Is Liam Moynihan the fastest Scottsman who rides for Scott Sports? Likely. The Fort William local has been building and blasting berms for a while now, and he could teach master classes on how to rail a rut.
I met Moynihan at the EWS Trophy of Nations race last fall, where I conjured all the magic I could muster to chase him down the dusty tracks of Finale Ligure. He suffered a rear puncture at the beginning of stage two, and I suffered from too much time slumped over a keyboard. In the end, we both enjoyed a bang-up time riding bikes all day.
Moynihan’s not only a wicked rippin’ professional gravity racer, he’s also a dad. Hence his nickname, “Papa Moyn.” His family piles into a large cozy van to take in the European Alps through the summer, while he and his wife ride and race. He’s got some great tales of van life, but that’s for another interview. For now we’ll focus on training in Scotland and his outlook for the coming season.
Where and when did you first get into mountain biking?
I was a skier who wanted a similarly exciting summer activity on top of football and swimming. Mountain biking was still pretty small but I grew up in Fort William and had been to see the World Cup with my family for a nosey about. I guess that prompted mountain biking as the summer ski alternative.
What was your first race like?
My first proper race was a Scottish Downhill race at Strathyre. It was a total mud race and I had some pretty bald non-mud tires and a super ropey Specialized Big Hit. I was racing under 14 and I remember Josh Bryceland won the 15-16 age group. I just looked back at the times and my good friend Chris Hutchens actually finished second to Josh by one second and they beat my time by almost two minutes on a pretty short downhill race. The gaps were big haha!
What’s unique about riding in Scotland?
Scotland is cool because you can drive a reasonably short distance and have completely different terrain. The highland hill paths are pretty unique and made famous by various videos. They are generally super rocky paths built for hiking but most work amazingly well on a bike, quite often rock pitched to span sections of bog or just running along huge sections of bedrock. The highlands has a really sparse population and gets called Europe’s last wilderness. You can be riding an old hill path with nothing else in any direction which is cool.
If someone comes to visit Scotland where are the five top places they need to ride?
Have your plans changed much with the unusual 2020 race calendar?
Yeah, it’s been a spanner in the works. I’d be racing right now under normal circumstances and would have done two other decent sized video projects so that’s been a shame. I’m struggling to see much international racing happen, but hopefully domestically. Ideally, we can get back to filming in the next week or so and that’s a pretty nice alternative.
What are some of your favorite filming moments from the videos you’ve worked on?
Most recently, sending James into the freezing cold river in February. It was zero degrees and snowing on and off. The river was basically pure snowmelt but he sent it anyway, haha! Every part of the Japan trip video we did a few years ago was a highlight too!
Are there special skills required to ride the deep ruts in your local trails?
It definitely takes a wee bit of practice. Keeping your weight nice and neutral is key. If you get too much of a lean it’s harder than normal to correct. Kind of balancing and stopping your tires hitting the sides of the rut too. It’s almost easier to ride them fast than slow.
What’s your favorite mud tire?
I try to just use the same tires most of the year unless it’s a proper mess. Magic Marys or Maxxis DHR IIs are both fine in a bit of mud. If it’s absolutely terrible then a Shorty can be nice for clearing but I generally don’t like them unless it’s really bad.
What tire and fork pressures do you run at home versus on dry trails like in Italy?
At home we ride such a variety between slick mud and fast rocks it’s hard to have it set up for one or the other. I just tend to stick to something in the middle that’s decent for both. In winter at home, If I’m staying in the muddy woods I’ll run 18/22psi in the tires, but if I’m venturing onto the rocky hill paths or gondola laps I’ll do 18/24psi which I then stick to pretty much all summer. I run full DH casing front and back all the time so not too much needs to change. For Finale, I’d stay 18/24, and then in a bike park, I’d maybe go up a tiny bit for the high speed berms to stop them folding over. Suspension is [set up] similar. I run it a wee bit softer and faster in the winter at home then stiffen and slow it down a bit in summer when the speed is a bit higher and it’s hotter.
What film projects are you currently working on?
Search for the Slop is the main one, [and] episode one is out. The plan was to travel to different parts of the world to find the best muddy, wet-weather riding. We did the first one over a Scottish winter. The second was supposed to be Wales in March, then we wanted to do Scandanavia and PNW in autumn. So we will see how it pans out. Spring in Scotland is generally pretty dry, then it goes sloppy and wet again in summer, so maybe the other episodes will end up being here too.
Any tips for folks who want to take their family on the road and explore riding locations?
Traveling with little people is definitely harder but also so nice to see them soak it all in. One thing we did do which worked well was I did the big drive from Scotland to Alps area myself and then Edie and Lilia flew to join me. It meant they could fly light and Lilia didn’t need to spend two full days in a car seat. I could do big long stints driving without lots of baby stops and ruining her sleep routine by sleeping loads while driving. That got it all done quicker. We’ve done it both ways with all of us in the van for a big 1300km drive and it’s way harder that way. It might seem like lots of logistics but if you can find cheap flights for big long sections of a road trip then it’s worthwhile.
What’s unique about your current race bike setup?
There are a few cool bits on it. Custom Mudhugger is a personal favorite. One-piece carbon bar/stem from Syncros is space-agey. I’ve got the new SR Suntour Durolux EQ forks which are amazing and not super common. [The] Vecnum post which is the nicest dropper ever and also not too common. Also, a special headset spacer for attaching Lilia’s little bike seat!
What helps you get motivated to go ride in cold and/or damp weather?
It can be difficult at times. One thing to remember is that it’s always better and less grim out in the woods than it looks out a window. If you are in the way of being out most days in the wet it’s easy because it’s fresh in your mind how surprisingly pleasant the previous day was.
Where is your favorite place to ride outside Scotland?
Cruising around the Alps in summer is the dream. [There are] too many spots to ride, from bike parks to Alpine hiking trails, there is everything. Whistler, Pemberton, Squamish. I’ve only been there in the middle of summer, and I’d love to go back in autumn when its a bit wetter!
If you could go back and redo any enjoyable race, which would it be?
I enjoyed our team effort at Trophy of Nations and a redo minus the puncture would be nice. It’s always the ones where something unfortunate like that happens that I want a redo on. A top event/race I look forward to has to be the Megavalanche each year. I just love the feeling of shitting your pants, knowing wildness is about to occur at the top of Sunday morning’s race, and knowing everyone else feels the same.
Bike Check: Papa Moyn’s Scott Ransom Tuned, size large
- Fork: SR Suntour Durolux with EQ, 180mm travel, 84psi, 1 spacer
- Shock: SR Suntour Triair, 190psi in the main chamber, 200psi piggyback, 3 spacers positive, 1 negative
- Cockpit: Syncros Hixon integrated carbon bar and stem, cut to 760mm, 40mm stem equivalent
- Wheels: Syncros 29″ Revelstoke 1.0 carbon
- Seatpost: Vecnum NIVO travel fit with 152mm of travel
- Saddle: Syncros Tofino 1.5 with Ti rails
- Tires: Front: Maxxis DHR2 with a DH casing, Rear: Schwalbe Eddy Current. It’s an e-bike front tire that works well as a normal back tire!
- Mudguard: Mudhugger FRX custom Lion King graphics
- Headset: Acros ZS
- Pedals: Acros clipless pedal (Prototype)
- Drivetrain: Shimano XT
- Brakes: Shimano XT 4-piston