I know Steve Villiger as one of the quiet, unassuming guys that works to build and maintain the trails out at Pupukea. For years he and his friends have tirelessly worked to create what is now the most well developed set of mountain bike trails on the island. Last year Steve put the hammer down at the 24 Hours of Hell in Paradise with a 1st place win in the Solo Men's category. So who is this trail builder/24 Hour winning machine? Let's find out what Steve had to say.
Who is this Steve Villiger guy?
I’m generally a happy person and one of those people who really enjoy being outside. I like cool people and am indifferent to jerks. I do my best to enjoy life. I’ll feel very fortunate to live in such an incredible place.
Where are you from and where do you live?
I grew up on the East Coast, but I’ve been living on the North Shore of Oahu for the past 33 years. Typical story; came out here to surf for a few months, got broke, got a job, and stayed.
What brings you the most happiness?
I just love being outside and having fun. I love the Ocean and I love the Mountains. I really enjoy riding with a small group of friends. Through the eighties, nineties and early 2000s, I spent most of my recreation time in the Ocean; mostly windsurfing, but also surfing, kite surfing, diving, etc. But nowadays I spend much more time up in the mountains. I love the solitude. Sadly, there isn’t really much solitude left out in the surf these days! I also really love to travel. If I could afford it I would travel all the time and try to go to the most exotic and far out places possible!
Where are your favorite trails to ride in Hawaii?
My favorite trails, no doubt about it, are the Pupukea Paumalu trails. Fortunately for me, the trailhead is only a few miles away so I can pedal there from my house. There’s a great variety of cross-country and all mountain trails. The trails are excellent for trail running and hiking too. There’s a friendly camaraderie amongst the regular crew up there. It’s in complete contrast to the overcrowded and aggressive line-ups at the North Shore surf spots. I probably average about 3 days per week riding up there, more if my schedule allows.
Where are your favorite trails to ride outside of Hawaii?
I really don’t have much MTB experience outside of Hawaii. Of course I dream about going up to Whistler one of these days. And I know that I have to make the pilgrimage to Moab and some of the other epic areas on the mainland. The only place that I’ve really done much riding outside of Oahu is in Tanzania, Africa. I am fortunate to have a very close friend, Simon Mtuy, who is Tanzanian and has lived his entire life on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. I’ve visited Simon 4 times (so far) over the past decade. His company, which specializes is Kilimanjaro climbs and animal safaris, has recently started guiding Mountain Bike adventures. In 2014 Rosie Warfield (my GF), Simon and I rode (and ran) around the perimeter of Mount Kilimanjaro, which was a blast. For the most part, we we’re riding jeep roads and foot paths through very rural areas that never see tourists. The average elevation that we were riding was about 6,000 feet. We were in the mountain forest region, which is really the most beautiful region on the mountain. There were lots of monkeys and very exotic birds. We had lots of great interactions with the locals. It was an amazing adventure. On that same trip, my friends, Jim Blattau, Sue Cortez, Randy and Judy Myers met us over there and we spent another week riding through the Usambara Mountains in North Eastern Tanzania. There was spectacular scenery riding from village to village. We’d ride past schools where the entire student body would come running outside to see the “Wazungu” (westerners). They’d touch our white skin to see if it was real! The kids would totally trip out on our modern mountain bikes which are technologically more advanced than any bike they’d ever scene! It’s also pretty epic to finish a ride with a week long safari in the Serengeti!
You’re known locally as a trail builder, what’s your favorite trail you’ve built?
Hmmm, I might have to take the 5th amendment on that one! What I will say is that there is an incredible group of trail volunteers at the Pupukea Paumalu State Park Reserve. Most people that ride there are unaware that as a “reserve” the State has no resources for the area and does no maintenance whatsoever. That means that all of the awesome trails up there are maintained entirely by volunteers! That being said, I’d have to say that I think one of our proudest accomplishments would have to be the creation of Lilikoi Junction. This is a great gathering place and a fantastic place to take a break and cool down for a few minutes.
Downhill, All-Mountain or Cross Country listed from favorite to least favorite?
I’d have to say that my preferences would be Downhill / All-mountain first, and then Cross Country. Now let me be clear, I am not talking about British Columbia double black diamond downhill, as my skills are nowhere near that level! I’m talking fun non-life-threatening downhill like Hula Girl, Party Line, Deadwood etc. These would probably be considered beginner trails to the North Shore BC guys, but for me they’re just about as fun as you can get!
Where and when was the last time you were genuinely scared on your bike?
Cars really scare the crap out of me when I’m on my bike! No long ago I rode my bike into Honolulu and decided to take Kam Hwy all the way through Pearl City. It was treacherous!
What are your strengths?
I think I’ve got good endurance and am a pretty decent climber. I’m guessing this comes from several decades of distance running.
What are your weaknesses?
I don’t have the speed of the younger guys. I wish I did! I’ll do a run down Hula Girl that in my mind I think is just about as fast as anyone could possibly go. Then I’ll look at Strava and see that Shiloh Francis and Ian Walker absolutely crushed my time! They probably had enough time to drink a beer before I finished!
What’s your worst crash over the years?
I’d have to say that my worst crash was on “Waimea” at Pupukea Paumalu. This was an older trail that is no longer maintained and has since been completely abandoned. It was essentially a super steep fall line trail that you’d have to thread the needle through two massive iron wood trees at the bottom. The two iron wood trees were about 5 feet apart, which you’d think would be plenty wide to pass through, right? To make it down Waimea, you’d basically ride your brakes as far as you could until you’d start to slide, then you’d let go of your brakes and hope for the best. I thought everything was going great. I let go of my brakes at what I thought was the right spot. Went to thread the needle between the two trees, then BAM! The white light of pain! Total yard sale. Grade-3 shoulder separation! Fortunately, my friend G-Dub was there to see it as I almost landed on him. And my other buddy, the late great George Ramos was above me and was laughing as he told me that he thought I broke the tree!
What bike/s are you riding right now?
My main ride right now is a 2016 Yeti SB6C with mostly XTR components. It’s a sweet ride! I absolutely love it. I still have my 2010 Specialized Enduro that is also an excellent bike. But the Yeti is really a great bike. It’s a 27.5” which rides very nicely on our local trails. That being said, I am not one of those who claim that one particular wheel size is the be-all-end-all wheel size. I think that 26”, 27.5” and 29” all have their pros and cons.
Who’s your favorite rider?
That’s a tough one to answer. Of course I love to watch the Danny Macaskill videos on YouTube! That guy is absolutely nuts! And it’s super entertaining to watch the Red Bull Rampage carnage. But I’d have to say that my favorite riders are my friends that I get to ride with on our local trails.
Who or what inspires you?
One of the things I love about traveling is that it can really change our perspective of how we see the world. This is especially true when traveling to less affluent areas than here. We tend to fret over our first-world problems like “my cellphone coverage is slow today” etc. When you go to an area that has no electricity and no plumbing, and you see that one has to walk several miles and a thousand vertical feet each way just to fill a bucket with water for their family, it tends to put things in a different perspective. When I see a family that has no material possessions, but yet they are still happy, I find that very inspiring. I try not to complain (too much) about poor cell phone coverage.
I also find inspiration from memories of my best friend, George Ramos. Cancer took George from us in September of 2013. He was an incredible athlete. Not only a great MTBer but also a legendary long distance paddle boarder and great surfer. George put in many hours of volunteer work at Pupukea Paumalu. Even after he got sick, he’d come up and do trail work with us. After months of nasty chemo, his legs could barely support him, but he’d still be up there with us, doing trail work, raking needles until he couldn’t stand up anymore. Then he’d lie down and rest for a while, and then he’d get right back up and rake some more! George fought to the end and never complained about anything.
What do you enjoy doing away from bikes?
I still love the Ocean, surfing, windsurfing, diving etc. I also really love to snowboard. I usually get a week or two of snowboarding in each winter.
What’s your favorite non-bike website?
That’s a tough one. It’s probably the weather radar site, because I always want to know if the trails are going to be dry.
What gets on your nerves?
I’m not a very big fan of selfie sticks and people who are glued to their phone! Come on, put the phone away and enjoy life! I also get bent sideways when I see people litter.
If you weren’t a mountain biker what would you be doing?
I’d probably be spending much more time in the water. MTBing was my way of escaping the ever-growing crowds out in the surf. I still think surfing is awesome, but I have WAY more fun on my MTB now.
If you could change something about mountain biking, what would it be?
If I could change something about MTBing it would be to make the high-end bikes and components more affordable. It’s kind of crazy that a MTB can cost as much or more than a motorcycle nowadays. That doesn’t make sense.
Last year you won the the 24 Hours of Hell in Paradise, how did that feel?
That was really awesome! I had absolutely no expectations. I didn’t think I even had a chance at being anywhere near the leaders.
Conditions were horrible, what motivated you to keep riding in the wet, muddy ,wee hours of the night?
There was a lot of rain and the course was a mess. I was really close to throwing in the towel just before dark. Rosie (my GF) wouldn’t let me drop and managed to keep me in the race. Around 9ish or so at night, I asked Mike Solis who was in the lead, and he told me it was Sergio Florian, and I was in second. I was like, “What? I’m in second? For real? On that next lap, I crossed paths with Sergio and asked him what lap he was on. It turns out that we were on the same lap and had a fair lead on the rest of the pack. This was good and bad news. It was great to know that I was up there in the front with Sergio, but this also meant that there was no way that I could drop out now! I was going to have to finish this thing! By the way, Sergio is a WAY stronger rider than me, I’m just really stubborn and decided to forego sleep that night and power through as many laps as possible. I’ve got some experience with long distance running from being a part of the Hawaiian Ultra Running Team (HURT) for the past 8 or 9 years. I’ve ran some 100 milers, 100 K’s etc. There is a mindset that you get into, and you just don’t let yourself quit. I just tried to get into that mindset. With running, you just tell yourself to keep putting one foot in front of the other. With riding, you just keep telling yourself to keep those pedals moving. Sometime around 3 AM or so, I dozed off for about a 30-minute catnap. And then just kept those pedals moving.
What advice would you give new riders attempting their first 24 hour race?
Go out slow. 24 hours is a loooooong time to ride. You’ve got to pace yourself. Drink more water than you think you should. Eat more food than you think you should. But most of all, Have Fun! It’s a lot easier to have fun for 24 hours than it is to torture yourself for 24 hours. The 24-hour race is really a great event.
What does the future hold for Steve Villager?
I just want to stay healthy and fit for as long as I can. To me, MTBing is the best way to do this. I know that it sounds cliché, but if you’ve got your health you’ve got everything. MTB is incredibly fun, and as a bonus it keeps you fit. We’re very fortunate to live in an era that has such incredible technologically advanced equipment. When I got my first MTB back around 1988, I would have never dreamed that we’d be riding the bikes that we’re riding today. I want to keep on riding and having fun! One individual that really inspires me is my buddy, Jim Blattau. Jim is 74 years old and he rides like he’s 20 years old. The guy is an animal. He’s even got a wooden ladder bridge with a teeter-totter that wraps around his house! I hope (wish) that I can do what he does at his age!