Park City • His first bike was pink, purple and white, a cousin's hand-me-down that worked well enough as starter wheels. Only 5 years old, he would pedal around the parking lot of Jeremy Ranch Elementary, circling the empty asphalt without any worry of obstacles.
In the dozen years since, Keegan Swenson has become the top junior mountain biker in the country. Earlier this month, the Park City resident swept the USA Cycling MTB Cross-Country Nationals in his age group, taking gold in cross-country, Super D and short track in Sun Valley, Idaho.
His bike collection has grown considerably as well. The 18-year-old whose boyish face and blond hair make him look all of 16 owns five, all of them Cannondale brand, his racing sponsor since last fall. The Jekyll is his favorite, a versatile model that, with a flip of a switch, can slip a 6-inch travel down to 3 or 4 inches.
The travel, by the way, is how much a movement a mountain bike's suspension mechanism allows. A longer one provides more cushion for downhill rides. A shorter one is ideal for climbing less bob and less slop, Swenson says.
That ebb and flow of mountain biking is part of what attracts him to the sport. No two trails are exactly the same, and he likes the experience of tackling the terrain.
"There's more to it," Swenson said. "Road biking, you're just riding on the road and there's not much there. Mountain biking, you have other aspects. You could hit roots or rocks. There's mud. There's just more to it."
His membership on Cannondale Factory Racing provides him ample support, with the team taking care of everything from equipment to travel. (This week, he's in France for Saturday's World Cup finale, the precursor to the World Cup Championships in September. He'll head to Austria for that.) Regardless of how far he's headed he's also raced in Canada and Mexico all Swenson has to do is ride.
Swenson will officially turn pro next year when he joins the U-23 class, the next step on a journey that's as organic as it comes for elite athletes. Hundreds of miles of trails stretch not far beyond his backyard. His parents, avid recreational bikers themselves, took him on tandem rides when he was young but never forced him into the sport. He's kept the same coach, Tom Noaker, since he joined the Young Riders, a Park City mountain biking program available to kids ages 6 to 16.
He was 12 when he showed his first intentions of serious competition at a local mountain bike race.
"I remember he just looked at me and he said, 'Mom, I love it,'" said his mother, Tanya Swenson. "'I love being able to get on my bike and I look at the trail and focus.'"
Now, on the cusp of joining the ranks of older, stronger riders, his long-term goals are still somewhat hazy. Keegan Swenson is still 18 after all, and describes his plans with appropriate teenage casualness. He wants to win a World Cup. He wants to be on the Olympic team eventually, but he's not sure when. Someday, he might go to college.
"I want him to follow his dreams," Tanya says. "Right now, his dream is to ride his bike."
Park City's Keegan Swenson swept the USA Cycling mountain bike nationals with wins in cross-country, Super D and short track.
The 18-year-old is currently prepping for a race in France and will represent the United States at the World Cup Championships in September.
Cannondale Factory Racing sponsors him.