One of America's most exciting young enduro riders is headed to the sport's biggest stage with TFR
Approximately a week after one of the biggest wins of his career — taking the U21 category at Big Mountain Enduro Big Sky in late July — 19-year-old Aiden Chapin received an unexpected direct message.
“He was like, ‘Hey I’m Ely [Woody]. I don’t think we’ve met. I’m the head mechanic for Trek Factory Racing Enduro, and also the road manager. I’ve just got a couple of questions for you: Do you have a passport, and what’s your schedule looking like from the end of August to September?'”
Chapin currently rides for Trek-Fasthouse, the Trek Race Shop’s enduro team for exciting domestic racers. He had planned to start racing in Europe next year, but the opportunity to collaborate with TFR and take a big step in his career was too good to pass up. He’ll race an Enduro World Series double in Loudenvielle on Sept. 2 and Sept. 5, and then take on EWS Crans-Montana a week later.
I kind of got a little scared, but it was a good scared.
Even as an eager up-and-comer, the fast turnaround from local racing to taking on the biggest stages in Europe left Chapin slightly shell-shocked.
“I kind of got a little scared, but it was a good scared,” Chapin says. “It was like, ‘Man, is this really happening? Do I deserve this?'”
The intensity of EWS racing will be new for Chapin, not to mention the potential of inclement weather for a South Californian who is used to dry conditions. He isn’t putting much pressure on himself yet, however. He has a goal of top-five finishes in the U21 category. More than that, he’s excited to soak up the competitive atmosphere.
“I can’t wait to be around the environment of Hattie Harnden and Florian Nicolai and the whole team just to get that experience,” Chapin says. “To go over to Europe and travel with the Trek Factory team, I think it’s what every kid dreams of who wants to race enduro professionally.”
Chapin caught up with the Race Shop about his opportunity to race with TFR, discovering the intricacies of suspension, and being part of a strong young class of American enduro riders. The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
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You won the U21 race at BME Big Sky. Why was that such a good race for you, and how does it stack up against other great moments of your young career so far?
Aiden Chapin: This year the racing has evolved in the U21 class. It seems like everybody’s upping the level and getting faster. Riders like Jakob Snow and Jake Keller. I’ve been racing them, and they’ve been rivaling me for a little bit now. Obviously they’re fast, as you can see in the results, only seven seconds off, which isn’t that much after eight stages and 25 minutes of racing.
This past race at Big Sky was one of the highlights of my career. It was just a clean race. I didn’t have any mistakes — which, that’s how I like racing, that’s how I’ve figured out how to actually complete a race and be consistent. Don’t race at 100 percent when I can race 95 percent and not make any mistakes and avoid the risk of losing time.
This year the racing has evolved in the U21 class. It seems like everybody's upping the level and getting faster.
And it was a big weekend too. I think Saturday, we had no lifts to assist us to the top. And so I think we spent four hours of moving time on the bike, just transferring up. I think it was about 5,000 feet of climbing on Saturday alone. So that was a big day. And after that day, I was leading by like only 1.5 seconds, so going to the second day, it was a little bit stressful. But I’ve always thought to myself I only can do the best I can do. I can’t do better than the best of my abilities. So I just go and race, and do my best to have fun. And that led me to the win.
You mentioned a few other young riders who you seem to be going up against every race. What’s your relationship like with them, and what’s it like always going toe to toe?
Chapin: We’ve all been battling each other, we’re all sort of the same speed. And so it’s cool to see. It’s cool to have battles. I mean Jakob Snow, I’ve been racing him for the past three years. He’s obviously my friend. It’s cool to see him progress and up his speed, as well as Jack Brown. Jack Brown’s on another level this year. Other racers are upping their speed and progressing themselves.
It sounds like the level of enduro is going up and up. Is there anything you attribute that to? What’s your take on enduro as a sport right now?
Chapin: Actually it’s just been this year that I’m realizing that everybody — I feel like I’m progressing, but everybody else is also progressing, maybe even jumping over me. There’s a couple racers that have done that, who I’ve beaten the past couple years, like Myles Morgan and Max Sedlak. They’re just that extra step. So that’s cool to see.
