“Frother”, “Trendsetter”… It’s hard not to get caught up in how much stoke Josh Carlson has for the sport of MTB. The Enduro specialist signed for a few years now to Giant Factory Off-Road Team has definitely been having a great 2018 season so far, up until his recent breaking of a thumb in Whistler EWS practice taking him to the sidelines for the rest of the season. I caught up with Josh on his home trails of Wollongong a few weeks ago before he was set to travel over to La Thuile, and talked about his history, challenges and how he fits it all in – being a father, EWS frother, and one of the sport’s leading Australian ambassadors to his schedule.
GDU: Where did it start in MTB for you?
I have ridden bikes my whole life since I bent the training wheels off before dad could take them off when I was 3. Riding mountain bikes and racing bikes started in 2007 when I looked into something else to do after i stopped racing motocross in 2006. my dad thought it would be a good idea to give it a crack so I attended a club XC race at a Wollongong MTB club race down in Penrose state forest. I was riding an old Diamondback Outlook Sport XC style bike and I had a blast!
After riding that until it pretty much died, I bought myself a 2007 Giant Anthem and started looking into this mountain biking thing a little more seriously.
GDU: How and when did you first start racing Enduro?
I moved over to America in 2011 to live in Boulder, Colorado to race the Pro XCT series in the US. While I was in the US, I attended a couple of the bigger Super-D races like the Ashland Super-D and Downieville Classic and was instantly hooked on Super-D racing. I had heard that there was this ‘new thing’ called Enduro coming in 2012. I went back to Australia at the end of 2011 and my girlfriend at the time (wife now) decided to take on the adventure of moving to Canada and having a crack at this new Enduro thing.
I started racing the Oregon Enduro Series and North American Enduro Tour in 2012 and then the 2013 EWS.
When did Giant approach you to race for them?
I had ridden for Australian Giant previously racing XC. Through those guys, Jared Rando and Amiel Cavalier I had contact with the Giant Factory Off Road team and met up with them at the Sea Otter Classic in 2011. They offered me a support ride for 2012 with the hope of a factory deal in 2013 if things went well. After winning the Oregon Enduro series in 2012 and a handful of North American Enduro tour rounds they were pretty stoked and offered a 2-year factory deal to race the upcoming Enduro World Series in 2013. I was overwhelmed and stoked all at the same time. And I have been a global Giant factory athlete ever since.
Did the move to Vancouver definitely help with the process of getting a factory spot?
The move allowed me to be a lot closer to the scene and a lot less of a hassle for the team to keep an eye on me, to get me to the races and prove myself on the North American scene. It was still an international agreement but Vancouver is alot closer than Australia for flights or shipping bikes and gear. Not to mention riding and training in North Vancouver and around the Sea to Sky corridor of BC helped take my riding and skills to the next level.
Do you think it’s a lot harder to get a factory spot based for Australian based riders?
I think it is, because of how much more expensive it is to travel around the world. But in saying that, every race around the world gives riders the opportunity to show their talents and prove themselves on an international level. Regardless of where you are from, if you perform on an international stage, that is what gets noticed and if the talent and speed are there, teams won’t hesitate to sign an Aussie rider to the team. And now that we have an EWS in Tasmania, it is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the riders and talent we have in Oz to a broader range of people an teams. It’s awesome!
Onto the year so far, with a current series ranking of 20th in some tough racing, what do you think has made the biggest difference for your results this year compared with last year?
This year has been filled with alot of ups and downs. Compared to last year where I was riding as good as I could and was struggling to get inside the top 30, this year I’ve had so many mistakes and mechanicals cost me great results and I’m still inside the top 30. That’s relieving but frustrating at the same time that I haven’t been able to put it together at the races.
Chile started great but I spiral fractured my pinky on day 1. Colombia I was pretty sick and absolutely exhausted for race day. France my crank arm fell off in a freak mechanical mishap. Austria I crashed too many times in the slick mud and in Italy, I flatted on day 2 which cost me a huge amount of time. All things considered, I’m actually happy to be in 20th overall with plenty left to fight for in the remaining 3 rounds of the year.
Being alot more prepared and focused this year has been a huge improvement. Working with Lululemon and my sports psych from Wollongong has helped me focus on the mental side of racing. And being back in Australia to train and have some support for my family while I’m away traveling has also made life alot easier.
The season so far has had some interesting happenings: the first cross-border round, first liaison through a tunnel, snow at some points in France, what’s been some of the highlights?
