Dean has always been one of our favourite people to interview over the years. In the world of professional mountain bike racing, the top riders on the big salaries are often quite dimensional and ‘corporate’ when they speak to the media. Not Dean. He tells it how it is. It’s both honest and refreshing.

When I approached him about this interview one of the main things I wanted to chat with Dean about what actually went down with  him changing teams this past offseason. When the news first broke that he was leaving Intense and in his place they’d signed Gwin, the internet lit up with (mostly bullshit) stories of what had been going on behind the scenes. I thought it was important to clear the air and give Dean the opportunity to set the record straight. And so, without further adieu, lets now cut straight to the guts of the interview…

[R]: Okay mate, let’s get straight to it and address the big off-season reshuffle and how that all went down?

Dean: Well to put the full story into perspective we actually have to go  back to the end of 2017. Intense had just parted ways with Von Zipper, the teams eyewear sponsor and myself and the rest of the team were given the opportunity to go after our own eyewear sponsor, I was actually quite excited about this and had a few contacts I knew I would be able to hit up straight away. Unfortunately though the first company I hit up, 100% goggles, a former sponsor of mine and a brand I had a good relationship with was off limits as they conflicted with TLD now they did helmets. Bit of a set back but I continued to shoot off a heap of emails to different goggle companies but not that much if anything came back my way, I wouldn’t say I was shocked but just a little surprise I couldn’t get a simple reply from many companies until Julian Wagner from Scott landed in my inbox and with that came the eyewear deal I signed for 2018.

It seems funny to look back now and realise that’s where it all stated but sometimes it’s something as small as a few pairs of goggles that get the ball rolling. Anyway, we slowly built a relationship from there leading into the 2018 season, nothing about the team at this point but just sorting out getting goggles out to me. When I landed myself in 3rd at the first round I think that opened some eyes at Scott and maybe that’s when the wheels started ticking over, I can’t be sure of that but it’s just a feeling I have.

Fast forward to half way through the season to Andorra and that’s when they first approached me about the possibly ride, I had heard whispers about a few teams looking for riders but this was the first actual contact I had with someone about a change. From the start I made it clear I was happy where I was at IFR and I had no intention of leaving but there was also a few things that I wanted to be done a little different that I wasn’t sure that IFR would be able to do and this always left the Scott option in the back of my mind. As the end of the season came around I’d had a few meetings with the Team at Scott and also with Intense and it was left in my hands to come up with a decision. It wasn’t something that came easy as I had become so close with everyone at Intense but in the end you do have to be a little selfish and do what you think is best for you now and in the future so by the night after World Champs I had decided to make the move over to Scott. 

“I felt bad seeing all the comments and speculation online afterwards about Charlie Harrison and myself being kicked off the team to make room for Gwin, felt like it wasn’t fair that they were being criticised for a decision they didn’t even make. This wasn’t the case by any means and Charlie and myself had made this decision long before Gwin’s name was even thrown in the hat.”

Guess that’s all part of being a professional racer though, eh? Even when the team you’ve been riding for feels like family the game of musical chairs is always quietly going on in the background from season to season and sometimes when the music stops you find yourself having to grab a different chair, right?

Yep, that’s it. A lot of people wouldn’t see what goes on behind the scenes and then seem to come up with their own ideas true or not. The time I was given to make my decision was actually quite long compared to a past experience so there wasn’t a real rush with anything and I had plenty of time to come up with what I wanted to do. It does make it hard as well when they become like a family the way Intense did. When they invite you into their home and treat you like their own it makes it harder to see it all as just business. 

This played on my mind for a long time and honestly still does a little bit but I know after taking everything into consideration and putting the family feelings aside it was best for me to move on. In saying that I really can’t thank Intense cycles and in particular Jenn Gabrielle, Jeff Stebber, Bernat Guardia and Ivan Jimenez enough for giving me three amazing years with such a rad team of people! I learnt so much with them all and have memories I will never forget!

As a company Scott are obviously a much larger brand, as a racer does riding for a really big brand have its advantages? 

Honestly not much has changed moving to a bigger company like Scott. There has been a few new benefits like being able to bring my own mechanic along which has made it so much easier when I’m at home training and racing. Beforehand I did feel a bit on my own when I was in Australia. I guess it’s hard not to though when there are no World Cup race teams based down here (Aus) and so having Darcy living right around the corner when I’m at home just takes a lot of stress out and lets me focus on my racing. They have also been willing to give me a good media budget to shoot videos and photos at home. This was a big selling point for me as I love being able to work alongside my brother (Jake Lucas) as we have done since I was 12 years old. Scott being a bigger company makes it much easier to get these videos out to the public and increase the reach by quite a bit. But, in the end I think the biggest advantage is that it is more just about business and not so much of a family atmosphere like I had with Intense. In saying that’s it doesn’t mean that there aren’t amazing people that I work with at Scott, and I’m really excited to be riding for them. The difference is at Scott I probably won’t get invited by the owners to come and stay with them at their house during the season! I’m looking forward to the change though.

