without having to worry about a loss of leadership once the incumbent squad graduates. As for team outreach, the UCLA team is really active in the local community. We lead rides through our shop sponsor Helen’s Cycles as well as doing service events. Last year we did a welcome celebration for No Limits for Deaf Children. We also work hard to promote cycling to all UCLA students. Our main group page is open to anyone to use to organize rides, team members or not.