Where are they now? Chasing down... Ned Overend

  
  


By Amanda H. Miller
 
Ned atop the podium at the first unified Mountain Bike World Championships in Durango in 1990. Photo by Tom Moran
Ned atop the podium at the first unified Mountain Bike World Championships in Durango in 1990. Photo by Tom Moran
When Ned Overend moved to Durango, Colo. in 1980, he was a rock climber, ice climber, runner and mechanic. He didn’t really think of himself as a bicyclist and never considered a future as a professional athlete.
 
He especially never figured he would one day be in the Mountain Biking Hall of Fame, particularly because the sport didn’t really exist until Overend was well into his 20s.
 
His father worked for the state department and Overend grew up all over the world, from Bethesda, Maryland to Ethiopia, Iran and Taiwan.
 
“I went to high school in San Diego,” he said.
 
And that’s where he stayed for a while, until an ice climbing school in Ouray, Colo. lured him to the Rocky Mountains.
 
“I fell in love with the San Juans,” he said.
 
He made Durango his new permanent home and lived in a trailer and worked as a mechanic, just slightly aware of his new hometown’s obsession with cycling.
 
Discovering Cycling
 
“For most people, I think they get into cycling through an event,” Overend said. “It could be small, something for a cause – an MS ride or something.”


For Overend, the catalyst that launched him onto the biking scene was Durango’s Iron Horse Classic – a 47-mile road race with 6,700 feet of climbing along a narrow gauge railroad. The challenge is to beat the train from Durango to Silverton and the race has been going strong in Durango since 1975. So, Overend gave it a try.
 
A natural athlete, he was good. He started doing more road racing and triathlons and quickly rose to Category 2.
 
Overend was having a lot of success on the road bike and started thinking about pursuing it or triathlons professionally when he began seeing mountain bikes for the first time.
 
They were practically brand new in 1983 and Overend started to notice them in 1984. Schwinn convinced him to hop on for a ride that year and his fate was sealed.  
 
He had a history of motocross racing.
 
“That technical skill combined with the fitness of road riding was the best combination,” he said.
 
Mountain biking was his sport. He rode for Schwinn from 1984 to 1987 until Specialized snatched him up.
 
“Those were the real early days of mountain biking,” he said. “But it was growing exponentially. The whole sport of mountain biking started through racing and was promoted heavily through racing. It grew like mad.”
 
And as it grew, it became increasingly well organized and funded, Overend said. What started with new mountain biking and existing bicycling companies funding races quickly became a national phenomenon.
 
“Once it was seen as a cool fast-growing sport, the car companies and drink companies started sponsoring races,” he said.
 
Earning a Spot in the History Books
 
Ned en route to victory at the 2012 Masters Cyclo-cross World Championships.
Ned en route to victory at the 2012 Masters Cyclo-cross World Championships.
Overend won three world championship races early on. But he’s quick to discount those wins because they weren’t unified. There were different world championship races in the U.S. and in Europe. He won in both locations, but is most proud of his 1990 win.
 
That was the first year the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) recognized the event and organized a unified UCI Mountain Bike World Championships event.  It happened to be on Overend’s home turf in Durango. And he took the podium as the sport’s first official world champion.
 
Overend stayed busy traveling the world to race mountain bikes through 1996, the first year mountain biking was on the Olympic program.
 
“I held on until the Olympics and hoped to get a spot on the team,” Overend said.
He ended up being an alternate.
 
“I didn’t go, but I was also 40 that year,” he said. “I was a little older than some of the other guys.”
 
Fast Forward to the Present
 
He retired from professional mountain biking after that and began working in product development and marketing for Specialized, which he still does.
 
While officially retired from mountain biking, Overend hardly settled down on the couch.
 
He won the XTERRA World Championship triathlon in 1998 and 1999 and took second in 1997. He won the U.S. National Winter Triathlon Championship in 2000 and the UCI Masters Cyclocross World Championship in 2012.

“I think one reason I have been able to be an athlete this long and still stay interested in racing is that I keep mixing it up,” Overend said. “I’ve never gotten burned out by doing just one thing.”
 
Living in Durango forces him off his bike in the winter, which he believes is healthy. He runs with his wife, Pam. The two of them sometimes compete together in running events and triathlons. His two adult children both ride for recreation and fitness, though neither ventured to become professional athletes like their dad.

While Overend isn’t constantly racing his mountain bike anymore, he is constantly riding one and he still very much has his finger on the pulse of the sport. Working for Specialized, he works with the racers on product development and demonstrates the latest bikes to journalists and vendors – taking them out for rides. Mountain biking remains a young sport that’s still evolving, something that excites Overend.

“Stuff is always changing in mountain biking,” he said.
 
The rise of enduro races is an exciting one and Overend tries to participate in some of those. Fat Bikes – bikes with extra wide tires ideal for riding in snow – have also taken off. Overend will go to a Midwestern fat bike event this year that already has 300 riders registered.
 
Between new offshoots of the sport and emerging markets like China, Overend is not at all worried he will ever grow bored of mountain biking.
 
“There’s always something brand new going on,” he said.


This Article Published November 12, 2013 For more information contact:
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