Tell us a bit about the new bike that we’ve seen you riding for the past few months? 

Oh baby, my new bike is awesome! It took me a little bit to get used to but I think that was due to the fact that every single part on the bike including obviously the frame was different, the only thing the same was the Maxxis tyres. I remember I was actually a little nervous about going out for my first ride as I didn’t know how it was going to go. Riding over to the start of the track I kept going over things in my head about how I thought it would feel, I kept going around in circles until I got to the start. About a minute down the track I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, straight away I knew I could make this bike work and it already felt incredible with just a base setting. I’ve had around 5 months on the bike now and I’m in a good place with it now, with it being so light and with how the rear shock ramps up it allows me to carry speed through pretty much anything. At Crankworx Rotorua I felt like I really started to push the bike, it tracks everywhere perfectly and didn’t get out of shape at all.

Besides the frame swap you’ve also gone from RockShox to Fox. Did it take long to dialed in your set-up and feel comfortable with all that new gear? 

That was also a hard change for me as I had been running Rockshox and working with the guys at SRAM for 8 years by this point and even though it wasn’t official they were my first real World Cup race team in 2013 when they took me under their wing and let me pit out of their massive SRAM truck at the races. However, the change was out of my hands either way though, as I was informed if I stayed on with Intense they wouldn’t be continuing with SRAM for 2019. Anyway besides the change in people I work with everything else has been great. I got base setting from friends that have been running Fox for a while that were around the same weight as me and then slowly fine tuned it to what I like but honestly I didn’t have to do much. Big thing I’ve found with Fox suspension is that it’s basically race ready straight out of the box but you also have the advantage of having a lot more adjustment than I had in the past, this can be good for some and the opposite for others but I really like the amount of changes you can make.

Been noticing more and more riders are experimenting with mix-matched wheels sizes. What’s your take on the whole 29’er front, 27.5” rear combo? 

You know what, this question would actually be a way better for my dad to answer. Ever since I start racing he has always thought it would work better way of doing it and was constantly in my ear to bring it up with Jeff. My dad has ridden Moto-X his whole life and would always compare it to them and how on a Moto-X bike they of course have a larger front wheel, with a narrow tyre, and a smaller rear wheel with a wider tyre. So yeah, I do see the benefits of having a smaller wheel on the back on steeper or tight tracks and  especially for smaller riders or girls for example as they would be able to get further other the back and not have the issue of the rear tyre hitting your butt and  throwing you over the bars. I honestly haven’t been to fused about the whole thing, I feel comfortable with the set-up that I’m on now and don’t plan on changing anytime soon but maybe do some testing in the break after Leogang later this year.

As part of your new deal you’re now teammates with Brendog. Have you guys spent much time hanging out and riding in the past? 

Not at all really, we’ve know each other for years through racing and have had somewhat of a relationship but had never really rode together until recently. Super cool guy to be around though with heaps of energy still with everything he does whether it be racing or filming. Still feels kind of weird thinking back to when I was a young kid screaming at the Freecaster screen for Sam Hill and Brendog to get on the podium and now I’m team mates with him. It’s a stranger transition from when someone you’ve looked up to for years and idolised in a way just becomes a friend, for the first couple of years racing world cups as a junior it slowly gets easier but still crazy how things can change and where you can end up in this sport.

Let me ask you, what are you looking forward to most about the upcoming season mate? 

Just seeing how everything goes with this new team change, it’s a brand new team so I think it’ll take a while for everyone to find their feet but that’s also exciting for me to see how we all end up working together and how we will push each other. As for the actual events I’m looking forward to the main race that I’m focusing on this year is World Champs in MSA. I have found memories of that place. MSA was the first World Cup I qualified for and there has always been something special about that place that I really like. I remember being at home watching when Worlds were there in 2010 and seeing Sam Hill on his comeback ride take the win in elite and Troy Brosnon take out the juniors as well, those runs have stuck with me even to now and I’ll be hoping I can lay a run down a solid race run which might even hopefully inspire another young kid to go chase after his dream one day…

Let’s wrap this thing up mate. I know you’ve been doing a fair few races back home during the past few months so are you feeling strong and ready to rock as the season gets underway? 

I know it’s crazy how quick it always seems to come back around and then even quicker it’s all over. I am feeling really ready for it this year, every year I feel like I find a few things I know I can improve on whether it be with my fitness, mindset or bike. This year I think I’ve managed to improve on all of those and overall I’m really just having more fun on my bike and trying to enjoy the process of what I’m doing and not getting to caught up with just what the results say. Even though that’s obviously a massive part I feel a lot of people including myself in the past just focused on that and missed a lot of what was going on around them. 

“At the end of the day someone is paying me to stay fit, travel the world experiencing new places, hang out with my friends and then ride down a hill on Sundays 8 times each year… so yeah, it certainly ain’t a bad job. I think some people, other racers, lose sight of that occasionally.”

[R]: Cheers for the chat mate and being so open and honest as always.

Ha, thats the only way buddy! Cheers.

Photos // Matt Staggs