, during the 2017 UCI MTB World Cup Finals at Val Di Sole, Italy.

Mik Hannah // Retirement

As the 2021 world cup season drew to a close so too did the racing career of Aussie downhill superstar Mik Hannah. ‘Sik Mik’ as he is known by his adoring fans across the globe, enjoyed an incredible career as a pro rider spanning two full decades.

He is a close friend of [R]evo mag and has been a constant part of our editorial landscape since our very beginning. We’re interviewed him many times over the years and hopefully this won’t be his last. But for now, please enjoy our most recent chat with Sik Mik where he articulates some of the many highlights of his career. 

[R]: Firstly mate congratulations on such a remarkable career. Having made the decision to step back and retire, your final season wrapped up a few weeks ago, how are you feeling right now and what’s your head space like?

Mik: I’m feeling great thanks. It was a crazy process making the decision to retire from world cup downhill. I was up and down a lot as you might imagine. I love the sport so much and it’s been my focus for 25 years. Since we sent out the press release though, I’ve felt a real sense of peace about my decision. It’s been amazing to reflect on such an amazing career. It’s also been overwhelming receiving so many kind messages from people all over the world. I never could have imagined having such a positive influence on so many people.

I am truly thankful for the opportunity and for each person who has supported me along the way from near or far.

The world of professional MTB racing is so competitive and so gruelling. It’s well known that a riders ‘shelf life’ so to speak is often quite limited. Being a part of that world for 20 years is extremely rare, but you’ve done just that. Early on in your career did you ever think you’d still be at it 2 decades later? 

When I signed my first pro contract my first thought was man I hope I can do this for 10 years. Sitting here now at the end of a 20 year world cup downhill career just blows my mind. Reflecting on that is helping me to realize how many unnecessary boundaries we put on ourselves and also that others put on us. There is also the perception that mountain bike racing is bad for your body. There is definitely some risk, but one of the things I’m most thankful for is that I have had a job that requires me to stay healthy. It is also a great indicator of the growth of our sport to see riders having the support to sustain longer careers.

There are so many factors that make DH racing as hard as it is. Having been at the top and remaining competitive at that level for such a long time, I’m curious as you look back which would you say was more challenging to maintain throughout your career, the mental side or the physical side? 

That is a great question. In my personal experience those are tied to each other and can’t be separated. When I am at peace mentally the physical demands are enjoyable and when I am overwhelmed mentally even the smallest physical discomfort is overwhelming. My hardest racing years directly correlate to my hardest years in my personal life. I heard someone say that it is inaccurate to strive for work life/personal life balance and I agree with that. It’s more accurate to strive for healthy integration. For me, every part of my life needs to be healthy for me to perform well so it’s impossible to say which part of that is more or less difficult.

The sport of downhill racing has continued to evolve so much over the years. From the perspective of a racer what have been the biggest changes to the sport that you’ve experienced throughout your career? 

Obviously we have made incredible progress with technology, but the most exciting change I’ve seen is the maturing of our sport. That includes the athletes and the team managers and mechanics becoming more focused and professional. Those changes then drive the progression in speed and rider and machine capability. It’s just amazing to be at a world cup now and see how awesome the bikes and riders, both men and women, are. The whole field is so much faster and also much easier to watch from my perspective because aside from a couple of people the riders are much more calculated now. There is a much deeper understanding of how to lay down our best time on the day.

You first got into racing bikes at a very young age racing BMX back in Cairns where you were from. Tell us a little bit about those early days and how you drifted into MTB and knew that was something you wanted to ultimately pursue as a job one day?

So I actually first started racing BMX in a town in Victoria called Kyneton. I was 6 years old. Then when I was 11 our family moved up to Cairns. I won national champs a few times in BMX and finished 2nd at world champs for the first time when I was 10 in Detroit, USA. Not long after we moved to Cairns I went on a Christian youth MTB camp with my BMX. That’s where I met Stephen Foley. His dad is Dan from Dan’s mountain bike tours in Cairns. We became great friends and they took me to a few races and Dan let me race on one of his tour bikes. I fell in love with mountain biking very quickly. The culture in MTB was so much more relaxed than I had experienced in BMX. Stephen was my main competitor at the time and he was the guy taking me to the races. I’ve experienced that culture all over the world and that is still my favourite part of the sport. The question of pursuing it as my job is interesting. I don’t remember making a clear decision one day. I just always believed that’s what I was going to do. I did an interview when I was 10 or 11 for BMX before I’d ever heard of MTB.

