Mountain Bike Icons – the Wyn Masters story
[Words by Steve Thomas]
Raised in the west of New Zealand’s North Island, Wyn Masters and his younger brother Eddie found cycling much as many other regular kids did in days gone by – by discovering the fun and adrenaline rush that comes from back garden bike jams and makeshift jumps. We've chatted to the Kiwi rider about his rise to fame.
- Mountain bike Icons - the greatest riders of all time
- Tips for beginner mountain bikers - MTB hacks to make you faster and confident on the bike
- Best hardtail mountain bikes 2023 - great hardtails for every budget
“I started aged 11 with mountain bikes, and pretty much started with doing little jumps in my backyard with my younger brother (who is also a pro rider). The jumps got bigger and bigger all of the time, and there was a little local race series so we went and did one cross-country race to start with, and we realised that we didn’t enjoy that and started with downhill mountain biking from there," Wyn tells.
At that early stage, it was all about fun, although the brothers did soon start to progress and begin to realise there could be more to this mountain biking lark.
“We did years of racing those little local races and then progressed to national races. We kept building the jumps, and as they got bigger and bigger we eventually dug up the whole backyard, and it all went from there. We were always pushing or daring each other to do stupid things. There were also always older and better riders in town, and we always rode with them, which helped our development as riders.”
Go west young man
New Zealand may well be a stunning place to ride bikes but it’s a very long way from Europe and the USA, where the gravity racing world is centred – and the expense of making that great dirt and ocean jump westwards has always been a major financial obstacle for Kiwi athletes. And so Wyn decided to take matters into his own hands and took his show west, step by step.
“I wanted to do it earlier than I did. As a junior, I was winning in New Zealand and I wanted to race internationally, and I did a few races in Australia and that was it. It seemed too much money and too hard to do it in Europe. It took me a couple of years - I worked in New Zealand for a while to get some money, and then I moved to Cairns (Australia, because I could earn a bit more money) to work a landscaping job and then did some mine work, and I saved up enough to go and do my first season in Europe.”
From there Wyn took a huge leap of faith and hopped the long flight of ambition and hope.
“I pretty much only knew one person in Europe, and so I flew to Portugal where there was a guy who knew a friend of mine, and from there I just had to try and get a ride to all of the races, and that was how I did it cheaply.”
It was quite a step up in terms of scale and took a little acclimatising, too.
“The first races were pretty stressful, with going straight over to Europe and now you’re lining up with all of your heroes, it’s a wakeup call for sure. I did quite a few small races first, and the first World Cup I did was in Maribor, Slovenia, and I crashed and kind of gave up after that. I wasn’t far off qualifying, and so I knew in the next one I just had to go hard whatever happens, and it was a good learning experience.”
“That next race was in Andorra, and I crashed again, but I got straight back up and finished 60th in qualifying when there were 80 slots for the final. I think I finished 32nd in the final and was pretty happy with that in my second-ever world cup,” Wyn tells.
Gaining attention and support
Riding as a self-funded privateer is no easy task at the World Cup level, and it’s also financially draining, but luckily for Wyn, he was not going unnoticed.
“My first kind of sponsorship was with Ancillotti, an Italian bike company. Brook MacDonald and I were racing world cups and finishing regularly in the top 30 and so they took a little bit of notice. I got speaking to Tomaso (who builds the bikes) at Fort William, and he asked if we’d be interested in the next year, and I said sure. It happened pretty quick, luckily, as I didn’t know how many years I could have done it like that [without support].”
“I later did three years on Bulls, and had another year of a contract left, but the GT guys were interested. I thought I couldn’t let the opportunity to go to a brand like GT, where at least when you tell someone (generally) that you ride for GT, anywhere in the world people know the brand and its history. I couldn’t let that pass and so had to put myself out of the Bulls contract and went to GT in 2016. It was for the best, it’s pretty cool to be with a brand that is so loyal to the riders, and to now be a little part of that history.”
Videos and media
Wyn is well known as a larger-than-life character, and his on-screen and online presence is of as much importance as his race results. Unlike many racers, he realised this early on.
“After my first season (2008) I thought that I wanted to document it somehow, and I’ve always liked photography and video, and so I bought a camera and made a video at home with my friends and then just started making more and more video content.
“From 2010 onwards I started doing videos and interviews at the races, and that evolved into Wyn TV. At the start, I was working with MTB Cut (now Cut Media) producing random interviews, and it just grew from there and I kept it going, it’s been 13 years or so now, which is pretty good.”
These days, aged 36 and with a young family to support Wyn has re-balanced his priorities in a shrewd way.
“The media side is, for me, 70% of what I do. I need to be able to produce content and show what I’m doing. You need to provide value to a company (sponsor), they’re trying to sell bikes at the end of the day. Winning races is one thing, but there’s only one winner at every race, and it’s pretty hard to do that consistently.”
Highs & lows
Despite having been prominent on the Downhill World Cup and EWS scene for many years and having won the Oceania continental championships Wyn’s finest racing hour came around in the most special of ways.
“In 2017 I won the EWS in Rotorua, which was pretty big for me – ticking off a world series win in your home country is pretty special. My brother was also on the podium too, and so it was a pretty special day."
However, having personally faced the great solo struggle to make his mark in the sport he values “putting” something back far more than his personal results.
When asked about his career highs, Wyn didn't hesitate in his answer:
“Getting to the point in my career now, where I can try and give something back to others [is a high]. There were a lot of people who helped me along the way, and a little bit of help goes a long way when you’re coming up. This is why I’ve been working on the “privateer” things, which has worked pretty well. With the “privateer of the week” award last season we we’re giving away 2,500€ to the fastest privateer on each of the Wyn TV videos, and that was quite rewarding, to see riders succeeding.
"We’ve seen riders go on to win world champs, like Camile Balanche, who was staying in a van when she won the award. It’s quite cool to see that, and that’s more rewarding for me than a personal result.”
Naturally, the highs don't come without lows, and untimely crashes plagued the mid part of Wyn’s career. A nasty 2011 arm break went wrong and was followed by an untimely wrist fracture – which cost him dearly on the sponsorship front.
“It was a pretty tough time and you start wondering if it’s ever going to happen, and then the Bulls thing came around in 2015 and it’s been on an upwards trajectory since then. You wouldn’t have thought it at the time, but it’s just around the corner.”
For more fun insights from the man himself, you can follow Wyn on social media and YouTube.