What’s a big day on the trail for you? A couple of hours? Five hours? Heck, maybe it’s two days with a bikepacking overnighter...
Try 13 days and around 1,200 miles.
That’s what 37-year-old Chattanooga resident and Litespeed ambassador Matt Schweiker amassed last fall when taking on one of bikepack racing’s holy grail events: the Silk Road Mountain Race. While most of us enjoy the endurance of a few hours out, Matt loves to go for hours, stop in some little town for a quick bite, then go again, stopping only to set up a small tent and get a few hours of rest along some ridgeline… only to wake and (you guessed it) go again. He has an uncanny ability to persevere over hours when many would throw in the white towel and surrender to the siren song of a hotel room, room service, and a Do Not Disturb sign hanging on the door.
“I just love volume,” Schweiker says. “This year I’m working to be focused on quality rides on the bike, but I just love being on the bike as many hours as I can."
“Of course,” he adds with a laugh, “that can be counterproductive.”
Schweiker grew up on the Mississippi Delta. His mother was a marathon runner, and his father was one of the early pioneers in the then-burgeoning sport of mountain biking in the early 1990s. “I didn’t appreciate it then, but dad had this Giant Iguana steel hardtail that was off-limits to my brother and me,” he says with a laugh. “I always had a bike growing up, we grew up on the Delta, and did river trails. Ironically, my first bike was a mountain bike. I woke up on Christmas morning one year expecting a BMX bike… and was so bummed!”
His love for bikes went from mountain biking to kids' triathlons at age 11, to becoming a general endurance fan out of college—but not on the bike.
“I lived in Seattle right out of college, and got into mountaineering and alpine climbing,” Schweiker says. “It wasn’t cycling, but it was totally relevant; big days in the mountains building up the engine.”
That led to a rock climbing education guide job in China, a one-year stint that turned into a five-year love affair with the country. “I loved it there, and that’s where my love of traveling began,” he says. “I’d work for three months and then have three or four months off, and I’d just backpack… on a bike.”
Next up was more global bikepacking sojourns: a six-month ride from Bogota, Colombia through Ecuador and Bolivia into Chile. A trip to Africa. One in New Zealand. One along the Tibetan Plateau. “I did big days, not really racing, just a lot of camping, riding in the mountains.”
And absorption of global culture on a grand scale.
“Seeing the world on a bike is an awesome way to do it,” he says. “Bike touring, it’s the perfect pace; walking is too slow, and to go through in a car, you don’t see anything. Plus people don’t relate to you like when you roll into a town all dusty from riding all day. There’s a curiosity that breaks down barriers from people that would otherwise think you’re just some rich American.”
Experiencing how other people around the world live isn’t just observed. Schweiker was an active participant, especially when locals invited this wayward soul into their homes for a meal.
“Living in China, I ate so many weird things,” he says with a laugh. “I really embrace the food wherever I am and seek out the authentic cultural things. It’s just cool to see how other people live; America is a wealthy country, but a lot of times, it’s occurred to me that people in some places not as well off have got a lot of stuff figured out that we don’t.”
And that’s led to a permanent change in Schweiker’s mindset.
“Friends think I go all these places on vacation—and don't get me wrong, I'm having such an amazing time—but riding through Ethiopia, it kinda sucks sometimes. But you do walk away from an experience like that with a firmer grasp on how the world works,” he says. “It’s a perspective change that has allowed me to see life differently. I just try to live simply. For a while I was forced to live like the locals, living on $10 a day eating the Menu del Dia, the cheapest menu of the day from the local tiendas. Getting out of the Lonely Planet tourist bubble helps you have some really authentic experiences.”
Being able to undertake these live experience rides means a little luck, and there’s the luck in being his own boss as the co-owner of a credit card processing company. “I work hard but have a lot of flexibility. It’s a key part of being able to check out for a whole month to do races, or to cut out early to go ride,” he says. “I’m pretty fortunate to have that flexibility.”
As for training, it’s just like us.
“My typical week training for any race is one and a half to two hours after work, maybe a little later on a Friday for three hours,” he says. “I’m not a morning guy, but I do yoga every morning, and take Mondays off from training. Weekends are when I get my big rides. In the winter, it’s about 15 hours per week, but it’s 20 hours a week closer to training. And of course, it all varies based on intensity.”
That all lends well to greater performance at the bikepack races he's fallen in love with. The iconic Silk Road Mountain Race was last year's apex event, but it was preceded by several big events that really whet his bikepack racing whistle.
"When I came back to the states to start my business, I did the Trans North Georgia, and that was it; I couldn't get enough of bikepack racing."
The 2023 race season is pretty easily laid out for Schweiker: the Cohutta Cat (a 290-mile figure-eight loop in the mountains of North Georgia and Eastern Tennessee) the Cohutta 100 XC Mountain Bike Race and—the coup de grace—the Tour Divide. All will be tackled with the tool that helped carry him across the mountainous terrain of Kyrgyzstan: the Pinhoti III hardtail trail bike.
He’s taken on a coach for the first time, bringing onboard Kurt Reifschenider, a renowned marathon mountain biker that has completed the Triple Crown of bikepacking (the Arizona Trail, the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, and the Colorado Trail) and will help shape his build for his A-Race for the season: the Tour Divide.
“I’m really excited to see what the year brings,” he says.
Whatever it is, it's certainly part of a wildly rich tapestry Schweiker has created worldwide.