In the world of downhill racing there are two kinds of racers: riders that were born into that world of speed and riders that weren’t. The differences dissolve as their experience grows, but the foundation on which they’re built never goes away. White collar vs. blue. Factory-made vs. self-made. Purebred vs. mudblood. Steve Smith (or Stevie – it doesn’t matter) fits the latter group. He was born into a world that had nothing to do with mountain biking, but everything to do with deep love, endless drive and a few key people that saw something incredibly special in him.
When most people think back to their first memories on a bike, it usually consists of that first time mum or dad let them discover balance on their own, or perhaps, following an older sibling around. Tiann, Steve’s mother, recalls her son at age 2 going to ride bikes with older friends. As small as he was he still required training wheels. The older kids were learning to ride sans trainers, and as she peeked out the window she saw little Stevie cruising around – without training wheels. From that point on, his bike became his world.
Steve is Tiann’s second and youngest child. Divorced from Steve’s father at age 2, she raised him and his sister alone in the small town of Cassidy, BC, forever prolific in the bike world from Steve’s segment in Seasons. There are moms who support their kids. There are moms that are proud of their children. Then, there is Tiann an absolute super fan of gravity racing, and the uncontested number one fan of Steve who still gets emotional watching him race; who never misses a live stream of a World Cup, and who knew from the day her two year old son rode without training wheels that she would put everything on the line to make sure he was successful.
Unable to afford a good bike for Steve at a young age, Tiann’s mother traded a year’s supply of pies with Bill Monahan, whom at the time owned a bike shop and was able to supply Steve with a Free Agent BMX bike. “I just remember ripping up hills on it. I was so excited,” he laughs. Steve started racing BMX at age seven and quickly found success. “He couldn’t lose,” says Tiann. “It was age restricted so they wouldn’t bump him up into the next category.” While still holding onto the BMX, Steve started dabbling in mountain bikes with the crew from Monahan’s shop. He tagged along on old klunkers and rode whatever bike was available to him. He quit racing BMX because it stopped offering a challenge, but it wasn’t long before he was pulled into the lure of downhill. On a borrowed Santa Cruz Bullet, Steve won his first real gravity race, a BC Cup final, by over one minute in the under 15 age group. He had the fastest overall junior time and placed third in elite. The prodigy was realized.
Leogang World Cup Finals 2013
From that first win at a BC Cup Final to World Cup finals. Steve Smith held it all together and took the win in the tightest season we have seen for years. 2013 was a battle with Atherton and one that left Smith victorious and the first Canadian to win a World Cup overall title.
Skip to 7 minutes for Steve
His first sponsorship came from the shop owned by none other than pie man, Bill Monahan. Armed with a new bike, all Steve needed was a little extra cash to help his mum pay for their travels. Around that same time he began working at Tim Hortons – the only real job he’s ever had. (Ed – Canadian donut/coffee shop for those who don’t know) While Steve may be a legend in the making on his bike, he didn’t have the same success at Tim Hortons, and his title at the outfit was quickly switched from “customer service” to “donut maker” (aka, hide in the back of the store) after an encounter with a customer riled him up to the point of telling her to, “fuck off.” He laughs about it now. “I thought it was a total promotion,” he says smiling, “but I don’t think I’ve eaten a Tim Horton’s donut since that job.”
With his new bike and job earnings in tow, Steve and Tiann set Canada ablaze with summer travels to BC Cups and Canada Cups. It wasn’t long before Steve’s results got him noticed by some of biking’s VIPs. Gabe Fox, who had been watching Steve collect victories throughout his junior career, quickly signed him to Cove Bikes. Around that same time, 15 year old Steve was asked by Darcy Wittenberg of The Collective to be featured in a segment for their upcoming, and now iconic video, Seasons. After the release of the film, Steve became somewhat of a Cinderella story – the boy from Cassidy, BC who started with nothing and had a legitimate chance to put Canada on the proverbial downhill map. By this point he was signed to Red Bull Canada, and to this day is their longest running bike athlete. “I had no idea what Red Bull saw in me,” he says. “They just took me out to some nice dinners and wanted to get to know me. Then one day I showed up to meet them and they’ve got a lot of my friends in a room and handed me a helmet. I was blown away.”
Steve has undoubtedly earned the glory that comes with the Red Bull helmet as his racing career speaks for itself, especially since he’s only 25: 12 World Cup podiums, two World Championship podiums and one overall World Cup championship. It’s one for the books, and one Steve is proud of, but there is still more to accomplish. “The World Champion is something everybody wants to be. It’s a lot of pressure for one day…but I would love to have a gold medal,” he states firmly. After suffering two broken ankles in 2014 he’s taking on 2015 with serious ferocity. One of his true advantages is that he legitimately loves training. Whether hitting weights in the gym, running stairs, or cross training, it’s enjoyable and something he looks forward to. This past December his goal was to ride his bike to the point of getting sick of it. He failed.
Off the bike Steve is a pretty mellow guy. He’s quiet, but has a wicked sense of humor that makes frequent appearances. No one knows this better than his big, fat, black cat, Jamal, a roommate for three years running. His house overlooks Departure Bay, and is meticulously organized, which may (or may not) be a sign of the perfectionist within. But, one thing is for sure; he doesn’t like haphazard anything or wasting time. He doesn’t sit still well and feels best when something – anything – is being accomplished. This trait clearly transcends everyday life and into his biking world, as there is no such thing as an off day for Steve. Ever. Even while injured he spent every single day in the gym. That sixth place finish at Ft. Bill after being off the bike for months didn’t come as a fluke.
Check out Steve Smith at full tilt
So, what was it that Tiann, Bill Monahan, Gabe Fox, Darcy Wittenberg, and Red Bull all saw in Steve at a very young age? Before there were even races and results people were in his corner. Long before the mustache was a thing, or Chainsaw was a nickname, Steve was just a quiet, focused kid, who really loved riding bikes fast. Maybe they saw him as an exceptional example of someone whom, with enough dedication and devotion from quite possibly the world’s greatest mum, could turn a little hobby into an historic career. He’s become the icon he used to stare at in awe. “It’s weird being that guy that kids look up to, but I think it’s cool,” he says quietly. Little Stevie Smith, turned World Cup Champion and mountain bike legend proved that it really could happen to anyone.
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