I think it is what you said. The sport is progressing. Bikes are getting better. Those guys want to win so they’re putting in the work. I don’t see enduro fading out. I think it’s just gonna get better from here.
So you’re gonna have a pretty wild back half of the year. What’s your plan?
Chapin: Originally I was planning on finishing out the Big Mountain Enduro series and chasing that U21 overall. In the back of my head I wanted to go to Europe next year and race my last year in U21 in Europe. I was planning on working in the offseason, and I still plan on working in the offseason just to support myself.
But last Sunday, I was actually racing a local race here in Big Bear, and I looked at my phone just before the race and I saw a DM request from Ely [Woody]. He was like, ‘Hey I’m Ely. I don’t think we’ve met. I’m the head mechanic for Trek Factory Racing Enduro, and also the road manager. I’ve just got a couple of questions for you: Do you have a passport, and what’s your schedule looking like from the end of August to September?’
To go over to Europe and travel with the Trek Factory team, I think it's what every kid dreams of who wants to race enduro professionally.
And so I read it, and I kind of pondered on it. I had a two hour drive home to think about it. Obviously I’m 19 years old. Your mind goes places even if you don’t have an answer. Like, ‘Oh my gosh I could be going to Europe.’ I kind of got a little scared, but it was a good scared. It was like, ‘Man, is this really happening? Do I deserve this?’ I wouldn’t say I deserve it, but at the same time I’ve worked hard to get here, and hard work pays off. So I’ve just got to realize that.
We chatted the next day on the phone, and he said, ‘I just wanted to see if you’re interested.’ And then he said he would have taken my answer that I gave him to the meeting he was having with the race managers on Tuesday. And so I got the call on Tuesday. And he was like, ‘So you want to go to Europe?’ I said, ‘Yup.’ I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
I’ve raced in Europe for the Trophy Nations back in 2019 in Finale Ligure. And Europe is a whole different experience. It is different racing. The terrain is different, obviously. There’s a potential it could be wet, and I’m from SoCal, so it could be a wild few races over there. But I’m excited. I have the confidence. If I put together clean races, I know I can go over there and top five, potentially.
Ely said there’s no pressure. And I’m not putting pressure on myself, I’m just gonna go over there and obviously do the best I can. I can’t wait to be around the environment of Hattie Harnden and Florian Nicolai and the whole team just to get that experience.
I think it’s gonna be really cool. I’m really excited for it. To go over to Europe and travel with the Trek Factory team, I think it’s what every kid dreams of who wants to race enduro professionally.
That’s a wild story. Did you have any inkling that an opportunity like that was coming?
Chapin: I wasn’t expecting it at all. Like I said, I was focusing on finishing out the U21 series in Big Mountain Enduro this year. So I think my head was just full of that. When I got the text, I was like, ‘Do I want to go, or do I want to finish Big Mountain Enduro?’ But I had a couple of hours to think on the drive. So I was like, ‘Man, you know what, I can’t pass this up. Not a lot of people get this opportunity.’ As soon as I saw that, a grin just popped up on my face.
Do you have any expectations for when you’re there? What do you think racing and life is going to be like?
Chapin: Race wise, I’m hoping that the races stay dry. But I can’t always hope for that because it’s Europe and you never know what’s gonna happen. So honestly, I’m just gonna go over there and whatever happens, happens. Obviously I want to do well. I have a goal of top five for myself. I feel like I’m at the level where that’s realistic. A podium and even a win, I’d be over the moon to get that, but I think I’d really have to put together a really clean race
I’ve been to Europe, but obviously it is a whole different scene. Racing is different there. It’s gone to people’s heads that they’re over in Europe, but I feel like I’m mentally there. It’s a big race but it’s just another race. I’m not gonna be racing any different than I’m going to be racing here.
I learned what I like and what suspension setup is good for me, and what everything does — because like low speed compression vs. high speed compression, I didn't even know what that's there for.
Obviously I want to build a relationship with everybody over at the Trek Factory Racing team. I mean, we’re gonna have three weeks to hang out. I’m super excited, just the environment and meeting new people. Like Jamie Edmondson, I want to meet him. I feel like he’s a cool guy, and obviously he’s doing really well in the U21 scene. I feel like I’m a friendly guy and I want to go out there and meet new faces and create relationships.
