Where are they now? Chasing down…Brian Lopes


by Andrea W. Doray

Lopes on the podium for winning the XC eliminator in 2012
Lopes on the podium for winning the XC eliminator in 2012
It’s easy to use the symbol “4X” when referring to Brian Lopes — not only is Lopes a four-time UCI World Champion, but his name has become synonymous with the mountain biking discipline of four-cross, in which he also holds multiple titles as a USA Cycling national champion and a UCI World Cup champion.

At a racing age of 42 today, Lopes was only 4-1/2 when he won his first BMX race in 1975. “I did well,” Lopes says, “and I thought, ‘Okay, I can do this.’ ” Lopes stuck with BMX until he was about 9 years old and then pursued other sports such as baseball and soccer. “I still rode every day and went to the local jumps. By the time I was 10 or 11, I realized that I missed racing.”

Lopes says he landed a “good sponsorship” at age 12, yet felt burned out by the time he was 17. “One day, at a race, I just decided to turn pro,” he says. “I had a new fire and new goals.”

The Championship Dream

Lopes started mountain biking in 1993 and won his first two national series events (called NORBA at the time) in 1995 and his first World Cup overall title only three years later in the dual slalom discipline. “I did some road riding,” says Lopes, “but to me it was not as fun and I wasn’t all that serious about it.” Lopes also trained with the USA Cycling track team in San Diego, but continued to prefer what he calls the “explosive” aspects of mountain biking in dual, dual slalom, downhill, and ultimately in four-cross.

Lopes says his parents were always supportive of his dream and they recognized from the beginning that there was something special going on. A native of Mission Viejo, Calif., Lopes found time to ride nearly year-round. “Southern California is the birthplace of BMX,” says Lopes. “That’s how I really got into mountain biking.”

In fact, Lopes says that his move was a natural progression from his early love of bicycles. “There was a lot to learn about mountain biking,” says Lopes, “such as suspension, tire choice, shifting, and techniques and skills for different terrain. It was fun.”

That fun also led to a mastery of these skills that fueled his results. “I had a desire to push, to win,” says Lopes. “I did it because I loved riding. When I found out I was doing pretty good, I decided to turn pro full time. But for me, first of all, it had to be fun.”

Earning a Spot in the History Books

Lopes won the four-cross world title in 2007
Lopes won the four-cross world title in 2007
When Lopes first began winning national and world championships, the sport of four-cross didn’t even exist. In the 1990s, Lopes raced downhill and dual slalom, where two riders race on two almost identical tracks next to each other. Dual slalom evolved to dual where the two riders share the same course at the same time. Four-cross was inspired by both the dual format and by BMX racing, pitting four racers on the same course from start to finish.

“As the sport evolved, I evolved with it,” Lopes says. “With my BMX background, four-cross suited my strengths, what I was good at.”

Lopes was better than good…he was of championship stock. By the time four-cross replaced dual slalom in the UCI World Cup series in 2002 — when Lopes was not only the World Cup champion, but also the NORBA National Series champion and the UCI world champion — he had already tucked 11 national and world championships under his belt. From the time he started mountain biking in 1993, he earned a total of 18 titles, including nine NORBA national series titles, six UCI World Cup wins, and the four UCI World Championships dating from 1995 through 2007.

Lopes also won two Nea World Extreme Sports Awards for “Mountain Biker of the Year” in 2000 and 2001, and was nominated in 2001 for an ESPY “Action Sport Athlete of the Year” award. In 2008, Lopes was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame for his racing history.

Of the moments Lopes says have meant the most to him, he ranks his first elite four-cross UCI world championship in 2002 among them, as well as racing in the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup series (which he ultimately won) the year before in Vail. “It was the year of 9/11,” Lopes recalls. “There were no airline flights so we had to drive to get there. It was my home country and my parents were watching. That meant a lot to me.”

Fast Forward to 2013

If anyone asks (and they do), Lopes is still racing in 2013. “I retired from four-cross in 2008, and I’m racing in other disciplines now such as enduro and cross-country eliminator,” says Lopes. Cross-county eliminator is a relatively new mountain bike race format similar to four-cross that differs from classic cross-country races in both its sprint component and the division of the race into heats. “I’ll always be a sprinter genetically,” says Lopes, “and even though cross country formats require endurance over four to five hours, you still have to sprint.”

Lopes says he trains differently now for endurance races that require yet another level of fitness. Whatever Lopes is doing, it’s working — he won the first cross-country eliminator World Cup race in Belgium last year.

Residing now in Laguna Beach, Calif., Lopes enjoys training young pro BMX racers, and he’s also a personal coach for racers 18 to 21 years old. “It’s fun to work with these young riders,” says Lopes. “It’s gratifying to help them improve both mentally and physically.”

Let’s not forget Lopes’ other contributions to the sport, including the wildly successful book he has co-written with high-school friend Lee McCormack, Mastering Mountain Biking Skills. Lopes says McCormack saw a gap in instructional books that was not being filled, and approached him about the technical aspects of mountain biking. Mastering Mountain Biking Skills has been translated into more than six languages and is also available as an e-book. “The whole book thing is pretty cool,” says Lopes. “It’s a good feeling to know we’re helping other riders.” Lopes has also been featured in a video game, Downhill Domination.

What’s ahead for Brian Lopes? “I continue to reassess every couple of years,” he says. “I stay involved with my sponsors, testing equipment and gear and providing feedback for development.” Lopes also offers a line of his own signature products such as helmets and tires.

“I’ve never quit racing,” Lopes says. “I’m one of the only riders of my generation who is still competing at a high level. I’m riding more enduro and picking and choosing events that match my strengths.” And, he repeats, “It has to be fun.”

One thing is clear: “I’m still out there,” Lopes says. “I’ll let you know when I’m not.”

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This Article Updated May 22, 2013 @ 02:49 PM For more information contact: