Derin Stockton's two-wheel adventure started on a little Schwinn, like so many other children of the '70s. Derin and brother Kurt, himself a former United States professional road-racing national champion, rode their bikes everywhere. Trips to the California desert, where their parents raced motorcycles, were an early introduction to off-road bicycling.
The ’80s rolled around, and the Stocktons' mom discovered triathlon. Mountain biking was in its infancy, but road riding was blowing up—and the cycling culture in and around the Santa Barbara area made it one of the most robust riding scenes in North America.
Kurt started racing and Derin followed suit. His young career was impressive enough to attract the eyes of national team coaches and earn him invitations to come train at the Olympic Training Center. But Derin was more of a road-racing tactician than the typical climbing/time-trial robot that coaches seemed to favor. He ditched the federation program in favor of his own path.
In 1989, Stockton was offered a chance to finish out the racing season in Europe, riding as a professional for the powerhouse TVM squad from Holland. He drained his meager bank account in order to buy the $275 US PRO racing license, scraped together enough funds to get a one-way airline ticket to Europe, and took off.
The 20-year-old, who had but a small handful of 100-plus-mile races under his belt, was suddenly racing that distance on almost a daily basis. It was an eye-opening experience to say the least. And though he didn't get the results needed to land him a contract for the 1990 season on TVM or another Euro squad, Derin's four-month European campaign opened the door to a short North American pro career on a couple of the most notable teams of the day.
By the middle ’90s, the road scene was drying up and ‘salary adjustments’ necessitated that the Southern Californian re-evaluate his career. Mountain-bike racing had no lack of sponsors with sacks of cash, so a glut of skinny-tire guys made the leap to the other side of the 'aisle,’ so to speak. And while most of his fellow ex-roadie colleagues chose the cross-country discipline, Stockton took a different approach.
"I was smart enough to know that if I wasn't a climber on the road, I wasn't going to race cross country in mountain biking,” he said.
It was a good choice. He worked out a deal with John Parker from Yeti and embarked upon what would become an eight-year national and World Cup downhill career under the Yeti, Foes and, finally, Maxxis team banners.
Humble and pragmatic, Stockton is also quick to point out that timing contributed to his successful transition. It was 1994 and the downhill bikes available would be considered short-travel XC machines today. Road fitness on courses that demanded a lot of pedaling allowed Derin to transition into the sport successfully. And as suspension travel and bike design progressed, so did Derin; he's not so sure whether that transition would even be possible with today's downhill bikes.
As fortune would have it, failure to qualify for the final of one of the European World Cup rounds became the catalyst to Stockton's next career—and his continued connection to mountain biking.
"I walked up on the course during the final run and I'm like, 'Look, these guys can't be that much better than me.' I just couldn't believe it, you know?"
On an off-camber section of course that he'd Fred Flintstoned in an attempt to remain upright, some riders were pedaling with near-perfect traction.
He began paying attention to tire design and technology. When tire sponsor Maxxis showed him a new design, Stockton told them they shouldn't bother. They asked if he could do any better, so he bought a pad of graph paper, a ruler and a pencil, and got to work. When he arrived at the company's Asian headquarters with some sketches in a manila folder, he was met with a roomful of sideways glances. But he made his case, and the engineers listened.
The end result segued into a career after racing, including a portfolio of tire designs for both Maxxis (including their best-selling High Roller) and Intense, many of which are still in production.
Though he'd successfully adapted to office life, Derin missed the athlete interaction he'd grown accustomed to as a road and then mountain-bike racer. Living now in the mecca of motocross racing, he started training professional motocross and supercross racers—and he formed his own mountain-bike team: Santa Cruz Syndicate.
By 2006, the pull of the Supercross spotlight had become powerful enough to require 100-percent dedication. Stockton gave up his team and threw himself headlong into training motocross stars.
From 2006 through 2011, Stockton worked with one, maybe two, riders per year. Ivan Tedesco, Ryan Villopoto and Ryan Dungey are former clients. He trained them, traveled with them, went to the gym with them and cooked for them. And their successes are very personal, very shared victories, for which he is deservedly extremely proud. Still, when a friend offered him a job as a trainer back in Santa Barbara, Derin packed up and moved back home.
Last month, Stockton celebrated the grand opening of Santa Barbara Cycling, his business dedicated to performance coaching and training for cyclists of all disciplines and abilities. His new venture is the culmination of a 30-year career that's been wholly dedicated to getting the most out of athletes and their equipment. It's also a combination of precise knowledge and methodology derived from the top levels of road cycling, mountain biking and motocross—each offering something to the other.
Stockton has definitely come full circle, but will undoubtedly attack this next lap with equal dedication to following his own path that has shaped his life and career(s) thus far.
Derin can be found at santabarbaracycling.com