Meet Jill Kintner
A longtime favorite on the gravity mountain bike race circuit, Jill Kintner (Red Bull/Norco/Shimano) has won 19 U.S. national championship titles in a variety of disciplines including BMX, dual slalom, four cross and downhill. We caught up with the Bellingham, Washington-based pro after a successful first part of her 2018 season, which included winning an eighth Sea Otter Classic dual slalom title.
SNT: What’s your favorite discipline to race and why?
JK: Slalom is my favorite because of how technical and skill-based it is. It was also the hardest discipline for me when I started mountain biking. I would do so many drills and make courses in the bush to work on cornering. It’s been a classic case of hard work paying off.
SNT: Speaking of dual slalom, we enjoyed watching you win at Sea Otter again this spring. Tell us about that race.
JK: It feels a tad repetitive these days as I have been there at least a dozen times. But looking back, eight Sea Otter wins in a row is a pretty incredible stat, so I am proud of that, especially given that the course this year was much more difficult with off-camber turns and loose conditions. Some might say it was old school, but quite tricky and slippery. It rewarded good control.
SNT: Do you wish there were more chances to race dual slalom, and do you ever miss four cross?
JK: Yeah, of course I wish there were more slaloms, but four cross, no. Four cross was cool back in the heyday, but the courses are not evolving, there is very little support, and it’s really just about the start. I prefer to have good turns and just ride my own race without other people interfering. Slalom draws people from every category and is easy to host, so I’m not sure why Europeans aren’t as into it. American slalom is super strong, and most riders enjoy it.
SNT: How and when did you get into riding and racing?
JK: Riding has been a part of my life since I could walk, and racing began in BMX when I was about eight years old. We lived close to a BMX track, so riding bikes was the obvious thing to do after school or whenever.
SNT: You’ve been racing for a long time. What do you do to keep it fun and interesting?
JK: I just love riding and setting new challenges. There are always new places to go or courses to perfect. I enjoy the process of figuring out lines, putting race runs together, dealing with pressure, testing equipment, etc. Trying to see what I can do is a fun game for me.
SNT: How has your 2018 season been going so far?
JK: So far, so good. Lots of podiums and wins, which is what I’m after, so happy to keep that rolling.
SNT: What other events and goals are you looking forward to for the rest of this season?
JK: Crankworx is my main focus as far as events go. To do five events in seven days is no easy task, or even three events in a week, so I feel like there are many challenges within the series.
My goal overall continues to be to refine my skills and be the best bike rider I can be. I have plenty of areas to improve, and that’s what keeps me going, but I also do a bit of work in the community, so there is a good balance to stay humble.
SNT: You’ve ridden and raced at a lot of different places over the years. What are your favorites and why?
JK: That is one of the toughest questions to answer because every experience is different and special. Weather can really affect how you feel about a location, especially Europe, because a sunny day in France feels a lot different than a soggy one. Trying to have fun people around obviously helps as does good food, nice trails, etc.
I think New Zealand is special, places near Switzerland and Austria are great, and the U.S. is fun and flowy. Washington and British Columbia - close to where I live - has my favorite riding. Wales is incredible on a dry day, and Brazil and Australia are neat for the people.
I don’t know, maybe I have yet to discover my favorite spot? It’s rare to have a bad day riding bikes.
SNT: When you look back on your career thus far, what are some highlights?
JK: An Olympic medal in BMX was for sure my biggest accomplishment worldwide; that was an insane rollercoaster of emotions that reached so many more people. We even got to be on Oprah.
Getting three consecutive world titles in four cross was cool because I was so consistent and won a ton along with my GT teammates. Then there was winning Crankworx’s overall title four times; it was self-satisfying to know that I can be the best at several disciplines.
Honestly, all of my downhill accomplishments have been the most rewarding because it's the most difficult to do in an era with incredible talent like Rachel [Atherton], Ragot, Pompon [Myriam Nicole], Tracy [Moseley], Manon [Carpenter], etc. I had five World Cup downhill podiums, finished third once and finished fourth and fifth at World Championships a couple of years in a row.
SNT: What Stan’s NoTubes wheels do you currently have on your bikes?
JK: I use Arch MK3s for trail and downhill in 27.5”. I like the Arch’s rim width, and they have been great with the Maxxis HR2 tires I like.
On my 26” hardtail and 27.5 slalom bikes, I ride Arch CB7 carbon wheels. They have a nice feel as they are a little stiffer in the turns.
SNT: What are your thoughts on 29” vs. 27.5” wheels for downhill racing?
JK: It seems like 29” fits the taller riders well and looks normal now. I mean, if it’s faster, go for it, but maybe it’s not as fun and exciting. Norco doesn’t make a downhill 29er in medium or small sizes because of how it compromises the geometry, but all the boys love their 29ers more than any other bike, so that’s impressive.
SNT: What do you love about your Stan’s wheels?
JK: Stan’s wheels just work well; are dependable; have good engagement with the freehub and aren’t too complicated. I rarely get flats because they seal really well. They deliver in all areas and are affordable for most people, so it’s a good product to stand behind.
SNT: What general trends are you seeing in mountain bike riding and racing?
JK: It seems like a lot of people are riding trail bikes, and equipment is getting better.
SNT: Do you see any trends specific to women’s mountain bike riding and racing?
JK: Just that the numbers are going up a lot. I meet a lot of women and little girls who love the sport as much as I do, and it makes me happy to see the industry finally making good gear and bikes for women.
SNT: What do you think we could do to get more women into riding and racing?
JK: I think camps and clinic to teach women the way is a great start. Most everyone could use a bit of coaching and individual attention to grow their skills. It’s hard to make it as a professional, so there could be a few more avenues to make money doing so. Women are still a long way off the men in compensation, but at least there is now equal prize money at the bigger events.
Competition makes the sport exciting, and getting attendance has been tough in the past, but enduros seem to draw more ladies to attend. Maybe the risk is less, and the fitness side appeals more?
SNT: Would you ever own an e-bike?
JK: I would! It seems like a great tool in certain situations, but there is a lot of responsibility that comes with it. I am not sure your average rider could respect all the hard work that goes into keeping trail systems running for everyone. Hopefully people can get along and figure it out, because they are coming and are really fun to ride.
SNT: When you are not riding a bike, what do you like to do?
JK: I like to be outside doing random sports and activities, or design work, gardening, hanging with friends, coffee breaks, training, etc. I spend a lot of time organizing stuff, which is annoying, but part of life. I think that to be the best, a lot of sacrifices have to be made, so while I used to do a lot of different things, my time is now pretty focused on bikes.