Nate Loyal: Bike Fitter to the Stars
There are some people in this world who have the ability to make you feel good: Good about yourself. Good about the day. Good about the world. Our friend Nate Loyal is one of those people.
He rolls up on you with his oversized frame and a giant smile, stretches out those oversized mitts in greeting and almost immediately starts in with the most infectious of laughs and you just feel good. The day is better with Nate Loyal in it. Heck, the world is better with Nate Loyal in it and we are lucky to have him as a strong advocate for all things two-wheels.
We sat down with Nate near his home in Carpentaria, CA to find out what he’s been up to, how he’s doing during the time of COVID and to pry some celebrity tales out of him.
As always, it was great catching up with him and we hope you enjoy reading this interview, as much as we enjoyed writing it.
Kali: Testing one, two. Testing. Testing.
I was just thinking on the drive down here that anytime I'm coming to Southern California and I'm trying to get an in, you know get a door to open, I drop Loyal Coaching or the name Nate Loyal and I would say nine times out of 10 bike riders say, “Nate.” They usually know someone who knows someone who knows you, but I’m not sure they really know who you are or what you do. Maybe you could fill us in.
Nate Loyal: I was born and raised in Southern California, specifically Santa Barbara. I've been on bikes my whole life. I grew up racing BMX, then swam through high school and college. That got me into triathlon and that's really what got me into bike fitting and coaching and all of that.
My time in San Luis Obispo, going to school there, got me into proper cycling and the bike industry in general. I worked for a wonderful company called Cambria Bicycle Outfitter and it was the golden era of mountain biking. Just think of a party on mountain bikes. It was just so much fun, with great camaraderie, and always getting people stoked on riding. I took a lot of that same feeling into helping people. It was something I gravitated towards and then I really got into bike racing when I lived down in Santa Monica for 15 years.
I would see so many great people at the bike races. I was always in trouble with all my teammates and buddies. “Dude, why do you have to say hi to everybody?” It was fun, the people were awesome. Hey, we're out riding bikes, this is super fun. You know, you like bikes, I like bikes, you like coffee, I like coffee. And that was it.
Then with the coaching I have been able to help so many people. After 20 years of coaching and bike fitting and you begin to forget how many people you touch. Sometimes, what feels to me, something very small, it’s actually very large in their life. They were having issues and they would still do it, but it just wasn't as comfortable. I got to make it right, make a difference and that's why I keep doing what I do.
Kali: Primarily you are doing bike fitting and coaching now?
Nate Loyal: Yes, at this time it split pretty evenly, 50/50.
With COVID and everything, try to find a bike right now, you know, especially a bike under $2000 or $1500 bucks. It's just impossible. So imagine all those people now, not knowing what to do and then they hear, “Oh, wait, you know, there's more to this than just hop on the ride a bike and the shop.”
There's more to it than that, so I’m just slammed.
Kali: And you're doing bike fitting in three shops now?
Nate Loyal: Helen’s Cyclery in Santa Monica, Win’s Wheels in Westlake and Hazards Cyclesports in Santa Barbara.
I always joke that I'm their only non-employee-employee, I don't work for any of the shops. I just get to use their space. It's the same thing with everything else in the bike industry, it's all about the relationship. I've known the people at these shops for so long, and I regard them more as friends and family first and then, you know, businesses is second. So I think there's a trust that that goes so far beyond what you normally would see. There's plenty other industries to make more money than the bike industry.
Kali: So you're a father of two, and they're getting so big.
Nate Loyal: Yes, Jensen is six and Jane is now four. And my wife, Stacy, is a former pro volleyball player. Before that she played at Iowa State, played indoor in Europe and then played on AVP for a number of years
Kali: Do you two advise the kids to go towards volleyball or biking?
Nate Loyal: Well, the joke in volleyball is you can't train height. But you know, we'll see. You know, tennis, baseball…But again, Jane loves dancing and singing. So who knows?Kali: Do you remember your very first bike?
Nate Loyal: There was a BMX bike that I had that was just atrocious. I grew up on a farm, so the bike was just a way to get around and transportation and stuff like that. Then I remember my 13th birthday, I got a GT Mach One. I wanted the Pro Series, but I couldn't afford that one. But we did have a tractor front loader and grater and all that, so I made my own tracks in the backyard. Without that bike, I don't know where I'd really be.
Kali: What about your first motorcycle?
Nate Loyal: I grew up on quads and then friends of mine, they had quads and dirt bikes and stuff like that, but I didn't really get on a proper motorcycle until I started winding down with the bicycle racing, in my late 20s or 30s. I picked up a Honda 919 Naked sport bike. It was super fun and great for the city. Great for the twisty canyons, just a hoot.
My friend Gary Schechner is the one that really got me on that bike. Then he's like, “Hey, let's go to the racetrack.” He introduces me to Andy Palmer, who builds race motorcycles. Then I started getting track daze and was like, "Whoa, what's this like?”
