Eddy King - Ride Then Walk

Updated: May 25, 2021

IMAGES: Sterling Lorence

If you were around bikes in the eighties then the name Eddy King should bring back some memories. In the heyday of BMX Eddy King was one of the best before retiring in 1989 at the tender age of 24. For those of the mountain bike persuasion, you’ll remember the name Mike King, Eddy’s younger brother who went on to win the ’93 Downhill World Championships in Metabief, France. While Eddy spent a number of years focusing on his real estate business and other aspects of life post-retirement, cycling eventually came back to him. Unfortunately this lead to a life-changing accident - thankfully, ebikes are still allowing him to get back out and shred. We caught up to talk about bikes, motors, and how it's all going.

A: So to tell you the truth I know of your name more through your brother Mike as it was around the time he won the worlds that I really got into bikes.

E: He’s really my mountain bike connection. When I quit BMX racing in ’88 my brother excelled a little bit at BMX but more or less the MTB side of it, and my conversation with him was that if he really wanted to make a career out of it he should step up into the mountain bikes as that’s where the growth really was. I was already 23 and he was still 18 years old and his prime was still coming. And then he won the Worlds in France in ’93 and they announced that over the PA at Interbike which was pretty awesome. Everyone went crazy at Interbike and in Vegas. Instant information wasn’t available at the time so for everyone to get the news at the same time is cool. I wasn’t actually there, I was a bit oblivious to bike stuff at the time. I went to a couple of races but just as a spectator to check things out, and to root my brother on.

A: Had you given up on BMX racing completely by then?

E: Yeah, I was done completely by ’88. I was still riding a little bit while hanging out with my brother a bit and so on but I’d already started my real estate career by then but at the same time I would hang out with all those guys as they all had their winter training camps in san Diego. We had some swiss friends who would come, Steve Peat and Greg Minnaar would come down, they’d all rent a house at the beach and they’d hang out down there. That’s how I got to know Mick Hannah and that lot too, they’d come down for their training camps.

A: So when was it you got back into riding in a more serious way again then?

E: Around 2005-6 I think, my brother got back involved and became director of operations for USA Cycling for the Olympic team, as they started getting ready for Beijing in 2008. I was well overweight, out of shape and I needed to get my cardio and fitness back up so I started to get back into it. Just mountain bikes generally, I got one of my brothers hand-me-down Haro’s. Gradually I changed and upgraded my bikes, and then by 2012 started racing cross country a little bit, got myself a road bike to train so I’d be fitter for the mountain. It started getting addicting again.

A: Did you miss riding while you were concentrating on the business?

E: No, or rather yes and no. I don’t think I realized what it brought to me until I missed it. It’s your reset zone, whether that be a cruise to the beach, 2000m in the hills, or 40km on the road. It’s a good way of getting out all that pent-up stress, like a weight off your shoulders. And then in 2020, I was under the weather a lot with surgeries and such, and to realize that riding was really my only interaction with people outside of my close-knit family bubble. When I’d go out riding I’d run into other riders, hikers, people on horses, that was my only interaction with people as it would be in a normal year.

A: I know you mentioned you were riding cross country to start with, but then when did the transition come to riding bike parks and such?

E: I never really transitioned to big park stuff. It was a gradual shift towards riding gnarlier stuff though. I was this person who would still ride my BMX bike at the track and practice, maybe race here and there, doing the mountain bikes with cross country. Although I never raced enduro, I wanted to do that but didn’t get the chance. But I then had the road bike too so I just started collecting all these bikes. And after my accident now I have an ebike too, I’ve got all the facets there! I didn’t start riding jump parks and such until after my injury, although the accident itself was at Big Bear.

A: What actually happened there, can you remember it?

E: Oh I know exactly what happened. It was kind of a freak accident. I got bucked with my back wheel over the bars, which meant I came down on my back. My hydration bladder pushed on my phone which then pushed on the knob of my shock pump and when I landed on my back it’s that which punctured my T11 and T12 vertebrae in my back. I hit it hard enough to bend the handle of the pump. I actually wrote an article on it back in 2014-5 about how I’d now not put any sharp objects in a Camelbak. I mean some packs now come with in-built protectors, I’m running a Leatt one now but even so, all the sharp things like CO2 bottles are in other pockets.

