Getting to know Maya Atkinson

Australian-born rising star...

Maya Atkinson downhill race action gripping the granite.
Grampian granite gripping

The Australian-born rising star of downhill, Maya Atkinson, has taken residence over the pond while getting her hands dirty in the competitive world of downhill mountain biking. Taking the Junior British Downhill title twice, Maya moved up to elites at the beginning of the 2019 season to start alongside some fierce female competition. However, 2020 is shaping up to look quite different. With the UK taking precautions amidst the global health crisis, we took the time to catch up with Maya to see what else there is to this diamond in the rough.

So, Maya, for those of us who aren’t too familiar with your background, fill us in. Who is Maya Atkinson and how on earth did you end up racing downhill all over the world?

“I was born in Australia in 2000, my mother was a refugee from the Cambodian Genocide under Pol Pot, and my father was a soldier in the Australian Army. A few years later, my father transferred to the Royal Marines, and my mother and I moved to France while he was in training, before moving to Taunton, England.”

Maya Atkinson elite female downhill mountain bike racer.
Ready, steady...

Maya Atkinson elite female downhill mountain bike racer.

Maya Atkinson elite female downhill mountain bike racer.
Kicking up some dust

Maya Atkinson elite female downhill mountain bike racer.
Mind your head!

"...mum hired a Big Hit..."

… and when did riding bikes come into your life?

“In 2011, my mother decided we should try downhill mountain biking in Andorra and Austria for a summer
holiday. My mum hired a Big Hit, and I rode her bike while at Val Nord bike park. The first couple of runs were terrifying! The green run at Val Nord was as hard as the Red at Haldon Forest where I usually ride. Once I stopped crapping my pants, I thought “this is pretty good”, and I wanted to do a lot more of it. Then, the following summer, I hit a few more bike parks, but it was at Leogang when I decided that this is what I wanted to do. I had just sent the practice drop, it is only about a metre high, and I told my parents I wanted to race.

From there, my mum did some research and signed me up for the Forest of Dean Mini Downhill. Despite coming last in that race, I was hooked! For my first two seasons, I was famous for crashing! I would hear the other girls say, “Maya looks fast in practice, but don’t worry, she will crash on her race run.” But I eventually stopped crashing and began winning.”

This is probably not how you expected 2020 to pan out. Tell me, where are you staying and who with?

“Well, at first, I was afraid as I had just bought a van and I was planning to live in the Alps for the whole season racing IXS and World Cup DH. But then I quickly realised my life is brilliant, I have my health and I live in an amazing location in rural Wales. I cannot convey how amazing the location is; there is a castle, a forest, the beach, and the campus has a small 2 km XC track!”

Maya Atkinson elite female downhill mountain bike racer.
Never mind...

Maya Atkinson elite female downhill mountain bike racer.
...the gap

"...too much Nutella..."

How does it feel to put all that effort into training over the winter, to then find out the first half of World Cup racing has been cancelled?

“I believed I was in the best shape I have ever been in for the start of a season. When I realised that the season was not going to start, it hit me hard. I lost motivation for training and ate way too much Nutella! My muscle definition started to fade, and I put on a few pounds. Then I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and start training hard again! My biggest issue is the lack of social interaction. When you are at a DH race, it’s not you against the other women; it is all of you against the mountain and the obstacles that it possesses. So, you get stoked for the other ladies as they overcome their fears by conquering the obstacles. I really miss being around fellow racers!”

With everyone’s daily lives looking very different from a few months ago, what does a typical day involve for you now?

"I’m on the MTB fitness programme, and I am studying part-time for a Maths Degree. So, each day has a little training followed by studying. My family has been putting a lot of work into the campus’ XC track. It’s a blue trail, but we’re putting in a few more challenging sections so it’ll have a red section and a black section also. I have been trying to learn some more bike mechanic skills, so when I finally get to the Alps, my bikes do not fall to pieces!”

Maya Atkinson elite female downhill mountain bike racer.
Hydration nailed

Maya Atkinson elite female downhill mountain bike racer.
Cyclists dismount

Maya Atkinson elite female downhill mountain bike racer.
The hills are alive...

"...repurpose old kit..."

So many people are using their newfound time to learn new skills or brush up on old ones. Are there any activities or things you’ve learnt/picked back up again recently?

“There is a rock beach at the front of the campus, so I’ve been just working on a bit of MTB trials. Nothing dangerous, just track stands, manuals and jumping from one rock to another. Also, I have been working on my sewing skills. I am keen to be environmental, and I am trying to repurpose old kit that is damaged. I have also put some work into my culinary skills by experimenting with baking some flatbreads, banana bread and dahls. However, I have been trying not to overdo it as ‘carbs are bad’."

" the NHS..."

Tell us a little about your 2020 race bike, and more importantly, your set-up...

“My bike is a 2020 Specialized DEMO. It is my first 29er and is basically stock, except for the tyres. I was on the 650B DEMO last year, and I can genuinely feel the extra speed of the 29er. I have cut down the
handlebars to 780mm, but I am thinking of going down to 760mm as I am only 5ft 6”. I have also had to change the standard 400-pound spring to a 375-pound spring as I am slightly lighter than what Specialized had estimated for the medium frame.
The front wheel has a Magic Mary Ultra Soft, and the rear has a Magic Mary Soft. These have always been my favourite tyre, and I was over the moon when Schwalbe decided to support me in 2019, and again for this season. They have a really tacky compound and strong sidewalls which means I can run really low pressure and get so much grip! This inspires so much confidence added to the extra surface area of the 29er; I have never felt so fast yet so much control.”

“Living in the UK, we are so lucky, and those that have been unaffected by COVID19 are even luckier. I have been amazed about how well the country has come to support those on the frontline together. The MTB fitness community had raised a fair bit of cash to help me fund my race season but since there is no racing, I am donating it to support the NHS. I wish everyone peace, health, and happiness, as soon as the crisis is over, I hope to see as many people as I can on the trails doing the best sport in the world.”

You can keep yourself updated on Maya’s training and riding by checking out her Instagram account, and hopefully, we’ll see Maya and her Magic Marys gracing the dirt of World Cup racing tracks soon!

Maya Atkinson elite female downhill mountain bike racer.
Love to all - peace, health and happiness

Words: Jess Strange - Velo Me | Images: 
Keith Valentine @phunkt and Yasmeen Green @thehillsarealive