Meet Cam Zink
Professional freeride mountain biker Cam Zink, 31, has long been a favorite at events like the Red Bull Rampage, which he won in 2010, and Crankworx Whistler, where he won the slopestyle competition in 2006 and 2010. He is famous for pulling off amazing feats, like 360s and up to 100-foot backflips. Now in the later years of his career, the Reno, Nevada resident is balancing competition with raising a family and running his own grips business.
Stan’s NoTubes: How did you get into riding a bike?
Cam Zink: I don’t know when I actually started riding a bike, but I’ve been racing since I was nine, when my dad got my brother and me our first mountain bike. At that time, I was just doing jumps at the schoolyard.
NT: How did that morph into doing backflips?
CZ: For a while, what I did was racing - that was my main goal. I did jumps for fun because that’s what kids like to do, and it seems like there are jumps in every town. At first, there weren’t any competitions for jumping, but then when I was 15, the whole freeride scene started to come about. I began to put more effort into that. I learned backflips at age 15 or 16 when I got to go to a foam pit for the first time. While I was at races, I got recognized for doing some jumps. I was messing around in parking lots and someone noticed me and wanted to put me in their video. I started going on those trips, doing both racing and freeriding for the next few years.
In 2006, I won the Crankworx slopestyle at age 20. That same year, I got a top 20 in the UCI Downhill World Cup, but I realized that I was better at jumping than downhilling. I progressed with the sport as the real, legitimate contests started, and I’ve been doing that for about 14 years.
When I was younger, I also raced dual slalom and four cross. One time I even made the final round of eight at the World Cup. Then, I didn’t have a family or other job obligations; I was young and able to travel to Europe with three bikes. With that experience, you grow up pretty quickly, but you also get tired of focusing on too many events while others are specializing in certain events.
NT: What Stan’s NoTubes wheels do you currently have on your bikes?
CZ: I ride my Flow MK3s on everything, and I also ride the carbon Bravos on my trail bikes. Two years ago, I left my old wheel sponsor and took the time to test a bunch, and I found the best wheels to ride. Stan’s wheels were a no brainer. I’m happy to be running them.
NT: What do you love about your Stan’s wheels?
CZ: The main advantages are weight and strength. The Bravos are the only carbon rim that I’ve ever seen or heard of that actually flexes a little bit. Most carbon rims are brittle and stiffer and offer a rougher ride. The Bravos flex and roll smoothly. It’s like what people want in a carbon bar. You want some compliance, but you don’t want them to just break. I’ve gone off some really big drops riding Stan's wheels where other wheels would have split in half.
Stan’s has put a ton of time into fine tuning each rim in each category and making different widths. There is no perfect width for every tire size, but for what I do, the Flow MK3s are perfect. I like that they are not tall; the last thing you want is a tall rim. Having a shallow profile means that they are better in the wind and support the sidewall better. The Bead Socket Technology (BST) lets my tire float a little bit without losing air. The bead can slide a little without burping - that’s huge for me.
NT: What’s the difference between freeriding and slopestyle?
CZ: You could say that slopestyle is freeride mountain biking. When people talk about freeride, it’s more about big bikes (like downhill bikes) and less restricted than slopestyle.
But if you have good bike handling skills and fundamentals, you can do anything: dirt jumping, slopestyle, freeriding, racing. You just need the right base of skills.
NT: You retired from slopestyle last year. What have you been up to this season?
CZ: I did that to give myself time to focus on other styles of riding that I enjoy more. Slopestyle takes so much time because there are so many tricks you have to stay on every day. I have two kids now and run some businesses.
I saw myself not having enough time for everything. Now I’m in process of alleviating some big business duties so I can focus on riding as a professional for the remaining five to 10 years until I’m ready to stop. I can always sit behind a desk, but I can’t always go back to bike riding. I want to focus and give all my attention to riding.
NT: What are you doing riding-wise now?
CZ: I’m focusing on the Crankworx series - there will be six stops next year. Each event will have pump track, best whip and speedstyle and some will have a downhill. Obviously, I’m also doing the Rampage plus lots of filming.
I just did a trip a month ago that was on one of the biggest mountain bike film budgets ever, so there’s lots of creating content and putting out edits.
NT: You mentioned that you are stepping back from the business side of things? What does that mean?
CZ: I ride for YT Industries, and I run their USA Division - all the distribution, demo, warranty and customer service. All of it comes out of Reno where I live. My brother, another guy and I own it. I’ve been wearing the main hat, but I’m trying to alleviate some of those responsibilities.
NT: Where does your grip company, Sensus, fit in?
CZ: We hired some others so I’m not doing that all on my own any more. I started it in 2009 when I was in the middle of a bunch of knee surgeries. I had a few months off riding during the winter, and I thought I could make a better grip. That was the premise.
I was never too focused on revenue or profit. It was like putting myself through business school. I’ve never made a lot of money, but I’ve never lost a lot of money. Now we are expanding and working on some new grips. It’s cool because it can grow at whatever pace we want - there is no pressure from anyone. It can grow organically.
NT: Tell us about your family. How do you balance getting older and having kids with competing?
CZ: I have a son and daughter. Originally, my wife and I wanted to have three kids but we’ll probably just leave it at two.
As one piece of life gets harder, one gets easier. You get more knowledgeable and better at assessing risk and picking and choosing your battles. Yes, learning new tricks is hard because you're not willing to hit the ground as often and you’re not able to either, but you also have good muscle memory.
I try to take care of my body better now out of necessity and knowledge. When you’re young, it doesn’t matter - now I go to physical therapy, and I get dry needling done on my shoulder. It’s putting more time and effort into it. I’ve had a lot of injuries (six knee surgeries), but my knees feel better now than when I was 23. It takes time and effort, but it can be done. There are many other sports which people sustain into their 40s. No one does it much in mountain biking yet, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. For the next few years, I’ll be super into it. I appreciate the longevity of it.
NT: You’ve ridden a lot of places. What are your favorite places to ride and why?
CZ: I love riding in Utah for the Rampage, and Mammoth is always high on my list. It’s a different kind of riding - it’s more like snowboarding, and I grew up racing there.
NT: When you are not riding a bike, what do you like to do?
CZ: I like to do everything I can, especially hanging out with my kids. I’ve been taking my daughter snowboarding the past two years. This year, she’ll be able to rip some big hills. And now she’s pedalling around a bunch.
Motorcycling is my favorite activity besides mountain biking - I do a few moto cross races per year. I also love snowboarding and surfing - even though I live in Reno, I go whenever I can.