Tips from Champion Downhill Mountain Biker Jill Kintner
We sit down with the three-time mountain bike 4-Cross world champ and BMX Olympic medalist
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
If you haven’t heard of Jill Kintner, it’s only because female mountain bikers rarely get the attention they deserve. In 2008, the 31-year-old brought home the bronze medal in BMX from the Olympics after multiple championships in the discipline. She’s since moved on to prove herself in slalom and downhill riding with a handful of national championships within the past three years along with a scattering of single-race wins. She just came off a serious win in dual slalom in Monterey’s Sea Otter Classic.
With her teammate (and fiancé) by her side, men’s acclaimed downhill racer Bryn Atkinson, Kintner is feeling more ready than ever to dominate the 20-stop tour World Cup tour, which kicked off last month.
The sport seems to be opening up for women. Do you see these events growing?
There are a ton of women these days. About 40 will show up at any given event in Europe. The bike parks are so accessible now—about a third of the field is female.
What’s your favorite race on the tour?
It’s the event in Scotland—everyone’s favorite race. Fifty thousand people show up, and it’s just loud. The crowd can’t even see you except on Jumbotrons until this one jump. As the racer, you go over it and come into this valley and it just explodes in cheers. That’s when you know you’re at the finish line—it’s really exciting.
You guys just switched apparel sponsors.
We just switched to Sombrio, a Vancouver-based company. There are only two or three good companies for women’s bike apparel. I care about fit and style and Sombrio delivers that as well as cool, funky colors. Their designs are not too busy or too frilly. Plus, riders own it so they get the technical side of it.
What gear couldn’t you do without?
I have this merino wool Buff and I wear it every single day as a scarf or over my face while riding. I’m not sponsored by Buff—I actually bought it. I always joke it’s going to be a bitchin’ doo-rag.
I use my Garmin Edge 500—also not a sponsor—every day because of Strava. I can record all of my workouts, my heart rate, map trails, and all sorts of other stuff. Plus, we’ve been testing the new bike tire size—650B. We use the data from our Garmin to determine how the tires are performing by looking at our heart rates and trail and weather conditions in comparison to rides with standard 26-inch tires.
What do you think of the new tire size, 650B?
With 26-inch tires, you have every compound and every tread pattern. But with 650s, you only have two tires to choose from. One is really heavy, and the other is not good as a front tire. One day, I said screw it, put them on the front and rear—and I lost it a few times and crashed. They need to come up with a new tire option. But, it is easier to ride with bigger wheels.
You and Bryn lead camps to help riders advance their skills. Anything new coming up with that?
We just partnered with Steven’s Pass Bike Park—the only chairlift-operated resort in Washington. They just put together a pro team and it’s four of us World Cup riders—Bryn, myself, Luke Strobel, and Kevin Littlefield. Bryn and I are going to offer a Pro Package that’s all-inclusive. Clients will stay in Leavenworth, a cool little Bavarian town near Steven’s Pass, and they’ll be all set up with a hotel, food, transportation, and bike riding with us.
Any tips for women riders?
Definitely. Women learn better when they ride together, which is what makes my camps so awesome. We’ll work on things like position: You want a neutral wrist and your index finger to be the only thing using the brake. The joint at the end of your finger should be doing the breaking. For arm position, I like to model it after a push-up, which is your strongest position. And we also work on pedaling efficiency and stability on the bike.
What sort of cross-training do you try to work in?
We’ve been climbing at an indoor gym, which is good for your mind because you think of new strategies and use different muscle groups.
I also snowboard—and I play Pickle Ball. Unless you’re from here, you’ve probably never heard of it, but it’s like mini-tennis on a badminton size court with a wooden paddle and a plastic wiffle ball. You run around for two or three hours and it’s really fun. There are a couple of national champions at my gym that I play with.
In Seattle, it’s important to have a dry activity. There’s only so much bike washing I can handle—once a day is enough.