The interviewer, Phil Smith, asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said I’m going to make money riding my bike haha. I didn’t know what I needed money for aside from buying lollies, but that was my belief.

MTB World Championships in Cairns Australia.

In 2001 you signed your first pro contract and rode for the Global Racing Team. It was a brand new team at the time but they had a mega budget, amazing equipment, and some of the biggest pro riders of the time (including Greg Minnaar) on the roster, and then Mick Hannah came along as the ‘token’ Jr rider that the world hadn’t really heard too much about. You made an impact straight away, from the very first race you were winning and beating some of the biggest names in the sport, including your superstar teammate Greg. Was your instant success well received or did you ruffle a few feathers along the way?  

Yes that was mind blowing for me. Just to be at the same venue as all the guys I’d been watching on TV was amazing. Greg wasn’t quite yet the superstar he is now. He’s 2 years older than me so he was known, but 2001 was the year he won the world cup overall and showed just how good he was. Specifically talking about Greg, he is super competitive as we all are at this level and those first few races I beat him by 1 position. The first 3 world cups we got 6th and 7th then 7th and 8th then 3rd and 4th and I just got him each time. I don’t remember any hard feelings, but I know that must have bugged him. It would have frustrated me for sure if it was the other way around. I then injured my knee and he went on to win the overall so he got the last laugh haha. The only other piece of tension that I know of is that I offended Myles Rockwell at my first world cup. We were in the rock garden in practice which was the most insane rock garden I had ever seen and I made a sarcastic comment about it being easy. He wasn’t amused haha.

I learnt that I definitely had to tone down the Aussie sarcasm for the Americans haha. He was such a legend to me and still is. Overall though this sport has been so welcoming and a good combination of competition and respect.

For the first half or so of your career World Cup weekends used to consist of 2 races; 4-cross racing and DH racing. Due to pressure from sponsors and teams most of the top riders did both races each weekend. You just happened to be real good at both. What was it like back then getting to race a couple of times across the weekend and do you think the spectacle of a World Cup weekend was diminished when the UCI decided to scrap 4-cross and just have DH?

It was awesome back then racing both. The crowds were huge for 4X back then which gave it an awesome atmosphere. It is a pity that 4X isn’t what it was. Most of that is due to riders becoming more focused and once one of the top riders decides to sit out then everyone has to follow really. Racing is so tight that you can’t give that much away. I think the best way to bring it back would be to do what XC has done with short track. I’m not sure if the riders would be into it, but having points awarded for a 4X type event would force the big names to be in the show. We all loved racing 4X so if we knew there was no advantage to sitting out then it would be very interesting. As far as whether it diminishes the spectacle I’m not sure. Downhill is an incredible show to watch and we have qualifying on a different day these days which adds to the show a bit. I definitely remember the crowds going wild at 4X though.

Racing MTB’s has taken you to so many amazing destinations around the world over the years, of all of those great places to ride and hangout which are some of the places that stand above the rest as places you really loved to visit? 

I love to travel! I have always wanted to know what’s over the next horizon or around the next corner. My favourite place is North Queensland hands down. I have seen such amazing places though. We did a MTB safari in Botswana that was incredible. For MTB lifestyle BC, Canada is mind blowing. Everyone rides a mountainbike there. Slovenia has beautiful riding and the people are a pleasure to be with. Scotland is a special place as well. I love Fort William and my mechanic of the last 8 years, Jon Stout, is Scottish. I also love the US and how diverse it is here as far as people and landscape. I really couldn’t narrow it down, if you find yourself attracted to a certain place go check it out.

People and places are awesome. We live in an incredible world.

I was trying to recall how many pro teams you’ve ridden for but I lost count. Can you run us through the list?  