They put me on a totally clapped-out Kaw 600. I mean it was it was just beat into submission, and I came back and I'm like, "I want one of these." This is the most awful racing motorcycle you guys have, and it's amazing. After that, I got into the sport bike racing and adventure touring, dirt bikes and stuff. I've always been into ATVs and dirt bikes but it was like, "Okay, I got that, I'm going to go to Baja and do some desert stuff."
I even went out to Bonneville for Speed Week. I did the land speed record on the SB650, which is not the proper bike to take out there. But it is still worth it and I will probably go back out again at some point with a proper bike.
Kali: There seems to be some some crossover between the bike and the motorcycle, but there's also seems to be a little bit of a you know, "I ride motorcycles, I ride bikes, thing."
Nate Loyal: The two worlds are totally connected now.
I want to say it was '09 when I started really going out and doing just club racing at Willow Springs, Infineon and a couple others. With that I would take my bicycle and it's like, what better roads to ride than a shut down racetrack. Right? What's better than track walk while riding a bicycle?
I get a better sense of line and I could always feel the surface better. I mean, it's almost like dragging your hand across the surface, and you can feel it so much better, the little changes in grade going up, down or little off camber here or there. You can feel so much more at like five or 10 miles an hour.
Chris Ulrich, who's family owns Roadracing World Magazine and his dad is the man when it comes to finding new talent and is a wealth of knowledge, approached me after one track day. He's like, "Hey, man, are you the guy, you know, rolling around in lycra?" I was ready for the the smack talk to ensue, and he's like, "Hey, man, I got a road bike. I started pedaling and we don't know what we're doing. Can you help us out?"
It was like, such a shock, I was so not prepared for that. I mean, this is my wheelhouse, this is what I do. So I started helping him and a bunch of other guys with their training. I still see plenty of guys from the AMA world and even guys who've made it onto World Superbike and Moto Two and help with a little bit of info. If you're not riding a bike, and you're in motorsports, at that level, you're not doing it right.Kali: In the short time I’ve know you, we’ve gone for a bike ride with Fred Savage, we've turned pedals with Gary Halvorson and Dennis Quaid (while he was wearing an authentic “Cutters” jersey might I add) and we've had coffee with Conan O'Brien. These things never seemed to be out of ordinary for you and you don’t really drop names. It’s just always feels genuine and organic. I know this is part of the reason that I appreciate you. But from an interview standpoint, I think that portion your life would be interesting to the readers. Could you just name drop a few people that you've worked with that? I mean, I know that you've fit a particular star on her spin bike?
Nate Loyal: Oh right, Jennifer Aniston. Honestly, I'm horrible with remembering who I've worked with. It's just one of those things where I mean, when I lived in Santa Monica and, all of that, you, help one person, and...
Kali: You're humble bragging for me again, I need more. Not that long ago you helped some guy win a million dollars?
Nate Loyal: That was Dan Bilzerian. I had helped in some way shape or form. His assistant at the time, Jonna, called and he was like, 'Hey, I've got this bet going on with my buddy to ride a bike from Vegas to the Hollywood Hills in like, 48 hours, and he's never ridden a road bike before.” I just throw it to him over the phone, he’s sort of interviewing me and what I can do. I’m like look, it's a relationship. This is gonna be very gnarly endeavor, and you've got to trust the person who's coaching or advising you. I know how I feel about this and I'm game.
Kali: In this particular case, that ride was doable. He was just going to have to follow some instructions. Is that true?
Nate Loyal: That's the whole thing. Looking at it from a cyclists' point of view, it's like super doable, right? If I just pace it out, eat right, don't really stop too much, then I can easily make this. But when you take somebody who's really never been on a bike, not an endurance athlete, any one thing can take you out. Any muscle issues, joint issues, chafing. I mean, there's so many things that can go totally wrong and it just takes one of those.
Kali: And he was particularly muscular, which is not always...
Nate Loyal: He was gym fit. He was not known for his legs. If he's listening, he'll laugh. But no, that was the thing, he started getting some legs after that. But no, it was a really interesting thing to see what we could do in such a short amount of time with a human. Sort of, no holds barred. We just throw everything at it. Worked other fun projects that were like that. I've got a very short amount of time to make you, with no experience on a bicycle, move and ride like me.
I worked with Joseph Gordon Levitt, for the movie Premium Rush. I was the Head Coach for that. Then I was able to get my late friend, Dave Jordan, to help out in New York. It was a super fun project with both him and Dania Ramirez. I would come home and Stacy, my wife would just be like, "So, how many times did you make them crash?" We had some fun, we had some good bobbles. Those types of things are super fun, where you can can really push the boundaries.
Kali: How about on the motorcycle? Do you do the same thing as you do on the bike? Do you have anybody that you that you've helped?
Nate Loyal: Conan actually was hilarious with that. He'd always see me rolling around on my motorcycles and was like, “Hey man, maybe one day.” So I told him if you're really interested in this, you should take the motorcycle safety course. I can set you up with one of the teachers there and then you've got your license, and whenever the opportunity presents itself, you're good to go.
