Photo by Jake Orness Courtesy Giant Bicycle
Quick Stats: Adam Craig 2008 U.S. Olympic Mountain Bike Racer
Daily Driver: 2002 Subaru Impreza WRX wagon (Adam's rating: 8 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Favorite road trip: Brian Head, Utah, to Aspen, Colorado
Car he learned to drive in: 1978 Jeep CJ-7
First car bought: 1987 Ford Tempo
National mountain-bike champion Adam Craig is headed to Beijing to compete in the Olympics for the first time, as one of only two men on the U.S. team in that particular discipline of cycling.
But Team Giant's [www.giant-bicycles.com/] Craig might have been on the Olympic team at the 2004 Athens games, if it weren't for that darn go-kart track near one of the Olympic qualifying events that year.
"I might have blown it at a go-kart track last time," Craig laughs. "Because the second to last selection was a World Cup race that had a really awesome go-kart track in Quebec and everyone wanted to go karting afterward. I sat out the first round because I didn't want to get sick, but did the next one and ended up getting a cold because we were driving go karts in a rainstorm. I got sick just before the final selection event and that was the end of that."
Before going off to train in Asia for his Beijing race August 23, Craig took time out to talk about his rather animated car life. When he's not on a bike, Craig and Giant teammate Carl Decker compete on four wheels -- in Decker's 1993 Subaru Impreza in Rally America's Group 2 class in the Northwest.
They started rallying only in the last year. It happened organically, since the pair drive together to races. "Carl had always been pretty interested in getting a rally car and finally bucked up two winters ago and got the cheapest one he could. He just built the thing into a competitive, awesome little car that we have a good time racing with."
As co-driver, Craig doesn't get dizzy. "It's a big issue; it doesn't happen to me," Craig says. "Carl and I have been driving together a lot of years, racing bikes and driving rental cars, so we have a good understanding of each other's skills. Mine are good with the map and his are good with the wheel."
But Craig drives them to rally races in the Northwest, where they live, in his daily driver, a 2002 Subaru Impreza WRX wagon, which he gives an 8 out of 10 rating.
"It's nice if your daily driver can be a turbo all-wheel-drive car, which is what the WRX is good for," Craig says. "It's probably an 8 just because if it had more bottom-end punch it would be a 10. If it were an STI wagon, it would be a 10, but it's not. But it does make me feel better about abusing the hell out of it on gravel roads, going kayaking or towing snowmobile trailers."
Craig drove from his home in Bend, Oregon, to Salt Lake City at the end of 2005 to pick up his ride, after finding it for "cheap-ish" on eBay. "I bought it wrecked and just fixed it up -- it had been hit in the right front corner, usual WRX crash -- someone ran into something. We just pulled that out and put some new body panels on and replaced the K frame. Carl helped, and my dad came out for the holidays and we did a Christmas car-repair project." In retrospect, he wouldn't have bought the WRX because it needed more work than advertised.
Car he learned to drive in
Growing up in bucolic Exeter, Maine, Craig learned to drive at the precocious age of 10 in a 1978 Jeep CJ-7, which had what he calls "a really temperamental" four-speed manual tranny. The family used the CJ-7 to go hunting and fishing.
Craig helped his dad handling long stretches of back roads. Driving in harsh Maine winters and on muddy roads gave rise to lessons that would help him later in life. "It was awesome -- that might have been the birth of my line selection and general life skills, since we'd be driving on terrible roads all the time in the woods. We did some aggressive four-wheel driving."
There was another car Craig drove back then -- the family jitterbug. "You basically take whatever variety of auto parts you can find and throw them at each other. If they can produce something that moves and you can haul wood with, then you've got a jitterbug," Craig explains. On weekends, they would chop and sell wood from their property for extra cash.
The jitterbug was a two-ton truck chassis that had a four-cylinder Datsun motor with two transmissions, giving it about 25 gear ratios. "Between the Jeep and that thing, that's what I learned to drive in," Craig recalls.
The jitterbug was used just to haul wood. "It had no body or anything. There was one seat -- a padded kitchen chair that was bolted," Craig laughs before collecting his composure.
"That kitchen chair didn't work, so we found a seat out of a school bus so you could ride with two people. There weren't safety belts, you just held on and would have gotten killed if you fell off. It had a dual rear-wheel axle, like big double truck tires, and there were basically like bulldozer tracks, but lags, that went over the tires. They were these big rusty, nasty metal things. If you fell off you'd immediately get run over by one of those and you wouldn't survive. The thing actually rallied pretty good," Craig chuckles.
There was also a winch on it to haul wood. But the two transmissions were a piece of work the young Craig handled well. "If you have a super low gear range, you put one transmission in first gear all the time and then just run the other one through it. When you were trying to go fast and hit jumps, you'd put the second tranny in fourth and go like that because it also had a winch that ran off the second transmission."
