#5 - Tommy Zula
Dayton, OH - Riding a bicycle can take you many places, but for professional mountain bike rider Tommy Zula, it has taken him further than he ever could have imagined. We spent the day with him to learn more about his cycling career, winning the 2019 Red Bull UCI pump track world title, his plans for the future, and more.
Zula, age 30 of Dayton, began racing BMX bikes as a child and was immediately captivated by the sport. He credits the early start of his career to his dad, who took him to local races growing up.
“A buddy he raced dirt bikes with heard about a little indoor track in Dayton,” he recalled. “So my dad took me over there, and we got hooked instantly. It was a big thing for my whole family to do and we just fell in love with it.”
Racing BMX for years, Zula won several races on the local and national level, becoming one of the top young riders in the world. After nearly qualifying for the Olympics in 2012 and 2016 for BMX, he shifted his focus to mountain biking in 2017, which eventually led him to pump track racing.
“I was hearing about some cities that were putting in these pump tracks,” Zula stated. “I checked it out and I was blown away with the whole facility and how nice the tracks were. You could shred the track and do whatever you wanted. That really fits my vibe of riding.”
Pump tracks are looped circuit tracks, generally made of asphalt, consisting of various sections of banked turns and hills. They were first introduced in the United States in 2004, with their popularity rapidly increasing in recent years. As for racing, pump track is recognized by the UCI, the world governing body for cycling, with the first official world championship event being held in 2019.
And the winner of the first ever Red Bull UCI Gold Medal in Pump Track? Tommy Zula.
“Going in, I didn’t have too many expectations, but I trained my ass off for it,” he said, speaking about the competition. “To leave there as world champion - coming back home was just the most surreal feeling. Even today, having that is a dream come true.”
Earning the title of world champion hasn’t slowed Zula’s drive at all. He returned to defend the gold in 2021, placing fifth overall, and he’s already qualified for this year's world championships this November in Chile. In his most recent race, he placed first.
Although he’s always putting the pressure on himself to win, his main goal right now is to enjoy what he’s doing for as long as possible and do his absolute best.
“I wanna go out there and be a good competitor, be a good person, and be able to represent my sponsors that help keep the dream rolling,” he said.
Zula is aware, however, that his dream of being a professional rider can only stay rolling for so long. His plans for when he’s done is to help benefit the sport that’s benefitted him all these years.
“You can’t ride a bike forever, that’s for sure,” he laughed. “I want to give back to the sport that’s given me 10-plus years of an amazing life spent traveling the world. I want to teach as many kids to ride as I can, and hopefully grow the number of places to ride in Dayton.”
Competing at such a high level has given Tommy the opportunity to travel across the globe, from all over the United States, to places such as Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland, Sweden and Austria. In addition, it’s given him the chance to connect with people from around the world, by doing what he loves most.
For those who look up to him for what he’s accomplished, Zula gave this advice:
“Do what you love. I don’t care if it’s bike riding, if you want to paint, if you want to play baseball,” he said candidly. “I realized with my bike at a young age - this is my outlet and I think I can turn this into a career…do what you love to do and it might work out for you.”
For more from Tommy Zula, please subscribe to his Youtube channel or follow him on Instagram: @tommyzula
Video shot by Jake Turner and Cole Carpenter
Article written by Andrew Kaney