Global Racing 2001, Haro Factory 2002-2005, Cannondale Factory 2006-2007, Miles of Landscaping and then a potato farm in Colorado 2008, GT Factory 2009-2011 (I signed for Mongoose originally, then they switched me to GT), UR Team 2012-2021.

One thing riders can never do during their careers is talk about bikes or brands that they’re not currently on. But now that you’re a free man, I was hoping you might be up for listing the 3 bikes you liked most that you raced throughout your career and also the 3 that you liked least or didn’t get along with very well? 

This is tough to answer because of how quickly bikes have changed. As far as top 3 I would say the Intense M1 that we raced when I was on Haro is up there. At that time half the teams on the circuit were on that frame. I also love the Polygon Xquare 1 DH. That’s a bike that I believe has a lot of potential. Then the 3rd one I’d mention is the NS Fuzz. Part of that is how much I’ve learned about bike setup lately which we’ve applied and I feel more confident on that bike than any bike I’ve been on. It is also a very tuneable bike which is great for different riders. One stand out for the 3 “worst” bikes is the Haro from 2005. It wasn’t necessarily bad geometry, but it was a basic design and it broke most times I rode it. I was traveling to Europe alone that year without a mechanic and having that bike break so much caused a lot of work for me. Aside from that it wouldn’t be fair to list any others. Each bike was competitive in its time. I won a world Cup on the Cannondale Judge. Marc Beaumont won Val Di Sole on the GT Fury. Trace won and I got podiums on the Morewood. We got a lot of great results on the Polygons over the years. I also know that part of my strength is to try to always be thankful for what I have and get the most out of it, so I always work to get the bike set up so it’s competitive and that’s also what drives the progress that we’ve seen over the years. Now we’re in a time where most bikes are really fun and safe to ride which is amazing to see.

Aside from downhill racing you also competed at a couple of Red Bull rampage freeride events over the years. Just how crazy are those things? 

Rampage is breathtaking. Those guys are incredible athletes. When I first arrived at the venue I thought there is no way I’m getting my bike out of the car. It’s worth saying though that the terrain out there is part of why that stuff is possible. It is quite forgiving and beautiful to ride on. That doesn’t take away from what those guys are achieving out there though. That’s an event that can’t be understood unless you’ve stood out there and felt it. I am very thankful to have had the chance to line up.

You’ve also done a heap of Mega Avalanches in the Alps and a bunch of those crazy urban DH races over in South America. I wonder has there been any races or events that you’d liked to have done but never managed to make happen?   

You’ll just have to watch this space I guess haha.

2017 UCI MTB World Championships in Cairns Australia.

You grew up in Cairns and that’s where you began to master the craft of downhill. You’ve since moved abroad though obviously. Where is home now and what’s it like over there?

Yes that’s right, my heart is always going to be in far North QLD however we live in Colorado now. I have 4 kids. My 2 boys are 11 and 13 and their mum (mom) is from Colorado so we stay here to be close to the boys. It’s a beautiful place in the Rocky Mountains. We live 2500 meters above sea level. There’s a high of -2 C today which is tough for a Cairns boy, but it’s been a real blessing to experience this part of the world. I’ve been skiing a little and I enjoy it, but I can usually ride year round so I mostly stick to that.

Mate let’s wrap this up with one final question, at 37 years old you’ve already achieved so much in your life, both as a rider and as a family man. Now that your done with racing, what’s next for Mick Hannah? 

Thanks! I appreciate that. I haven’t signed anything just yet, but it’s looking like there’s still some racing in my future. I love racing! I am still motivated. Part of the decision to step back from World Cup DH was due to trying to limit my long trips away from the family. Another part was just the feeling that it was time for a change. It’s looking like I can scratch the racing itch some more and be involved with development, which is exciting! I’m excited to be challenging myself and I hope you guys can enjoy following along!

Cheers and good luck with your next chapter mate. Wishing you only the very best.  

Thanks very much! I still have fond memories of being on my first [R]evolution cover. It was issue number 3 way back in 2005. It has been great to see the mag grow and grow over the years. Thanks to everyone back in Oz, I have always felt such strong support from back home wherever I am in the world and I can’t express strongly enough how much I appreciate it. [R]