Beyond the Bike Episode 12 | Graham Agassiz
Words: Lacy Kemp
Photos: Paris Gore
Video: Lacy Kemp and Jasper Wessleman (Fest footage: Eric Lawrenuck)
There’s a man dressed in all black: black jeans; black t-shirt, black hat, black shades and a thick beard. From afar he looks perhaps anti-establishment. He’s an anomaly in the world of mountain bikes because he embodies a persona that he didn’t necessarily create, but one that he willingly fosters. He is an agent for change, a waver of a different flag. He is Graham Agassiz – an unlikely rebel with a cause.
Born and raised in the interior British Columba city of Kamloops, Aggy- as he’s commonly called -grew up with one goal in mind: to become a professional biker. Like many riders before him, watching Cru Jones race to glory in Rad was all the motivation needed to set a dream in motion. At age 7 he began racing BMX regionally and had success throughout the years. At age 14 he picked up his first sponsor, the Bicycle Café, whom he’s still in partnership with today. “They’re pretty much responsible for getting me into mountain biking and my grassroots deal with Kona when I was 17,” he says.
While having a shop steer a young career in the right direction is always welcome, it didn’t come without tribulations. Bicycle Café owners Taylor Hollstedt and Cheryl Beattie laugh while recounting the story of Aggy’s first downhill race. “Let’s just say I ended up with a pretty great apology letter,” Beattie says. “I still have it. In fact, I have a whole box of apology letters from Graham.” Aggy’s version is subdued (with a smile, of course), but the short version is this: the course was too easy for a DH bike so he’d been practicing on his slope bike. In the gate for first qualifying run, they suddenly told him he couldn’t race because he was only running a rear brake. He quickly rode home and tried to attach the front brake from his DH bike to the slope bike but the adapter didn’t fit so he falsely attached the caliper so that it looked like it was functional and hoped they wouldn’t notice. The marshal at the top did notice and tried to stop him, but he raced anyway. Officials threw clipboards at him during his run and tried removing him from the course. Turns out riding away from crazed race marshals makes one ride quite fast and he managed to make it to the bottom unscathed… until he was tackled and held down.
While riding a slope bike in a downhill race may seem like no big deal, it was to the race organisers. News traveled all the way to Crankworx where there was an attempt to prevent Aggy from riding in the slopestyle event because he hadn’t paid the hefty fine that was handed down as a penalty for racing without a proper front brake. Aggy brushed it off and rode anyway, because legally they couldn’t stop him, and he was smart enough to know that. Perhaps this was his first bit of industry rebellion, but it certainly wasn’t his last.
When discussing Aggy’s penchant for going against the grain, it’s important to consider one thing: he’s not doing this out of malicious intent. In fact, it’s completely the opposite. His goal is to make the sport more enjoyable for himself and everyone else involved. It’s about bringing the true spirit of riding a bike back to the forefront. Everything he does is based around one thing: fun. The mountain bike industry is going through somewhat of an identity crisis. It’s young, and confused. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of the newest wheel size, enduro everything, and crazy slopestyle contests, but our sport is lacking the crucial component of soul. There are few leaders, rare icons, and the occasional legend. Aggy simultaneously fits among all and none of those categories. He’s the anti-hero with big ideas, good intentions, and strong opinions. Not satisfied with what the contest scene was providing, he and a small core group of riders took matters into their own hands and created Fest – arguably the most exciting thing to happen to mountain biking since the introduction of Rampage. “We are at a tipping point,” Aggy says. “Fest came about because we wanted to do something different. We just wanted to have the most fun possible. It shows that a group of riders can get together and make a change in this industry.”
It also shows that this anti-hero has something others don’t: unparalleled optimism. Aggy has endured his fair share of misfortune. A broken neck in 2013 kept him off the bike for an extended period of time, but perhaps his biggest hurdle came in 2009. After parting with a group of friends he’d been spending the day with, Aggy learned that one of them had been hit by a train while walking home. As devastating as the news was, he decided to channel his grief into a lust for life. “I live every day twice as hard for him,” he says quietly. “It took me into a dark place and perhaps made me a little tougher than I would have been.” Aggy carries his friend’s memory in the form of a tattoo across his chest that reads, “Forever Young.” In his most harrowing moments Liam is what keeps him going. “Every time I drop into a Rampage run I give a little prayer for him and I know he’s going to keep me safe.”
2014’s Rampage was no exception. With a storm approaching, Aggy ascended the notorious red layers of Virgin’s rocks. After guinea pigging the line that would eventually be the winning route for Andreu Lacondaguey, he was ready for his qualifying run. With a nod to Liam, and a flip of the mental switch, Aggy dropped into a career-defining descent. Every jaw was ajar after he made his way through the finish gate. In what may have been the burliest and most intimidating line in Rampage history, Aggy had defied physics and perhaps sanity to sail into the top qualifying spot. “I burst into tears when I got to the bottom,” he recalls. “It gives me goose bumps every time I think about it. I can’t even explain how good it felt.”
Aggy was unable to compete in the final due to tweaking his knee in practice following qualifications. As disappointing as it was, he knew his decision not to compete was the correct call. Another rider might have lamented or thrown a fit, or tumbled into some sort of post-injury depression, but Aggy knew than in order to achieve his one remaining goal – the elusive Rampage victory- he needed to be 100%. “Fuck. I just really want to get it, but at the end of the day I still did what I wanted to do,” he says. “I’d really love to stand on top of that podium one day. I’ve come close. I can’t imagine what winning finals would be like.”
As the protagonist in the story of redefining style and what’s possible on a bike, Aggy’s goal of a Rampage victory is likely not far off. As an agent of positive change in an industry where every day sees numerous ideas that aren’t consumer friendly, he’s unafraid to speak out and do the work to move the sport to where he thinks it needs to be. And as a kid who just really loves to ride his bike, he’s unapologetic about making sure that the good times never have to end.