We just can’t seem to get enough of the North Country Cycle Sport-Derailed Mountain Team. The guys from Up North are an absolute blast to race, ride and relax with, and one of their fastest riders and architects is John Cowan. He’s earned the appellation “Gentleman” John for his ceaseless ability to be calm, friendly and encouraging even when taking on the best in the state.
1. First of all, who are you?
My name is John Cowan and I am originally from Petoskey, MI. I went to college at Western
Michigan University, which is where I began my cycling “career”. When I graduated, I considered
moving to Colorado or Western North Carolina to start my teaching career and of course, ride bikes. I
interviewed in Asheville, NC and absolutely loved it but all of my family lives in Northern Michigan so I
decide to move home instead. I’ve now been teaching 8th grade math at Petoskey Middle School for
the past 8 years.
I initially started as a roadie but soon switched over to mountain bikes. The past few years, I’ve
also been competing in the local cyclocross races that are popping up in Northern Michigan. I race for
North Country Cycle Sport, which is better known as the NCCS/Derailed team.
2. What got you into biking? What got you into racing? What is your proudest two-wheeled
I started riding when I was a senior at WMU. I was a three sport athlete in high school and I
always enjoyed the outdoors as well. When I got to college, I still worked out but I was looking for
something a little more meaningful than going to the gym. I had started commuting on an old Trek 930
that my brother wasn’t using (it’s now been converted to my crappy-roads bike) the previous spring and
I saw something about the WMU cycling team so I went to a meeting. Most of the guys were roadies
but there were a few mountain bikers as well. So I met up with Bill Gallagher and Reid Arnott and we
started riding Fort Custer and Yankee Springs. I kept attending the cycling club meetings and I started
racing road the spring of my senior year. I raced road for Ada Bike Shop for one summer but I soon
realized it wasn’t very practical living in Northern Michigan and having to travel downstate to race. I’m
going to sound old here but this was before there were road races at Cherry Roubaix, Midland, West
Branch. My shortest drive to a race that summer was 4 hours.
My proudest personal accomplishment is probably doing 14 laps at the 2008 (I think) 12 Hours
of Hanson Hills where my longest break was to wash my bike because my chain kept sucking. However,
a bigger accomplishment is watching our MISCA youth riders participating in races and doing really well.
It won’t be longer before they are faster than me. I’ll still have experience on my side though!
3. What kind of bikes are you riding?
Other than the before mentioned Trek 930, I have a Trek Superfly 29er hardtail and a Trek
Cronus cross bike. I am keeping my 2012 Trek Superfly but I now have the XX1 group on it. I’ve also
added Shimano XTR brakes to satisfy Chad Wells and Todd Freidinger. They’ve been trying to convert
me for a few years and I’ve finally given in. The Cronus is stock except for some Stan’s 340 tubeless
wheels. This is my “road” bike during the spring and summer.
4. What are your big goals for 2013? Who do you want to beat?
My goals for 2013 are similar to my goals for last year. I’ve started to move away from specific
finishes at specific races. I’ve realized there are too many factors out of your control. However, I still
have races I like to be in top form for and the main ones are Mud Sweat and Beers, Hanson Hills, and
Ore to Shore. My main goal is to feel competitive in every race and most of all have fun.
Who do I want to beat? Ross Gibbs and Trevor Kingsbury. If those youngsters beat me I’ll never
hear the end of it. At Peak2Peak last fall, Ross raced before the monsoon hit and his lap time was only
slightly longer than mine. Of course, I was slogging through horrible conditions with both brakes
rubbing the whole time but he fails to mention that.
5. What is your favorite place to ride in the world?
The Blue Ridge Parkway and Town Mountain Road near Asheville, NC are amazing for road
riding. For mountain biking, Marquette and Copper Harbor never get old. This fall I am travelling to
Italy to visit my brother and I might get a chance to ride in Tuscany so hopefully I can add that to the list.
6. If you had to compare yourself to a pro, who would you pick?
I know he’s not a mountain biker but I really admire Jens Voight. The guy gives it everything he
has even if the course doesn’t suite him. He’s also very grateful for all the opportunities cycling has
given him and I’m sure he’ll find a way to give back when he retires. He’s definitely a role model for all
7. Who is your favorite person to ride with?
Mountain-Trevor Kingsbury. There’s a reason he’s called “Crash”.
Road-Dave Ide. He’s a local legend up here. He’s mainly a roadie but I also Skate Ski with him in
the winter. We call him “Il Falco” for his descending skills both on the bike and on skis. He’s a complete
class act who is greatly respected by all the local riders. He’s also like Jens. He never ages.
8. If you could design a bike race in Michigan, where would the finish line be? Who would you have as podium girls?
I believe the race would have to end a Short’s Brewery in Bellaire. Why wouldn’t it?
Podium Girls-I know Cody wants me to say Emily Batty but can a podium girl at a bike race be
another bike racer? Since I’m married, it might be easier to not answer this question…
9. Any last words?
Sorry this got so long. If you give a teacher an audience, we’ll talk all day.