Howard Grotts is not your average mountain biker. Now 22, he’s been riding bikes since he was 3 years old. He grew up in Durango, Colorado, and started racing when he was 7. He earned his first national title while racing cross-country in the 15–16 Junior ranks. He kept winning titles all the way through Durango’s famous Fort Lewis College, where he raced in the intercollegiate division. Last summer Grotts earned his 10th national title, but his first in the pro ranks, winning USA Cycling’s Elite Men’s Cross- Country National Championship.
Though Grotts is only 5-foot-7 and 128 pounds, he is a powerhouse on a bike. Last spring he raced the Pro Men’s cross-country race at the Sea Otter Classic against a field of international talent. He sprinted to the finish line of the 34-mile race about a quarter of a second behind Switzerland’s Nino Schurter, the three-time world champion, earning second place in one of the biggest events of the year.
Grotts is far from lazy in his approach to anything. He graduated summa cum laude (highest honors) from Fort Lewis College, with a 4.0 grade-point average. Despite his academic accomplishments, Grotts lives more like a lumberjack than what you might expect from a math wizard. Howard and his mom live in a 1200-square-foot log cabin in the woods of Durango. When the racing season ends, Howard starts sawing down trees and turning them into firewood to heat their cabin through the long, cold winter. They need three to four cords of wood to get through the winter. That works out to be a pile of wood that is 4 feet wide, 32 feet long and 3–4 feet high.
It might be early to make predictions, but we expect we’ll be seeing a lot more of Howard Grotts in the years to come. Next summer, when the National Championships roll around again, Howard will likely be at the front, sporting the big number one on his plate. If he wins next year, he’ll have a total of 11 national titles to his name. Grotts does not like to lose when a national championship is at stake. The way things are going, he’ll probably be in the Olympics next summer. Maybe he can pass Nino Schurter there. We’ll have to wait and see.
The Grotts Q&A
Where did you grow up?
Born and raised in Durango, Colorado.
What kind of work do your parents do?
When did you first learn to ride a bike?
I was 3 years old.
Who taught you?
Gravity. I fell more than once learning to ride, like everyone does. But the actual moment of learning to ride a bike was on a very slight decline on the lane by our house, and, just like that, I was balancing and knew how to ride!
When did you get your first mountain bike?
I was 7 years old; [it was] a bright pink and yellow Schwinn with gears!
When did you start competing on mountain bikes?
My dad, brother and I would drive to local Four Corners Cup races. I started doing the kid’s races when I was about 7.
How did you finish in your first race?
I probably got lost.
Did you win any titles as an amateur? If so, which ones?
National Championships: 2009 15–16 Junior XC; 2010 15–18 Junior STXC; 2011 17–18 Junior XC; 2011 15–18 Junior STXC; 2010 NCAA Division II XC/STXC; 2011 NCAA Division I, XC; 2012 NCAA Division I XC; 2013 NCAA Division I Road Race.
What have been your best results as a pro?
2014 U23 World Championships, 3rd; 2015 U23 World Cup Overall, 3rd; 2015 Elite National Champion.
What awards did you win in school, if any?
FLC Cycling Team MVP.
What other sports have you done?
I haven’t really competed in other sports, but I like running and hiking adventures in the off-season.
Is there some other interesting fact or trivia that people might like to know about you?
After training rides, I like hiking down the creek by my house and building rock sculptures. One was around 8 feet tall before it toppled spectacularly. Rosie, my Chihuahua, knows to keep her distance when I do dumb things like that.
In the winter, most of the heat comes from a wood stove. So, as soon as racing stops, I start sawing down trees and splitting them up for a firewood supply. It takes something like 3–4 cords of wood, depending on how bad the winter is.”
Winning ways: Howard Grotts was the top man at the USA Cycling National Championships at Mammoth Mountain, California in 2015.
1. Frame: Specialized S-Works Epic WC 29, FACT 11mm carbon fiber, FOX/Specialized Brain shock, 95mm (3.74 inches) of travel. “The Epic is my go-to bike for training and most races. I’ve found the Brain suspension system to be a huge benefit in terms of pedaling efficiency; it’s firm over smooth terrain but active when it’s rough, especially on a rocky course like Mont-Sainte-Anne. The World Cup geometry makes the bike particularly nimble-handling, as the name suggests, for the demanding technical features on a World Cup course.”
“Similar to the rear suspension, the Brain-equipped RS1 differentiates between rugged and flowy terrain. The inverted design particularly shines when tracking over small bumps, but it’s plenty effective when pushed to its limit, especially with courses incorporating big drops and rock gardens nowadays.”
3. Tires: S-Works Fast Trak 29×2.0 2Bliss-ready, soft compound, 19 psi front/rear.
“Fast Traks are my go-to tires; they have low rolling resistance but are plenty capable of handling muddy or rough trails. For a course like Mont-Sainte- Anne, traction is crucial, so I ran a little lower pressure in both tires and opted for the softer compound rubber to get extra purchase on the rocks and roots.”
4. Tubeless tire sealant.
“I know Specialized sometimes uses a different brand, but I can’t recall what it is. At home I use Stan’s.”
5. Rims: Roval Control SL 29, carbon.
“The Zero Bead hook design makes the wheels particularly stiff and strong, and less material means they’re lighter as well—all of which are important when it comes to cross-country racing.”
6. Spokes: DT Swiss Revolution.
7. Front hub: SRAM Predictive steering hub.
8. Rear hub: Roval Control, SL 29, 142+, DT Swiss 240 internals, XX1 driver body.
9. Brakes: SRAM Guide RSC, 160mm rotors.
“The Guides are great in terms of power and modulation, with less of an on-or-off feel than other brakes. And, it’s quite easy to adjust the pad contact and lever position, even while riding.”
10. Handlebar: Specialized flat carbon, 8-degree backsweep, 700mm.
In use: Grotts put his S-Works Epic 29er to the test at Mont-Sainte-Anne last year. Photo by Michal Cerveny/Specialized
12. Grips: Specialized XC Race Grips, silicone/foam.
13. Cranks: S-Works, FACT carbon, 175mm.
14.Chainring: SRAM XX1 X-Sync, 32t.
15. Pedals: Xpedo, M-Force 8 Ti.
“I like the SPD style of these pedals, and they’ve been durable through all the riding and racing I’ve done. Plus, the titanium construction has them weighing in at only 215 grams per pair.”
16. Chain: SRAM, PC-XX1 hard chrome.
“During the season, the chain is replaced around every four weeks or before each World Cup round.”
17. Rear derailleur: SRAM, XX1 X-Horizon.
18. Shifters: SRAM, XX1 X-Actuation trigger shifter.
19. Brake levers: SRAM, Guide RSC aluminum.
20. Cassette: SRAM, XG-1199 X-Dome, 11-speed, 10-42t.
21. Saddle: Body Geometry Phenom Pro, carbon rails, 143mm.
22. Seatpost: S-Works FACT carbon, 20mm offset, 27.2mm diameter
23. Headset: Tapered, threadless, Campy style, cartridge bearings.
24. Water bottle cage: Specialized Zee Cage II, carbon, 28g.
25. Shock: FOX/Specialized remote Mini-Brain, 95mm.
“I typically leave the Brain Fade adjustment on fully firm or 1–2 clicks softer for rough courses. Pressure’s around 135 psi.”
26. Computer: Garmin Edge 510.
“I’m a big fan of Strava for recording all of my training, so I’ll almost always have my Garmin with me riding. I like the idea of being totally transparent with my training; anyone can go to my profile and see what kind of workouts I’m doing—or not doing, for that matter!”
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