A: You can definitely feel exposed now with the speeds we’re hitting on trail bikes. I’ll admit that I do feel a bit nervous at times about how little protection we run despite hitting big things at big speed. Coming back to your accident, how much recovery did it take to get you to where you are now?

E: Well at the start I spent a lot of time researching what I needed to do and talked to a lot of people who recovered from their injury and what it was that they did to recover. And of course, I bounced around trainers too, picking their brains in Southern California to work out what would work and what wouldn’t work, and a lot of it came down to an athletic-based workout which was something I was already really familiar with. The only difference was that a lot of the time you needed someone there to help you with things. So that’s what I did for about three and a half years, I moved out to Arizona to stay with my mum and basically hired a trainer out here for three years to give it atta boy for that time and see where we’d end up with this thing. You know I ended up doing pretty well, to the point where I can just use the canes when I’m out although there’s a limit to how far I can go. I still use the wheelchair around the house so I can carry stuff and for longer differences outside. I just like to have it around the house or in hotel rooms as it means I can just sit down to do stuff like brush my teeth or get dry after a shower. It’s kinda hard to dry off when you’re supporting yourself with two canes in your hands already!

A: Is there still a level of recovery taking place for you or is this where you’re at?

E: It’s leveled off for the most part. I’d like to get to one cane but then at the same time I could do it with one cane but it wouldn’t be very fast, there wouldn’t be a normal pace to it and that would slow me down so we’ll see what happens. I’d like to see if I can gain more strength and stuff so I could just bypass one cane and go straight to no canes, y’know that would be a game-changer. But then at the same time, I know that it’s the same process and I could only do it for a certain distance, maybe a few thousand feet. It’s exhausting with or without the wheelchair.

A: Going back to the fact you were a top-level athlete, and you obviously trained hard and had a strong training ethic, do you think that helps you now with your ability to do things, do you think it helped your recovery to have that past to dig into? Did the understanding of how hard you can push your body help?

E: Yeah, definitely. I could see and feel the gains I was making. I remember at the start I was standing there and I couldn’t move my legs. I could stand there with canes, but I just couldn’t move my legs. The only way to describe it is it was like my feet had been put in cement blocks and I couldn’t initiate that gate walking. And I just remember thinking ‘wow, this is going to be pretty difficult but one of the things to get back to was muscle memory. So one of the first things I did when I got released from the hospital was to get back cycling on a static bike to get my body back to what it used to be doing and then hopefully things would maybe re-connect. For me, I actually had to ride first before I could walk. They say you have to crawl first but that wasn’t for me.

A: Did the cycling help to get the movement back without the need to necessarily support yourself then, as you would when you were walking?

E: Yeah, definitely. I guess the thing is that if you rode with me and I was on an ebike you couldn’t necessarily tell I was disabled. You know only on certain rides where the climbs are really difficult you might. I can pretty much go down everything I could before. The only thing is I’ve made a promise to myself not to get off the ground on jumps anymore. There’s no reward to the consequence there for me now, only consequence. Getting off the ground on a big 20-40ft jump ain’t gonna happen anymore. Going downhill fast or climbing steep stuff, there’s no problem for me, but in the air, it’s just a bigger risk.

A: How long did it actually take to get back on a bike properly?

E: I went through some regular bikes for a bit, some town bikes, but then I knew I’d struggle on big climbs in the hills with them so I decided I wanted to get an ebike. And then my friend Steve Blick at Oakley spotted I was selling my bike and he said ‘hey, don’t buy an ebike yet, I think I’ve got something for you, which is when in 2018 I did that video called Tools of Empowerment with Shimano and when I got that Haro. I only wish I’d had some more time on the bike before that video. I was literally thrown onto the bike and then sent out on these trails I’d not ridden in a long time and filmed so I wasn’t totally comfortable with everything. But now, with being more comfortable on the bikes, with the improvement in technology I’ve got on my new Canyon, it’s night and day and it’s just so amazing to get out on

A: Ebikes really are amazing for this. I will admit to being fairly anti-emtb’s for a while because I only saw the issues they can cause. But then I started to see them as opening up opportunities for people who otherwise wouldn’t still be able to ride bikes and suddenly I saw the sense in them.