He did that and probably a year later he had to do a cold open for Sons of Anarchy for their finale and he calls me up, “Hey, man, you got to really teach me how to ride a motorcycle and help me out with this project.” So we got a Harley Davidson V-Rod and, at least he's really tall, but it was way overpowered for what he needs and not a great handling bike. We were going to be on somewhat straight roads, and we rode the backlot at Warner Brothers for a while, which was super hilarious. Riding through all these different towns and cities in matter of a couple of blocks, and then seeing the people on the visiting tours. We did this whole cold open that is hysterical, you got to punch it up, it's really, really funny. That was a two day thing and, wow, this is a lot of work for like, 30 seconds.
I think about a year after that, he got the okay from his wife to get a motorcycle. I got him a bike that visually, I don't think is what he really wanted but purposely, it's the perfect bike for him right now, a Suzuki DR-Z SuperMoto. It’s tall, somewhat under powered, way over on traction and all that. Total hooligan bike, but really mellow if you just cruise around. I'm sure there's something that he will add to the garage at some point, but it’s been super fun helping him. As far as coaching on motorcycles, that's a whole other world, and there's guys that do that very, very well, and that's all they do.
Kali: So your job is part coaching, part therapist.
Nate Loyal: I've been doing this for 20 years. I wouldn't say it's straightforward, but it's not the hardest part. It's the personal issues and talking them through the hard stuff, the outside stressors in life, and how we can still keep them going on a bike. Sometimes it's telling them to back off.
Kali: We need some Hot Takes from Nathan Loyal. Give us three things you see most often wrong in a bike fit.
Nate Loyal: Cleats are never correct. I won't even start a fit, if I can't even do work on the cleats. That's like your fingerprint, it's only right for you.
Kali: My cleats are a mess, by the way.
Nate Loyal: Perfect. Not surprised. (Laughter)
Then most people set themselves too low and too far back and that just throws off the mechanics and their efficiencies off. Fitting properly is also erring on the safe side. A lot of people have their back super flat, like good posture off the bike, but you do want a little curvature. You want to have that pelvic angle steeper to allow for the weight to go into the saddle and the sit bones and open up the hips.
Kali: Are the professionals all properly fit?
Nate Loyal: There's so many guys in the pro peloton who've never had a proper fit before, which surprises a lot of people.
Kali: So the question is, is it magic or is it science? Right?
Nate Loyal: Well, there's so much science to it, because it's just mechanics. Think of your legs as levers, right? There's so much science involved, but it's also what can the body handle.
I've seen some pros, we'll use pros as an example, but this pretty much goes for anybody, they're so far off the mark that we have to be super conservative with the setup but also, we don't want to go too slowly with getting in the right position because we're just replacing one bad setup with a slightly less bad setup, and so it's still wrong.
Kali: Is that amplified in the mountain bike world? Because you're not only are you talking about, bike position, but you're talking about geometry, and you're talking about suspension.
Nate Loyal: Suspension, that's a whole other thing. I see very few bikes coming out of shops that have the suspension set-up correctly, not so much an air pressure issue, usually that's aired on a little too high, but rebound dampening and compression, it's those types of things that can turn your bike from something that's good to something that's great and feels like Velcro on the trail.
Kali: Do you have three quick tips from the coaching side. The three things you see most people do wrong?
Nate Loyal: Consistency, rest and recovery. Riding too hard all the time. Those are three?
Consistency, I always joke with my four hour rule. If you only have four hours a week to ride, I'd rather see four, one hour rides then one four hour ride. Your body will absorb that fitness a lot better. It's also not as fatiguing, so that's another thing. Then rest/recovery. If you start training harder, you got to make sure the rest is there. The body rebuilds itself, if the training is there to tear the body down, you rest, and it springboards off that. It's easy to ride hard and hard to ride easy. Cycling is such an aerobic sport. And there’s sports, like cycling, such as cross country skiing, you know, when you're racing, it's anaerobic for a good chunk of the race, but to allow the body to handle that kind of load, you got to ride aerobically a lot, and a lot of people don't know what true aerobic effort is.
I see riders all the time, you know, they go medium hard to pretty hard, all the time. But when you go hard, learn how to go ballistically hard, and what I tell a lot of my newer racers who've really never raced before, once they've got a few races under their belt, and they know they can finish and all that it's okay, now start going for like a prime, and then attack off the prime and drop yourself. You know, drop yourself, what does that mean? You're gonna go so deep and so hard that when you get caught, because you will, you probably won't be able to catch back on the group. The thing is, they realize, so they do this. Quite often, like 50% or 60% of the time the group comes by, and they're so blown, but they still figure out a way to latch back on. What they thought was an "Oh, my day is done," effort becomes an "Oh wow, I didn't go as hard as I thought I did," effort.
Kali: We need the final Loyal saying that we haven't heard yet.
Nate Loyal: Just ride the bike. Just touch the bike. Just get on it.