Mike Sleeter | Back To His Roots
While attending Brian Lopes' All Star Weekend, we spotted a familiar face in KTM test rider, Mike Sleeter. Sleeter is a research and developer for the Austrian brand, and while some might think that's all he does when he's not winning mountain bike titles in his spare time, there's more to the former professional motocross and Supercross racer than meets the eye. The San Diego County native also works for One Industries and 100%, as he again plays the role of a research and developer for both apparel brands. We caught up with Sleeter in between dirt jump sessions to discuss this memorable time up at Woodward, his start on two wheels and what his roles with KTM, One Industries and 100% entail during mid-week testing.
So we're up here at Woodward West for Brian Lopes' All Star Weekend. Tell us a little about what's going on.
Yeah, it's Lopes' birthday weekend, but he prefers to keep the birthday aspect fairly low key. He assembled a bunch of amazing talent and I'm pretty amped to be able to ride with these guys. Not to mention even being included on this list of heavy-hitters! It's really special to be in the presence of greatness, but it's a whole different story when you get to watch them tear this place up.
Did it take much convincing to get you up here?
No, not at all. This place has been on my bucket list and I'm happy to be able to say that I've been here, now. I think I was in my 20s when I heard about Woodward, but I was still pretty serious about racing motocross, so there wasn't ever a time I could come up here because we were strapped for cash. I grew up on a BMX bike and I've always had love for bikes, so when this opportunity came up, even though I'm 35, I jumped at it and here we are. I was beyond happy that Brian Lopes had included me in his invitation, but I haven't been on my dirt jumper in quite a while so it took some time to get used to it again. It's been one of the raddest weekends ever!
Is this a nice way to blow off some steam and let loose being that you juggle quite a few different career hats?
Yeah, absolutely. Like I said, I grew up on a bicycle and they still have the same affect on me today as they did way back then. If my wife sees that I've had a bad day or something like that, she'll tell me to hop on my bike and get out of the house (laughs). Coming up here and acting like a kid, flipping into the foam pit, scaring the crap out of yourself on the trails or closely following someone through the dirt jump section like I was doing earlier with Troy Lee's son, Max, that's what it's all about. Troy is an icon to the sport and to see his kid out there shredding and representing his father's brand is a cool thing to see. This is what we all love to do and unfortunately, life happens, so we lose time to do stuff like this. Blowing off some steam is exactly right, though!
Like you said, you got your start on two wheels, but instead of a throttle you had a pair on pedals. Can you feel yourself getting back to your roots?
Yeah, definitely. When I was a kid, my BMX bike meant the world to me and if I got in trouble as a kid my parents would threaten to take it away (laughs). That was my freedom. It wasn't the television or video games like now days. Getting on my bike, pedaling away and hitting some jumps with my friends was my freedom. Obviously I'm a motocross rider, but BMX dirt jumping is where I came from. I was never really anything special on my bike, but it's cool to know that I haven't lost it over the years.
Along with the work you do for One Industries and 100%, you're a test rider for KTM. What does that entail?
Yeah, I've been with KTM since late 2004 and my job has slowly changed over the years, but I guess you could say that I'm a brand ambassador for North America. Basically, I do a lot of R&D for the manufacturer and I also come up with some of the settings for the team. I get to work with an amazing group of guys who are all engineers, suspension and motor techs and obviously the riders. All of us come up with the proper North American base settings. Our settings that we've come up with are all used in Australia, Canada, Mexico and I think even South America, as well. All of that is credited to the help of Casey Lytle, Scott Youngstrand, Jared Bahm, myself and of course KTM. Myself and this group of guys come up with these settings specifically for North American tracks; the different types of soil and obviously what ever the general public wants. It's really gratifying to see our bikes doing so well in the magazine shootouts. That's when we know that our blood, sweat and tears has paid off.
So for anyone that's in love with their new KTM, should they come up to you during the week while you're testing and thank you for ultimately developing their new ride?
That's totally welcome, however, it's a group effort from everyone involved. They should thank KTM for being aggressive. I'm just a small piece to the puzzle, but if anyone has any questions about their bike they're more than welcome to ask me and I can hopefully lead them down the right path. KTM really stands behind their ready to race motocross bikes and our group works super hard, but without the actual guys in Austria, my job wouldn't be possible and the brand wouldn't be what it is today. It is cool when people thank me since they think I'm a big part of it, but again, I'm just a small piece to a massive puzzle.
Much like the product development you do with KTM, you do the same for One Industries and 100%…
Yeah, just like KTM, I've been with One Industries for a long time now. I think I've been with One Industries a little longer, though. They've made a few changes over the years, but I'm one of the only original guys that still works with One. I really take a lot of pride in that brand and they have a strong background in San Diego County, which is where I grew up. Since I'm riding so much during the week for KTM, I basically get to kill two birds with one stone and help to develop products for One Industries and 100%. I'm an avid mountain bike rider, too so I end up having a good influence on 100% products, who have really come into their own over the last few years. I get a chance to develop their goggles and gloves with a bunch of their own key athletes. The people at both brands are so passionate just like the people at KTM. I'm extremely fortunate to work with people who are enthusiasts like myself. There are good things to come from both 100% and One. A lot of the testing I do now it pushed towards cycling and mountain biking, which is great because that's another sport that I'm passionate about it. That's a market that's growing, so we've been busy and hard at work to ensure that all of the new products are the best they can possibly be. KTM has really molded me into a strong research and developer for not only them, but these two brands, as well.