10 Aug 2017

What's Cannonball's real name? We've known 'the ball' for a long time now, and it's hilarious how many times we hear that question. He's a quiet, unassuming character who's nickname has been etched into Sydney's mountain biking folklore; well, perhaps dug, raked, wrenched and ridden in.

Cannonball – RAW razz of his home trails

James ‘Cannonball’ Hall can move dirt. Building and riding bigger jumps has always been high on his list. But he’s not just brawn, he’s also the brains behind the designs of mountain bike trails, jumps and pump tracks around Australia and North America. His industry experience is immense; from life lessons learnt as a shy school kid in the greasy Bike Addiction workshop through to sweaty meetings in Taiwanese factories frustrating over how important a 0.05mm tolerance is to us, the end users of patented cycling products he’s designed. He’s always been fast. Riding a hardtail for longer than many, he’d drop most riders on any track riding his stiff-as-a-board Sasquatch with near-slick rear Hookworm at 50psi.

Cannonball’s now taking his innate speed along with some new found fitness, plus a more suitable bike, and having a solid crack at privateering the 2017 Enduro World Series. He’s tallied up a lot of crashes but has also earned a 6th place in Rotorua’s Stage 3, 15th in Derby’s Stage 4 and a round PR of 32nd in Derby. After Aspen Snowmass, he’s the 6th highest ranked Australian. Flow caught up with him just after arriving in Whistler for his sixth round of this year’s EWS.

Flow: You kind of epitomise the whole dark horse thing – going from a weekend warrior to EWS racer – tell us about your journey? When did you decide to give it a crack?

Well, racing isn’t entirely new to me; I had done a fair bit of elite downhill racing ten years ago when I lived in Whistler for two seasons. Funnily enough I never actually owned a DH bike I always raced on a 6″ trail bike, I guess that was training for the enduro races of today. There was, however, one time my trail bike was out of action for the Canadian national champs at Sun Peaks and I borrowed a DH bike for my race run from my boss at the time, good mate and owner of Dunbar Cycles, Rob Venables. To my surprise, I jagged myself 8th place in elite along with some UCI points. Since those days I haven’t raced much as life and other priorities kind of got in the way. It was not until September last year on a Canada trip I randomly found myself tagging along with Chris Johnston and Dylan Wolsky to a BC Enduro race in Revelstoke. With poor preparation and only a few hours sleep, I managed to pull together a pretty decent result and had an absolute blast on the loose, steep and wet BC trails. That’s all it took to get the bug to race again and sign up for the EWS.

Flow: Please tell us the story of your friends chipping in for your airfares etc.

James: First off, WOW, these guys blew me away. Without me knowing, a group of fifty-odd friends and riders got together and as thanks for my trail advocacy work and excitement over my Rotorua and Derby results, chipped in to pay for my airfares, entries and accommodation for my Europe leg of the EWS. This allowed me to take on EWS Madeira and Ireland! I would never have asked my mates for money or for such a thing, so I honestly was taken back by their offer and totally overwhelmed. I feel so grateful to these wonderful friends; what legendary mates!

“Without me knowing, a group of fifty-odd friends and riders got together and as thanks for my trail advocacy work and excitement over my Rotorua and Derby results, chipped in to pay for my airfares, entries and accommodation”

Flow: What do you do when you’re not ripping trails?

James: Too much (laughs), but it’s all in the name of living the dream, that I’m very grateful for. My main job is being a full-time firefighter based in Sydney which is one of the best things I’ve pushed myself towards for so many reasons. I balance this on the side with being involved in a few product design projects for bike accessories, helping take ideas to market by liaising with engineers and factories. I also love getting involved in trail designing and building projects for a couple of Aussie companies. Somehow I also find time to ride my bike and fit in a day or two repairing bikes at my mate’s local bike repair shop.

Flow: What bike and gear do you ride, and why?

James: I’m really happy to be riding for JetBlack Products, a Sydney based company who distribute Pivot Cycles, Stans rims and many other cool products. My choice from the Pivot line up was the Pivot Switchblade set up as a 29er. It’s 150mm front and 135mm rear and as I’m not one for big travel bikes this suits me to a tee. This paired with some super grippy Maxxis tyres from Rick at Bikecorp has me pretty sorted for my bike. I’m also very fortunate to have been sponsored some rad clothing from Mandy and Mathieu from DHaRCO, another Sydney based company.

Flow: It’s been a decade since you first went to Whistler. How does Whistler compare to the other EWS rounds you’ve raced? Are you feeling confident?

James: It’s going to be ROWDY! Steep and tech, my favourite! I’m pumped about the course here; I’m feeling more excited about this round than any of the others. There are a few tight technical trails that I think I have a good chance to do well on, so if I can keep it smooth, consistent and rubber side down throughout the day I could be in for good chance to see a tidy overall result.

“Steep and tech, my favourite! I’m pumped about the course here; I’m feeling more excited about this round than any of the others.”

Flow: Why are you called Cannonball?

James: It came about from early days spent repairing bikes at the local bike shop in my late teens. We occasionally would take a long lunch to go cliff jumping into the harbour.  Turns, a mechanic at the time, nicknamed me Cannonball because I apparently had high-velocity rotations like a spinning cannon ball, let alone the splash…

Flow: What makes ice cream better?

James: (Laughs) You know me too well! Firstly, ice cream makes everything better, but what makes ice cream better is ice cream enhancer, aka Milo. Unfortunately, my ice cream and Milo intake over the last year has drastically gone down.

Be sure to check out Flow’s Instagram Stories during Whistler’s EWS for Cannonball’s behind-the-scenes coverage – #EWSwithCannonball / @flow_mtb.

Cannonball’s kitted in DHaRCO Men’s SS Jersey and Men’s Gravity Shorts, in Fern Green.

All photos and video produced by Matt Staggs Visuals.