How Deanna Mayles Surprised Herself into Professional Mountain Bike Racing

In under three years, Deanna Mayles went from her first mountain bike race, to lining up with pros as a sponsored athlete.
Deanna Mayles at the Moab Rocks stage race in 2023. Photo courtesy of Deanna Mayles.

It’s not that Deanna Mayles wasn’t already an athlete. The Colorado-based mountain biker with a calendar full of pro races this year was a walk-on runner for Ohio State’s cross-country team in college. She knows how to push and persevere. Despite an athletic past though, she only discovered her aptitude for mountain bike racing three years ago, when she placed 8th in the pro category at a local mountain bike race—running flat pedals, on a borrowed bike. Since the Pikes Peak Apex in 2020, Mayles has won and placed in several professional level mountain bike races and competed in a World Cup. The 29-year-old is also just warming up.

Mayles studied mechanical engineering at OSU before moving to Tucson, where she worked for Caterpillar testing large trucks and equipment at a mining site. Her father got her into road cycling earlier and when she moved to Tucson, she fell in love with singletrack.

“I was like, I love hiking, I love the mountains,” said Mayles. “To me, it was just an amazing way to combine everything and go faster and see more. So when I moved to Tucson in 2016, I got a mountain bike without ever having ridden one.” She wasn’t hooked in by powering up climbs or charging descents. The bike was a way for her to get out and explore. Though friends that rode with her quickly noticed her capability and encouraged her to race.

Mayles lived in Tucson for about three years, until she found a job posting with SRAM as a reliability engineer. She applied, and in 2019 she took the job and moved to RockShox headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Photo courtesy of Deanna Mayles

A new start

Her move to Colorado Springs accelerated change for Mayles. “It was the first stepping stone to where I’m at now with the job. I also met my husband here on my first day at SRAM and with all the people here, I unlocked this more competitive side. I’d say this job with SRAM and moving to Colorado was the building block of what my life is now.”

Mayles was still getting pressured by friends and family to compete in a mountain bike race, but still wasn’t sure. She had a trail bike, a Specialized Stumpjumper that wasn’t necessarily a race bike, and she wasn’t drawn to compete otherwise. Her family had other plans though. She recalls a family dinner, where her husband brought up the idea of racing to her family and they all voted for her to line up at the Pikes Peak Apex, a four-day stage race on Colorado Springs’ rocky, high-elevation trails.

“They basically pressured me,” she laughs. “At the time, I had been riding flats [pedals] and I was like, it’s kind of a disadvantage. I wasn’t really into riding clipped-in and never really tried. And it was four days—I was like, can I do it? I don’t know. But I did. It was really fun and I did way better than I thought I would.”

Mayles at the 2020 Pikes Peak Apex on a borrowed bike and flat pedals. Photo: James Stokoe, courtesy of Deanna Mayles.

Mayles placed 10th in the Apex, her first mountain bike race, not far behind Chloe Woodroof, Evelyn Dong, Rose Grant, and other professionals.

In 2021, she decided to do the Apex again, but to preface the race, she rode in the Monarch Mindbender, a grassroots race at elevation that’s 86 miles long, with 11,000 feet of climbing and almost 15,000 feet of descending. She was the second female to do it and cut two hours off the previous time.

A month later, she raced the Apex again—on a borrowed bike a size too big, and flat pedals, again. Mayles said she didn’t see anyone else riding flats.

“I think I was the only one,” she said. “There were people like, ‘oh, you again.'” This time she placed 5th. “And then, I was like, I think I’m really good at this,” she said.

In 2022, she took on 11 races, from the Gunnison Growler, nabbing 2nd, to enduros and marathon cross-country races, taking gold in a few events. At her third Pikes Peak Apex, she grabbed silver, beating out Olympian Erin Huck.

After taking 9th in USA Cycling XC Nationals in Winter Park, Colorado, Mayles had a few UCI points under her belt. Her husband was traveling to Val di Sole for RockShox, and she petitioned for more points to compete at the race. To her surprise, it worked. It wasn’t her best race, but it gave her some insight nonetheless.

“Because I only had like 10 UCI points, you get put in the back which is kind of a death sentence,” she said. “But I raced my heart out and the course was really hard.”

Striving for more

After the 2022 season and a fresh racing resume with commendable accolades, Mayles wanted more. She started scouting for sponsorships, and contacting different brands, sending them her results and race schedule to see if they were interested in sponsoring her. She’d been part of a local club the year prior, and though they helped reimburse some registration costs for local races, to make her 2023 mission of racing more sustainable, she needed more support. Apparel brand Velocio was the only one that responded. “I feel like Velocio really sees my potential and they’re super willing to help me,” she said.

Mayles also found one of the best mentors out there. After racing nationals last year, she wanted to find an experienced athlete to gain direction and learn where her strengths would best be suited. Other competitors told Mayles she reminded them of Rose Grant, who was retiring. Mayles reached out to Grant over Instagram and the two connected. Mayles hoped Grant might move into coaching.

Photo courtesy of Deanna Mayles.

“And that’s what happened,” she said. “Her encouragement to apply to the Grand Prix and my direction and who I’m bouncing ideas off of is Rose for this year and probably years going forward. She kind of helped me put it all together and is a mentor and amazing person.”

Mayles is registered for the LifeTime Grand Prix series, competing at the Sea Otter Classic, the Leadville 100, and Chequamagon. She started the year with some early season races; the Cactus Cup and Moab Rocks, taking 8th and 4th respectively.

In a few years time, she’s gone from someone who wasn’t sure she’d even like mountain bike racing, to consistently placing in the top ten at national cross-country races. Her favorite part of racing is after the finish line when the nerves are washed and her mind is settled.

“What I like about racing is when it’s over,” she said. Mayles notes the pre-race angst and pressure and the surges and attacks during burning singletrack bouts.

“But when you finally finish and you realize that you just spent hours on the bike and it flew by and you loved it. I’m coming to that realization, like whoa, I just did all that. That’s the coolest part to me.”

This year, Mayles is training regularly, heeding guidance from Grant and following a protocol, on top of her full-time job at RockShox. Though she’s becoming a familiar name at mountain bike races across the country, she wants people to know what her name comes along with; a greater challenge to everyone else on the start line.

She hopes she’ll become more seasoned this year, “but also [I want] to put my name out there,” she said. “So when people see a roster list they go, ‘oh, Deanna, she’s a really strong rider,’ rather than someone in the background like I was last year. I mean, it’s not about what other people think of you, but I guess it’s kind of an element. Just knowing that you’re in contention and everyone else knows you’re in contention.”