E: Totally, I don’t think they’re totally aimed at the 22-year-old racer or even the 40-year-old racer. They’re fantastic for the 40-year-old or more who’s not ridden a bike since maybe he was a kid, he’s not fit, he’s maybe put on twenty or thirty pounds but now he’s able to get off out there to do nice rides and enjoy nice scenery and nice countryside as he would have done twenty or thirty years ago. There’s this bit where you’ve got a true ebiker with the class one pedal assist which just helps them get out there, and those are the guys you want to see on the trails, where the bikes shut off at 20mph. What you don’t want are those class 3’s with a throttle which are basically motorbikes although I’ve not seen any out there. I was out with a really fit cross-country rider yesterday and I couldn’t keep up with him! I could pull up to him on the hills but on the flats, he could gap me as I could only do 18mph and he could hold 23mph. It was a lot of fun when we were chasing each other, he set some personal records and so did I. In the beginning, he didn’t know I was on an ebike. I actually ended up chatting to him for a while at the end and it was interesting as he was totally oblivious to the ebikes, he thought they had a throttle. And I think a lot of it comes down to education and people realizing these bikes don’t have throttles, that it’s not going to damage the environment any more than that overweight guy would on a normal bike. It’s a growth in the market; 40+ years old, overweight or with a disability, and still wants to get out and enjoy the trails. Or maybe you’re fit but your wife isn’t and she can’t keep up on the climbs. An ebike means you can still have fun riding bikes together.

A: I think that was the turning point in my own view of these bikes, realizing that it allows more people to get the same enjoyment from being outside on these trails, having fun, riding with friends, and having a good time.

E: Hopefully more people doing this means more money will be available to go towards more trails too, I always think we could do with more trails. I’m in the Sonoran desert which doesn’t have that really good Californian dirt, it’s a little sharper, drier, and slipperier here. But the thing is when it rains here you can ride here straight after, unlike California. You just have to watch out for the flash flood! The territory here changes a lot. Only a couple of hours away you’ve got different soil, you’ve got mountains and it’s a bit colder. You’ve got Sedona and Prescott only a few hours away. Unfortunately, Sedona isn’t very ebike friendly as it’s part of the National Forest, and it’s regulated by the department of agriculture and they’re anti ebike. The only thing for me is that as I’m disabled they can’t do anything about it as it’s public land. They’re not going to give me a ticket because of the American Disabilities Act which means I have to be able to access this public land that I pay for. And if I can’t use it, then they need to provide a vehicle so I can access this public land I pay for, so in essence, because I’m disabled the ebike becomes my wheelchair. It wasn’t legal here in the desert in Arizona until 2019 yet I was riding in there all of 2018 and they knew about it, and they just said ‘here’s our number, give us a call if you need anything, be careful’ so basically I was out there under the umbrella of a disability because it was being paid for by county tax dollars. Oh I’d get bad looks and people would say stuff under their breath about them not being allowed but I always say that people are acting on instinct and not knowing all the rules.

A: The access rules are a big one as every country and most states are currently applying different rules to ebikes with speeds, assistance levels, and whether they’re classed as motorbikes or pushbikes; this definitely doesn’t help someone who wants to get out and buy a bike and easily understand what they can do with it.

E: Definitely, and hopefully this gets easier and more people can get out on these bikes and ride with their friends. I find that quite often the only real difference is that it levels the playing field and allows friends to ride together again, or allows me to go further in the same time because I’m not destroyed by the halfway point. And of course, if someone still wants to get a workout from it then they can just stick it in eco mode and ride hard, they’ll still work up a sweat! And if you want a little more assistance for that steep hill halfway you can just turn it up a bit. That new EP motor (from Shimano) is nice. Compared to the E8000 I would always use the boost and not venture down to trail or eco yet this new one I ride a lot of it in the trail. It’s got 85nm vs 70nm and the new motor is nice, it doesn’t suck up as much juice, and the motor’s lighter too. It’s a win-win, the technology’s just getting so much better.

A: It’s exciting isn’t it with all the development? It seems that there are still major jumps to be had with them although they do seem to be pretty amazing.

