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Frith among world's top cyclists
Jim Frith charges up a mountain trail on his bicycle. Frith, who once wanted to set world records for bike stunts, instead became a mountain biking enthusiast. “I got into cycling late,” he said. However, Frith now ranks among the world’s best mountain bikers. (Contributed photo)
Jim Frith ranks among the best mountain bikers in the world.
In late August, Frith, 54, competed in the 2013 UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, placing sixth in his age group in cross-country. That was after placing second in his age group at the USA Cycling Cross-Country Mountain Bike National Championships at Bear Creek Resort, Pa., back in July. Before that, he competed in the Monterey, Calif. Sea Otter Classic, where he took home the bronze medal in Masters Mountain Bike Category 1.
Nearly 40 years ago, however, he almost gave up professional bicycling for good.
“I got into cycling late,” Frith said. “I started when I was seven. Most people start when they’re five or six, but I didn’t have very good balance.”
When he was a child, Frith said he was interested in trail riding with his friends. He wanted a motorcycle, he said, but his parents wouldn’t allow him to ride one because it was too dangerous.
Undeterred, Frith decided to ride his bicycle like Evel Knievel rode a motorcycle.
When he was around 13 years old, “my friend Drew Winn and I had a stunt show,” he said: The D and J Flying Stunt Show, to be exact. “We’d jump through flaming hoops and jump over people. We’d do blind-folded wheelies for long distances, a hundred yards. We were pretty good at it. That was in my DNA. I loved it.”
When he was about 14 years old, Frith even tried to set a Guinness World Record for jumping his bike over garbage cans.
“We did everything according to what I thought Guinness Book of World Records wanted,” he said. “They sent me a reply, on real nice paper, saying, ‘Sorry, we don’t have a uniform size of a garbage can to use for your world record attempt, but thank you.’ I still have the reply somewhere.”
It was around that time that Frith read a book about a professional bicyclist who competed in the Tour de France, the famous multi-stage bicycle road race. The story captured his imagination, he said.
“I just fell in love with the thought of riding a bicycle,” he said. “At the age of 14, I switched to the road discipline and (started) working at my first job, which was a bike shop.”
Through high school, Frith worked at Glenn’s Mower and Cycle Center, which later was renamed World of Wheels, and raced when he could.
However, he said, he just wasn’t very good at professional bike racing.
“A person close to me,” Frith said, “made a comment that if I was going to be really good at bike racing, or had any future aspirations to go onto bigger things or be successful at it, I’d already be winning races. And I couldn’t win races.”
Even if it was the advice he needed, it wasn’t the advice he wanted at the time.
“I never forgot that,” he said. “They said what was true. They weren’t trying to discourage me, they were just basically saying, it is what it is, maybe you need to move on to something else.”
Time passed, and Frith married his wife, Jennifer Frith, who is a triathlete and runner. They had two sons, Hunter and JB. In 2002, his wife encouraged him to get re-involved in competitive bicycle racing, since it would be a fun activity to share with his sons.
“She was the spark that got me going back competitively,” Frith said. “I tried the road thing again for two years, and I did just fine, but I still wasn’t where I wanted to be.”
That changed, however, when Frith’s friend Dr. Paul Holyfield gave him a mountain bike.
“I rode it ... and I kind of liked it,” he said. “My wife encouraged me to race it at an upcoming event that was going to be in Greensboro (N.C.). I did, and I came in second as a beginner. It was the hardest thing I’d ever tried to do because it beat me to a pulp.”
With mountain biking, Frith said, he finally was able to connect the aerobic activity of road biking with the off-roading he had loved as a youth. With the help of his coach, Colin Izzard, he has been racing regularly since 2004, competing in roughly 15-20 events per year.
The world championship event in South Africa is the biggest available, he said. In his class — the Master class, for cyclists 30 and older — there is no bigger bicycle event in the world.
Although he would have liked to win the race, he said, it’s hard to be upset when you see the riders you’re competing with.
“The guy 30 seconds ahead of me was the British national champion. He’s the best guy on that island. The guy ahead of him — and that’s 30 seconds ahead, and that’s not far — he’s the number one guy in South Africa, and he was racing injured. You look at all their results ... these people have been everywhere.”
Although mountain biking is safer than road racing because there’s no danger of being hit by a vehicle, the courses that Frith competes on are serious business, he said. The national championship at Bear Creek Resort, he said, ended up being particularly brutal.
“I wouldn’t wish that one on any beginner,” he said. “It was two laps. The first lap, it was 97 degrees, 4:40 in the afternoon and about 80-90 percent humidity. You could cut it with a knife. On the second lap, it dumped a half-inch of rain in an hour and a half. Gushers were coming down, and all the dust that had built up over the rocks turned into grease. Of everybody on the finish line, half of them had blood on them.”
Frith places a lot of credit in his success with his family, friends and coach.
“Everybody had a part in getting me to where I’ve ended up,” he said.
Frith is chairman of the board at Frith Construction and Frith Equipment Corp.