Eric Porter is a professional freeride mountain biker based in Park City, Utah. While his home base is an epic destination in its own right, Eric’s job as a sponsored pro for Diamondback, Hayes Component Group, Kenda, and others takes him all over the world to some of the most exotic locales to shoot photos and video for magazine articles, websites, and advertisements.
Read on for a glimpse into the life of a pro freerider, and to hear how he arrived at the job he has today:
Singletracks: “When did you start mountain biking, way back in the day?”
Eric Porter: “I started mountain biking when I was 12. It was time to get my first non-kids bike. I had a BMX bike, and it was time to get a grown-up bike, I thought, so we actually went to Kmart or something, picked up a road bike, like a 10-speed, and I thought that was what I wanted for some reason. I saw it and thought it looked cool… turns out I had it for a week, and I was kind of over it by then. So, my dad, luckily, was into the bike and he wanted a bike too, so he took that one, and I got a mountain bike. I was lucky enough to have local trails right out my door basically, less than mile from my house in Louisville, Kentucky.”
Louisville? So that’s where you’re from originally, then?
Yeah that’s where I grew up. . .my next door neighbor and best friend, Marc, we just went riding everyday. That was kind of like our getaway, to go have fun.
Have you done much riding in Louisville since then?
That was where I got really into it. When I was 15 or 16, when I could first get a job, I got a job at a bike shop, and picked up a better bike. It was a used Klein with a Manitou 2 on it. This was the mid 90s I guess, so right when suspension was coming out anyway.
I started racing [cross country]. Some of the older guys would take me to the races. Then I got into college, and started racing collegiate.
XC stuff then?
Only cross country in the beginning, but in my first collegiate race they also had the slalom, and instantly I thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever seen! I started week by week changing my bike over a little bit. So I’d race cross country on one day, and at night I’d put on a shorter stem, maybe put on some flat pedals, lower my seat, and that sort of thing. So I’d change my bike from a cross country bike to a slalom bike overnight. By that time I had gotten my first new bike, which was a Diamondback Team Issue. So, pretty funny to go from working in a shop and buying a Team bike to helping design them and ride them and being on the team. So that’s pretty cool.
When did you make the jump from just racing to doing it professionally? How did that happen for you?
Throughout college I focused on school… probably not enough because I was riding all the time, racing every weekend. All summer I’d work at the bike shop, traveling around to all the races I could get to. By the time I was about to graduate, my last year there in 2001 I won national championships in downhill and in slalom. I won them both in the same weekend, which was cool. And then turned semi-pro racing.
At that point I was trying to make it as a pro racer, living in my van in the summers, driving around to all the NORBAs racing the downhills, but I didn’t quite make it in that. But through racing and just being on the road, I met everybody in the industry. I met Aaron Chase, Kyle Ebbett, and Jeff Lenosky, and those guys were always filming–going to dirt jumps in between races, street riding, that sort of thing. So, that’s how I got into that world.
Through riding with them I ended up with a video part. Then Scott Hart, who I used to race collegiate with, (he was one of the best in the Midwest area, and in the nation really), had at that point started Flow Magazine, and he shot a photo of me grinding a hand rail on my mountain bike, which no one had done before. So that ended up being the cover of the magazine right after Interbike.
Next year, in 2003, was kind of the first year that I turned pro, I guess. It was also the first year that slopestyle came around, so there was the first year of Crankworx, there was the Red Bull Freeze Ride in Montana (which is a snow slopestyle)… yeah, all kinds of events. I podiumed at all the events all summer… first Red Bull Bike Battle too. Yeah, I had a job riding my bike by the end of the year.
That’s fantastic! So to fast forward to today: I keep up with your travels all over the world, filming videos and stuff. Is your job now focused more on the competing aspect, or are you, like, filming, or what constitutes what you do day in and day out, month in and month out?
What I used to do in the beginning was tons of contests all summer long: a different place every week. Now, in the last few years, I’ve stopped doing the contests and focused on media trips: stuff for magazine articles. Basically, producing content for all of my sponsors and magazines, websites, that sort of thing. Yeah, so the media side of things: making content, cool trips, and documenting that for the world to see, and hopefully inspiring people to ride their bikes.
Another big part of my job is product development with all of my companies that I work with. I help design new stuff and do a lot of the testing, and make sure that stuff’s ready to sell.
What companies do you work most closely with?
I work the most closely with Diamondback for sure on all their new bikes. And then the whole Hayes Component Group: Manitou, Sunringle, and Hayes Brakes. Always testing a lot of new stuff. I always have a couple of bikes in the garage that nobody can see for another year or whatever, which is cool. Yeah, I love it: that’s one of my coolest parts of my job for sure, is you get the new stuff that nobody’s even seen yet, test it out, make revisions, and tweak it. Yeah… make cool stuff for people to ride.
That answer probably touches on this question, but what’s your number one favorite thing about being a pro in the industry?
The coolest part about being a pro is probably helping to make the bikes better. It’s a pretty unique opportunity, you know? If there’s something wrong with your truck, you just go to the dealership to get it fixed. But you’re not going to have any impact on the future of the truck, like calling Toyota and saying, “can you move this?” Everyone has stuff where, “you know it’d be cool if you could do this or change that,” and to actually have that direct line in to [the company] where we can help change something and make it ride better or feel better–it’s pretty cool.
So did you have a ton of input on the Mission then?
Yeah, definitely. That was a bike we worked on for quite a while. We had a couple different revisions on that and got it exactly where we wanted it. Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. I think it’s the most versatile bike we’ve ever made. I ride it as much in the bike park as I do on big cross country rides, climbing 4,000 feet or whatever. It’s just at home any other place.
Thanks so much for taking a couple minutes to chat, Eric!
To see Eric Porter in action, check out the videos below. Also, be sure to check out Eric’s latest video about riding in Northern Utah, which was just published on the blog today.