The highlights have been the history of the places we have been so far. When you take a step back from the racing, you realise how insanely rich in history the places we have been are. Like racing on trails that the Romans used to battle on in France and riding through a tunnel that was built in 1905. Super cool experiences all thanks to mountain biking!
This year you and the team have had a few sponsor changes: DVO suspension, Shimano/PRO drivetrain and cockpits and Maxxis tyres, how have the changes been?
The changes in 2018 have been fantastic. All of the products we are using this year have performed phenomenally and given our bikes a little extra edge out there on the race tracks.
Back home you’ve been involved with the Illawarra MTB Alliance, who are really pushing for the next level around Mt Keira. It must feel good to be involved with the push for world-class trails in your backyard.
Being involved in this project is truly amazing! I can’t take any of the credit for how much hard work the IMTBA have been doing or those behind the scenes but I am mega honoured to be involved in it and even more excited to see what the future holds. There are some huge plans in the pipeline but we will just have to wait a little while longer so they can be ironed out and 100% ready to move ahead on them.
There’s certainly a huge amount of people in the local area you can and do influence heavily. Following you around there was always someone buzzing that you were taking the time to have a chat with them. Do you feel there’s really a strong sense of duty you have to the community there?
Yeah, a little bit. It was a little overwhelming at first to realise how many people actually knew who I was and how many people recognised me out on the trails. Super cool! And it does make you feel like you have a job to do outside of just doing skids or your own training. I am representative of the mountain bike community as well as all of the companies I represent. It made me feel like I had a bit more of a purpose with my job being back home and living in Australia again. And hearing that I inspired people on my hometown to get into mountain biking because of them seeing me in magazines or online was really cool to hear.
That local recognition you have is probably challenging when you’ve got some secret new gear under wraps though…
Haha for sure! it made it super difficult this last summer to keep my new bike under wraps and hidden from everyone. I was literally hiding in the bushes at times to try and keep my bike under wraps.
Now you’re generally back home with the family and with two young kids is the whole work-life balance setting back into a rhythm?
It is starting to get back into a rhythm and routine. Its super hard to figure out the travel and logistics of leaving my wife alone for weeks on end with two little kids. I’m super lucky that she is a legend and can handle it all by herself while I’m gone. Having both our families so close is amazing too and they do an awesome job helping Lisa and being apart of our lives.
Must feel a little weird being knee-deep in nappies one day and knee-deep in mud on foreign mountains the next…
It is super weird but nice at the same time. When I’m home, its full dad mode at times and when I do come home after a long trip away, I can’t wait to just be Dad and hang out with the kids and my wife. Its nice to be able to fully switch off and think about something else after being away racing and riding.
What’s the plan for the rest of the EWS season?
Continue to put the pieces of the puzzle together to get the results ive been working for and the team deserves. There is a lot of factors that go into a successful weekend of EWS racing and our mechanics and staff do a awesome job to give us every opportunity we can have to perform. I really enjoy the places that the next 3 rounds go to so im looking forward to 3 solid races to finish off the year.
(Ed note: Josh has just broken his thumb in Whistler counting him out for the rest of the EWS season. Heal up, mate.)
If the current ranking stays steady you should be part of the new Trophy of Nations race in Finale Ligure – what do you think about that race?
That is a super exciting concept for 2019. That would be awesome to represent australia next year in Finale. it helps having the fastest guy in the world at the moment as a team mate! Its a long way away to think about just yet but a really cool idea to get excited about.
For the Trophy of Nations, the news recently was that UCI will be involved and working with the EWS in general, is that a positive step for the EWS to take at this stage of its life?
Im not too sure at this stage. Im sure it will shake out over the summer but i think it will help bring some rules and regs that will clean the sport up a bit. Its pretty casual at the moment which is a good thing but a few clearer direct rules and enforcement of those rules could be a good thing in enabling its growth around the world.
How much local racing will you be tackling after Finale? I bet you’re frothing for the Asia Pacific series?
Yeah ill be racing some of the Asia Pacific series around Oz over the summer. That will be great fun and good prep for the 2019 series. And to be able to do some enduro racing in Australia will be great! Apart from the Cannonball Fest and Super Enduro events in Thredbo, ive barely done any racing in Oz since i left in 2012.
Over summer in Australia it always seems like there’s a good vibe at the events like Cannonball, Bike Buller, where sometimes its not just about the racing but the social side. Is that fun to be a part of?
