Sam is our very first OpenDev member from Australia. Having caught our attention for his 5.5w/kg output and being the head coach at @Velo.Goals, the Melbournian spends a lot of time on the bike and helping others do the same. This season, Sam has already competed in the Aussie Nationals after returning from a winter spent in Thailand (Yes, you read that correct – even the Aussies escape their own winter!).
We managed to catch some time with Sam and talk about all things including riding and living in Thailand, Aussie Nats, how veganism fits into being a national-level cyclist, and what grinds his gears.
With good roads and 20% gradient climbs, perhaps Thailand is a well kept cycling secret...
Name: Sam McCallum
Age: 25 (I had to do some calculations haha)
Born and Bred: Yeah, Melbourne, Australia, although I’m not a huge fan of it and plan to move to Gold Coast, Australia in a few years... or Europe.
Ice breaker – describe yourself in three words.
Explorative, Distractible and Honest.
First bike and Favourite bike?
My first bike was an Azzurri Milano steel frame, I rode it for a few months before crashing and stepping away from cycling for a couple of years. Cycling has never come naturally to me, and I took a long time to get comfortable riding a road bike.
My favourite bike is definitely my current Neil Pryde Bura SL and the unstoppable 3650Carbon Wide Aero combo. The bike and wheels are flawless in every way.
Finish this sentence: Climbing on my bike is…
...like life, a wide supplier of different feelings and landscapes. My favourite moments have been with friends or alone with music in, enjoying the weather and scenery at a pace that just makes you feel good and not like you’re going to die. I love the scenery you get to experience, the adventure of new areas, the calmness or anger of the mountains and the accomplishment of reaching the top, whether it’s a new PR or not.
You spent most of the Australian winter in Thailand last year, is there a growing trend for Aussie/NZ pros to head over there for training? What is the riding like?
I know quite a few triathletes spend time in Thanyapura, Phuket where there is a huge training centre. Apart from that I think it’s just a few international cyclists that race for asian teams who may come through Thailand for a few weeks or so. I’ve been to Chiang Mai for the last couple of years to ride and hang out with a bunch of vegans that congregate there during the Australian winter, most of whom ride bikes.
Cycling in Thailand is epic! I’ve only ridden around the northern parts, however from what I’ve experienced the weather is amazing; the roads are in good shape; you’ve got ridiculously steep and long climbs & more gradual climbs; long flat stretches; beautiful rivers and forests; much more respectful drivers in comparison to Australia; cheap cost of living; lovely people and of course cute dogs just to name a few things. While I wouldn’t promote riding around Bangkok, anywhere else with medium sized towns/cities nearby should be awesome.
And things to do in Thailand off the bike?
There are a lot of touristy things that I’m not a huge fan of and a lot of people go there to be a bit naughty. That stuff is just a Google search away, but the things I enjoyed most where actually being part of the community, meeting people and just living, laughing and learning. I was lucky enough to meet my current girlfriend (who is from Bangkok) over there, so investing time in meeting people definitely paid off.
A lot of people catch taxi’s around, but I’d definitely recommend taking your bike to get around and explore, or at least hire a casual bike to get around as this is the best way to take it all in and actually feel part of it. Visiting hidden waterfalls is really nice as well.
Now you are back in Melbourne, what are the plans for the rest of the Australian summer of racing?
Since stepping away from a full-time racing schedule a few years ago I’ve had a pretty sporadic training and racing schedule. I recently competed in the Australian Nationals and realised that competing at that level without consistent years of training and racing in your legs is near impossible. Like a lot of people, I’ve always struggled with keeping a balance between riding my bike and everything else, it’s a slippery slope and you don’t get the return on investment in racing unless you’re doing it pretty much full-time. Racing over the near future is going to be local crits.
It can be argued that Melbourne is the capital of cycling in Australia. What’s it like down there to be a cyclist?
I guess you’d call it the cycling capital, but I think it’s only because of the sheer number of cyclists, the number of events and a couple of good climbing areas such as the Dandenong Ranges and King Lake nearby. However, after riding my bike in quite a few areas around Australia and Asia, I think it’s a bit of a joke. Don’t get me wrong, riding in Melbourne can be pretty good on days when there’s hardly any cars on the road and it’s warm and you’re on a beautiful forest climb in the Dandenongs, or in a huge raging bunch like the notorious Hell Ride.
However, this is a handful of days of the year. The riding is really over-hyped in Melbourne, a larger percentage of drivers compared to anywhere else I’ve ridden make the roads scary and bike lanes are more of an afterthought. The weather is Melbourne is pretty average for most of the year (probably not compared to the UK haha) and so for these number of reasons I highly prefer Queensland for cycling instead.
Although Melbourne might not be Sam's favourite place, it is only a short trip to the Victorian Alpine Region.
As a vegan endurance athlete, do you think that a plant-based diet will begin to become more popular in cycling?
100% - you can already see a huge shift in professional sportsmen and women across a large range of sports, with cycling lagging behind or cyclists keeping it unspoken. I think the cycling scene is in its early stages of change, which has been hindered by a lot of old-fashioned people running teams and institutes. Until these people leave and make way for new, younger leaders, cyclists will be heavily inundated with non-science backed claims, that plants can’t make up a sufficient diet. During the national road race I had a great chat to Adam Hansen, the man who’s done 6 years straight of grand tours, he revealed to me that he’s 90% vegan and hasn’t touched meat for a number of years. I also know of a friend who was in a team sponsored by a meat company and wasn’t allowed to reveal he was vegan.
A small list of the biggest names who’ve transitioned to, or playing with a vegan diet in 2017 include; Lewis Hamilton, Venus Williams, Nate Diaz, Tennessee Titan NFL Team and Forest Green Football Club, who’ve both had amazing runs recently... go figure...?
Fuel to maintain 5% body fat.
Watching your often-informative Instagram stories, it is not hard to notice that you enjoy delving into the details of everything – from the kit you wear, the gear you use and the stuff you eat. Do you think all of these little one percenters add up to be a faster rider?
For me I feel it’s more about achieving better times, results etc. with less training and making sure I know that what I’m buying is going to perform well and isn’t overpriced.
What grinds your gears?
Oh my drivetrain is always cooked, salt from the bay, dirt and rain from Thailand and my overuse of the right hand shifter haha.
Nar the thing that really grinds my gears is where the world is currently and people’s attitude to each other. We have lost compassion for one another.
Jersey pockets or Saddlebag?
Both, pockets for copious amounts of food and saddlebag for double tubes and tools.
Dream place to ride?
Places? China, Japan, USA, South America, Europe...
Favourite bicycle part (apart from your wheels of course)?
Ahh I’d have to say power meters and head units, given the fast changing industry and being a tech lover myself.
Most memorable ride for all of the wrong reasons?
Chiang Mai 2016, Doi Ang Khang, 170km or so, 4 vegans, many kilometres of climbing, most of which at 10-20% up to 2000m with donkeys and military with machine guns and the most insane scenery. Thunderstorms, lightening, mud slides, loosing all breaking ability at -20% gradients and having to use my left foot, going semi hunger flat & then eating the spiciest 7/11 microwave meal, skitching cars, making plastic bag covered cardboard fenders. Buying Hello Kitty ponchos and having them blow up like marshmallows and getting severe chafing that lasted several days.
Thanks Sam! Hopefully we will catch you soon!