Sweet dune buggy
In addition to the jitterbug, Craig had another source of amusement in a makeshift dune buggy, which he traded for a dirt bike at age 13. "It was a VW 1600 engine and a steel rolling tube frame thing," Craig explains. "It had really bright lights on it, too."
His sweet dune buggy was used to climb nearby gravel and cinder pits. "We'd take it there and climb up and down the banks and catch jumps. We'd use the thing to go hunting, too, since it rode well on crappy roads," Craig adds. "It generally was a pleasure vehicle -- it provided a lot of pleasure. That thing was awesome."
It was so awesome, it was in the local parade. But the "painfully obvious" Anheuser-Busch keg that was the gas tank ran out of gas.
"It ran out gas because the float bowl was stuck open and all the fuel ran out," Craig says. "It was a gravity feed, and once the float bowl was open, the thing ran out of gas in the middle of the parade and we had to push it to the fire station."
The dune buggy had a "horrible" transmission to boot. "There was this weird linkage we built that connected to the VW transmission. The clutch wasn't even cable actuated, it was a pushrod deal," Craig notes. "I didn't know about heel and toeing then; it would've helped a lot if I had known about heel and toeing."
First car bought
Craig, who turned pro in 2000, started racing mountain bikes regionally at age 15. In 1997, as soon as he got his driver's license, he bought a used 1987 Ford Tempo with a five-speed manual tranny, for $600 from his uncle. "It was black, had some sweet black tinted windows," Craig says. The Tempo got him to his job washing dishes and busing tables at a restaurant, which provided money to buy bike parts.
The Tempo was instrumental in his fledgling racing career, transporting him to mountain-bike races, such as the Maine Sports Spring Run Off, the site of his first major win. The prize -- a Thule bike rack. "I had a sweet new rack for my sweet new bike, and I drove it to bike races all summer," Craig recalls.
"That car was the freedom of racing fast," Craig sighs, as if reflecting back proudly. "And my parents didn't have to drive me to races anymore, which they were psyched about."
Craig had it only for a year because the Tempo got rear-ended and totaled when he went skiing. The Tempo's studded snow tires could stop faster than the log truck behind him. "It meant we didn't get first tracks that day at the ski area. We were all fine, we were going 20 miles an hour and he was going 30." Craig then bought an automatic 1989 Oldsmobile Cutlass Sierra from his grandmother.
Favorite road trip
Craig's favorite road trip took place in the summer of 2006 when he and teammate Decker drove to Brian Head, Utah, for a race. They had two weeks afterward to properly test drive their rental car -- a Hyundai Tucson -- in what they dubbed their Hyundai Tucson Intermountain Challenge. "The rental place gave us an SUV and we figured -- let's see if it can be sporty and have some utility," Craig says.
From Brian Head, they drove to Aspen and took as many dirt roads as they could on the way there. "We put together a pretty cool trip across the southwest Rocky Mountain region and drove a bunch of passes we'd been wanting to for years," he continues. "The main one we went on was Ophir Pass near Telluride, which is where the pictures were taken. We went to a bunch of random places and ended up circumnavigating Lake Powell by accident -- that was us being lost in the middle of night in the middle of a thunderstorm. We had fun with that vehicle."
They also drove along Uncompahgre Plateau. "The thing works surprisingly well being an automatic transmission with no low range. We drove fast and steep stuff; it got reasonable mileage," Craig says.
European automakers and diesel
Craig was just in Europe for 10 weeks competing in the World Cup series, mountain biking's Olympic selection process. With rigorous racing and training in between, Craig went to Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Andorra, Scotland, Italy, and the Czech Republic.
That meant getting the chance to sample European diesels and becoming a diesel convert. With 47 miles to the gallon, who wouldn't?
"I had an old Fiat Punto, a little diesel hatchback that was awesome," he says. "I've had a variety of awesome diesel hatchback rental cars that are super-efficient, handle well, are quick and fun to drive. It'd just be nice to see more of that in the States in our current fuel situation."
Even with diesel at $9 there, it was worth it. His 10.5 gallons of diesel lasted 497 miles. "It'd be nice to see some of that diesel technology come over here until we get decent electric technology or better hybrid technology."
Another "fun" car Craig rented was the Toyota Auris, which he says was like a Ford Focus-size hatchback, with a 1.8L turbodiesel engine "that was awesome."
Craig is buoyed by efforts in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where diesel is used. "It's good to the see the Le Mans direction where diesel stuff is getting into endurance racing," he says. "It's a way to combine automotive sport with better efficiency. To get something that's more responsible, but still provide an automotive good time."
Photo by Jake Orness Courtesy Giant Bicycle