Unless you’re new, have been living under a rock, or just plain believe that the study of history—any history—is a waste of time, mountain-bike legend Marla Streb needs little introduction. She wears the body art of a Single-Speed World Champ (twice), is a multiple-time U.S. National Champion, has stood on the top step of the World Cup podium, graced the cover of Outside magazine and, as she hones in on five decades of being alive, she’s still looking forward to racing season—she’s just not going to be going at it every weekend.
The self-described “closet tree-hugger” first started pedaling a bike purely for transportation purposes. Even while working toward her Master’s in Marine-Estuarine-Environmental Science at the University of Maryland, Streb refrained from driving a car. Commuting long miles to and from her AIDs-research job at the Scripps Institute—her “last real job”—gave her the fitness she needed for her first mountain-bike race. As is the case with so many riders that go on to do this sport for a living, one race is all it took—she was hooked.
It was back when the NORBA Nationals at Big Bear or Mammoth seemed to be the center of the fat-tire universe. Streb wanted to climb to the top of the XC world and end the reign of Juli Furtado. But science, in the form of a low VO2-max test, shattered those XC aspirations.
“I woke up in the desert the next day, in between bottles of German something all around me,” she says. “I became a downhiller the next day.”
Seeing as how Marla spent 16 years as a full-time professional mountain-bike racer, it’s safe to say she made the right choice. Don’t think for a second, though, that it was all a bunch of carefree coasting. No, Streb worked hard at her profession, grabbing her fair share of podium finishes and demanding attention from both the cycling and mainstream media, before social media simplified the process. She admits, in fact, that the self-promotion was not only necessary —“I didn’t win all the time; I wasn’t Anne-Caroline [Chausson]”— but also a part of her job she thoroughly enjoyed, in part due to the ego-boosting side effects.
It was also a career that survived despite equipment challenges. Though suspension technology and bicycle design feels like it has really hit its stride in recent years, many [read; most] of the ‘90s-era bikes weren’t even close to being dialed. Streb suffered some big injuries as a result.
In 1999, before the curtain closed on the 20th century, Marla and her low VO2 max took top honors at a World Championship XC race—the Singlespeed World Championships, that is. It’s a title she claimed again in 2005.
Although her 1998 X-Games win in Crested Butte, Colorado, and her 2003 World Cup victory in Kaprun, Austria top her list for athletic achievement, Streb calls her entire stint with the LUNA Chix Pro Team (2001 – 2009) the highlight of her career. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that she still works for the team…doing PR.
Back in her hometown of Baltimore, Streb has rekindled her “closet tree-hugger” flame for bicycle commuting. And when she’s not busy stumping for the LUNA program, or wrangling her two daughters, she works with Bike Maryland, a local advocacy group.
In September of 2013, Marla Streb was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. It’s an honor, however, that in no way signals her quiet ride off into the sunset. Though no longer a full-time LUNA team member, Streb is going to pull on the LUNA colors in competition once again, with her sights set on a few select events. The All-Mountain World Championship in Downieville, California, seems an obvious and enjoyable target—she has fitness and bike-handling skills, after all. But she also has designs on tackling a couple rounds of the Enduro World Series—the Crankworx round, for sure, and another to be determined. Entering those EWS events will put Marla on the start list with another Mountain Bike Hall of Famer: 2009 inductee Anne-Caroline Chausson.
I, for one, will be anxious to see how it goes.