For pro rider Josh Carlson, mountain biking has been a lifelong passion, a passion that led him to compete professionally on the world stage. From racing with Giant on the Enduro World Series to now on the newly formed EWS-E series – Josh has been competing for over 15 years. Getting to travel the world and race my bike has been a dream career, and one I'm so grateful for, says Josh. But it’s being a dad to Eli (9 years) and Remi (4 years) and getting to share his love for mountain biking with them is what’s most special. Whether it’s weekend beach rides or picnics at the trailhead – seeing how stoked his kids are on riding has brought so much more meaning to racing, and has only fuelled his love and appreciation for the sport.
“Getting to travel the world and race my bike has been a dream career, and one I'm so grateful for.”
Josh is a humble and devoted dad and we had the pleasure of catching up with him to chat about all things mountain biking and dad-life. He speaks about balancing racing with being a father, teaching his kids how to ride, how his passion for mountain biking has changed since becoming a dad, and advice for parents raising mountain bike kids.
Hey Josh, what have you been up to recently and what’s on the cards for 2022?
I’ve spent a lot of time at home (in Australia) with the kids this summer, which has been awesome! My 4-year-old daughter Remi got a bright pink 20’ bike from santa which she was pretty stoked about and she’s just started pedalling. My international racing calendar is my primary focus for much of the year. The EWS-E series kicks off in Scotland in June, followed by a big block of racing in Europe. Then in August I'll be racing the EXC world championships. So predominantly enduro and e-bike enduro. I’ve spent the summer training upwards of 25 hours a week on the bike, trying to get out on the bike in the peak heat of the day to prepare myself for the European summer. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable!
How do you balance family time with racing?
It’s a juggle for sure! Most days I’m awake by 5.30am to go for a run, shower, and breakfast before the kids rise. Then my wife and I get the kids ready and drop them to school. I’ve then got a few hours to get my training done, chat with sponsors, media and do emails. 3pm usually rolls around pretty quick and I collect the kids from school and usually get stuck into a couple more hours of training before dinner. Now the kids are getting older they’re always keen to come for a ride. It doesn’t matter whether I've just come home from a 6 hour ride on the roady, the minute I walk in the door they’re itching to get down to the bike park. So it’s definitely a juggling act but I love it!
How has your passion for mountain biking changed since becoming a father?
It’s brought so much more meaning to it. As an athlete you have to be so focused – whether that be on your training schedule, diet, riding techniques, or where you’re traveling next. It can be very consuming. But having kids has opened my eyes to a whole new world. I can now come home and switch off and just be ‘dad’.
For example, I go from a training ride where I'm working on the most intricate details and stressing over things like body position, to then riding along the beach with the kids and Eli is stoked because he’s mastered how to take his feet off the pedals while coasting along. Seeing that raw development and enjoyment from the simplest of things helps bring me back to earth and gives me a good perspective. And it helps to fuel that passion for riding! Watching their enjoyment and love for riding develop is awesome too because I get to share that experience with them. I essentially get to share my career with them.
For years it was cool to experience all these awesome opportunities, but getting to now share these with my family just makes it all the more special – I hope I'm giving them something cool to look back on.
What are some things you’ve done to introduce your kids to mountain biking?
It’s the compounding effect of lots of little moments. Over the years my wife has brought them along to events to watch me race, so they’ve been able to watch me ride a section really fast or do a jump. I’ve even taken them up on the podium with me! But a big part of it has been getting out on the trails with them. They’ve grown to learn the trails that Dad trains on and they get to feel part of it. I can talk to them about my training rides at the end of a day and they recognise them from our family rides. When the kids were younger we’d often put two seats on our e-bikes and ride up into the hills with a picnic. It’s the little experiences that have the biggest impact.
“When the kids were younger we’d often put two seats on our e-bikes and ride up into the hills with a picnic. It’s the little experiences that have the biggest impact.”
What’s a fond mountain biking memory you have with your kids?
Taking Eli onto the podium at EWS Crankworx 2016 after a tough year in 2015. And most recently with Remi, watching her ride her 20’ bike for the first time and to see her enjoy that feeling of achievement and independence. Just seeing how fast they develop – it’s really cool to watch!
What’s been the most challenging part of teaching your kids to ride?
I found coaster brakes really challenging. Your kid only just masters how to pedal in a forwards motion and then you’ve got to try and teach them to push backwards to brake – I found it really difficult for the kids to process. Now they’re on hand brakes it’s much easier. Looking back I probably would have avoided the whole coaster brake scenario and got them bikes with rear brakes only.
Overall, they’ve adapted to riding their own bikes really well which I credit the balance bike and shotgun seat for. Before riding their own pedal bikes they were already familiar with riding trails, balancing, turning into corners and standing over bumps – having that experience I believe has really helped accelerate their mountain bike development.
Any advice for parents introducing mountain biking to their kids?
Getting out there and enjoying the experience together is the biggest key to the whole thing. If they have fun and you have fun, it’s going to be a good experience and it’s going to fuel that love for mountain biking. Start easy and slow, even if it’s just riding down to the beach to get a coffee. My kids loved riding along fire roads to begin with. It actually took a little bit of time before I got onto singletrack with my kids. For a little kid a fire road is super cool – they get to see parts of the world they’ve never seen before. It’s all about the experience and the bonding that you guys can have together, that’ll inevitably grow. You’ve got to remember they’re seeing all the same things you’re seeing but just through a brand new set of eyes. So start chill, enjoy the process and be patient – it’s all new to them and it’s a lot for them to take in. And kids are kids at the end of the day!
In regards to bikes, I'd try to avoid coaster brakes and find a bike with just a rear brake. Another thing to be aware of when buying a bike are grip shifters, they can be really hard for kids to use especially if they are little and their hands are smaller. I found trigger shifters a little easier for my kids to adapt to. They understand the clicks and what they mean.
“Getting out there and enjoying the experience together is the biggest key to the whole thing. If they have fun and you have fun, it’s going to be a good experience and it’s going to fuel that love for mountain biking.”Thanks to Josh for chatting with us! If you’d like to follow his racing & family mountain bike adventures, check out Josh Carlson on Instagram.