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5 Questions with Mountain Bike Rockstars: Jim and Cathy, CA

They aren’t famous or sponsored, but they’re people you should know about because they’re making mountain biking better for everyone, and we think they’re rad.

NAMES: Jim and Cathy Haagen-Smit
LOCATION: Auburn-area, California
MEMBERS OF: founding members of the Folsom-Auburn Trail Riders Action Coalition (1995)
ALTER EGOS: Cathy is retired from a job as a paralegal. Jim is semi-retired, working as a software engineer for HP.

For this installment of 5QMTBSTARS, the format is a bit different, but the featured volunteers no less magnificent. Thanks to Kenny Williams—FATRAC board member—for intervewing Jim and Cathy, longtime and much-loved members of the IMBA family and dedicated tandem mountain bikers.

How long have you been mountain bikers?

Jim began mountain bike racing in 1984 on a Diamondback Ridge Runner. He met Cathy on the Capitol Nordic Ski Race team in 1986, and was interested that she'd just bought a Specialized Rockhopper. Flash forward: The garage is full of bikes; we just have to decide which one to ride each day. It took until around 1993 to fully join the trail advocacy world, but we’ve been part of the family ever since.

When we first started riding, every ride was an exploratory ride. Imagine a world with no mountain bike guidebooks and no Internet. Almost every weekend, we would get out whatever maps we could find that showed hiking trails, and then go see if we could ride a bike on the trail we picked. Those days are long gone, but it’s still great fun exploring new trails, except that now we almost always know beforehand if we will be riding or carrying our bike, and what kind of trail we will be on.

How long have you been riding tandem?

Twenty-five years! We bought a custom tandem as an engagement gift to each other and are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary in August. That's a lot of years sharing a bike frame and two wheels. We've mountain biked by tandem in almost every western state, with a couple of east coast states thrown in, plus France, Scotland, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Ireland, Italy, and Peru. Full suspension and disk brakes have been huge improvements in our tandem life. Right now, we ride a Ventana El Conquistador de Montanas 29'er. The 29'er wheels are amazing; they really make a difference since it is so hard to jump a tandem.

What's your advice for tandem mountain biking?

JIM: Tandem riding isn't for everyone, so borrow one before buying one. The guy should ride on the back of a friend's tandem to see what the stoker (person on the back) goes through. The riders need to trust each other. The captain (person up front) also needs to have a good track record of not crashing. There is nothing worse than having a captain that crashes all the time.

CATHY: The person in front needs to be trustworthy and, simply, an awesome cyclist. The person on the back needs to have faith. The stoker should look around because they can. When I'm busy back there taking photos and enjoying the view, Jim knows I'm pedaling my heart out and I know that Jim is dialed into the challenge of cleaning technical lines. When he ducks, I duck!

Why do you volunteer?

We can't figure out how to enjoy the heck out of trails without putting in the volunteer time, too. It goes hand-in-hand. More importantly, we've found family in the volunteer community. We have "brothers and sisters" all over the country now because of our involvement with IMBA. We do mountain bike vacations together and relate to each other as trail stewards. Most volunteers we've met are stellar riders, so when not hacking poison oak or building trail, we are completely into a great ride. We can appreciate the trail work done by volunteers all over the world.

We all need to leave a legacy, and that rarely happens as a result of our regular day jobs, so make sure you can do something meaningful that will make a long lasting difference in your community and region. Trails development and land preservation will likely last long after we are gone.

How many years have you been with the Folsom-Auburn Trail Riders Action Coalition (FATRAC)?

Almost 20 years. In 1995, we joined a couple of friends who had been volunteering with California State Parks for a few years and decided to make FATRAC a formal non-profit. In ’95 or ’96, we became an IMBA club, filed the required paperwork to create a 501(c)(3) non-profit, circulated a quarterly newsletter/ride calendar, and developed relationships with as many land managers as we had capacity for. The Subaru-IMBA Trail Care Crew came out every year for a dozen years (we hosted the very first TCC on one of their early visits, working on early Foresthill Divide Loop brush clearing). We were a new board of directors ready to take on the trail world!

What keeps you coming back?

We are complete mountain bike nerds. From 2001-2006, we worked together as IMBA state reps for California. Our nerdiness includes exchanging folding saws and purchasing a mile of trail as anniversary presents, attending every IMBA World Summit (Jim won a custom bike at the 2012 event in Santa Fe), basing every vacation on where we can ride bikes, and sincerely counting mountain bike advocates as family.

WORDS OF WISDOM: Life is too short to work full time, so get out and enjoy the trails, and don't forget to ride as many different trails as possible. And, in general, you never want to buy a used bike from us. It will likely be worn-out and the frame will be cracked or broken.

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