E: It’s certainly complicated with all the different motor manufacturers out there at the moment as no one’s done that scientific comparison yet. The manufacturers are certainly getting pretty close to perfect. The ones with good engineers have really made some steps, and some are going in different directions; some are lighter, smaller, and jumpier and others are going for bigger batteries and comfort. And going back to that demographic I was talking about, there’s a limit to what some of these riders will be able to tell apart in terms of the chassis anyway.

A: What would your ideal bike be, would you go bigger battery to go for longer?

E: It depends what sort of riding I would be doing I think. I’ve only had this EP8 motor for a month but I already find myself using it on the trail setting a lot more. On the E8000 I was probably topping out at 14 miles before hitting empty but I’m now only using a bar and a half of the five for the exact same trail. The bike’s a little faster rolling but that difference really opens up so much more for me. But then some of the manufacturers like Orbea are going smaller batteries to keep the price down and make a lighter bike. Then some others like Pivot are going much bigger. I think Specialized has done that really well to get the weight down and keep it playful while still having a good range. You’ve just got to look at what the engineers designed the bike around and see if that suits you. I’m beginning to think this Canyon I’ve got now is pretty much perfect for what I looked for. It’s got a good-sized battery, great components, and great suspension.

A: So how would you make it better?

E: I think the key is going to come down to making the motor smaller and lighter again, the batteries more energy-dense for the same weight and just keep lowering the weight with technology and increasing the performance!

A: Increasing performance is always going to be beneficial, and the advantage there is that you can always dial it down and go further if that’s your bag. Have you really pushed the limit of range much or do you really need to keep some safety in there?

E: I pushed it one time and made the mistake of running out which was a nightmare getting back. Like it’s bad enough I can’t walk but then throw a 50lb bike in there and it’s tough. It actually ended up being the contacts needing to be cleaned in the battery on that occasion, and it’s this stuff they’re figuring out. Like they don’t want you to take the battery out as it wears out, and the poor contacts just cause shorts. So I was reading about this and thought back to how I always took the battery out to charge it, or when I traveled and realized that over time it just causes wear and tear on the contacts. So I cleaned them and now it works as good as it did on day one and I just leave the battery on there for charging and all that. I can’t see me taking the battery out of the new Canyon, it just doesn’t need it.

A: Which Canyon do you have?

E: It’s the Canyon Spectral On 9, it’s the new one that’s out soon. It’s all tricked out, integrated stem and bars, high-end discs, the new Shimano motor. I got really lucky getting a bike in this market and not only that I was landed with this jewel right here. There are only three of them in the country at the moment. All I read on the forums is how people are struggling to get bikes and parts and here I am blessed with this one. Like my brother is trying to put together a new bike at the moment and he asked me if I had a spare motor hanging around, he’s got this GT frame sat there to build up and he doesn’t have a motor for it. Not even Shimano has them!

A: Now here’s a question, do you think you’d have found ebikes if it hadn’t been for your accident?

E: Now you’re asking. I’ve asked this question of myself quite a few times and to tell you the truth when I look at the route I was going down, and also the route my brother took where he’s riding all the time now, I think not, I think I’d still be pushing my fitness and racing cross country in the expert class. I’d still be doing that, riding road bikes, and my fitness would still have been good enough that I didn’t need an ebike. Maybe when I turned 60 I’d have got one but gauging myself against my brother I think as an athlete, or former athlete, I’d still have the fitness and I’d be pushing a regular bike. But it’s weird that you’re now beginning to see these former athletes who don’t have a disability pushing and riding ebikes. You’ve got Brian Lopes there pushing the Yamaha, you’ve got Hans Rey and my brother riding the GT Force, Leigh Donovan riding a Pivot. You’ve got more and more former athletes in their forties and fifties jumping on the ebike ambassador program.

A: So to the next unknown, do you think you’d have been as welcoming to ebikes if it hadn’t been for your injury?

