Making the Switch – Caroline Buchanan

Words by Jared Rando | Images by Jason Stevens & Damian Breach

Switching from one bike to another can definitely be a challenge. Even when it’s two similar bikes, there’s always that learning curve before you’re comfortable. Nothing’s ever just quite the same and the bigger the difference, the longer it takes to adapt.

Most of us can relate through swapping from 26” to 29” wheels, or from one bike in the shed to another. It’s generally not too big a deal, but when you go from the pointy end of one extreme to another, things can get a little tricky.

After a successful 4 year Olympic BMX campaign, former 4X World Champion and Stromlo Forest Park ambassador Caroline Buchanan is doing just that, making the switch from Olympic BMX racing to World Cup Downhill racing- two forms of cycling that are worlds apart.

After a 2nd place finish to Tracey Hannah at the Australian National Championships at Stromlo Forest Park, I thought I’d ask Caroline a few questions about the challenges of swapping between the two disciplines.

Caroline relaxing between downhill runs at Stromlo Forest Park.

Here’s what she had to say-

You’re going from a bike with no suspension and rock hard tyres on a perfectly groomed surface to a bike with 200mm of suspension, squishy tyres on the roughest terrain you can find- it’s a massive change. What’s the hardest thing to overcome?

I definitely love a challenge but I’ve found the hardest thing to overcome has been from competing at the top of my game in London, at the pinnacle of BMX racing- the Olympic Games. To find myself so far out of my comfort zone, aiming for World Championships and starting at the bottom with no ranking and feeling like a beginner again.

How long has it taken you to feel 100% comfortable on the downhill bike, and do you think it will be just as hard to make the switch back to BMX?

Prior to just recently getting back on the BMX, I found that I made a very quick transition to the top of the downhill podium in Australia. I hadn’t raced a downhill for 5 years, and I had expected that coming back to mountain biking- especially downhill, that I would have a lot of work to do.

The past three years of BMX training, strength and conditioning translated right across onto the downhill bike. It has always been harder to switch back onto the BMX. If you simplify it right down both sports are riding a bike, but to compete at the top international level every 1% counts. Switching back and forward so often affects my performances and this is the reason I have broken my 2013 calendar up into blocks, or chapters, of BMX and MTB.

Suspension setup and tyre choice in downhill is a huge part of racing. Has it been hard learning to tune your suspension and set up your bike, and are you doing anything in particular to suit your riding style?

Well I can say I will never complain about working on my BMX bike ever again! There’s definitely a lot of maintenance and knowledge that goes into setting up a downhill bike for a race. I remembered quite a lot from four cross three years ago, however downhill is another ball game all together. BMX involves being smooth, getting perfect backside and working the jumps for every inch of speed. My riding style and bike set up for downhill imitates this. I am working on trusting my suspension, getting loose and riding on the edge more.

What do all your BMX buddies think of your switch to mountain bikes?

To be honest I’m not sure- maybe crazy, happy, envious? Some people above in cycling are obviously not happy with my decision to have a bit of a gap year and mix things up on the mountain bike.

But at the end of the day I fell in love with mountain biking when I was fifteen, the people, the mountains, the lifestyle and the races. Living life to the fullest, challenges and being happy is what’s most important.

You’ve made the switch from 20” to 26”, how about 29” wheels?

29……. reminds me of cross country and uphill pain! Just like my post London Olympic goal to come back to mountain biking I have plenty of post Rio 2016 Olympic goals. My ultimate goal is to dominate the world in cycling, you name it! I have learnt to backflip into foam…Nitro Circus, velodrome?  We will see where the future takes me.

Well, it’s really great to see you riding a real bike again and I’m sure everyone out there in Flow MTB land is wishing you nothing but the best. You’re on a new team, surrounded by great people, aiming to continue your winning ways. It’s really great to see. Anyone you’d like to thank?

Thank you and especially a huge thank you to my team behind the dream, supporting the whole package and my long term goals. Family, friends, Julian Jones, Robert Joske, Tim Chadd and all my sponsors…

Make sure you keep your eye on Caroline to see how she does in her first year of World Cup downhill racing.

 

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