With his jovial spirit and boundless energy, we always look forward to a visit from Joachim Parbo. After spending the off-season fostering bicycle awareness to continue to grow the cycling community and infrastructure of his home city Aarhus, Denmark Joachim is back in form and racking up UCI Cyclocross points. While he was in the US, we sat down over a couple of cold drinks before his race in Tacoma to talk about the season, what he thinks about disc brakes, what it takes to race elite level cyclocross, and where his cycling career began.
If you didn’t already know, Parbo, as his friends call him, has been racing UCI cyclocross for over a decade. Ask any US national pro who has made the journey over to Europe to try their legs at the highest level of the sport, and chances are one way or another Parbo has helped them get accustomed to the Euro way of life and sport. He has a deep-seated love for cycling that drives his enthusiasm to support the sport however he can.
Cycling wasn’t his first love, that honor was bestowed on basketball, and it wasn’t until a foot injury during his mandatory time in the Danish army ended his basketball days, that he purchased a mountain bike as a way to recover, and he has been cycling ever since. Those first years were dedicated to riding off road, and after spending a year in Austria as an intern for the Danish embassy, where it seems he spent more time exploring the alpenglow than managing the telex, he returned to Denmark with a high level of fitness and entered a cyclocross race on a whim, knowing next to nothing about the sport. After smashing a large part of the field on his mountain bike, he caught the attention of the national team, and in two months time he was racing his first international race, the 2001 Azzen Cross in Loenhout.
In the beginning of his racing career he wasn’t strictly focused on CX, and in the same year that he competed in his first cyclocross race he also raced in the Arctic Team Challenge, an endurance race held in East Greenland that combined XC running, canoeing, and mountain biking in a multi-day format that took place over some very tough, very cold terrain. In his first year he won the race in a team with three 40-year-old Austrians. The following year he would return with three Danish green berets and beat the Austrians. “It was very tough and fulfilling those races, it taught me a lot about myself and how to push my limits,” Parbo says.
Since that time Parbo has competed in countless cyclocross races, earned multiple Danish national titles and raced for his country in numerous World Championships. Throughout his time racing he has accrued a wealth of knowledge that has helped him to refine his racing lifestyle as a privateer racer. “My travel kit is pared down such that I can carry everything myself, in the combat ready position.” This refers to the hunched over and tucked in marching style that Parbo learned in the military. All excess has been stripped from his kit, and he travels light. Two bikes, training kit, racing kit, and a duffle bag of off-bike clothes see him through his annual pilgrimage to race CX in the states.
“I try and annihilate factors, the goal is to make things as simple as possible.”
This idea of annihilating factors doesn’t just apply to the material things such as equipment and gear; for Parbo, it is just as important to consider the mental side as well. “If you only think about the race situation itself, then your life as an athlete can have the risk of being ignored, and this will quickly lead to burnout.” His experience has taught him the importance of accepting the fickle determinations of the road, the importance of a good night’s sleep, and the value of a long-term strategy. “You have to see it as one long season, not just the race in front of you, but all the races and the training and travel in between.”
This recognition of the essential accounts for Parbo’s apparent Luddism. He doesn’t shave his legs, “No need for it in CX, and its just another thing I have to pay attention to, more energy I have to expend.” He doesn’t race with disc brakes, “ Racing at the level that I do, I would rather have the modulation that comes with rim brakes. When you are coming into an icy, bumpy, rutted out corner the last thing you want to do is lock up your brakes and disc brakes have a tendency to do that. I was the first UCI pro racer to try them so I definitely have some experience and I don’t think that the technology is there yet in terms of a CX race specific brake. In addition I can work on my rim brakes, it’s easy to replace a cable, no hassles. I do most of my own bike work and I don’t want to have to worry about bleeding my hydraulic brakes the night before a race.” Parbo is quick to point out that for novice riders or racers using their CX bikes outside of the tape for gravel, touring, and adventure he thinks disc brakes are certainly up to the task and he would be willing to race on them again, provided that they do what he needs them to do.
There is no substitute for experience and having someone with over a decades-worth of top level racing experience giving you feedback. We look forward to working with Parbo, knowing that he will put our components to the test while considering his fellow cyclist in his quest to make it a better riding world.