Known as the “showman” of track cycling, a Six Day legend, social media phenomenon, and all round great guy; we caught up with Nate Koch – TEAM NATER following his retirement from track cycling, and new venture into the media of Six Days.
Six Days is an historic series of track cycling events taking place across Europe which run for 6 nights straight, focusing on the madison and sprint events. It’s a party atmosphere with insane racing, and a bucket list item for rider and fan alike!
You started cycling relatively late compared to most, how did you get into it?
Yes, I started cycling late compared to most. I was 24 in 2010 when I started. After too many injuries in track and field I got a hold of my friend Travis Smith who was on the Canadian national team and asked him if he could get me started. The rest is history!
Your progression to the top was also relatively quick, what made you know you were good and ready to take it on full time?
I had just come off a track and field career as a division 1 decathlete. I did some knee rehab on the bike and knew that I enjoyed it and decided to give it a go. Fortunately for me I live 15 minutes from the velodrome (Velo Sports Centre) and the US national team was training there at the time. It was a pretty seamless transition.
You’ve also had some set-backs on your journey, how did you overcome these?
Set backs are just a part of being an athlete, alongside injuries, funding, political opinions and much more. Being an athlete is a choice, so regardless of the setback you just have to think of how much you want it.
What did you do before taking on cycling?
I ran track and field or athletics for 15 years. I was a division 1 decathlete with a full ride scholarship to Cal State, Long Beach. I ended up getting my degree in psychology. Growing up I Played other sports like soccer and baseball, and was always on a bike to get around.
How did you get into Six Days?
I got lucky! To put it simple, I messaged Max Levy on Facebook asking him if there were any spots available. He actually got back saying that all the positions were full. A few months later approximately two weeks before the start of Six Day Berlin Max messaged me back saying that Robert (Forstemann) had injured his back and that they were looking for one more rider. I booked my plane ticket and haven’t looked back since!
What do you enjoy most about Six Days?
The crowd and atmosphere are incredible! I knew from night one at Six Day Berlin 2015 I had found the type of cycling that fits me best.
How does it feel to be the “showman” and “entertainer” of track cycling?
I’ll take whatever titles the people would like to give me! I think it’s great that I am just being myself and enjoying what I am doing, and that the fans are enjoying the show that I get to put on. And yes, it feels incredible that I would be dubbed The Showman!
You’ve really changed the game of Six Days, and become somewhat of a revolutionary on the circuit, what do you think enabled you to do that?
I think the fact that I started so late and didn’t really have any knowledge or understanding of the “correct way” to do things, I did it my own way. Fortunately for me I came around at a time where lots of changes were starting to be made and my way of doing things fit in to that nicely.
How do you keep the energy so high all the time?
I am on when I need to be on, and I turn it off when it is time to be off. It’s definitely a high-energy week, but the more energy the fans and event put out the more energy I get!
You’re not only a Six Day rider, what other success have you had on the bike?
I was man one in the team sprint for team USA. I currently hold the USA national record with Kevin Mansker and Matt Baronouski in the team Sprint. I also placed 2nd in the Keirin at the US national championships in 2016.
You’ve got some slack from certain groups of cyclists about the credibility of the level of racing at the Six Days, what would your response be to them?
I can’t please everyone and I’m certainly not going to try! I focus on the people that enjoy the type of person and racer that I am and how I fit into a Six Day event. Six Day racing is unlike any other. There are no extra titles or money to be won, but the objective is to put on a great show and entertain the fans. The racing is full gas and obviously world class, but I rather put on a show and get last place then be boring and win.
What do you feel is missing from track cycling, and especially sprinting, in the USA that’s preventing the riders from breaking through at the international competitions?
To put it very simply, I would say athlete support and accountability. There has been times when athletes have gotten great support, but due to lack of accountability and structure the results never came. Things are changing in the right direction especially with the 2028 Olympics in LA. There’s obviously plenty of athletic talent in USA, we just need to find out how to get them on the bike.
What do you feel is missing, or needs to be changed in track cycling?
I think the direction that Six Day Cycling is heading in is perfect! It brings world class high end racing into an exciting event where fun and entertainment is the goal. There’s definitely a place for serious and focused racing, but sometimes having a good time is most important to grow the sport.
You’re one of the most popular track cyclists on social media, how do you do it?
It’s pretty simple I guess, I just have fun and be myself. Focusing on those who support me and the fans of the sport is always my main objective.
Do you feel other cyclists or even sportsman could better market themselves?
Of course, but it is definitely a tough balance. It doesn’t come natural for many either. I tried to market myself as best as I could out of necessity. I couldn’t afford all the nice things and to travel around the world, so if I included others it was not only good for them but lucrative for me as well.
Other than cycling, what else are you interested in?
Five years ago I began my bike fit business, Long Beach Bike Fit. I have about 300 appointments a year now and definitely stay busy with it. I’ve definitely found a passion in woodworking and building things around my house. It’s a great way to be in the moment and exercise some creativity. And most importantly is my family! My amazing wife Ayla and my beautiful new daughter Lucy are so much fun and bring me huge amounts of joy. I am excited to see what adventures we get into as a family.
What’s next for Nate Koch? What are your plans and goals for the future?
Six Day London 2018 is my debut as the Six Day Cycling Social Ambassador. I’m excited to embrace the new role as a retired cyclist, and put 100% of my effort and energy into the fans, sponsors and events to make Six Day Cycling a household name worldwide.
I would also love to entertain the idea of commentating at all sorts of track cycling events. Commentating at the 2028 Olympics in LA would be a dream!
Conclusion: an inspiration to the young riders getting into the sport, and someone helping to grow track cycling worldwide; love him or hate him – he’s here to stay!
Be sure to tune into Six Day action starting tomorrow in London, and follow TEAM NATER for the latest action and behind the scenes footage!
Interview by: Matthew de Freitas