Its awesome to be apart of. Over the years worth of racing, its pretty serious and full on so being able to attend events like that during my off season and pre season is an awesome way to enjoy the events and have some fun with a bunch of mates riding bikes.
How do you think the current Australian gravity scene is going? Is it good seeing a few more Aussie names filtering into the races overseas?
Its great to see more Aussies taking it on and making it happen to get to the races. The more aussies the better at the races! The growing Enduro series around Oz is helping breed that talent and stoke and act as a solid stepping stone to the EWS.
We also took the time to go over the finer details of his Giant Reign – no doubt soon this will be upgraded and tweaked like any pro’s bike but for the moment this is what goes into making an EWS factory competitor rig. Note that there was some mild difference here to what you’d normally see on an EWS stage, but it’s 99% the same.
Giant Reign Advanced
Front forks: DVO Diamond – 170mm
Rear Shock: Jade rear, DVO 400lb spring
Brakes: Saint – 180mm F+R rotors (opting for 203mm up front for longer tracks like Whistler)
Cranks: XTR 170mm, 34t chainring
Pedals: HT X2
Derailleur: XTR 11sp
Cassette: XTR 11sp
Dropper: Giant Contact Switch, 150mm
Bar: Pro Koryak – uncut 760mm
Grips: ODI , and AVS Racing hand guards
Stem: Pro Koryak, 45mm
Tyres: Maxxis – DHF 2.5 DD TR + Aggressor 2.5 DD TR – swapping out for different tracks. No inserts. 26psi front / 30psi rear
Wheelset: Giant Factory Off Road Team built wheels, alloy, 25mm internal
You were involved pretty heavily in the design of the new Reign – what in particular was some of the input you had into that?
I was involved in the process right from the very start. It was a 2 year process with various prototypes and configurations. It was awesome to have my input into exactly how I wanted the new bike to be. We wanted to lengthen the bike and make it make it a little more stable at speed and corner better. We also had an idea that if we do that, i could get back on a large frame instead of an XL. In the end, the changes we chose made the bike even better and i stuck to an XL frame because of how much better the bike was. The Reign model prior was already a great bike and we tweaked it to make it even better and fix its flaws.
With the move to DVO suspension did it need a lot of re-learning at all or do you and the team just set it up and got going?
The new DVO product definitely took some time to set up. Its a totally different platform to anything else I was used to prior. And the amount of usable settings in the fork especially took some getting used to. When we did get use to it, its been great! Its an awesome product and apart of a massive global deal with Giant bikes all over the world.
Is there any custom modifications to the suspension: compression shim-stack tuning or other work?
We have been testing some custom shim stacks and custom tunes but the bikes and tunes we are racing are practically identical to the 2019 Giant Reign that will come equipped with DVO suspension.
You’re not running tyre inserts on the bike at the moment, what’s the reasoning behind that?
The rims we are running don’t allow for us to be able to get the tyre off when/if we do flat. Our mechanics have fitted them in the past but it made it practically impossible to get the tyre off. So we decided to not bother with it at all.
Alloy or carbon rims?
I know in the past there was lots of EWS pros still running alloy rims, as you could always tweak the rim back into shape, as opposed to carbon that fails more dramatically. Is the durability of carbon rims now getting to the point where lots of the pros are making the switch?
Carbon wheels continue to come up in the discussion about wheels. I am happy with Alloy wheels and have no reason to run carbon wheels at the moment. For me, there is too much risk compared to reward.
What’s the usual tyre choices you’d make for different conditions at a round?
I will swap to Maxxis DD 2.5 Shorty’s if it gets muddy and a DHR in the rear if I need some extra bite. Another decision we make more frequently than tread is the casing. Choosing between DH casing and/or DD casing.
You’re only running the 180mm rotors up front for all those steep and fast European tracks, what’s the reasoning there?
I’ll swap to 203mm rotors in the real steep and long tracks. The 180mm rotors are fine for the majority and offer plenty of stopping power to get me through.
Are you looking forward to the Shimano 12 speed gearing?
For sure! It will be a great addition to our setup for 2019.
You’re pretty particular with cockpit setup – is it something you’re always tweaking a little or just being specific with setting up exactly the same each time it gets unpacked after traveling?
I am for sure particular about my handlebar roll. I make sure that thing is dialled everytime i unpack my bike and it usually takes up the most time when i build my bike back or compare my A and B bikes.
Thanks to Josh for taking the time for the interview and the local tour around the ‘Gong.
Words & Photos: Ben Sykes