A rising mountain biking talent in Ireland, Chain Reaction Cycles Belfast’s Mark O’Kane has a passion for the sport that runs deep and a hunger to succeed when racing resumes following COVID-19.
Steadily progressing through the ranks, the 21-year-old from Maghera in Co. Derry was aiming for a strong 2020 season until the coronavirus pandemic put a halt on proceedings.
Claiming a breakthrough Senior Men’s victory at the Gravity Enduro Ireland Series in Kilaloe, Co Clare 12 months ago, he was hoping to use that momentum to fight for podium results this year.
And with Kilaloe also pencilled in as the venue for the Irish Enduro Championship, along with plans to also contest the European Continental Enduro Series – a feeder championship to the premier Enduro World Series – motivation was at an all time high.
Using the forced break in proceedings to his benefit, Mark has been working on improving his riding weak spots while also getting his hands dirty with a bit of trail building too.
Catching up with Mark, we chat about why he’s hooked on MTB, life with the Chain Reaction Cycles Belfast crew and why food is fuel at the races…
Mark, when did you first get into mountain biking?
Mark O’Kane: “I first got into mountain biking around 2012/2013. My Dad wanted to get me into something that we could do together. At first we tried road biking because that is something he had done lots of, but I never liked it so we tried mountain biking. Straight away I loved the thrill of it and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Looking across your racing career to date, what’s been some of your personal highlights?
“Getting my first win in Killaloe last year was definitely a cool moment. But even some other races in 2019 where I could compare my result with how I did in 2018 was cool. I could see how much I had improved in the space of a year.”
What more do you want to achieve in racing and in mountain biking itself?
“I don’t really set any goals for myself – I just work hard at something and see how far I can take it. I think mountain biking will be part of me for the rest of my life, so over time I can see myself progressing my passion for bikes down different paths just to keep it interesting and fun for myself.”
Now two years with Chain Reaction Cycles Belfast, what benefits does being on a team like that bring?
“Being given the opportunity to ride the 2020 Vitus Sommet along with some mechanical support at races is obviously a huge benefit. But one thing that people usually don’t see is the confidence it gives me being asked to be part of the team, especially for a second year. It’s nice to know that your hard work from the previous year was good and was all worth it.”
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So who’s the biggest joker on the team then!
“On the team Hannah (Harvey) is definitely the biggest joker, she’s always giggling about something, especially when Beefy (Mullan) falls off his bike. And she never takes anything too seriously either. Having said that our team mechanic Michael Rea also has his moments – he’s a sly guy for sure. The craic is always good!”
What personal modifications have you made to your Vitus Sommet 27 CRX?
“I haven’t modified my bike at all this year. The way they come out of the factory is ideal for me and I’m happy with the way it rides. If I had to change anything I’d maybe upgrade the grips just for a little extra comfort on my hands.”
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from racing enduro?
“Racing enduro involves many aspects of mountain biking so its important to develop in all areas. You have to be good at everything. You also have to sacrifice a lot if you want to do well.”
What’s your top tip to putting in your best stage time?
“Put in as much effort as possible on every stage, but don’t risk crashing. It’s all about finding that sweet spot of risk versus reward. Another tip is to eat well during the day – food is fuel.”
If you could build your dream trail what would it consist of?
“I’d build a high-speed techy trail with a few jumps and sharp corners threw in. It would have the feel of Pleney Black in the Alps!”
Finally, for anyone starting out in the sport, what two pieces of advice can you offer?
“Give it time, you won’t become a pro overnight. Also do things that scare you because that’s how you improve.”
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