Sports

Pro mountain biker Bradford makes noise on the national level

Thomas Jefferson High School graduate Aaron Bradford has developed into one of the best mountain bikers in the nation and is currently sponsored by Specialized. After graduating from college, Bradford made the jump to the pro ranks. - Courtesy photo
Thomas Jefferson High School graduate Aaron Bradford has developed into one of the best mountain bikers in the nation and is currently sponsored by Specialized. After graduating from college, Bradford made the jump to the pro ranks.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Like most kids, Aaron Bradford loved nothing more than getting out on two wheels, scooting around the neighborhood on his bike.

Unlike most kids, however, Bradford, a former Auburn resident who graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School, has parlayed that love for biking into a career riding mountain bikes and cyclocross professionally for Specialized Bikes.

It all started when Bradford was just 11 years old.

“My dad got a mountain bike for my sister, and she never rode it,” the 25-year-old Bradford said. “I started riding it, and before I knew it, I was hitting trails all the time.”

It wasn’t long before Bradford naturally maneuvered his bike through off-road trails in the area.

“I’d say I picked up on it pretty quickly,” he said. “I probably lucked out.”

After riding recreationally for a couple of years – joining his father and other members of the Single Track Mind Cycling Club – Bradford caught the eye of local racing legend Dale Knapp, the cyclocross and mountain bike coach with Rad Racing.

Under Knapp’s tutelage, Bradford soon took his riding to a higher level, competing in his first big national race, the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, Calif., in front of thousands of spectators.

“I was racing against kids of similar ages, but it was one of my more nervous races, just walking into that,” Bradford said.

The race was enough to ignite a passion for racing in Bradford, who soon began to devote more time to cycling and Rad Racing. In his first year on the national circuit, he finished fifth in his age group.

After climbing through the ranks with Rad Racing and competing in two nationals for mountain biking and two more for cyclocross, Bradford made the jump to Team DEVO, a national junior developmental team based in Vermont.

After graduating from Jefferson, Bradford began classes at Lees-McRae College, a North Carolina liberal arts school. While there, Bradford helped forge the foundation for the school’s mountain bike athletic program, winning three NCAA Division II mountain bike national titles.

As a freshman, Bradford captured the national title for the Omnium, which recognizes the most consistent rider in four different mountain biking events.

Two years later, Bradford added a collegiate downhill title.

After graduating with a degree in communications, Bradford made the jump to professional riding.

Initially he said he raced without sponsorship, but soon caught the attention of several national sponsors.

“In the spot of mountain biking, you can race professional and compete but not have a contract,” he said. “I did that for three or four years.”

This year, however, Bradford caught the attention of bike manufacturer, Specialized, earning a full-factory ride with the prestigious company.

“They get 15,000 to 17,000 requests for sponsorships a year,” he said. “You have to stand out to some extent. They contacted me last year after winning championships (Bradford won the national super-downhill title in 2009). It’s like making your big break for sure. Getting that kind of support from the global leader in bike manufacturers is huge.”

Bradford previously worked part-time to pay the bills while training as many as 30 hours each week. But with the support of Specialized and his other main sponsor, OnSite Ultrasound, he can afford to ride all the time.

“I love my job, but there are days when it’s pouring down rain and 40 degrees and I don’t feel like going outside,” he said. “But I have to, to stay fit. It makes you stronger.”

Bradford, who lives in Santa Cruz, Calif., is thankful for the opportunities that cycling has afforded him.

“I’ve been all over Europe,” he said. “I raced cyclocross worlds in Belgium, and that was one of the most intense things I’ve ever seen. It’s the national sport there. The course was less than three miles long, and there were 25,000 spectators. It’s a freak show for sure. It’s cool everybody that is there is so in love with the sport.”

A combination of off-road biking and steeplechase, cyclocross features riders racing around a course that requires them to dismount and carry their bikes over obstacles.

More recently, it was all about mountain biking as Bradford prepared for the Aug. 7-15 Crankworx Mountain Bike Festival in Whistler, B.C.

While Bradford is racing at the highest level of his sport, he owes much of his success to his humble beginnings with Rad Racing.

“They made it possible. They taught me the skills,” he said. “They brought me up and taught me everything I know about being professional.”

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