Charlie Mullins’ racing career ended at the 2016 Steele Creek GNCC. Mullins was attempting a comeback after nearly two years out of action with a serious wrist injury. That injury occurred through a terrible stroke of luck: In 2014, Mullins, leading both the AMA Grand National Cross Country and AMA National Enduro points standings, was delivered a fresh practice bike from KTM. That bike was promptly stolen. KTM rushed Mullins a new practice bike, and he went riding with Justin Brayton at the JGRMX track in North Carolina. Something went wrong, Mullins’ engine cut out, and he went flying off a downhill double jump without his machine. The landing ruined his wrist.
Mullins tried everything to recover, even training with Aldon Baker for a spell. By Steele Creek ’16, he nailed the holeshot in storybook fashion, but one big hit from one of Steele Creek’s numerous square-edged bumps tweaked his wrist again. He pulled off the track and soon called it a career.
At Steele Creek 2019, he was back, holeshotting and this time winning. Only this time he was on a completely different type of machine.
Electric-assist bicycles are the newfangled thing in this world, but they’re actually not new to the Amsoil AMA Grand National Cross Country Series. GNCC races don’t offer practice, but racers can walk or ride a bicycle on the trails before the race. Mountain bikes are a perfect choice. Further, pit bikes and side-by-sides are not permitted, so teams use mountain bikes to hustle pit-board messages to riders at various vantage points.
In 2016, Barry Hawk, the eight-time GNCC Champion who now manages Team Coastal Racing, had an idea. He discovered Haibike, the German maker of electric-assist mountain bikes. Just like regular mountain bikes, they use pedals and do not have a throttle. But a battery and electric motor make the pedaling easier. The harder you push, the more assistance the bike provides.
Barry asked the GNCC series if these new bicycles would be legal at the races. He wanted his team and riders to try them and also hoped to land a sponsorship. In June of 2016, the series issued a competition bulletin with the following wording:
“Pedal-assist cycles are a new technology of electric bicycles. It is the opinion of GNCC Racing that pedal-assist cycles can be used for purposes of course inspection, so long as the cycle does not have a throttle. Accordingly, effective immediately, the rule with regard to course inspections is amended as follows: Participants are permitted to walk or bicycle the course only; non-throttle pedal assist cycles are permissible for this purpose.”