Jakub Hejl is a 23-year-old freestyle MTB biker from Veľké Meziříčí in the Czech Republic. He belongs to the absolute top in his bike discipline. It has been exactly a year since he suffered a serious knee injury on the bike, but he is currently back in the game. He confirmed his big comeback in May this year with second place at the silver stop of the FMB tour in Zurich, Switzerland, and he also has a championship in the form of a trick that no one has done before on a mountain bike. You will learn more about him in the interview.
How and when did you get into freestyle MTB biking?
It had such a natural course. Together with my parents, we often went on family bike trips. I was about 8 years old and we used to go riding in the so-called Balinské valley. I enjoyed jumping and riding over all the roots and gradually discovered that this is what fulfills me. So I built such a small jump near the school canteen and since then I only rode there. We had a dirt track at Fajťák in Velké Meziříčí, where I come from, where I gradually started riding. And so it slowly unfolded, I met the right people and found out that this is what I want to do all my life. And it has lasted me until now, so I am very grateful that my parents brought me to it naturally.
What does your bike discipline entail? Can you give us a closer look?
This is a mountain bike with 26 inch wheels, it is a special bike, a little modified for jumps. The whole point is for a person to jump in the air and try to do tricks upside down or some rotations. That's basically what it's about.
Do you jump on dirt tracks or do you ride more trails?
On dirt tracks. Dirt or slopestyle tracks, which are mostly used in competitions. There are wooden bounces and also some bridges to jump on and drops. That's why it's called slopestyle. So dirt and slopestyle tracks. It's not on the enduro bike that's booming right now, but it's on that mentioned freestyle bike.
Where is your "home spot"? Where can people most often find you training?
Precisely in Veľké Meziříčí, where I live. Everything was canceled on Fajtův hill, but I kept at least some dirt jumps down there, which I modify according to what I see at the competitions. So on Fajtův hill in Veľký Meziříčí, that's where I ride the most. It is so dear to my heart, I would never get rid of it and I absolutely love it there.
What do you consider to be your biggest success in bike so far?
It's hard to say, but I was probably most pleased when, at the end of 2018, I pulled off the first trick in the world - a 360 double tailwhip into a barspin. That was a huge satisfaction for me at the time and it was actually a goal that I had in my head for a long time. It was also documented in our video project by the guys from Bikes on film. So that's probably what made me the most happy about the project part of biking. And as for the competition part, right now, in 2022, I managed to place second at the very first competition I attended after the injury, in Switzerland with a lot of competition. It was a great kick and motivation for me, especially after that injury I had in 2021 - torn cruciate ligaments in the knee. So it gave me such a kick and encouraged me that I could do it. It was very pleasant and motivating.
You were the first in the world to jump a 360 double tailwhip into a barspin on a mountain bike. Could you describe in layman's terms what this trick is all about?
I make a 360 degree turn along my axis to the left, with my body and the bike, and in this rotation I spin the bike twice more, then I catch it and when I complete the 360, I spin the handlebars again and when I succeed, I'll get back on the bike, haha. It's a combination that is rather more technical, but not that it would be extra original. But at that time, no one was doing it and it was quite going well for me, so I somehow thought of doing it. It's nothing that's hard to come up with. People on BMX bikes used to do it normally, but a mountain bike is bigger and heavier, so it's harder to do it on it, and that's why no one did it. I jumped it, and about half a year after that, a French rider started doing it and now it's not so unusual anymore. The sport is developing tremendously and it is already a relatively normal thing to do.
How do you train such tricks?
When I think of a trick, I go to the fonpit to learn it, it's safer and the fall is not immediately punished by some kind of injury. As soon as I can do it in the fonpit, I transform it into dirt. It's such a safer form of learning tricks than trying it out "hard."
As you mentioned, last year you had a pretty serious knee injury, on 70% torn cruciate ligaments. How did it happen to you?
