Read as Mick Hannah talks about his career as a Professional Mountain Bike Racer.  Find him at www.sikmik.com and on his Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.

What do you do for a living?

I basically follow my dreams for a living. I race Downhill Mountain bikes. I have been racing ever since I was 6 years old and I have been on the “world tour” for the last 11 years.

How would you describe what you do?

The main part of my job is training. The racing is like the reward at the end of a long winter.

What does your work entail?

For the winter I spend all of my time training and practicing. Then for the summer I travel around the world racing my bike in a new country each week pretty much. I am literally living a dream and my hope is that all of my friends and supporters can share in that.

What’s a typical work week like?

During the summer my week is basically travel Mon/Tues rest Wed, walk the race course and prepare Thurs, then practice Friday, practice and qualify Sat and practice and race on Sunday. Then in winter I have a training program that usually takes up around 30 hours per week. My program varies over the course of the winter with more base type training early on and then getting into more of the specific training that’s needed as we come into the racing season.

How did you get started?

As a kid I spent all of my time on my bicycle or motorcycle. I started racing BMX when I was 6 years old and soon had the dream of making my living as a pro racer. I switched over to Mountain bikes when I was about 13 and then was signed to my first contract at 17. I worked a full time job from 13 to 17 to support my habit so to speak. First with a lawn mowing contractor and then 2 years on a banana farm. When I was 16 I got the opportunity to compete in the world championships in Spain. I finished 2nd after a difficult week and then my bike was lost on the way home. Not long after that we decided that we couldn’t do it anymore because it was just too expensive and I am the oldest of 4 kids so my parents had to be sure they had the means to support us all. Then about a month or so later I got the call offering me a full time ride on the World Cup circuit.

What do you like about what you do?

I love to ride my bike and I love to ride it as fast as I can. I am really enjoying all aspects of my job right now. That has gone up and down. I am in a place
now where I just love traveling and racing. The people I get to meet and the places I get to see are all such a blessing and probably the most enjoyable part of racing is when I get to the bottom of a race run and see all the kids cheering and smiling and dreaming for themselves.

What do you dislike?

At the moment there’s a lot that I dislike, but I have 2 sons and it’s really hard to be away so much. I get to be home a lot in the winter which is really nice, but summers are really busy. That is going to be harder and harder as the boys get into school and the only free time they will have is in summer. By that time I might be able to stay home more and spend time with my little heroes.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

My salary comes from my sponsors. Right now I ride for a team that is owned by one of our fellow racers. He organizes the list of companies that want us to use their product and prove it’s worth through race results mainly. As I get older and build my image more and more I am seeing more opportunities to become an ambassador for our sport and for the companies that have supported me for a time.

How much money do Bike Racer’s make?

I’m not sure exactly the range, but racers in the top 10 in the world make about from 50,000 usd up to 300,000 per year including prize money and bonuses depending on image and rankings.

How much money did/do you make starting out?

My first season I made about 30,000 usd, but my base salary was 10,000. I had a very successful season and did well with bonuses and prize money.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

The obvious things are physical fitness and lots of bike handling skill, but there are a few guys with sports marketing degrees as well. Other types of education are engineering, mechanical and hydraulic. There are a lot of different aspects to our industry that fit a range of interests and skill sets.

What is most challenging about what you do?

The most challenging thing would be the travel and the pressure on race day. It can be very tiring traveling from country to country and trying to stay healthy and in good shape for racing.

What is most rewarding?

The most rewarding things for me are achieving goals and seeing the crowd having fun. It’s so nice when I hear people say that I inspire them. I really want people to be able to see what I do and believe in themselves and their dreams.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Don’t ever forget what’s important in life. I have gone through times when I’ve lost the enjoyment and appreciation for the opportunities I have and that’s a sad place to be. Don’t ever forget where you came from and why you ride a bike!

How much time off do you get/take?

Most of us will take a month off at the end of the racing season to relax and spend time with friends and family, but I know I always end up on some sort of bike doing some sort of ride. I just love to ride my bike.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

I think as with a lot of things people tend to fantasize too much. This is still a real full time job. There are a lot of challenges and stresses associated and because we’re all over the place you never know what those challenges will be. If you keep the right attitude about it though all that stuff just becomes part of the challenge.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

My long term goal is to make the most of the gifts God has blessed me with and that goes well beyond my racing. I believe I can reach the top of my sport. As I go about that goal and afterwards I hope to be able to give back to my sport and my community as much as I can.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

It’s harder than you think, but it’s more rewarding than you think. You will only ever get out of it, or anything else, as much as you put in. It is really important to be humble and aware of the needs of those around you. “A business that only makes money is a poor business” Henry Ford.