E: That’s a difficult one, I don’t know for sure whether I’d have been totally accepted or if they would have been shunned. It’s really hard to say. But I always say this to myself; it seems inevitable that you will at some point down the line gravitate to an ebike because as you get older you start losing fitness, losing muscle, and not being as strong and you’re going to have a better time out on the trails with an ebike instead of a normal bike. I’m noticing that in the friends I ride with, they just have more fun and ride more on an ebike. They don’t have the time to do hundreds of miles a week to keep their fitness up, or they don’t want to jump on Zwift like my brother – it’s crazy, I think he’s fitter now than he was in his twenties! But going back to your question, no, I think that without my injury I’d have kept on pushing for as long as I could on a regular bike even though I’ll be 57 later on this year, I just don’t think the ex-athlete in me would let me do anything else. I mean just look at Tinker Juarez, do you think he’ll ever get on an ebike? I just can’t see it, he’ll still be pushing that Cannondale until he’s 80!

A: No, I can’t see any ex-tour riders jumping on an ebike but for a lot of people it just comes down to having more fun with their mates, or their kids without their fitness letting them down.

E: For sure. The appealing thing for me is that with the pedaling assistance you can still get a workout but then you can throw a bigger tire on there like a 2.8” and for me, that was a game-changer, bigger than any suspension changes. It just gives so much more room for error. And now with the inserts, you can run them at lower pressures too! I love them, the last thing I need to be doing is changing a flat out in the desert and I’m not worried about carrying all those spares now. A lot of the time it’s just me and my bike and I’ll be done in an hour. You don’t even need so much water as you’re exerting less energy. And guys are coming to realize this, these bikes are no longer heavy trucks they started with, they’re now much lighter and more nimble and much closer to the ride of a regular bike. I think people just need to realize what these bikes are and what they can do, they just need to get out and ride them. A lot of people won’t even sit on my bike to ride it.

A: Seriously?

E: Yeah, they just don’t want to which really surprises me. I’ve been turned down a few times by guys which I just find weird, but I know what’s going to happen when they eventually do, they’re just going to go ‘oh, I see what you mean now, these things are awesome. For one thing, they always think there’s a throttle on there, every time. They always ask where the throttle is rather than realizing you just need to pedal the thing. They definitely have a misconception of it being a motorcycle with a throttle. You still need to pedal it.

A: With still needing to pedal it do you find it helps you a lot with your recovery?

E: Definitely, it keeps me moving and I always feel more stability in my legs after a ride. The following day I may be a little tired but that’s a great feeling, and I sleep better too so there are definitely more pluses than negatives there with riding that ebike.

A: Have you had to make any custom changes to the bike to suit you?

E: Not at all, it’s straight from the box. All I did was add the tire inserts, tune the suspension, and away I went. The Shimano pedals and shoes are totally stock too. All I did was cut the bars down a bit! One thing I know is coming up is Shimano is producing a book, a bit like their gravel book, and the one thing I said to them as I wanted a bit of time to get used to the bike and get it set up for me properly with things like the bars, unlike the Tools of Empowerment video we did a few years ago! But after having a month on it I’m happy with how it all is and I haven’t changed anything. It was all such good stuff anyway that it was all top-of-the-line kit anyway.

A: What’s your take on the advent of ebike specific races?

E: I think that there needs to be some common format, like a max battery capacity. There were some races over here recently where some guys were bolting on extenders and others were struggling to make it round the course on theirs. While not racing, I saw the video of Martin Ashton riding the Fort William track years ago at the World Cup with that full-on bucket chair on the bike and everything, that was crazy to tell you the truth man, I mean he’s pretty much strapped into that thing. It was cool, not that I plan on doing it! I think for me I’m not really interested in doing races so much now, certainly not even trying to put myself out there to win, that serious side of me isn’t really there anymore. Now it’s more about rest, relaxation, enjoyment, and camaraderie. Just good times making good memories and having a beer with your mates.

And that’s the crux of ebikes; fun. You can ride further, climb faster and ride with mates you may not otherwise have the fitness to join in with. You can go out and ride more trails and still enjoy a beer afterward having had a great day. Eddy’s reason for having an ebike probably isn’t the same as yours, but the more ebike riders you speak to the more different stories and reasons for owning one you hear about, and Eddy’s story is pretty damn inspiring.

These bikes are here to stay and they’re just getting better and better thanks to improving technology within both the mountain bike industry and the electronics they also rely on. Sure, they lose an element of the simplicity a bike can offer, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop riding or owning a normal bike just because someone around you has an ebike, and as a fit and fully able-bodied rider blessed with fitness and good health you may need to remember that not all those around you are as lucky. And