BOW VALLEY – Jack Menzies is in his absolute element on two wheels, rocketing down the side of a rough mountain with only a split-second to make decisions that could pay off or be painful.
The Canmore-native, who’s one of the top U21 downhill bikers in the world, just began a shortened season on the Enduro World Series (EWS) amid a global pandemic. For Menzies, though, being back on the bike and challenging international racers and testing himself on the fastest line are his drug of choice.
“I’m not nervous about the consequences, I’m more about where I stand and what I’m capable of," said Menzies.
“It’s an interesting feeling, for sure. I just tune out of everything else and focus on the task at hand. You see all these crazy crowds in recap videos, but I don’t hear much at all when I’m racing. I’m focused on setting up for the next corner."
From the cross-country trails at Canmore Nordic Centre, to the colossal spike of Matterhorn Mountain in Switzerland, Menzies just completed the first EWS event of the season in Zermatt.
Snow blanketed the Swiss mountaintop, mud and muck smeared the courses, and a blinding fog added more danger. The races, just under five kilometres from start to finish, were delayed for two hours, and the event switched from three stages to two.
The rough conditions played havoc on the competitive field, and despite being an emerging talent, Menzies isn’t immune to any extra trouble the course threw his way.
Reflecting on the first race of the season, Menzies said it was a mess from the start.
“I was happy with how I was riding and then I had a mechanical [issue] that put me on the back side for quite a few minutes. I couldn’t get it sorted, so I ran down ... to finish the stage,” Menzies said.
After sorting out the bike issue, Menzies returned to the top of the nippy peaks for the second stage. Stuck in last place for U21 men, the 18-year-old was happy to finish the day and get off the mountain. He rode to a respectable eighth spot, which landed him in 19th overall.
“It was freezing at the top,” he said. “I thought I was invincible and was all pumped out on adrenalin and did not take a jacket up there and froze my arse off. It’s not where I wanted to be position-wise either.
“I definitely know I can finish in the top five and top three on a good day.”
The ups and downs are all part of the young man’s development process, something he won’t fetch over night on his first European tour with EWS.
Riding for Team Devinci, a development racing company, Menzies now lives and trains out of Squamish, B.C. where he sought bigger and badder lines for enduro racers.
He first got into enduro after discovering it in 2015 in Kimberley, B.C. and quickly fell in love with the atmosphere. Menzies mom didn’t want him racing downhill because it was “too dangerous.”
If only teenagers listened to their parents.
It’ll take bits and pieces from each event to grow in the sport and to get to the level he seeks. As Menzies says, it’s not other racers you’re up against on the mountain – it’s yourself, and everything that comes with it.
“Usually I’m super in the moment … I want to be the best, so that’s what definitely motivated me,” Menzies said. “But I struggled this year with COVID. I was looking for that purpose to train and what not.”
When Europe loosened its rules around COVID and the EWS announced a shortened season, Menzies accepted the risks of travelling during a pandemic.
“My whole idea with travelling is if I’m responsible for myself and take every precaution to keep myself safe, I feel comfortable travelling,” said Menzies. “I know some people dropped out because of the risk. I think I'm doing all right."
Menzies next travels to Pietra Ligure, Italy, as part of the EWS tour. He expects this unusual season to help him grow as a racer and expects it will start paying dividends soon.
“I’m using this year to travel around Europe and get an idea of what’s going on. I have another year in U21 to really go for the number one title overall,” he said. “There are so many ‘what ifs’ that can happen.”