By the way, it's been exactly a year since this happened to me. Right before it happened, I learned a new trick that is quite difficult and not many people do it, so I was pretty excited about it. I was there with a friend who filmed it for me, and I also wanted to shoot some stylysh video for Instagram. It was a very simple thing that I do normally, so I just jump into it and didn't think about it at all, because of the excitement from that difficult trick I've done before.I didn't concentrate, I went too far on the front wheel, I put my back leg down, which put all my weight on it, but I had it at such a stupid angle that I blew out my whole knee. Immediately after the impact, I knew that my leg was either torn or broken. It was a terribly long process before I found out that I had torn my ACL. And that stopped me for the whole season. It was very painful for me, because after covid the competitions finally started. The first competition was supposed to be in Kálnica, Slovakia, which I was really looking forward to and trained a lot for. That whole period of injury was the hardest of my life, because I didn't know if I would ever get back on a bike. Many people told me that it might never come back and I partially believed it. It was such a blank period, as I had spent all my free time on the bike before that, and suddenly I couldn't ride and had no prospect of ever being able to again. So I'm very happy that it worked out, that I was able to come back and that the knee is doing good.
And now the knee is completely okay?
I dealt with the treatment conservatively, I did not go to a surgery, but I strengthened the knee instead. It was also due to the fact that it dragged on terribly, I didn't have any doctor that I knew, to take care of me, and I didn't go for an MRI almost until three months after the injury. So for three months I didn't know I had a torn cruciate ligament. I didn't find out until the end of October and I wouldn't get the surgery until the end of December at the earliest. That would mean that I wouldn't even make it to this season. It was difficult to decide whether to go for surgery or risk it and trust my body that I will be able to strengthen it. But I succeeded. I know that it will never feel 100% again, but the knee works just fine and it does not limit me at all.
You had quite a successful comeback this year, as you mentioned, finishing second at the silver stop of the FMB World Tour in Zurich. How did you feel about it? To come back and position yourself like this.
It was like a dream come true and so satisfying as well. Just after probably the most difficult year in my life, I suddenly stood on the podium with people who ride in the TOP 14 in the world. It opened my eyes and I told myself that it was all worth it and this is what I'm doing it all for. I'm very happy for that and it's given me a kick to ride even more and try to make this season as successful as possible.
You also work with the Flowride bike school, you are their ambassador and coach. What exactly are you doing there?
Flowride is a bike school where we mainly teach people on enduro bikes. Beginners, advanced, and people who want to learn to jump. My main job at Flowride is to teach people the basics on a bike or to teach them how to jump, but most of all, to make sure they enjoy the whole weekend on the bike. I try to show them that even the basics can be fun, and that it's not a good idea to skip them, because if you have good basics, the more advanced things are much easier. Most recently, we are now launching the Freestyle Academy, which is a club for children who want to learn to jump and learn some tricks on the pump track or on dirt tracks. So, we also create such projects together with Honza Filip from Flowride.
Could you say that's your job?
Yes, this is my main activity now during the summer and during the season. Flowride camps and also my own training on the bike, for which I am very grateful. When I look back, for example, I dreamed about this 8 years ago and now I'm living it, so it's really nice.
You started cooperating with Horsefeathers this year, how did you feel when they approached you?
I've liked how Horsefeathers works for a long time, I've been following it since Tomáš Zejda joined. And it was really nice when we also agreed on a coop afterwards. I also like it through the community, it has a very nice effect on me. I recently had the opportunity to meet the guys from Horsefeathers in person at a photo shoot, and I had a really good feeling about it. All in all, I am looking forward to the cooperation and where it will take us. I'm really happy about it.
Is there any goal that you want to achieve in bike?
My main goal is to still enjoy it as much as I enjoyed it when I started. To keep the passion for bike going. And to never stop enjoying it. And the other goal is to get into the TOP 14 in the world in the FMB World Tour rating, so that I can ride the three biggest competitions in the world and be among the narrow world leaders and be able to live the freestyle bike life to the fullest.
Is there anything you would like to say to the young riders for whom you are an inspiration?
If they enjoy it and have a passion for it, stick with it, even if it often hurts quite a bit. It's part of it, and one has to love it too, because the moment you go through the painful part, success tastes much better than if it was just all roses. So, to stick with it despite all the obstacles. It's worth it.