Bodhi Kuhn has met the moment

What it's like to step up to the big leagues in one of the cruelest sports in the world

In arguably the cruelest, most fickle sport on two wheels, Bodhi Kuhn is thriving. As a first year elite rider at 19 years old, he has made the finals at both Downhill World Cup races he has started. In Poland, he was just 0.6 seconds out from what would have been his first career elite Top 20 finish. By any reasonable measure, he has met the moment.

But. This is a cruel and fickle sport.

In 2023, Kuhn was aiming to dominate his last year as a junior, and first year as a full-time member of Trek Factory Racing DH. He took second in back-to-back races to start the World Cup series, then broke out with a win in Val di Sole to become the overall leader of his division. But little went right over the home stretch. He crashed at each of the final three World Cup races of the year. The last race, Mont-Sainte-Anne, took place in Canada, and Kuhn was looking forward to taking it on as a native son. That’s where he took his hardest fall, fracturing his wrist. He didn’t get to race. He earned two-plus months of recovery instead.

Bodhi taking on his debut elite race in Fort William.

“In my mind, I was really confident, and I knew I was riding at a level that I could definitely win,” Kuhn says. “A few races before that, I didn’t have the results I wanted. Injuries. I wasn’t able to race. And then I finally got to a track and was feeling really good. The body wasn’t going to be an issue for it. And I just knew I was going to be able to continue where I left off in the first half of this season. And then just a crash that felt like it came out of nowhere.”

A major part of downhill racing is mitigating the risks of a blindside blow. Riders recon every inch of every World Cup track they ride, looking for the fastest lines, yes, but also marking where the greatest dangers lay in wait. When Kuhn crashed at MSA, he wrote that he still wasn’t sure what, exactly, sent his back wheel on a journey far outside his landing path. He probably couldn’t recreate the conditions if he tried, but he’ll never forget the consequences.

Loris Vergier giving Bodhi pointers on track walk.

As Kuhn heads into his third World Cup race of 2024, taking place on a difficult and iconic track in Leogang, he carries all the baggage he has accumulated throughout his career: A pair of strong, improving results this year, but also those moments when the sport flung him back to Earth just when he was poised to take flight. Downhill racing likes to throw haymakers at its practitioners, from malevolent weather conditions, to equipment stress, to crashes and injuries. Kuhn’s response has been to just keep countering with his best punch.

Personal standards are important. Winning Val di Sole was perhaps his favorite moment of 2023, but it didn’t feel like his best race effort, and that made it bittersweet. 

“It definitely felt like relief, just to be able to know that I can do it on any weekend was huge for me,” Kuhn says. “But it didn’t feel like my best run, and it didn’t feel, compared to other races that we had done up to that point, like the run that should have won.

“It felt like as much as it was a great achievement, I left something on the table.”

Gassed just after the finish line in Poland.

Kuhn felt he gave a better, more worthy effort two weeks earlier on a wet course in Leogang, where he conquered the conditions and took second by 2.5 seconds. But what you deserve isn’t always what you get in downhill racing. If progress and success were only ever measured by the results sheet, a lot of professional athletes would struggle to carry on. Kuhn is guided by his internal standards, and the extent to which he’s fulfilling his potential. 

“I’ve always put way more pressure on myself than anybody else has,” Kuhn says. “It makes it kind of easy to be in a big position on a factory team. The external pressure is going to be less than I put on myself, and I have really high expectations for myself, sometimes probably too much. But for me, it’s the easiest way to learn. If I can be self critical and understand where I’m making mistakes, then the next week I can be better in those spots.”

In a chaotic sport, Bodhi is mastering calm and focus.

Kuhn has had expectations heaped upon him the last two years, first when he joined TFR DH after racing as a privateer, and again when he stepped up to elites this season. But a pressure cooker can hasten progress. He has taken advantage of every resource available to him through Trek. On race weekends he can focus on riding fast, with dedicated mechanics, chefs, and physios taking care of everything else. And Kuhn has also tapped into the braintrust of his world-class teammates.

Last season, Kuhn spent a lot of time under the TFR tent with Loris Vergier while Reece Wilson and Kade Edwards were nursing injuries. He and the seven-time elite World Cup winning Frenchman found they approached racing in similar ways, with calm and focus. 

“Every time I need anything or ask for anything, he’s super willing to help,” Kuhn says. “And to be able to see how he works on and off a weekend, and just everything he does so he can be the best in the world, he makes it easy to follow and he makes it understandable.”

Bodhi is taking on Year 1 of elites with no fear.

In Kuhn’s view, it’s better to aim high and fall short than set easily achievable goals that don’t stretch his capabilities. TFR, as an environment, has provided both the encouragement to go big, and the safety of a support network that’s invested in his long-term growth. Progress in downhill racing is almost always two steps forward and one step back. Understanding that is key to keeping a level head in a chaotic sport. 

That’s Trek’s development mission in sum: Empowering riders to face the sport and see that, in fact, its fangs aren’t so sharp. Taking on discomfort is just part of the job. 

“We’re all just people trying to ride mountain bikes,” Kuhn says. “It’s just kind of silly at the end of the day. But we get to do it for a living, and it’s amazing.”

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