This opportunity is a collaboration between TFR and your current team, Trek-Fasthouse. You’ve been with them since 2020. So what does it mean to be on that team, and how has that relationship helped you grow as a rider?
Chapin: Just the whole program has helped me as a rider. It was set up as a development team, to develop RockShox product and test Trek stuff. And before I got on the team, I did not know anything about suspension setup.
Basically I would just wing it. Whatever felt good, if it felt good. If I wasn’t bottoming out all the way, I thought that was a good setting. Then I got to do some testing with [Trek Suspension Lab founder] Jose Gonzalez over at R&D, and just learned stuff from him since he has been in it for a very long time. I learned what I like and what suspension setup is good for me, and what everything does — because like low speed compression vs. high speed compression, I didn’t even know what that was there for [laughs]. Like I honestly had no clue. I would just set my bike up to whatever felt good.
I think doing all the suspension development and trying out new parts of the bikes and trying out new bikes and prototype stuff, I think that’s brought me to become a better rider.
And it’s been cool to see the progression with the suspension development over at Trek, where I came to know my bike better. And I feel like once someone knows their bike and what it’s gonna do and how it’s gonna react, they know it’s set up perfectly, I feel like that’s when a rider is going to be at his best.
I’m curious to hear more about working with Jose: What were some of the big differences between your old suspension and your new one? Was anything a big revelation to you?
Chapin: I couldn’t even answer that because I don’t even know. I never set up my suspension, it was always just if the pressure felt good. So it was a big eye opener.
Our first test session was at Rocky Peak. It’s a pretty good testing spot down here. It’s a good variety of rock and shatter and everything like that. So I came out with just the stock suspension settings, and each lap, I would basically just say if it gave too much response, either the shock or the fork, and he’d be like, ‘Oh let’s try this.’ So it was just cool to see the progress in the suspension settings, and each time it got better and better, and we even sometimes got a little ahead of ourselves and had to set it back a little bit.
I just thought to myself, 'I can't let this go, I like where I'm at.' I get to test products. I get to develop stuff. I like that side of things.
Actually my first test session, I did one lap on the ’21 Slash, and when I rode that I was like, ‘Oh my gosh this is amazing.’ I mean, obviously I didn’t ride it for another six or nine months after that, so I was looking forward to getting on the ’21 Slash just because that one run during the test session was just like, ‘Man, this is amazing.’ We did some ballpark suspension settings, but still I felt really good. I love the ZEB. I love RockShox stuff. And it’s cool to develop. We’ve done some cool compression testing and stuff like that. It keeps it fun. It keeps you guessing.
I like Jose, I think we have a good relationship. And obviously we talk about other things than bikes. We just bro down in a sense. It’s just been really cool. Last year I got an offer from another program, and honestly I just thought to myself, ‘I can’t let this go, I like where I’m at.’ I get to test products. I get to develop stuff. I like that side of things.
Being a young guy in a sport is a very dynamic time. So to get to this point where you are right now, who were some of your biggest influences? Who’s helped you get to where you are now?
Chapin: First and foremost, my mom and dad. I feel like without the support from them, I wouldn’t be where I’m at now. Without them and being able to go out and travel and have them support me, and they’re still supporting me now, it wouldn’t have been the same.
I still have my sponsors, like RideFast Racing wheels and Rev grips, they’ve been my sponsors from the beginning. I still love them.
And honestly in 2020, it wasn’t a great year, but having the backing from Trek, obviously Jose, I would say he’s been there for me on the mental side of things, too. So yeah, I’d say he’s helped me out a lot.
As far as looking up to somebody, I admire bigger racers. It’s crazy how they go that fast. But there hasn’t been a racer where I’m like, ‘Man, I want to be like him one day.’ Obviously you look at a world champion and you’re like, ‘Yeah, I want to be like him.’ But there hasn’t been someone I wake up and think about.
When I was little, there were local guys in town that shredded on bikes, and they still do at this time, and I still ride with them, they’re still my good buddies. They’re like six years older than me, but I used to look up to them when I was little. And I think that helped me dream, ‘Man, I want to go that fast. I want to whip that good one day. I want to wheelie.’